Cyclone Near Miss And Food Production, February 2015

Productive garden, Feb 2015

Productive garden, Feb 2015

As Cyclone Marcia gets downgraded to a Tropical Low weather system, my soil and crops have had a good soaking: 236mm in the past 48 hours. No crop losses so far – 106 different edibles available. Lucky conditions for my ‘Red Aztec’ corn and Jerusalem artichoke ‘Dwarf Sunray’, they’re just days from harvest.

During cyclone season it’s wise to remove objects that can become missiles from the garden. Garden furniture is securely stowed. I removed dead fronds from palms and Pandanus tectorius a fortnight ago. I’ve pruned branches from my neighbour’s tangled trees so none can hit the phone line and trimmed banana leaves so they can’t hit guttering. I keep my flowering gum tree, out in the nature strip, pruned well below the powerlines in the street.

Cyclone preparation

When the cyclone watch was issued, I edged the sweetpotato in the nature strip to make sure no growth impeded the flow of storm water along the gutter. First flush devices and rain heads are washed clean, ready for action. I removed leaves from the stormwater infiltration well in the front garden. If it’s emergency overflow is needed, I don’t want that blocked by foliage.

When ex-Cyclone Oswald scoured the coast in January 2013, it ripped out my lawn specimen fig tree, so I replaced that shallow-rooted, softwooded tree with a hard wooded mulberry. Oswald’s buffeting salt-laden winds rattled the house and killed the foliage of Eucalyptus trees (E. tereticornis especially) up to 1.5km inland. Salt spray ruined the foliage of certain plants in my garden, Amorphophallus spp. being particularly affected, and I was removed seagrass, blown from Moreton Bay, from my gutters. At the time, my mature ‘Parramatta Sweets’ mandarin was fruiting, and winds twisted the main stem and split it. The crop was lost and the tree hasn’t flowered since. Since my pawpaws are big and copping well, I picked a dozen of their easily damaged, semi-ripe fruit. Don’t want to lose the lot.

Remembering this, I decided to move all my delicate nursery stock underneath the house (and bagged horse manure), standing them out on gravel above the level that floodwater has been known to rise. My stock of Elephant’s Foot Yam (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius) are especially tender and vulnerable to salt damage.

Expecting a thorough soaking, I sowed a strip of soil with corn to grow a new block of fodder to feed the guinea pigs. I also cut and edged the lawn, just in case the soil became too muddy to walk or work on.

During the rains, the rainwater tank and the stormwater infiltration well overflowed. There was some ponding on the lawn (which is designed to retain, not shed water), but this drained once the rain stopped. Water in the lawn and infiltration well were clear and sediment free. So far, all garden systems are functioning.

Food store

Much of my garden acts as a living larder: there’s food in the ground (sweetpotato, cocoyam), food on the trees (pawpaw, palm seed, fruit), roots, shoots and leaves. But I also keep the recommended supply of dried and tinned food – sufficient for my household to feed itself without electricity for three days. Panic buying rarely affects dried food: peas, beans, chickpeas, etc, which can be soaked and boiled – if you have a gas cooker or barbecue.

I’ve got about ten kilos of bunya nuts from Ormiston – a windfall crop – so I’m experimenting with recipes. Roasted bunya nuts with kaffir lime and lemon dipping mayonnaise is great and I’m loving roast Bunya nut with endive salad and horseradish cream and lime dressing. Yum!

Despite the challenging weather there’s always something that relishes warm, wet weather. My endive is all self-sown and my cassava, pineapples, bananas and spices are doing splendidly well.

Here’s my subtropical food garden’s current summer menu of 106 different things to pick:

Edible roots and shoots

Arrowroot, Canna edulis;
Bamboo, Monastery, Thyrsostachys siamensis;
Bamboo, Oldham’s, Bambusa oldhamii;
Beetroot, Beta vulgaris ‘McGregor’s Favourite’;
Cassava, Manihot esculenta;
Cassava, Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’;
Cocoyam, Xanthosoma saggitifolia;
Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus ‘Dwarf Sunray’;
Mangelwurzel, fodder beet group, Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima;
Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Ace of Spades’ (very tasty);

Edible leaves
Basil, sacred, Ocimum tenuiflorum;
Cassava, Manihot esculenta;
Cassava, Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’;
Celery stem taro, aka Tahitian spinach, Alocasia esculenta;
Cha-plu, Piper sarmentosum;
Chickweed, Stellaria media;
Chicory, Cichorium intybus;
Chicory, Cichorium intybus ‘Red Dandelion’;
Chinese celery, aka smallage, Apium graveolens;
Chinese spinach, Amaranthus tricolor;
Chinese spinach, Amaranthus tricolor ‘Flaming Fountains’;
Chinese spinach, Amaranthus tricolor ‘Mekong Red’;
Chinese spinach, Amaranthus tricolor ‘Red Callaloo’;
Chives, Allium schoenoprasum;
Coriander, Thai, Eryngium foetidum;
Cranberry Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella;
Curry bush, Helichrysum italicum;
Curry leaf, Murraya koenigii;
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale;
Dill, Anethum graveolens;
Endive, Cichorium endivia ‘Green Bowl’;
Eschallot, Allium cepa var. aggregatum;
Fennel, Florence, Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group ‘Zefa-Fino’;
Fennel, Bronze, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’;
Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum;
Green Amaranth, Amaranthus viridis;
Huauzontle, Chenopodium berlandieri;
Japanese parsley, Cryptotaenia japonica;
Jute, Corchorus olitorius;
Kaffir lime, Citrus hystrix;
Lagos spinach, Celosia spicata;
Landcress, Barbarea vulgaris;
Lebanese cress, Aethionema coridifolium;
Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus;
Lemongrass, Native, Cymbopogon flexuosus;
Marjoram, Origanum marjorana;
Mexican tree spinach, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius;
Mint, Corsican, Mentha requienii;
Mint, native, Mentha satureoides;
Mint, Moroccan, Mentha spicata;
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus;
Old man saltbush, Atriplex nummularia;
Onion, Tree or Egyptian Walking, Allium x proliferum;
Onion, Welsh, or spring onion, aka scallion, Allium fistulosum;
Onion, Welsh perennial, or perennial spring onion, aka scallion, Allium fistulosum;
Pandan, Pandanus amaryllifolius;
Parsley, Petroselenium crispum ‘Italian flat-leaved’;
Purslane, Wild, Portulaca oleracea;
Purslane, Golden, Portulaca oleracea subsp. sativa;
Radicchio, Cichorium intybus;
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca saliva;
Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea ‘Variegata’;
Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea ‘Fairy Stars’;
Stinking Roger, Tagetes minuta;
Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Ace of Spades’;
Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’;
Thyme, Variegated, Thymus serpyllum ‘Variegata’;
Variegated four seasons herb, Plectranthus amboinicus ‘Variegatus’;
Variegated four seasons herb, Plectranthus amboinicus ‘Bayside Beauty’;
Vietnamese mint, Persicaria odorata;
Warrigal greens, Tetragonia tetragonioides;

Edible petals
Bedding Begonia, Begonia semperflorens;
Cranberry Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella (excellent for tea);
Daylily, Hemerocallis cv.;
Fig-marigold, Aptenia cordifolia;
Goldenrod, Solidago sp.;
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca sativa;
Stinking Roger, Tagetes minuta;

Edible seed
Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis;
Fennel, Florence, Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group ‘Zefa-Fino’;
Pigeon pea, Cajanus cajan;

Fruit
Banana (ripe), Musa x sapientum ‘Java Blue’;
Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis (preserved in pandan-flavoured syrup);
Chilli, Capsicum annuum ‘Long Red Cayenne’;
Chilli, Capsicum annuum ‘Piri Piri’;
Chilli, Capsicum annuum ‘Siam Gold’;
Chilli, Capsicum annuum ‘Bangkok Bobby’;
Finger lime, Citrus australasica;
Kaffir lime, Citrus hystrix;
Lemon, Citrus x limon ‘Meyer’;
Lemon, Citrus x limon ‘Villa Franca Variegata’;
Lemonade, Citrus limon x aurantifolia;
Lime, Tahitian, Citrus x latifolia;
Mouse Melon, Melothria scabra;
Mulberry, White Shahtoot, Morus alba var. laevigata ‘White Shahtoot’;
Pawpaw, Carica papaya ‘Southern Red’;
Pineapple, Ananas comosus ‘Queensland Rough’;
Zucchini, Curcubita pepo ‘Golden Crookneck’;

Medicinal / Spices
Aloe vera – leaf juice used to heal sunburn, scratches, and for shampoo;
Bulbine frutescens – leaf juice used to treat burns, rashes, as an infusion for sore throats;
Brahmi herb, Bacopa monnieri – aids cognitive function;
Cardamom, Eletteria cardamomum;
Cardamom, False, Alpinia nutans;
Catnip, Nepeta cataria; the juice left by rubbing elbows and ankles with fresh leaves helps deter mosquitoes;
Galangal, Alpinia galangal – spice used like ginger with similar properties;
Ginger, Culinary, Zingiber officinalis – spice that helps decongestion of catarrh, aids digestion, blood flow;
Ginger, Shampoo (species unknown) – from Seed Savers. Juice from leaves and roots (rhizomes) used to wash hair;
Greater celandine, Chelidonium majus – stem juice kills warts on hands;
Krachai (root), Boesenbergia rotunda;
Rosemary, dwarf, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Benenden Blue’;
Rosemary, fastigiate, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Miss Jessopp’;
Skullcap, Blue, Scutellaria lateriflora;
Turmeric, Curcuma longa – spice with anti-cancer, anti-stress properties;

106 taxa

Jerry Coleby-Williams
21st February 2015