In Production Today, April 2015

21st century cottage gardening: food, medicine and insectary plantings

21st century cottage gardening: food, medicine and insectary plantings

Here’s my subtropical food garden’s current autumn menu. Plants marked with an asterisk are volunteers, that is they are self-sown. Currently I have 38 different volunteer crops.

The image above indicates sowings of autumn crops made last month in the 10 square metre strip border alongside the sustainable lawn. I should have sown them in February but when I discussed my intentions with Gardening Australia, we agreed to film why I had chosen certain flowers either for their pollen or nectar for attracting beneficial insects – biocontrols to deal with pests and diseases, plants for attracting pollinators and plants for attracting pests away from my crops. I look forward to seeing this segment.

Honeybees are few and far between in Wynnum, and it took five years (2003 – 2008) for my freshly created garden to establish a functioning, diverse ecology. Gradually insects of all kinds started checking out my garden. Today, twenty four different bees, including Italian-strain and English Black-strain honeybees, collectively pollinate my crops. The only thing that still needs to be pollinated by hand is pumpkin.

According to a retired farmer who lives locally, honeybee numbers have been declining around Wynnum for the twenty years he’s lived here. Thanks to diseases, like American Foul Brood disease (it is compulsory to report this disease) and European Foul Brood disease (not compulsory to report), introduced pests, like Small Hive beetle and Wax moth, even feral honeybee populations have decreased. Forty per cent of fresh food sold by supermarkets comes from industrial, honeybee-dependent farms. This supply is vulnerable in a bee-deficient world.

Bed panorama

Bed panorama

Wherever you grow and however big your plot, by setting aside sufficient ground for growing insectary plants it is possible to pollinate crops traditionally pollinated by honeybees. The Australian National University has demonstrated that any size of farm can do it as can any food garden, as they adopt more sustainable pest control methods.

I match the right plants for my subtropical climate (where the weather is extremely variable) and also the season and microclimate. I experiment with sacrificial plants and pollen and nectar-rich plants, observe the results, and keep notes.

Honeybees didn’t work out here, so instead I keep two species of stingless bee. They’re effortless and dependable. Today, the 24th species of bee recorded at Bellis was identified via the Bowerbird website. Species 459 is a Halictid bee, Austronomia flavoviridis. You can see a range of beneficials at my bee and wasp gallery here.

Halictid bee, Austronomia flavoviridis, on parsley

Halictid bee (right), Austronomia flavoviridis (Blowfly, left) on parsley

I recommend the Bowerbird website to anyone wanting to have Australian plants and animals positively identified. Just take a variety of images from different angles. Identification is by national experts, including my friend Dr Ken Walker, a Senior Curator at Museum Victoria, who created the website.

I’ve become manager of food, nesting sites and entertainment for the local bee populations. In return I get pollination and pest control services. I use the spare time this creates taking photographs and recording my notes here and on Facebook.

Playing to the strengths of your team is the aim of any good manager.
Understand your systems of management, especially the biodiversity that can supercharge your productivity.

Or, in old fashioned terms, make you a better gardener.

Now for my autumn menu, all from 300 square metres of soil:

Edible roots and shoots

Arrowroot, Canna edulis;
Bamboo, Monastery, Thyrsostachys siamensis;
Bamboo, Oldham’s, Bambusa oldhamii;
Cassava, Manihot esculenta;
Cassava, Manihot esculenta ‘Variegata’;
Cocoyam, Xanthosoma saggitifolia;
Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus ‘Dwarf Sunray’;
Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Ace of Spades’ (small, tasty tubers);
Sweetpotato, Ipomoea batatas ‘Marguerite’;

Edible leaves

* Basil, cinnamon, Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’;
* Basil, lemon, Ocimum x citriodora
* 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, Coriandrum sativum;
* 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;
* Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus;
Love-lies-bleeding, Amaranthus caudatus ‘Green’;
Lettuce, Lactuca sativa ‘Buttercrunch’;
Marjoram, Origanum marjorana;
Mexican tree spinach, Cnidoscolus aconitifolius;
* Mint, Corsican, Mentha requienii;
Mint, native, Mentha satureoides;
Mint, Moroccan, Mentha spicata;
* Mustard, Brassica juncea ‘Osaka Purple’;
* Mustard, Brassica juncea ‘Giant Red’;
* Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus;
Old man saltbush, Atriplex nummularia;
Onion, Tree or Egyptian Walking, Allium x proliferum;
Onion, Welsh perennial, or perennial spring onion, aka scallion, Allium fistulosum;
Pandan, Pandanus amaryllifolius;
* Parsley, Petroselenium crispum ‘Italian flat-leaved’;
* Prince of Wales’ Feather, Celosia cristata;
* Purslane, Wild, Portulaca oleracea;
* Purslane, Golden, Portulaca oleracea subsp. sativa;
Radicchio, Cichorium intybus;
* Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca saliva;
Rosella, Hibiscus sabdariffa;
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;
Begonia, Begonia ‘Dragon Wings’;
* Cranberry Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella (excellent for tea);
Canna, Canna iridiflora;
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 (green), Musa x sapientum ‘Java Blue’;
Banana (green), Musa x sapientum ‘Ladyfinger’;
Capsicum, Capsicum annuum ‘Corno di Toro’;
Chilean wine palm, Jubaea chilensis (preserved in pandan-flavoured syrup);
Chilli, Capsicum annuum ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’;
* 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;
* Pawpaw, Carica papaya ‘Southern Red’;
Pineapple, Ananas comosus ‘Queensland Rough’;
Pineapple, Ananas comosus ‘Spanish Red’
Pineapple, Dwarf, Ananas nanus;
Rosella, Hibiscus sabdariffa;
Tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Apollo’;

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, Zingiber zerumbet – 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;

115 taxa

Jerry Coleby-Williams
18th April 2015