What food plants can be sown or planted in the subtropical autumn? Autumn can be tricky because crops and pests are responding to our warming climate. Australian summers now last one month longer and winter has correspondingly shrunk. With meteorologists predicting 2020 to be the hottest year on record, the implications in a food garden are clear: some crops will be winners and others losers. Here’s how to keep the odds favourable in your garden.
Chinese potato (Plectranthus rotundifolius) has so many common names there’s just one meaningful conclusion: it’s a productive plant valued by many cultures.
Cultivated in tropical and subtropical Africa and Asia, this perennial relative of coleus produces clusters of edible tubers about the size of a peanut and which have a nutty flavour. Sometimes referred to as a ‘lost crop of Africa’, Chinese potato can be easily grown in soil or containers, it’s cute and it’s definitely one warm climate heritage root crop you experiment with in a balcony garden.
The government is right to say Australia grows a surplus of food, but suddenly the cost of buying that fresh produce has leapt, a consequence of crippling drought followed by catastrophic bushfire and then, in places, flooding rain. As we garden in an increasingly surprising climate, the reality of organising a reliable flow of nourishing food to provide a household with regular, thrifty meals falls on those who have suddenly become unwaged. In some places, nurseries are being stripped of seedlings and packets of seed as a nation prepares to overwinter in self-isolation at home and in the garden. What climate zone is my garden in? What can I grow now? Why is crop rotation vital for success? Can I grow food in pots? So many questions to answer.
In recent years, families who garden together have become the most prominent visitors to my annual Open Day. It’s delightful seeing these gardening families, because that was how I started life: in an English family that gardened and holidayed together. Planning, harvesting, saving seed, cooking, bottling, gathering materials for gardening were activities we did together.
Fast food: By learning how to recognise self-sown edible plants in the garden, you’re on the way to the quickest free meal you’ll grow.
Here is a list from my garden – my living larder – and my store of home grown food that might serve my household if a coronavirus lockdown occurs: protein, carbohydrate and fibre.
In my subtropical food garden, grasshopper control starts in my sweetpotato. Caterpillar damage usually occurs in bursts following good rain, and attack can occur at any time of the year.
Living off the fat of the land: A two metre row of Sauropus androgynus, aka rau ngót or sweetleaf, provides more nutritious leaves than two people can eat in the warm seasons. While growth of this trouble-free vegetable slows down in the cool seasons, sweetleaf provides protein, fibre and nutrient-rich leaves all year round in subtropical Brisbane.
The actions I have taken here at Bellis and which I encourage others to adopt are the brakes, airbags and seatbelts to help protect us in the coming global environmental car crash.
You may be aware that Gene Technology multinationals are on the media warpath claiming that communities are wrong to oppose their new GM yellow rice, an artificial plant invented with higher amounts of Vitamin A than normal rice as their contribution to help combat malnutrition of the world’s poorest people. Think again.
Between 2013 and 2019, UK Aid funding allowed the International Potato Centre and partners to deliver pro-vitamin A-rich, sweetpotato cultivars to more than 2.3 million families in five African countries and Bangladesh.
If you want protein-rich pigeon peas by the bucketful, grow them in drought. And plant pigeon peas for food, shade, shelter, forage and bees. Grow them in a school food garden to discover which species of native bee live in the vicinity. Use this food plant as a school science project!
“I decided to note down the 111 different things currently on the menu from my 300 square metre subtropical food garden. Ongoing drought has affected fruit production – I made just 340 jars of jams and marmalades this autumn instead of the usual 800…Whatever the weather, there will always be winners and losers in a garden, the key is growing a variety of useful, climate appropriate plants so there’s always food on the table”.