Friday, April 20, 2018

Native food crops of Africa

Whew, I have finally started putting up my shadecloth. I am using 8 ft posts which make the height so I can just walk under it but might be a bit low for anyone much taller.

The biggest cost will be all the shadecloth. I already have some so that is a start.

When everything is built I will mulch all the beds thickly with pea straw and all the walkways with wood chip.

This will be an ongoing project but it will be worth it to be more reliable in my production.

Native Food Crops of Africa

Before I start, if you have an interest in African food plants I suggest your download the three 'Lost Crops of Africa' ebooks. They are free. they are full of information and I have got a lot out of them.

Lost Crops of Africa, Volume I: Grains   
Lost Crops of Africa, Volume II: Vegetables
Lost Crops of Africa, Volume III: Fruits

Use the free PDF link on the right.

These are some of the African edible plants that I grow or have grown:

Snake bean (Vigna sesquipedalis, AKA V. unguiculata)

Snake beans are a type of cow pea that have been bred to be longer and tenderer. They are often associated with Asian cooking.

These are beans that love the heat and are entirely stringless. I much prefer growing them over 'normal' green beans. You can get climbing and bush varieties.

Okra is native to Western Africa and is a vegetable that few people in Australia have tried.
This is my first year growing it and I have to admit they are tastier than I expected, especially going by stories of their texture and flavour.

Next year I am going to try at least half a dozen varieties.


Sorghum is a much underused grain. It is bred mostly for stock green feed in Australia but the grain is very nutritious and should be used more for human food.

It looks like corn but is easier to grow and more tolerant of dry conditions and low fertility.

I grow three types: popping - the seeds can be popped a bit like popcorn, sugar - used to make a sugar syrup alternative to table sugar, and Broom - used for making brooms and brushes, and also for ornamental purposes.


Eggplant comes in such a range that it rivals is cousin tomatoes in variety.

They are a heat lover and will do well where tomatoes suffer.

Bamabara bean

I tried for a couple of years to grow this very nutritious underground bean but with no luck.

I can't even find a source for seed in this country any more.

There are other native African food plants that I don't have room to cover here like: yams, melons, rosella, amaranth and moringa. And there are some that I would love to try but they are either frost sensitive perennials, or you just can't get seeds here, things like yambean (Sphenostylis stenocarpa) and Enset.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Food plants that originated in Europe

As part of my native edible plants of different continents series This was going to be of Europe. Unfortunately I have not been able to find many wild plants of this area that are not just weeds that are spread over most of the northern hemisphere.

I did wonder, but then I realised that the reason for this is that people have been very active in this region for millennia turning their native weeds into the amazing, and popular vegetables that we know today. It is not that they don't have unique edibles, it is that we just don't recognise them from what they used to be.

Take the cabbage family for example.
Starting from over a thousand years ago a fairly nondescript plant native to Europe was selected and bred to produce the great diversity that is the garden brassicas of today - cabbages, broccoli, mustard, brussells sprouts etc.

This is truly a fantastic accomplishment and shows just what we can do over time to change nature to suit our needs.

It is amazing what we can come up with just by selecting mutations that appeal to us.
Hey, let's make a scrawny weed into a plant that has thick, edible bud covering its trunk, or, Hey I don't like having spread out flowers, what if we keep growing this plant that has all its flowers squashed together, that is much more efficient.

Globe Artichoke.
Not quite as varied, but the large flower buds we see today have been lovingly selected for bigger size and tenderness.
Same with its sibling the Cardoon, with its thick leaf stems

Not just an old thistle now, huh.


Taking a bitter, leggy plant and turning into a tight headed, tender and non-bitter salad vegetable was a master stroke.

I love lettuce for its texture in sandwiches and salads.


Another plant that is still found growing wild in Europe is asparagus, and it is not that much different than the garden varieties we grow today. The garden ones produce bigger and fatter spears but many people still take the time to go and harvest wild ones.


We can't forget all the fruits that have also be tamed and changed, like gooseberries, blackcurrants, and garden raspberries.

Europe has been a source of some of the best vegetables and fruits in history, I think partly due to the upper class who had lots of time on their hands to pursue plant interests and breeding over the past thousand years.

Friday, April 13, 2018

How I put together my drip system

A few times I have been asked how I put together my farm drip system because there is very little available on the net that goes into details.

I have a few beds with Dripeze tube but I didn't like it as it is too rigid and doesn't lie straight, so now I use Netafim tube (13mm, pressure regulated) which I love. It never blocks and is easy to use. The individual, inline drippers put out 2 litres per hour each. I generally put on the irrigation for an hour, 3 times a week in the heat of summer, and twice a week in cooler weather.

An over all view: All my rows are around 100m long and contain around 50 beds that are 20m long and 1m wide. The bed count is not higher because there is a wide laneway going up the middle of the block, as well as a fence.

Each row is watered separately by opening a valve, and each bed has a fertigation unit to make it easier to fertilise plants when they get tall.

Each bed has two drip tubes, though if there is a single row of plants, such as melons then one of the tubes is turned off because a singe tube puts out enough water for a single row of plants.

 I drill a 11mm hole in the main water line (Usually 25 mm poly, but here I show 19mm (1/4 inch) as I put in my first line in that size before I realised I needed a bigger size).

I put a Grommet in the hole (Philmac grommet double flange 8mm I.D.). This allows me to remove the drip tube when I need to work a bed.

Next I put a Dripeze take off adapter 8x13mm  into the end of the drip tube.

After that I cut the drip tube and install a greenback valve in the tube so I can turn off the water as I need to - if the bed is not in use, or the plants don't need watering at that time.

The tube is popped into the hole and all is good. This is fairly sturdy but you will need a pressure regulator at the main tap so there is not too much pressure in the pipes. You don't want to blow the drip tubes out. In any type of drip system you have to have a regulator and filter anyway.

The Philmac Grommets - you should be able to get these in your local irrigation store, or maybe your hardware store can get them in.

The Toro Dripeze take off adapters. Your irrigation store can get these.

If you make a booboo in your hole placement, or you just want to remove a tube permanently you can buy these stoppers on Ebay or Aliexpress which plug up the holes admirably.

At the end of each drip tube I just fold over the end and put a cut off piece of main line poly pipe over it to hold it closed. This allows you to easily flush out your system if you need too - just take off the bit of pipe and put it back when you are finished.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Edible natives from Asia

During the last couple of days I have been getting stuck into that big mulch pile and putting in on my garlic beds. Hopefully I won't have the weed trouble that I have been struggling with the last few years.

Here is a trial plot to compare my new selection of garlic (Easy Gro) with the original parent which I have been growing in a separate block for the past few years. I also have a couple of other garlic growers doing the same comparison.

If everyone reports a measurable difference then I will offer Easy Gro to the public next year.

Easy Gro has been selected to withstand the wettest winter/spring times that kill off other varieties, and sill produce marketable bulbs. As a bonus it also seems to cope with high weed pressure better than any others that I have grown.

Next in my series of native foods of [continent]. Some will be known to you, and some are a bit rarer.

Edible natives of Asia

Although many people consider skirrit a European vegetable, it actually originally came from China. It is related to parsnips and grows similar to them.
 Usually the roots are a bit cleaner, without so many tiny rootlets (and bigger) than this but it was a harsh year for them this year. I am sure that when I dig up the larger, better grown plants the roots will be much bigger.
They are a root vegetable that will grow in most soils. They are not super productive but the ease of care can make up for that.

The flavour (to me) is a mixture of potato and parsnip. I don't find it sweet like many sources suggest, and mine are never tough or fibrous. I like to microwave the roots till tender then serve with butter or white sauce. No need to peel.

Chinese Yam
I love Chinese yam (this is a picture of small roots - they can get very big and long)
The flavour is similar to potato but it has a sticky texture that really fills you up.

You should grow it in a raised bed that you can dis-assemble as the root will grow very long, over a metre, and it is fragile so you have to be careful when digging.
It is a vine so give it something to grow on.

Although they never do in my climate, sometimes they will produce little pea-size tubers along the stems, these can be cooked just like peas. You should take all these off so they don't spread throughout your garden and become a weed.


Lotus root is another favourite of mine. Lotus is a water plant and looks like water lilies. I only have a small variety which is why the root shown is not as large as the ones you can buy in city markets.

The roots are harvested when the plant dies down in winter, then scrubbed 9or peeled if they are older roots). Then slice and pop into acidified water before cooking. The flavour is mild.

They are good raw or stir-fried, and I also like them microwaved.

Chinese Toon

This is a tree that produces delicious spring shoots that are often chopped and added to egg dishes.
The flavour is a bit like onion. Some people don't like it but I love it.

Be aware that this tree suckers badly so is not suitable for a small garden. The suckers can be kept down with regular mowing.

Chinese Artichoke

This crunchy, small tuber is great to add texture to salads. it doesn't have a lot of flavour though.
The plant is a groundcover distantly related to mint, and like mint it likes to be well watered in summer.

Some people find it a little invasive but it has never been a problem in my poor soil.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Tree lopping and free mulch

Next door the DPI had a row of gum and sheoak trees that were getting a bit tall and they were worried that they might one day fall on the nearby power lines, so they got the tree loppers in to chop them down to under fence level.

 I liked these trees as they gave a bit of summer shade to a few of my beds over near the fence. But, I understand why they had to go.
Watching them today gave me a good reason to sit on my lime pile and watch them work.

Before they left they dropped off one truck load of mulch for letting them bring the truck onto my place to make it easier to work around the shed.

Nice. Now I just have to wait for a bit of rain them I can spread it on my newly planted garlic. Hopefully I won't get the weed problems that I have had over the last couple of years then.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Native food plants of Australia

Things are slowing down and there is not much to talk about now, and for the next few months. The capsicums are still ripening and I will be harvesting them until it gets frosty, and most of the chufa varieties are either dug or about to be.
I have to tidy things up a bit over the next two weeks because I will be getting a visit from a seed company rep on the 15th - it is a big deal because no-one ever wants to travel way out here to see me. I will get on the lawn mower next week to make sure the driveways are tidy, and rotary hoe a few more beds to make it look like I am busier than I actually am, lol.

I will do a series of native food plants from [continent] for a bit of info for you, and to keep me writing. Most of these are plants that I grow or have grown in the past.

Native Food Plants of Australia

Australia does not have the variety of well known food plants that other continents have because our plants have not been in cultivation (deliberate farming) and improvement that have grown other food plants from small and insignificant fruits and veg to the large and colourful ones we see today.

When you see the difference between, say, the ancestor of corn to what we grow in our gardens today you would be amazed. nearly all vegetables have come through this process over thousands of years of selection and breeding.

It is not likely that most of our natives will see much of an improvement over time because there is not much to gain from it. For example, our native raspberries are sweet but small and not flavourful - with the variety of good garden raspberries you can already grow there is no reason to try and improve our native ones. It would take a lot of time and effort without gaining anything better than we already have.

I will describe a few that I am fond of that grow in Southern Australia anyway for those who are interested. I will leave out any commonly known plants like macadamias as everyone already knows about them.

Muntries (Kunzea pomifera): This is a low groundcover shrub that produces little, dried apple flavoured berries in late January.
It mostly grows by the sea but I have found that it grows anywhere that doesn't get too wet in winter.
You can find them in the wild on sand dunes and beside the roads along the coast of Western Victoria and up through SE South Australia.

Native pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) This shrub comes in male and female forms and is found in damp gullies from NSW to Gippsland, and Tasmania, and some sheltered gullies in the Grampians. 
The leaves and berries have a very hot and spicy flavour and are usually used dried and ground to a powder in savoury dishes.

In my climate it needs afternoon shade to grow properly.

Less vigorous and invasive than the South African species, our Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens) grows on sand dunes by the sea and produces red or pink fruits in summer. 
The leaves are considered edible by some people but I find them disgusting. The fruits, when the insides are squirted into the mouth (especially when warm by the sun) are delicious and have a flavour of salty figs, to lemonade.

They are easy to grow in the garden if not allowed to get too wet.

Water ribbons (Triglochin sp) are a water plant that is recognised by the leaves that float on the water.
The small, crisp, white tubers can be dug for by hand if the water is not too deep. They don't have much flavour but can be boiled or roasted and added to a meal.
This was considered a good food for children and the elderly by the first peoples of Australia.
They are found anywhere there is still or slowly moving water.

Sawsedge (Gahnia sieberiana) is a plant that earns its common name by having leaves that will easily cut you if you touch them. The edible part is about 15cm where the newer shoot/stem meets the older part of the stem

You have to cut the plant stem down with long handled loppers then cut out the edible bit (this takes some practice). Then the edible part is peeled down to the core.
The core can be boiled or roasted till soft and it tastes just like asparagus, delicious.

Of course there a heap of other local native food plants, as well as those from other parts of the country but I can't list them all in one small article. When you are out bush look for native raspberries, ground orchids, heaths, bulrush, mistletoes and more. In towns you can find native foods in gardens - such as kurrajong and kangaroo paws.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The good and bad of compost tumblers

Hi everyone, hope your gardening and food growing is going well.

 Now that the temps have cooled down I have been busy rotary hoeing and preparing beds for the broad beans.
I completed and planted eight beds today and rotary hoed a dozen more for planting over the next week.

There is still plenty of time and I have many more to go but I am waiting for some grass to die before digging up the rest.

I told you I had harvested one of my beds of peanuts. I thought I would show you how they grow on the plant.
Flowers open along the stems and then produce 'pegs' that grow into the ground as the plant grows.
You can see here that where the branch attaches to the main stem the peanuts are mature but are younger as they get to the growing tip.
When you harvest the plant you will still have some immature nuts that you will have to bin but that can't be helped.
After drying the plant for a couple of weeks you can tell which are immature and can be thrown away, and the rest are picked off the plant and left to dry fully.

Compost Tumblers

Compost is a great addition to your garden and many people wonder if they should do a 'proper' compost heap or go with the easier tumbler.

There are pros and cons for each, and I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of tumblers here.


  • Easy if you have a bad back or poor health and can't turn a large compost heap
  • Great for tiny gardens where you just don't have room for a traditional compost heap
  • No rats
  • If you have a tub under your tumbler to catch drips, this is a great nutritional additive for your plants. Just add it to a watering can with some water.


  • Doesn't heap up well so the end product is coarse - works well as mulch though
  • A tumbler doesn't hold a lot
  • You must fill it at once for it to work properly, not a bit at a time
  • You have to be careful with your green to brown ratio
  • Takes much longer than advertised to turn the waste into compost - usually 10 weeks or so. helps to have two tumblers so you can use compost more often
  • Needs to be turned once a day if you can

Monday, March 26, 2018

Weird vegetable and food growing songs for fun and dancing :)

With everything dying down for the autumn there isn't much to write about. It looks like the hot weather is finished now so I am looking forward to starting work a bit later in the day. It is nice to irrigate a bit later without having to worry about the water in the pipes getting too hot and burning seedlings

 As well as the capsicums I have also started pulling up the peanuts.
They are looking great and have grown so well the past two years that I think I will plant a lot more beds next year.

I seem to have the drying down pat as they had almost 100% germination last year. I have noticed that a couple of pods have started germinating right now so I can't leave it any longer.

I am also harvesting the chufa. There are no mice in them this year I should have enough to make horchata as well as to sell.

All the 5 varieties grew well and if I can find a buyer I will put in a whole bed of each next year.

Fun and weird farming and food growing songs

Some time ago a forum I am a member of had a thread on vegetable and food growing songs. Just for a bit of light-hearted fun I will make a similar list here. If you hear of any other good or weird ones let me know.

  • Grow food:
  • These people make musical instruments out of carrots and other veg:  and making their instruments:    
  • Another vegetable orchestra:
  • She thinks my tractors sexy:
  • Vega-tables by Brian Wilson:
  • Garden song by John Denver:
  • Carrot juice is murder, by Arrogant worms:
  • I'm farming and I know it:
  • Farm it maybe:
  • iphone I like you: (gotta watch this one, lol)
  • Pretty pink tractor, by Tim Hawkins:

Have fun everyone, and I hope you enjoy these songs. Feel free to comment, and let me know if there are any serious articles or lists you would like to see.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

If it looks too good to be true...

Have you seen pictures of the vegetables, trees and and flowers shown in the pictures below, maybe on Ebay or Jackseeds? Thought about giving them a try but unsure if they are real or not?

Fake, photoshopped seeds are an ongoing problem with it being so easy to suck new gardeners in on the web now. Every now and then some of these pictures go viral on Ebay and I have to spend days trying to convince people that they are not real.

Most of these seeds are having a bad influence on gardeners as newbies often want new things but aren't able to tell what is real or not. They are often so excited at seeing these that they don't bother to check. They are setting themselves up for disappointment because even if you happen to get seeds from the species shown all you will end up with is boring supermarket varieties.

All I can say is either understand that if you see something that is too good to be true, then it often is, or you can ask a knowledgeable gardener first.

 Two of the above pictures are real, can you tell which ones?
Answer: The rose and the peppers.

The rose picture is a bit misleading as roses don't grow in a rainbow of colours like this, they are just cut white roses that have their stems split and each stem part is added to a glass of a different dye. Ove a coupel of days the flowers take up the dye and end up looking like this.

The peppers are an ornamental variety where each stage in the peppers growth causes it to turn a different colour, so you can have many colours on the same plant.

It can be confusing as most vegetables actually do come in a few different colours. For example: watermelon can have white, yellow, red, pink or orange flesh, but never purple or green. And you can get red, or white strawberries, and even some tiny ornamental green ones, but never blue or large green ones. There are a number of colours of tomatoes, but not on the same plant.

Unfortunately when you look at Ebay listings for these sorts of fake seeds you can see that they sell so many that it is worth the effort for unscrupulous sellers to offer them. Ebay doesn't do anything about it because Chinese listing follow Chinese laws which don't punish the seller.

It seems that every week these sellers are choosing more types of plants to photoshop so it can get hard to keep up with them. Please ask in the comments here if you are unsure if something is real and I will let you know. I hate that this issue keeps getting worse and there is nothing anyone seems to be able to do about it.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

My ten most useful garden tools

I have just got back from my weekend markets. Whew, the weekend was a total write off, I didn't even make back my stall fees let alone any of the other costs. Well, that is the lottery that is selling at markets.
The weather was so windy that all the stallholders had to use one arm to hold down there marquees (even with weights on) while trying to use the other to deal with their customers and money etc. By the time the wind came up it was too late for most to pack up, but some down the side streets that the wind was blowing down strongest had no choice, they had to go or their marquees would have been destroyed. Anyway, next month has to be better.

This posts article is on the tools I use most on my farm. I do use some others occasionally too. With a home garden I imagine that most people would not need so many.
Most of my work is done by hand so I don't have a tractor, though I do have a quadbike and trailer for carting mulch, lime and various other things.

My Ten Most Used Tools

 Bean planter

This bean and pea planter is just the thing so I don't have to get down on my knees on cold and damp ground. You just walk and pop beans in as you go. The wiry looking thing at the bottom serves both as a measurer and as you walk it presses on the ground and opens the tool to drop the bean into the hole.

I have a larger one for planting broad beans and garlic cloves in autumn.


When I have a lot of beds to dig I use the rotary hoe but if I only have one or two the broadfork does a reasonable quick and easy job. It is much faster and easier than using a spade.

I get mine made by my local metal fabricator to my specs, and it does a great job. It is also useful for digging garlic.
 Hand hoe

I get these little hand hoes also made by my metal fabricator using steel pipe covered with rubber hose and the blade is part of a tractor mower.

The blade is sharpened on all sides and it perfect for precise weeding, especially weeding out taprooted weeds like capeweed because the blade s sharp enough to cut through the roots easily. Capeweed it very difficult to weed by hand.
The handle is about 40cm long.

Long handled hoe

This is a heavy duty hoe also made by my metal fabricator with a blade cut out of a plough disc. The shape of the disc makes this hoe blade very strong.
It is sharp and the shape makes it great not only for hoeing hard weeds but also for chipping. And it has a point on the opposite end of the blade for making seed rows.

 Sharp knife

A knife is indispensible. It is used for cutting open fertiliser bags to cutting pumpkins and melons to get the seed out.

Even though I like to have at least two of each tool I have more knives as I am always carting them about and leaving them places like in my van, and home in the hothouses, so I have to have a few to be able to find one when I need it.


Of course, after digging a bed, then adding any lime or fertiliser to it I have to rake it to make a nice even bed, and after seeding it I rake lightly again to cover the seed.

Rotary hoe

This is my most work saving tool. As I have a few hundred beds to dig in spring I couldn't do them all in time using hand tools.

This old rotary hoe is so reliable and does a great job.


Where would anyone be without a handy pair of secateurs. Mine get used mostly for harvesting seed from most crops.

I also tend to leave these everywhere so I only buy cheap ones and have many lying around.

Used for everything from digging post holes (though I do also have a post hole digger), to digging spuds and the occasional small bed.
I also have a shovel (it has a wider mouth than a spade) to shovel lime and mulch.

Stirrup hoe

These have a moving head that cuts small weeds just under the soil surface.
These are great for cleaning up between beds just as small weeds are emerging. It is not good for established weeds but it does a quick job when you use in in light soil in autumn especially when capeweed seedlings are coming up in their millions..

Other tools I have on hand are a garden fork for digging spuds and garlic, and a couple of sprayers.