Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

Nice to get some rain today. The kids went mental, jumping with the thunder into all the puddles.

Our driveway is chock full of sweet potatoes. They are really delicious and sweet, easily the best sweet potatoes I've ever eaten. There must be a hundred of them just in the driveway, and we've also got some Marguerite variety doing well in another patch in the sun. The amazing thing is when you go out to see what you can find, you realise that the ground is literally bursting with tubers. They are getting pretty big now, but there's a good variety of sizes so I imagine that the driveway will continue to feed us, with careful harvesting, for a few months.

The driveway gets late morning to mid afternoon sun. It has awful clay soil. Andrew dug it all up with a crowbar, we chucked a bag of dynamic lifter on it, mulched and planted it (full clean-looking tubers from the green grocer at about 1.5m spacings) and then COMPLETELY ignored it for 6 months (no water, no food). It's removed the need for me to weed or mow the median strip on the driveway, so I'm pretty pleased about that. We can still drive over the potatoes if we wish (and we have done so a few times). For something that's so productive I think it looks very nice.

We have a new bunch of bananas that hasn't filled out at all. I suspect lack of food and water, too much sun, and poor shallow soil (the plants in this spot always lean over when they have fruit).

We've just had another large bunch of bananas ripen - this one was a double bunch, each hand has two rows. It's delicious. I pulled our fennel out - you can see it's only small. I let it dry out a few times and didn't keep the water up wonderfully well, but I'll probably try a moroccan recipe with it I guess - a tagine/ stew sort of thing to infuse the flavour, and I can't wait.

Our strawberries are DELICIOUS. They taste improbably like strawberry flavoured lollies - I always thought that strawberry flavouring tasted fake, but it's not so. This photo doesn't show the three we just ate...Sorry - some things just can't wait!

I dug around under my water chestnuts today (speaking of not waiting) and found some little corms. There is now a lot of water chestnut rush in areas that weren't originally planted by me - it's spreading underground. Now to fatten the corms up I guess.

I finally spread a bag of rooster booster about and pulled a lot of stuff out of the vegie garden (too much seeding parsley, chicory I wasn't using, old mizuna, old lettuce), and I will pick the last swede, beetroots, the brussel sprouts and broccoli tonight when it is cooler and they have sucked up the thunderstorm. I want to give everything a good clear out. I planted some melon seeds and cucumber seeds just before the storm, and will get back out there and plant the rest of the peanuts soon. I mulched everything with three bales of sugar cane hay, and laid tablets of sugar cane for the vegie garden path. The garden is looking halfway respectable - for at least a few days!

One of the grosse lisse tomatoes (pretty or princess? not sure) came out and the other will follow suit shortly, once I harvest the last few ripening fruits. Looks like they're a one crop wonder. I must admit though that it's lovely to have a big fat tomato for your toast.

Am coveting my lychees like crazy. I think they are almost ready - look.

I've got a Strelitzia reginae that has two lower leaves that have been turned into a San Jose scale farm by the local ants. I'm glad they're happy to attack this massive inedible plant rather than my vegie garden or orchard specimens. The old delectable decoy routine :) There's no way they'll hurt it, it's huge. More food for good predators I reckon. I will still cut the affected leaves off to keep the numbers in check though. A friend told me the other day that she has a lot of aphids at the moment.

How weird is it that ants actually farm scale and aphid for their honey dew? They keep the eggs underground when it's cold, then place them on suitable plants and gently stroke the backs of the mature insects, causing them to excrete the watery nectar solution known as 'honeydew', which the ants then drink. Totally bizarre. Sooty mould is often an indicator that honeydew is around - sooty mould loves it also. The best cure for sooty mould or aphids/ scale is usually to deal with your ants. The best way to clear out an ant nest is to put the hose down the main entrance for half an hour. Ants hate that :) Also consider a band of petroleum jelly around the trunk of orchard trees - ants don't like sticky feet (but you have to refresh it periodically).

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Comment by Scarlett on December 22, 2009 at 8:04
Strelitzia will even grow in Melbourne - although very slowly. The Bird of Paradise still flower there though, which is impressive. This one was meant to be a bird of paradise, but the label was wrong! I like them for the flowers (good cut flowers) and because they are bomb proof - never have to do anything to them, including water them.
Comment by Florence on December 22, 2009 at 0:27
Thanks Elaine, we've cut some off the one that's growing foilage really well. Some cuttings have been planted else where, and some was on the dinner table a couple of days ago. Think we might try younger shoots next time though ^^ ~~
Comment by Elaine de Saxe on December 21, 2009 at 20:46
Florence, try and keep the vines from growing too enthusiastically by clipping off the bits which are invading another garden/growing over the path/hanging over the bed ... By pruning the theory is that it encourages the plant to make tubers rather than get ahead of itself and make heaps of foliage. As well, restrict the amount of nitrogenous fert (eg chook pellets) in general for root crops.

There are 'non-running' Sweet Potatoes but I've heard they are not so tasty from the people who used to grow them. Never done so, so no first-hand info.
Comment by Florence on December 17, 2009 at 9:21
Awesome!! So many sweet potatoes & bananas!!! Can’t wait to see tubers from my potato vines~~ I always get way more vines then tubers though… but I didn’t grow the orange variety this time, I am trying other different varieties. I might try digging the ornamental ones in the front yard and see whether there’s any tubers there.. they are the only ones in the ground long enough…

I love Lychees… um….
Comment by Elaine de Saxe on December 15, 2009 at 23:45
Mmmm! Yellow Sweet Potatoes ... now my Dad used to grow a yellow variety developed at Hawkesbury Ag College - the ones he grew would be more cold-adapted since that was in Sydney. I recall them as being nice and dry, rather like the white or purple ones. The commercial salmon-pink ones which grow up here are (for my taste) a tad watery but they do produce way more tubers than the white ones I prefer. I'd be interested in trying some yellow ones when the time comes to trim them.

Thinking a bit more about Strelitzias ... I recall them thriving in Sydney which is more like South Africa (hot dry summers, cold wet winters) but in those dim distant days (or is it daze?) I would not have known an aphid from an apex.
Comment by Scarlett on December 15, 2009 at 20:02
you know i haven't eaten any yet, but i think it's a yellow tuber (from the look of the developing ones at the surface). the leaves are a washed out yellow colour and it seems to be very hardy in full sun, although not as productive as the standard driveway plants (I much prefer the yellow ones so I don't have purple/ white ones in). the driveway ones hardly grow in the same spot though - so the Marguerite is pretty impressive in that respect.
Comment by Elaine de Saxe on December 15, 2009 at 19:54
Such Sweet Potatoes! I love practical ground cover :-) Marguerite variety - some more info maybe ... white? yellow?

The aphids/scale/mould situation ... as ever, it's plants under stress which cop most of the damage. Strelitzia however much I adore the flowers, is from South Africa and I reckon is not acclimatised to our humid summers and every plant I've seen including the ones for sale in nurseries, always look a bit stressed. You can kill the ants but that doesn't help the plant's health in the long term. Not sure what would with Strelitzia, some plants just don't do well in some places. Some plants are very flexible with their requirements, others not and sometimes we just have to accept that what we want to grow isn't going to like it where we've put it.

Love those Lychees ... always managed to kill my Lychee trees so no Lychees for me from my garden :-(

Strawberries ... uhhh ... this late season has produced some of the most delicious Strawberries I've ever eaten never mind that I've had growing. Since so many people report a late flush of scrumptious berries, I can't claim some revelation in Strawberry culture! Wish I could bottle it or better yet, patent it and retire on the proceeds! Oh, but I'm retired already, aren't I ;-)?

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