Sunday, April 29, 2018

Native food plants of North America

The native peoples of North America had a plethora of native food plants to chose from. Of course, in such a large continent different plants are found i different areas. Here are some that I have grown.


This is one of my favourites. Hopnis (Apios americana) is a pretty vine with pink maroon flowers that produces strings of tubers. After cooking these tubers have a sticky potato-like texture and flavour that is filling and nutritious.

They are very tough and can be grown up any fence or trellis.


American Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is an undergrowth tree that is a relative of the tropical pawpaw. It is frost tolerant, deciduous, and produces fruit that has a flavour that seems to be described differently by everyone who has written about it, it seems to be a creamy mix of banana and mango.. I used to have a dozen seedling trees but only have two tiny ones left after the rabbits got to them last year. I will try to get some more and protect them better.

Pine tree bark (Pinus sp.)

It seems unusual but I have actually gone out and tried the cambium of pine trees, and found that it is pretty good. It is tender and does not taste like pine. It was a surprise to me. I am not going to grow pines just for this purpose but there are heaps of feral pines in the bush to try for yourself in southern Australia.

Banana yucca (Yucca baccata)

My five plants are not old enough to flower yet but in a couple of years I will be able to taste the flower buds or fruit of this desert plant. There are Youtube videos that show how to prepare and cook it.

Brodiaea or Triteleia

(below) This little grassland bulb is actually quite tasty and can be eaten raw as well as cooked. it has pretty blue flowers. They look great as a mass planting but hate weeds. I have had trouble growing them because it is hard to keep weeds out of the bed.

Jerusalem artichoke

Although thought of a famine food, because it is always around. When you plant it you have it forever, many people still love it for soup. It is a relative of the sunflower and produces masses of tubers in autumn/winter. Some people love them and some hate them.

Pecan nut

Although pecans are not popular in Australia we still get them in packets of mixed nuts. This is a native tree that has had a lot of attention and is very popular in the US. I haven't grown these trees yet but have been meaning to put some in.

These are a just a few of the natives of North America, some others like cranberries and some other berries are available in Australia if you search.

Just as an add on, I have started a little online seed store to make a few extra dollars since I had such a bad season. You might find something you would like if you pop in and have a look. I will try to add something new every month.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Skirret and cotton

Just harvesting two of my new crops for this year, only a dozen plants of each though. Cotton and skirret. I have also been busy putting up the frame of my new shade for some of the farm.


I have been pleased that I have been able to get some cotton off my cotton plants. They didn't get any fertiliser and hardly any water over the summer which stunted them, but I still got cotton, and enough seeds to plant a bed next season.

Next year I am going to grow some other colours as well as white. Such fun.

It seems like you get quite a bit of fluff of each plant so it might be worth growing just to fill stuffed toys and cushions.


I am very pleased with my skirret. people said to me that you must grow it with heaps of water or the roots will be small and fibrous. Not so. I have just finished harvesting the seed so I thought I would dig up a couple of plants to look at the roots.
They were big and tender (the roots in the pic were cut off with the spade). I cooked some up and had a good meal of them. No fibre at all.
The have a flavour of potatoes and parsnip.

I got stuck into laying down straw this morning and managed to put out one bale of pea straw.

Here is a pic of just starting and having a couple of beds done. the straw is very thick and I spread high nitrogen fertiliser under it to help the bacteria and other organisms break it down over winter.

I should have about a half acre done and under shadecloth by summer, and two times that next year. I am not going to be taken by surprise by a baking hot summer again.

Because I had such a bad summer I don't have much bulk seed to offer to seed companies, so I have had to start a small online seeds shop to make a few dollars. If you are interested in taking a look the URL is: 

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 bed can be watered separately by opening a valve, and each row 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.