Permaculture Noosa Plant Catalogue

A catalogue of plants which readily grow in South East Queensland.

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Alfalfa/Lucerne flowers

Source: Wikipedia

Alfalfa (/ælˈfælfə/), also called lucerne and called Medicago sativa is a perennial flowering plant in the legume family Fabaceae. It is cultivated as an important forage crop in many countries around the world. It is used for grazinghay, and silage, as well as a green manure and cover crop. The name alfalfa is used in North America. The name lucerne is the more commonly used name in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The plant superficially resembles clover (a cousin in the same family), especially while young, when trifoliate leaves comprising round leaflets predominate. Later in maturity, leaflets are elongated. It has clusters of small purple flowers followed by fruits spiralled in 2 to 3 turns containing 10–20 seeds. Alfalfa is native to warmer temperate climates. It has been cultivated as livestock fodder since at least the era of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Alfalfa sprouts are a common ingredient in dishes made in South Indian cuisine.


Alfalfa seems to have originated in south-central Asia, and was first cultivated in ancient Iran. According to Pliny (died 79 AD), it was introduced to Greece in about 490 BC when the Persians invaded Greek territory.


Alfalfa is a perennial forage legume which normally lives four to eight years, but can live more than 20 years, depending on variety and climate. The plant grows to a height of up to 1 m (3.3 ft), and has a deep root system, sometimes growing to a depth of more than 15 m (49 ft) to reach groundwater. Typically the root system grows to a depth of 2–3 metres depending on subsoil constraints. Owing to deep root system, it helps to improve soil nitrogen fertility and protect from soil erosion. This depth of root system, and perenniality of crowns that store carbohydrates as an energy reserve, make it very resilient, especially to droughts. Alfalfa is more drought-hardy than drought-tolerant and the persistence of the plant also depends on the management of the stand. It has a tetraploid genome.

Alfalfa is a small-seeded crop, and has a slowly growing seedling, but after several months of establishment, forms a tough “crown” at the top of the root system. This crown contains shoot buds that enable alfalfa to regrow many times after being grazed or harvested; however, overgrazing of the buds will reduce the new leaves on offer to the grazing animal.

Like other legumes, its root nodules contain bacteria, Sinorhizobium meliloti, with the ability to fix nitrogen, producing a high-protein feed regardless of available nitrogen in the soil. Its nitrogen-fixing ability (which increases soil nitrogen) and its use as an animal feed greatly improve agricultural efficiency.[

Alfalfa can be sown in spring or fall, and does best on well-drained soils with a neutral pH of 6.8–7.5. Alfalfa requires sustained levels of potassium and phosphorus to grow well. It is moderately sensitive to salt levels in both the soil and irrigation water, although it continues to be grown in the arid southwestern United States, where salinity is an emerging issue. Soils low in fertility should be fertilized with manure or a chemical fertilizer, but correction of pH is particularly important.

Pests and diseases

Like most plants, alfalfa can be attacked by various pests and pathogens. Diseases often have subtle symptoms which are easily misdiagnosed and can affect leaves, roots, and stems. Some pests, such as the alfalfa weevilaphidsarmyworms, and the potato leafhopper,[43] can reduce alfalfa yields dramatically, particularly with the second cutting when weather is warmest.[44] Spotted alfalfa aphid, broadly spread in Australia, not only sucks sap but also injects salivary toxins into the leaves.[45] 

Nutritional value

Alfalfa is rich in chlorophyll, carotene, proteincalcium and other minerals, vitamins in the B groupvitamin Cvitamin Dvitamin E, and vitamin K. The sun-dried hay of alfalfa has been found to be a source of vitamin D, containing 48 ng/g (1920 IU/kg) vitamin D2 and 0.63 ng/g (25 IU/kg) vitamin D3. There is reference to vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 being found in the alfalfa shoot; this is awaiting verification.


Alfalfa sprouts

Sprouting alfalfa seeds is the process of germinatingseeds for consumption usually involving just water and a jar. However, the seeds and sprouts must be rinsed regularly to avoid the accumulation of the products of decay organisms along with smells of rot and discoloration. Sprouting alfalfa usually takes three to four days with one tablespoon of seed yielding up to three full cups of sprouts.

Health effects

The United States National Institutes of Health (US NIH) reports there is “Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness [of alfalfa] for” the following:[117]

  • High cholesterol. Taking alfalfa seeds seems to lower total cholesterol and “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in people with high cholesterol levels.
  • Kidney problems.
  • Bladder problems.
  • Prostate problems.
  • Asthma.
  • Arthritis.
  • Diabetes.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Other conditions.

Like all things moderation is the key. Before consuming large quantities spend some time doing the research to make an informed choice.

Growing Asparagus in SE Qld

(Aspargus officianalis)


Asparagus shoot
  • Easy to grow. Plant as crowns between August to November. Best planted at soil temperatures between 16°C and 30°C. 
  • Space plants: 20 - 40 cm apart
  • Harvest in 2-3 years. Plant 'crowns' to harvest earlier .
  • Compatible with (can grow beside): Parsley, Basil, Nasturtiums, Lettuce
  • Avoid growing close to: Garlic, Onions, and root vegetables

Plant crowns (roots) 20-40cm apart and a few cm (1 inch) deep in well manured soil. The asparagus shoots grow in spring. Harvest the shoots which are bigger than 1-2cm/half-inch in diameter. Leave the rest to grow into the leafy ferns (1.5m/5-6ft tall) which will feed the crowns to give a crop next year. In autumn the ferns will be covered in bright red poisonous berries. Leave the ferns to die down in autumn, then trim off the dead stalks and pile on plenty of rotted manure/compost to give the roots plenty of food to produce new stems in spring.

Harvest by cutting off the stalk, close to the ground. From the third year you can get an additional crop by letting the first lot of ferns grow, then bending down the stalks to break them. A second crop of shoots will grow and can be harvested. Leave subsequent shoots to grow on to ferns. Asparagus does not like continuously wet and warm soil. It grows better where there is a cool or frosty season.

NOTE: The asparagus berries are poisonous. Only the young shoots are edible.

Source: Tropical Permaculture

How To Grow Banana Plants And Keep Them Happy

Growing bananas does not take much effort, but it does require that you get a few things right when you first get started.
Banana plants can offer many benefits:

  • They make great windbreaks or screens,
  • they can keep the sun of the hot western side of your house,
  • they utilize the water and nutrients in waste drains (think washing water or outdoor shower),
  • the leaves can be fed to horses, cows and other grazers,
  • the dried remains of the trunks can be used for weaving baskets and mats.

Oh, and they give you bananas. Lots of bananas!
But when I look around friends’ gardens then I see some pretty sad looking banana plants growing there. It helps to understand what bananas like and dislike if you want them to be happy!
Banana plants like:

  • Rich, dark, fertile soils.
  • Lots of mulch and organic matter. LOTS. Just keep piling it on.
  • Lot of nitrogen and potassium. (Chicken manure!)
  • Steady warmth, not too hot and not too cold. (Bananas are sissies when it comes to temperatures…)
  • Steady moisture, in the ground and in the air.
  • The shelter of other bananas! That’s the most overlooked aspect by home growers…

Banana plants dislike:

  • Strong winds.
  • Extreme heat or cold.
  • Being hungry or thirsty.
  • Being alone and exposed.

More detail on all that below.

Banana varieties

Cavendish is the variety that you know from the shops. It’s a stout variety that produces large heavy bunches.
Lady Fingers are very tall and slender plants and have sweeter fruit.
Plantains are cooking bananas. They are drier and more starchy. You use them green like you would use potatoes, and they taste similar.
(80% of all bananas grown in the world are plantain varieties! They are an important staple food in many tropical countries.)
There are other varieties, but those are the most popular and most commonly grown.

How do bananas grow? Bananas aren’t real trees, not even palm trees, even though they are often called banana palms. Bananas are perennial herbs. (Gingers, heliconias and bird-of-paradise flowers are distant relatives of bananas. They are in the same order, Zingiberales.)
Banana trunks consists of all the leaf stalks wrapped around each other. New leaves start growing inside, below the ground. They push up through the middle and emerge from the centre of the crown. So does the flower, which finally turns into a bunch of bananas.
Here is a picture series showing how the flower looks at first, and how the bananas appear and curl up towards the light.

Those pictures were taken over the course of a few days. You can pretty much watch this happen. But now it will take another two months or so, depending on the temperature, for the fruit to fill out and finally ripen.
A banana plant takes about 9 months to grow up and produce a bunch of bananas. Then the mother plant dies. But around the base of it are many suckers, little baby plants.
At the base of a banana plant, under the ground, is a big rhizome, called the corm.

Suckers growing

The corm has growing points and they turn into new suckers. These suckers can be taken off and transplanted, and one or two can be left in position to replace the mother plant.
Great, so now you know what to do once you have bananas growing in your garden, but how do you start?

How to get started growing bananas.

First you need to make sure that you can grow bananas where you are.
You need a tropical or warm subtropical climate. Bananas can handle extreme heat (if they have enough water), but they don’t like it. They can handle cool weather for a short while, but they don’t like that either. Below 14°C (57F) they just stop growing.
If the temperatures drop any lower the fruit suffers (the skin turns greyish) and the leaves can turn yellow. Frost kills the plant above ground, but the corm can survive and may re-shoot.
The ideal temperature range for banana growing is around 26-30°C (78-86F).
You need a lot of water to grow bananas. The huge soft leaves evaporate a lot, and you have to keep up the supply. Bananas also need high humidity to be happy. (Where I live the commercial banana growers water their plants two or three times a day with sprinklers to keep up the humidity in the banana plantation!)
You need very rich soil. If you don’t have good soil to start with, make some. Incorporate lots and lots of compost and plenty of chicken manure before you plant your bananas (wood ash for extra potassium doesn’t hurt either), and then mulch them very thickly. And keep mulching and feeding them!
And you need room so you can plant enough of them together. Bananas need shelter from wind. Growing many banana plants together increases the humidity in the middle, evens out temperature changes a bit, and it shades and cools the trunks. (You don’t want to cook the flower that’s forming in the middle…)
If you get a chance look at a commercial banana plantation somewhere. The outside rows, especially the western side, always look sad. The best bananas grow on the inside…
You should plant bananas in blocks or clumps, not single rows and definitely not single plants. If you have very little room you can grow a few banana plants together and grow something else on the outside to protect them. But you do need to give them that sheltered jungle environment if you want them to be happy.

Planting bananas

You can not grow bananas from seeds. Banana plants don’t produce seeds.
The best way is to start with the above mentioned suckers. Know someone who grows bananas? Talk to them. Every banana plant produces a lot more suckers than you need, so people usually have plenty to give away.
Only take suckers from vigorous banana plants. The suckers should have small, spear shaped leaves and ideally be about four feet high. (Smaller suckers will take longer to fruit and the first buch will be smaller.)
Cut the sucker from the main banana plant with a sharp shovel. Cut downwards between the mature plant and the sucker. You have to cut through the corm. It’s not easy…
Make sure you get a good chunk of corm and many roots with it. Chop the top off the sucker to reduce evaporation while you move it and while it settles into its new home. (Remember, the growing point is at the bottom of a banana plant. You can decapitate the sucker. It will grow back.)
You can also dig up a bit of corm and chop it into bits. Every bit that has an eye can be planted and will grow into a banana plant. But it takes longer than growing banana suckers…
Plant your bits or suckers in your well prepared banana patch, keeping two to five metres between them.
The spacing depends on your layout. My bananas grow in a block of several double rows. Within the double rows the spacing is two to three metres, but there are two plants in each position, suckers of the initial plant. And I have four to five metres between the double rows.
I also have a banana circle around an outdoor shower where I only have two metres between individual plants, and they are growing in a haphazard way. And if you have just a single clump of a few banana plants you can put them even closer together.
Keep your banana plants moist but not too wet in the early days, or they may rot. (They don’t have leaves yet to evaporate water, so they don’t need much.)

Maintaining your banana patch The most common cause of death for bananas is lack of water. The most common cause for not getting fruit is starvation. Banana plants blow over in strong winds. Protect them and feed them and water them and all will be well. Other than that bananas don’t need much maintenance.
Just remove any dead leaves and cut down the dead plants every now and then.
You get bigger fruit if you remove all unwanted suckers, only keeping the best one (two for very healthy, vigorous plants).

The best suckers are the ones with the small, spear shaped leaves, NOT the pretty ones with the big round leaves!
Why? A sucker that is still fed by the mother plant does not need to do much photosynthesis, so it doesn’t need to produce big leaves.
And a sucker that is well looked after by the mother plant will produce better fruit and be stronger than one that had to struggle on its own…
A mature plantation is pretty much self mulching. Just throw all the leaves and old trunks etc. back under the plants. You can also grow other plants in the understory to produce more mulch. (I use cassava, sweet potato and crotolaria).
You just need to sprinkle on some fertiliser every now and then, to replace what you took out of the system when you took the bananas. Keep the fertiliser close to the trunk as bananas don’t have a big root system.

Growing banana fruitYou may see your first flower emerge after about six months, depending on the weather. Leave the leaves around it, especially the one protecting the top bend of the stalk from sunburn!

As the purple flower petals curl back and drop off they reveal a “hand” of bananas under each. Each banana is a “finger”.
You may get anything between four to a dozen or more full hands. Then, under the next petal, you’ll see a hand of teeny weeny excuses for bananas. Those are the male fingers.
The male fingers just dry and drop off. Only the stalk remains. If you let it grow it will eventually reach the ground.
Some people break off the “bell” (the bunch of purple flower petals at the end) about 15 cm below the last female hand. That way the banana plant puts its energy and reserves into growing big bananas, and not into growing a long stalk. (Commercial banana growers also remove some of the bottom female hands, so the remaining bananas grow bigger.)
Not everyone thinks that way, though. This is a comment from one of my readers:

I never cut the flower off the bananas. The hummers (Ed: hummingbirds) love them too much. As you said, there are always enough bananas around and though I sell them I have to keep my hummers happy.

Well, and then you patiently wait for at least another two months. You may have to prop your banana bunch, because it becomes very heavy, and a bunch can snap off or pull the whole plant over.
A good prop would be a long stick with a u-shaped hook at the end. But a long enough plank or pole can do the job, too. I leave that to your ingenuity.
Bananas are ready to be picked when they look well rounded with ribs, and the little flowers at the end are dry and rub off easily.
They will eventually ripen on the bunch, and those bananas taste the best. But once they start they ripen very quickly, faster than you can eat or use them. So you may as well cut the top hands off a bit earlier and ripen them on the kitchen bench.
You can also cut the whole bunch and hang it somewhere if you need to protect it from possums or birds or other thieves. But then all bananas will ripen at once! So be prepared.
You can preserve bananas for use in cooking and baking by peeling and freezing them. Or, to preserve them for eating, peel, split in half lengthwise and dry them.
Once the bunch is picked the rest of the plant will die quickly. Cut it to the ground, throw on some chook poo, and let the next sucker grow while you process all the bananas…
Tip: commercial banana growers use bunch covers (plastic bags open at both ends that they slip over the bunch and tie at the top) to protect bananas from diseases, insects, sunburn and marauders. You can try to buy those bags at a rural supplies store, or beg some of a grower.
I used to bag my bananas (hard to get out of habits after four years of working on commercial plantations) but I don’t bother any more. Even if the birds get a few, there are still more than enough left for me and the chickens and the dog and all friends and their families and freezing and drying…  So why not let the wild birds partake of the bounty as well!

Bean seed varieties

Source: Kitchen Gardens SA
An initiative of the Botanic Gardens of South Australia

Beans have been grown in tropical and subtropical regions for millennia, and provide an important staple food.

There are numerous species and dozens of varieties. Only those most suitable for growing in southern Australia are described here. Pods are usually eaten immature as a green vegetable, but immature pods can be shelled, cooked and eaten like peas, or allowed to mature and the dried beans stored. The dried seeds are nutritious, containing up to 10% protein.
Most beans are grown during the warmer months from spring through to early autumn. The only exception is broad beans which are grown from autumn through to spring.

Butter Beans

Butter beans (Phaseolus lunatus)
Butter beans produce sweet and tender, golden yellow, often flattened pods with a waxy sheen. Bush varieties include ‘Bountiful’, ‘Cherokee’ and ‘Majestic’. ‘Sunglow’ is a vigorous climber.

French beans

French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)
These beans, also called common or garden beans, are the most widely grown beans. They occur as dwarf (stick or bush) and climbing varieties. Climbing varieties take a little longer to begin cropping but produce more pods over a longer period. Varieties grown for their dried seeds are called haricot beans.

Dwarf Beans

Dwarf stringed beans
‘Royal Windsor’ or ‘Windsor Long Pod’ produce prolific crops of long, straight fleshy pods, even in cool weather.
‘Brown Beauty’ performs well in hot weather and will crop heavily for three weeks or more if picked regularly.
‘Hawkesbury Wonder’ sets well in cooler conditions and is suited to later sowing. All french beans are stringless if picked young enough. They then need only to be topped and tailed.
Dwarf stringless beans
‘Pioneer’ or ‘Redlands Pioneer’ produce excellent quality, fleshy pods and can be sown throughout the season. They thrive in hot humid conditions, and are resistant to bean rust. ‘Gourmet’s Delight’ is similar to ‘Pioneer’ but is better suited to later sowing.
‘Snapbean’ produces good crops of round, very fleshy, stringless pods and is disease resistant for wet or dry locations. ‘Wholepod’ produces prolific crops of slender 10cm pods on strong compact bushes is excellent for growing in small spaces and pots and can be eaten whole. Pick while young and tender to maintain cropping. ‘Rapier’ is like ‘Wholepod’ but with more rounded pods.

Purple King Beans

Climbing beans
‘Purple King’ is an old favourite with good crops of bluish-purple, flattened pods that turn green when cooked. It
performs well during dry summers. ‘Epicure’ produces good crops of well- shaped, flattish, almost stringless pods, even during hot weather. ‘Westralia’ produces dark green, flattened, stringless, fleshy pods up to 25cm long on a dense, rust resistant vine. ‘Blue Lake’ produces large crops of big, fleshy, stringless pods over a long period and is best suited to a milder climate. ‘Giant of Stuttgart’ produces heavy crops over a long period of excellent tasting, stringless pods on vigorous bushes to 2-3 metres in height.

Lima Beans

Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus var. macrocarpa syn. Phaseolus limensis)
Also called Madagascar beans, Lima beans are grown for their seeds which are used semi-mature (green limas) or dry (dry limas). They occur as baby lima with small thin seeds and large limas with the more usual large, thick seeds.

Snake beans

Snake beans (Vigna unguiculata var. sesquipedalis)
Also called asparagus or yard-long beans, these are grown for their 1 cm thick, stringless pods that can grow to 60 cm or more in length although they are usually harvested at 30cm or so. Over mature pods become tougher and less palatable. Snake beans grow well in hot areas, and are available as bush and climbing varieties.

Soy Bean plant

Soybean (Glycine max)
The soybean is the most important food bean in the world and has the highest protein content (up to 10%). It is used to make high protein flour, milk substitute, sauces and beverages. The green pods, half ripe seeds and dried seeds are use as vegetables. Grown in the same way as dwarf french beans, soybean bushes reach 50-60cm. The pods have a rough hairy texture, grow about 7 cm long and contain three or four smooth rounded seeds. There are black, brown, yellow green or white seeded varieties. White seeded varieties are often preferred for cooking.

Growing beans
All beans except broad beans are warm climate vegetables that will not grow under cold, frost-prone conditions. Adequate shelter is essential. Strong wind damages plants, stunts growth and reduces pod set. Plant beans in a protected site, or protect them from the prevailing winds with a windbreak or rows of sweet corn. Beans prefer well- prepared, organic-rich, loams and clay loams with good drainage. Crops grown on very sandy soils need mulching and frequent watering to produce satisfactory crops.


Most beans are sown from September to January or February in warmer areas and October to December in

cooler areas. Always follow packet instructions. Climbing beans need support to a height of 2-2.5 m.
Make sure the soil is fully moist. Apply fertilisers as recommended. Place the seed in a bag and add a level teaspoon of fungicide, such as mancozeb or chlorothalonil. Shake the bag to coat seed with fungicide. This will protect seed from rotting until it germinates.
Sow seed at the recommended depth and spacing, cover with soil, lightly firm and mulch with either dry grass clippings or compost. Avoid watering in the first three or four days if possible. Immediate heavy watering often causes seed to take up water too rapidly, resulting in the seed rotting or ‘damping off’ of young seedlings. In hot weather, light sprinklings to maintain surface moisture are acceptable. Bean seed will germinate in 7-10 days from sowing. Climbing beans may be supported in a variety of ways.

Being legumes, beans supply much of their own nitrogen from nodules on their roots. Use a complete fertiliser lower in nitrogen (for example NPK 4:6:8), or mix a complete fertiliser (for example NPK 8:4:8) and superphosphate in equal proportions. This gives an NPK of 4:6:4 which is quite suitable for beans. Place fertiliser in bands either side of the row 50-75 mm deep either before planting or after seedlings have emerged. Placing fertiliser before planting is easier. Use about 60g of fertiliser to each metre of row and cover with soil before sowing. Direct contact with fertiliser can kill germinating seedlings.
Further side dressings of fertiliser will be needed only when beans are grown in very sandy soil, or when no compost or animal manures have been added.

Young seedlings will need 5-10 mm (equal to 5-10L to each square metre) of water every two to four days, depending on the weather. As the plants grow, increase this to 10-15 mm. Beans benefit from some overhead watering – the extra humidity increases pollination efficiency and pod set, and suppresses mite infestations.

Maturity, harvesting and storage
Bush beans take 10-12 weeks from sowing to first picking and climbing beans take 12-14 weeks. Always pick green beans when young and tender before the seeds swell. Over mature pods become lumpy and tough. Pick at least once a week, and twice a week in warmer weather. Early harvesting helps prolong flowering and further pod set. Beans store well in the refrigerator – pack in thin, supermarket veg bags. Freezing and drying are alternative for longer term storage as most varieties can be used as dried beans. Simply allow the pods to mature on the bushes. When dry, shell the beans and store dry in containers.

Pests: Spider mites and greenhouse whitefly can be particular problems. See ‘Pests’ for more information.
Diseases: There are many disease which can afflict beans, but few are problematic in southern Australia where summers are warm and dry. Some root rotting disorders appear when beans are grown on poorly drained soil but these can be overcome with improved drainage and by raising beds or rows. See ‘Diseases’ for more information.

“Permanews” Editor’s Note:
Although this article is written from the perspective of a South Australian Gardener, it contains much useful information. One must of course, make allowances for the differences in our climate when using any of the advice contained. I haven’t included any information on broad beans, because generally they don’t thrive in our sub-tropical climate.

Cut Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon

Source: Harvest to Table
Common name: Bitter gourd, balsam pear, karela, bitter cucumber, bitter squash, African cucumber, alligator pear, ampalaya, goya.
Botanical name: Momordica charantia
Origin: Southern China and eastern India

Bitter melon is a favourite in Asian and Southeast Asian cooking. It can be stuffed with pork or shrimp and steamed or pickled or curried and served with meat or in soup.
Bitter melons are—as their name suggests–a bitter and mouth-puckering acquired taste—something like the acquired taste of a grapefruit or very dark chocolate.
The bitter melon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squash, watermelon, muskmelon, and cucumbers. Bitter melon can be grown much like cucumbers or cantaloupes but they are a subtropical plant and require at least three to four months of warm to hot and humid weather to mature.

Description: Bitter melon is a vining plant. It has deeply lobed leaves and grows in a fashion similar to squash, cucumbers, and watermelon producing vines 13 to 16 feet long if left unpruned. Fruits are oblong and either smooth or warty, usually about 8 inches (20 cm) long but fruits can vary in length between 2 and 10 inches (5-25 cm) long. The fruit shifts in color from green to yellow to orange as it ripens and over-ripens. The flesh has a watery, crunchy texture, similar to a cucumber.

Yield: Each plant will produce 10 to 12 fruits and perhaps a few more.

Planting time: Bitter melons are a warm-season crop and are best suited for growing in tropical and subtropical heat and humidity. Grow bitter melons where daytime temperatures average between 75 and 80°F (24-31°C). Plant bitter melons in late spring or early summer. Sow seed outdoors or set out transplants no sooner than two to three weeks after all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to at least 60 to 65°F (15-18°C).

Site: Bitter melons grow best in hot and humid climates. Choose a warm, sunny location—at least 6 hours each day–to plant. Plant bitter melons in compost-rich, well-drained soil with a pH ranging from 5.5 to 6.7.  Prepare growing beds in advance of planting by adding aged compost and aged manure. Bitter melons can tolerate less desirable sandy- or siltly-loam soil but good drainage is essential.

Planting and spacing: Sow seeds in holes about half-inch deep (1.25 cm) and spaced 12 inches (30 cm) apart. Sow two seeds in each hole. Seeds germinate in 8 to 10 days, though low and high temperatures and soil too dry or too wet can slow germination. Vigorous plants trained on a trellis or fence can be spaced 9 to 10 feet (2.7-3 meters) apart. Plants allowed to sprawl on the ground should be grown on straw or plastic mulch to prevent fruits from resting on moist soil where they might rot.
Trellising can reduce diseases and make harvesting easier. Place a trellis 6 feet (1.8 meters) high and wide or slightly more next to each plant. When the vine grows to the top of its trellis, prune or pinch away all lateral branches from the soil up to the 10th node. This will stimulate the upper branches to grow and produce a higher yield. Prune laterals from 2 to 3 feet long (.6-.9 meters) and prune away the growing tip when it reaches the top of the trellis. As a result, the plant will produce a greater number of flowers and fruit sooner.
Fruit grown from a trellis will grow longer and straighter than those grown on the ground.

Water and feeding: Keep bitter melon planting beds evenly moist; regular water is essential for fruit development and growth. Aged compost will feed melon plants. You can also add a slow release organic fertilizer such as 5-10-10 around plants early in the season. Side-dress plants with aged compost during the growing season to add nutrients and to help retain moisture in the soil. To give plants a boost water with compost or comfrey tea every third week during the growing season.

Companion Plants: Beans, corn, peas, pumpkins, and squash. Do not grow bitter melons with potatoes and herbs.

Care: Trellised vines produce hanging fruit, which grows long and straight. Vines allowed to sprawl on the ground should be mulched with straw or plastic to keep fruit from resting on the soil.
The growing tips of trellised vines should be pruned or pinched when they reach the top of the support, as should long lower lateral branches. This will concentrate the plant’s energy and result in more flowers and fruit. Prune when the first female flowers appear; female flowers follow male flowers.

Pollination: Vines commonly begin flowering about 5 to 6 weeks after planting. Male flowers open first, followed in a week or so by female blossoms. Both flowers are yellow. Female flowers have a swelling (the ovary) at the base of the bloom resembling a tiny melon. Bees and pollinating insects visit both blooms, transferring pollen from male to female flowers. Usually male blooms live only one day; they open in the morning and fall from the plant in the evening. Flower drop is not uncommon.
The ovary of pollinated female flowers will begin to enlarge and fruit will mature in two to four months. Mature fruits will be ready to pick about 12 weeks after planting. They will be light green and juicy with white, bitter flesh.

Hand pollination: Bitter Melons are pollinated by insects and honeybees. If there are flowers but no fruit forms and you find no bees at work in the garden, then you may rightfully suspect that pollination has not occurred. Pollination can be done by hand—this is true for cucumbers and squash as well: pick male flowers and transfer pollen by touching the center part of the male flowers against the center of the female flowers. (Female flowers have an enlarged section that looks like a little fruit between the flower and the vine stem; males don’t.)

Container Growing: Bitter melon can be grown in a pot. Choose a container that can hold at least 5 gallons (19 liters) of potting soil—more is better. Make sure the container drains well.

Pests: Bitter melon can be attacked by spotted and striped cucumber beetles. Cucumber beetles can carry bacterial wilt disease which will cause vines to collapse. Infected vines don’t recover. Spray adult beetles with rotenone or a pyrethrum-based insecticide. Use all pesticides at dusk to avoid harming honey bees.
Fruit flies may also attack bitter melons; they can spread fruit rot. Prevent flies from reaching the fruit by covering fruits with paper bags secured with twine or rubber bands or wrapping them with newspaper when the fruits are just an inch or two long.
Keep the garden free of weeds; weeds often harbor pest insects.

Diseases: Bitter melon is susceptible to most of the same diseases that plague squash and cucumbers: fungal diseases such as powdery mildew, downy mildew, and rust and rots as well as watermelon mosaic virus and bacterial wilts. Trellising which increases air circulation around vines can help reduce fungal diseases. For non-trellised vines, use a straw or plastic mulch to keep melons from resting directly on moist soil. There is no cure for plants attacked by viruses. When possible, plant disease-resistant varieties.

Harvest: Harvest bitter melon about 12 to 16 weeks after planting and 8 to 10 days after blossom drop when the fruits are 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) long. The fruits will be a bit pear shaped, with light green skin and a few streaks of yellow. If fruits stay too long on the vine they will over-ripen, turn all yellow, grow too large, and become bitter. Fruits on the same vine can vary in their degrees of bitterness—melons both immature and overripe can taste very bitter.
The bitter melon has a thin layer of flesh that turns orange to bright red when ripe. The flesh surrounds a hollow interior cavity with spongy, white pulp peppered with seeds. The fruit will be watery and crunchy much like a cucumber.
Bitterness is the result of the alkaloid momordicine found in growing bitter melons; the darker the color of a bitter melon the more bitter and intense the flavor of the fruit.
Once melons start to ripen, pick fruits regularly every two to three days. The more you pick, the more fruits will form.

Seed production: To save seed for next season, leave a few fruits on each vine to mature past harvest. Mature fruits will break open and release brown or white seeds. Collect the seed, sort it, wash it, and dry it on a countertop, then store it in a cool, dry spot. It will remain viable for 2 to 3 years.

Varieties: Bitter melons native to India have a narrow surface with pointed ends and are covered with triangular “teeth” and ridges. Bitter melons native to China are oblong with blunt ends and have a gently undulating, warty surface.
Chinese varieties include Large Top, Hong Kong Green, China Pearl, Southern Money Maker, and Hybrid White Pearl.
Indian varieties include India Long Green, India Long White, Hybrid India Green Queen, and Hybrid India Pearl.
Use: To prepare bitter melon, slice the fruit open and remove the seeds and pith. Do not peel. The fruit can be parboiled or soaked in salted water to lessen bitterness however this can affect the fruits normally crunchy texture.
Bitter melon can be stuffed (often stuffed with pork or shrimp and steamed), pickled, or curried and served with meat or in soup. The fruit pairs well with other strong flavors, like garlic, Chinese black beans, chili peppers, or coconut milk.
A dietary note: bitter melon is used in traditional Chinese medicine and in alternative medicine to treat Type 2 diabetes. It is also a folk remedy for treating high blood pressure. The combination of bitter melon and drugs sometimes used to treat hyperglycemia can decrease blood sugar levels to dangerously low levels.
Bitter melon has twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the potassium of bananas, and twice the calcium of spinach. It also contains high amounts of fiber, phosphorous, and Vitamins C, B1, B2, and B3.

Storing and preserving: Store bitter melons in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator between 53-55° F. (11-12°C.). Use within 3 to 5 days of harvest. Store bitter melon fruit away from other ripening fruits to avoid hastening the ripening process.


Cut Cassava tubers

Source: Green Harvest

BOTANICAL NAME: Manihot esculenta
COMMON NAMES: Cassava, manioc, tapioca
FAMILY: Euphorbiaceae
ORIGIN: Central and South America

A large, 3-4 m high, tropical woody shrub with enlarged tuberous roots. It tends to branch irregularly and bears its large (20 cm long) lobed leaves near the tips of long branches. The leaves are short-lived (1-3 months) and are readily lost during drought or after insect attack. Cassava is very hardy and tolerant of a wide range of soils.
Leaves for consumption can be produced throughout the year if the plants receive sufficient water. The portion eaten is generally the maturing leaves that are just reaching full size. Raw Cassava leaves contain glucosides (plant based cyanide) so do not eat an excessive amount at any one time. To remove this compound the leaves should be boiled at least 15 minutes. Cassava leaves contain protein, iron and B vitamins. They are boiled like spinach or added to stews. There are so many useful and easy to grow tropical greens that cassava leaves are not a ‘first choice’ option. Sweet potato leaves, pumpkin tips, kangkong, ceylon spinach are better alternatives and are easy to eat and prepare.
The roots are more useful as a food plant, they are harvested when the leaves begin to yellow and fall. They are eaten boiled, fried, baked and made into flour. The refined starch from the tubers, known as tapioca pearls, is used in soups, puddings and dumplings. The roots store well.
Recommended Planting Time: All year in the tropics, during the warmer months in the subtropics.
Growing Details: Woody cuttings are planted upright in the soil with the sloping end up. Cutting the tops of the cuttings at an angle stops water sitting there and reduces problems with rot. The best cutting material is obtained from plants at least 10 months old, 2.5 to 4 cm thick and about 20 – 30 cm long, with a minimum of 3-6 buds per cutting. The cuttings are buried to half their length, aiming to have several buds under the soil. The cuttings root readily and establish plants within 2 months. Place plants 80 to 140 cm apart.

Ceylon Spinach leaves

Plant Profile – Ceylon Spinach (Basella alba)

See also ABC Gardening Australia’s website for lots of practical tips:

Basella alba is an edible perennial vine in the family Basellaceae. It is found in tropical Asia and Africa where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable. It is native to the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and New Guinea. Basella alba is known under various common names, including Ceylon spinach, Malabar Spinach vine spinach, red vine spinach, climbing spinach, creeping spinach, and buffalo spinach among others.

Basella alba is a fast-growing, soft-stemmed vine, reaching 10 metres in length. Its thick, semi-succulent, heart-shaped leaves have a mild flavour and mucilaginous texture. It is rich in vitamins A and C, iron and calcium. It has been shown to contain certain phenolic phytochemicals and it has antioxidant properties.
There are two varieties – green and red stemmed. The stem of the Basella alba is green and the stem of the cultivar Basella alba ‘Rubra’ is reddish-purple; the leaves in both cases are green.

Soil and climate requirement
Basella alba grows well under full sunlight in hot, humid climates and in areas lower than 500 metres above sea level. Growth is slow in low temperatures resulting in low yields. Flowering is induced during the short-day months of June to August. It grows best in sandy loam soils rich in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8. Food uses Typical of leaf vegetables, Malabar spinach is high in vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, and calcium. It is low in calories by volume, but high in protein per calorie. The succulent mucilage is a particularly rich source of soluble fibre.


Among many other possibilities, Malabar spinach may be used to thicken soups or stir-fries. In the Philippines the leaves of this vegetable is one of the main ingredients in an all vegetable dish called Utan that is served over rice.
In Karnataka Cuisine (India), the leaves and stems are used to make Basale Soppu Saaru/Curry
(Especially in combination with Jackfruit seed) and soupy raita with curd. In Bengali cuisine it is widely used both in a vegetable dish, cooked with red pumpkin, and in a non-vegetarian dish cooked with the bones of the Ilish fish. In Andhra Pradesh, a southern state in India, a curry of Basella and Yam is made popularly known as Kanda Bachali Koora. Also it used to make the snack item bachali koora bajji. In Odisha, India, it is used to make Curries and Saaga. In the Western Ghats in Maharashtra, India, it is used to make bhaji. It is also known as daento or valchi bhaji in Konkani. A popular Mangalorean dish is “Valchi Bhaji and Shrimp – Curry”.
The vegetable is used in Chinese cuisine. It has many names including flowing water vegetable. It is often used in stir-fries and soups. In Vietnam, particularly the north, it is cooked with crab meat, luffa and jute to make soup.

Coco Yam growing

Plant Profile – Cocoyam


Cocoyams are herbaceous perennial plants belonging to the family Araceae and are grown primarily for their edible roots, although all parts of the plant are edible. Cocoyams that are cultivated as food crops belong to either the genus Colocasia or the genus Xanthosoma and are generally comprised of a large spherical corm (swollen underground storage stem), from which a few large leaves emerge. The petioles of the leaves stand erect and can reach lengths in excess of 1 m (3.3
ft). The leaf blades are large and heart-shaped and can reach 50 cm (15.8 in) in length. The corm produces lateral buds which give rise to tubers or cormels and suckers or stolons. Cocoyams commonly reach in excess of 1 m (3.3 ft) in height and although they are perennials, they are often grown as annuals, harvested after one season. Colocasia species may also be referred to as taro, old cocoyam, arrowroot, eddoe, macabo or dasheen and originates from Southeast or Central Asia. Xanthosoma species may be referred to as tannia, yautia, new cocoyam or Chinese taro and originates from Central and South America.

Coco Yam tubers

Cocoyam is most commonly grown for its starchy edible roots. Colocasia is grown for its corm which is consumed after boiling, frying or roasting. The corms can be dried and used to make flour or sliced and fried to make chips. The leaves of the plant are also edible and are usually consumed as a vegetable after cooking in dishes such as stews. Xanthosoma species produce tubers much like potato and are boiled, baked, steamed or fried prior to consumption. The corm of some varieties is also consumed. Young leaves are eaten as a vegetable.


Cocoyam corms and leaves cannot be consumed raw; and must be cooked or processed before eating. This is because they contain high levels of oxalates which can cause itchy or irritating sensation in the throat when consumed raw. This is also the reason why cocoyam causes itchy skin in some individuals. Cooking and other processing methods like soaking in water for a long time destroys the oxalate.



There are many varieties of Cosmos which grow throughout the world.

The most common variety in SE Queensland is the yellow or orange flower.

Cranberry Hibiscus

Cranberry Hibiscus

Source: © Frances Michaels (Website unknown)
Hibiscus acetosella
African rosemallow, false roselle, maroon mallow, Florida cranberry
Native (most likely) to tropical Africa
Plant Description
This plant is a short-lived perennial shrub in the subtropics and tropics but can be grown as an annual in cooler climates. It grows rapidly to 1.7 m high with deeply cut leaves similar to Japanese maple. The leaf colour of deep cranberry red is highly ornamental; the flowers are a small, very pretty, rose-pink hibiscus-type. Cranberry hibiscus is a hardy plant that thrives when it is warm and wet; it prefers full sun but will grow in partial shade. It needs ample water, rich, fertile, welldrained soil that is kept mulched and a pH of between 6.1 and 6.5.
Food: A very nutritious vegetable; the leaves are high in vitamins B3 (niacin), B2, A and C. It is high in protein and an excellent source of antioxidants and anthocyanins. The young leaves are known for their pleasantly tart flavour, eaten either raw or cooked. As the leaves contain oxalic acid, cranberry hibiscus should not be eaten in large amounts – e.g. as the only raw green vegetable in a salad – or more than once a week. Unlike Aibika, it is not particularly mucilaginous. Cranberry hibiscus leaves retain their colour after being cooked. Flowers are used to make teas or other drinks where they contribute colour rather than taste. In Central America the flowers are combined with ice, sugar, lemon, or lime juice and water to make a purple lemonade. Edible Landscaping: The vivid leaf colour makes this a good choice as a background plant in ornamental beds.

Recommended Planting Time: Cuttings are best taken when the soil temperature is at least 25°C.
Planting Depth: : It is easily propagated from cuttings 10 – 20 cm long, half buried in potting mix and kept moist.
Spacing: Space plants at 60 cm apart. The plant responds well to pruning, rapidly becoming bushy. Pruning also prolongs its life.
Cranberry Hibiscus is also available through Yandina Community Gardens

This article was kindly sourced by Judith Anderson:
“I first saw Cranberry Hibiscus is growing at Yandina CG, and I fell in love with the colour. I bought a couple of seedlings from the Gardens and, unlike the profile, I just stuck one into soil that hasn’t been greatly pampered and watered it, and it is growing well, although it isn’t big enough to try yet. Maria Page tells me she puts them wherever she can as they add colour, have lovely flowers and are edible.”

Egg Plant


The eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a native of the subtropical areas of south-eastern
Asia and was introduced into Europe by early Arab traders. It is a member of the Solanaceae
family, which includes other vegetable crops such as tomatoes, potatoes and capsicums.
Eggplants have been widely grown in southern Europe, the Middle East and Asia for hundreds
of years.
The fruit, also known as aubergine (France), melanzana (Italy) or brinjal (India), is considered
something of a delicacy. It can be baked, grilled, fried or boiled, or used in stews or as a
Eggplant is a summer-growing vegetable that requires warm to hot conditions over a 5–6
month growing period to produce high yields and quality fruit. Periods of cool weather during
the growing period will retard plant growth and reduce yields. Affected plants seldom recover,
even if favourable growing conditions return. Young seedlings are sensitive to frost.
The optimum growing temperature range is 21°–30°C, with a maximum of 35°C and a
minimum of 18°C. The optimum soil temperature for seed germination is 24°–32°C.
Eggplants are moderately deep rooting and can be grown on a wide range of soils. They
do best on light-textured soils such as sandy loams or alluvial soils that are deep and free
draining. These soils warm up quickly in spring and are suitable for early plantings. Avoid soils
with high clay content. A soil pH in the range 6.0–7.0 is desirable.
The plant can be a perennial but in commercial production it is treated as an annual bush.
Fruit shapes vary from the more common teardrop shape to round to slim ‘sausage’ shape.
Fruit colour is predominantly glossy dark purple to black but fruit of newer varieties are
available in light purple, crimson and cream colours.
Eggplants are usually planted in the field as seedlings. Transplant seedlings need to have 6–7
leaves and be 10–12 cm high.
Bed preparation should start several months before transplanting. Eggplants are best transplanted
into raised beds for better drainage and only when soil temperature is above 20°C.
Plant spacing will depend on the vigour of the variety. For single or double row planting of
smaller growing varieties, plant spacing can be set at 50–60 cm apart within rows and 60–80
cm between rows. Larger growing varieties do best when planted 60–80 cm apart with 100–
120 cm between rows in an alternate planting pattern. A trellis support system is needed to
keep the fruit off the ground and to reduce wind damage. The most common system used in
two-row plantings is stakes (steel or wood) on the outside rows with one or two lines of wires
(2 mm) or heavy duty twine supported by ties. Stakes are placed 3–4 m apart with a strainer
post at each end of the row. Branches with fruit are trained up between the wires or twine.
The main pests that affect eggplants are:

  • fruit and flowers – tomato caterpillars, eggplant caterpillars, fruit flies, aphids, looper caterpillars
  • leaves – leaf-eating ladybirds, spider mites, tomato russet mites
  • roots – cutworms, root knot nematodes.

Diseases cause fewer losses in eggplants than do insect pests. Verticillium wilt is the most
serious disease. Symptoms include discolouration of the conducting tissues in the lower stem
and roots of plants, wilting and eventual death of the plant. Avoid planting in areas known to
be affected or after tomatoes, potatoes or capsicums. Practise crop rotation with vegetables
such as peas and beans.
Anthracnose is the main fruit disease that attacks ripening fruit, causing circular sunken
spots. The main leaf diseases are target spot and leaf blight.
selected text from Agfact H8.1.29, third edition 2003

Garlic Cloves

Growing Garlic in the Sub-tropics


Growing Garlic
(Allium sativum)
(Best months for growing Garlic in Australia – sub-tropical regions)Easy to grow. Plant cloves. Best planted at soil temperatures between 10°C and 35°C.
Space plants: 10 – 12 cm apart
Harvest in 17-25 weeks.
Compatible with (can grow in same bed): Beets, Carrots, Cucumbers, Dill, Tomatoes, Parsnips
Avoid growing in same bed: Asparagus, Beans, Brassicas, Peas, Potatoes

Garlic Shoots

Garlic is traditionally planted in cold weather and harvest in summer (“plant on the shortest day, harvest on the longest”). Plant the cloves (separated from the bulb), point upwards, deep enough to just cover with soil. A fairly tough and easy-growing plant. On better soil with regular watering you will get a better crop. On poorer soil, and forgetting to water them, you will still get some garlic, only not quite so much.

Leave a garlic to go to seed, and you will probably get plenty of self-sown plants the following year.

To keep for later use, dig up and leave to dry out for a day or so after the green shoots die down. To use immediately, pull up a head when you need it, or cut and use the green shoots.

Culinary hints – cooking and eating Garlic
Cut the growing shoots or use the entire young garlic plants as ‘garlic greens’ in stirfry.

Herb Robert in the garden


Isabell Shipard
author of ‘How can I use herbs in my daily life?’

(Geranium Robertianum) of the Geraniaceae family

Also known by the names of - Herb Robertianum, St. Robert, Storkbill, Cranesbill, Red

Robin, Fox geranium, St. Robert’s Wort, Bloodwort, Felonwort, Dragon’s blood. This list of common names gives a rather vivid description, of a small plant that I have come to revere, and it is always welcome, in my garden.

Description Annual, to 30-40cm, stems branch in many directions, and these stems may turn red, in colour. Green leaves, 6cm long, form opposite, at knotted joints in the stem; leaves are palmate in shape, deeply cut, and often tinged with colours of pink, red or bronze. Stems and leaves are covered with very fine hairs. Very dainty, brightpink, ‘joy giving’ flowers, 15mm across, have five, rounded petals. Flowers develop, in groups of 2 or 4, at leaf axils. The base of the blossom quickly fills out, develops into the oval seed receptacle, 17mm long, and when mature, looks like a bird’s beak, which is why the plant has been given the common names: ‘storkbill’ and ‘cranesbill’. As the seeds dry off, nature has a way of dispersing: by opening the ‘beak’ and ejecting with a sudden spring action, flinging the 5 small, oval seeds in five directions, ensuring that
there will be future generations of the plant, for mankind’s use. I believe this plant should be in every garden, ready for service.

Propagation is by seed. Plants thrive in shady, damp places, growing very quickly, flowering profusely, and self-seeding readily: if the seed is not picked, before it is dry. This week, I had a phone call from a lady in Hobart, Tasmania, who was trying to find out about this plant, growing profusely in the garden, of the property she purchased. She had the plant identified, as herb robert; then her curiosity was aroused when she was given information of its therapeutic uses. I asked her how the herb liked Tasmania’s cold winters, and she said, it thrived. How wonderful it is, to know the herb will grow in a wide range of climates. Herb robert grows well in sub-tropical conditions, provided it is given shade in summer. The bush will produce a bounty of leaves, provided it is fed and watered consistently. Regular picking of leaves will encourage
more leaves to develop.

In the garden, I have observed that this herb seems to have an affinity with other plants it is near. I have found that no insect pests bother it; this may be due to the plant’s constituents or the smell of the leaves. As the smell of the leaves, acts as an insect deterrent, it can be used in animals’ bedding. Crushed leaves rubbed on arms and legs, will help deter insects from biting. When leaves are crushed, they always remind me of wild foxes, a smell, which I remember from childhood when growing up on a farm. And it seems others, before me, noted the similarity of the smell too, as indicated in the common name, ‘fox geranium’. Do not mistake herb robert with Geranium maculatum which also has the common name of Cranesbill; native to USA, perennial to 50cm, with rhizomous root, upright stems, deeply indented grey/green leaves and 5-petalled, pink/lavender flowers, considerably larger than herb robert. The roots are used as an infusion for diarrhea, bleeding, and ulcers internally and externally. There is another herb robert ‘look- alike’, which tends to be of perennial form, has much larger leaves and very red stems, but in my experience, it flowers sparingly and does not produce a lot of leaves to use.

Constituents: volatile oil, flavonoids, ellagic acid, resin, bitters, tannin, geraiine, lignans, albumen, gallic & citric acid, pectin

Vitamins: A, B, C

Minerals: calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, germanium,
manganese, sodium

Actions: antioxidant, antiseptic, astringent, antibiotic, adaptogen, antiviral, styptic, tonic, diuretic, digestive, sedative, anti- diabetic, vulnerary

Medicinal uses: Herb robert is a supreme, therapeutic herb. Although, very little
information is available, on the constituents, this herb’s action is one of the most outstanding herbs that we can use regularly, as an enhancer of the immune system. Research has revealed herb robert is a source of the antioxidant, germanium, a valuable element to the body, as it has the ability to make oxygen available to the cells. More oxygen, at cell level, means the body has the opportunity to fight disease by its own powers, and healing can take place, quickly. Lack of oxygen, available to the cells, can be caused by free radicals and a toxic state around the cells: meaning the cells cannot get the required oxygen or the nutrients to regenerate. The area becomes anaerobic, the beginning of pain, disease, wayward cells and cancer. Dr. Otto Warburg, twice Nobel Prize winner, said in 1966, “The prime cause of cancer is lack of oxygenation of the cells”. He discovered that riotous, wayward cancer cells could not exist in the presence of abundant oxygen, but only in an anaerobic state. As oxygen plays such an important role in cell health and immune function, using herb robert regularly, can be something very practical we can do, for overall wellbeing. Dr. Kazuhiko Asai who has spent many years researching germanium and is the author of the book ‘Miracle Cure Organic Germanium’ says, “When there is oxygen deficiency in the immune system, the blood becomes acid and sickness results”.

Germanium not only works as an oxygen carrier and catalyst, but also stimulates electrical impulses, at a cellular level, which has a beneficial ripple effect, throughout the whole body. Germanium’s remarkable effects on the immune system has been documented in medical journals: as an energy giver, immune builder, and as a powerful therapeutic and preventative, as a vigorous adaptogen, acting to alleviate minor or major health imbalances, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure. As herb robert may act on viscosity of the blood, it is recommended that any person on blood thinning medication, be carefully monitored by their health care provider. Germanium has been called an oxygen catalyst and one of the most powerful freeradical scavengers found in nature, to provide an antibiotic, antiviral, antioxidant arsenal, and, I believe this is what we experience, when we make herb robert part of our daily lives.

Herb robert contains ellagic acid. Recent research has found that ellagic acid may slow growth of some tumours caused by certain carcinogens, and therefore has been used to fight and prevent cancer. So, we see, herb robert has many actions that can work on our behalf.

Many years ago, someone shared with me an article on herb robert that has given
many people new hope for various conditions of the body. The article was written by V. Ferrandiz N.D. Spain, published in 1976 as a news item, in ‘Herald of Health’, entitled: ‘Geranium robertianum, ancient herb used in the treatment for
defeating cancer’. The article gave details of how to use the herb, and several case histories.

The following three paragraphs are from the article:

‘In this article, I will report on the healings accomplished with a humble herb, St. Robert’s Wort or Geranium robertainum. This healing is not a modern invention, within the natural healing arts. The great botanist and teacher, Dioscorides, had already described it. Probably, someone in Portugal had read about his description of the remedial action of Robert Wort against cancer, and knowing about some cases of this terrible disease, started to use this herb or recommend it to the patient’s relatives, and so its healing virtues soon spread over the country, which attracted the attention of the media, who began to investigate and collect information from several sources. In February 1953, the ‘Natura’ magazine printed a letter by P. Friere, an outstanding Portuguese Journalist, stating, “My colleague, Mr. Nunes de Carcalho, reports about his
mother-in-law, aged 83 years. She had been afflicted with bowel cancer, confirmed by two doctors and x-rays. They advised that not one but two surgical interventions were deemed extremely essential, but, despite this, the poor old lady possibly would not stand the operation, at her age. Someone told Mr. De Carcalho about a person who knew about a prescription with which she used to cure this disease. The woman prescribed a mixture of powdered leaves of St. Robert’s Wort and fresh raw egg yolk. The patient took this and was healed. The plant has astringent, homeostatic and antibiotic action. Shortly after, the wife of the journalist fell ill, and the same doctor who advised the two operations for the old lady, attended her. It was at this time that the doctor discovered that the woman, whom he thought would have been dead, was healed. Then, more information was found about others who had been healed; some, of cancer of the bowel; others, of lung cancer; of breast cancer; and cancer of the uterus. Especially mentioned, was the case of a lady afflicted with intestinal cancer as diagnosed by x-rays and doctors; she was in her last stage of endurance, as the wound was deep and large. Treated with this remedy, herb robertianum, in a few weeks and with some enemas, a total purification was accomplished. To this, the reporter added… it is usual for doctors to doubt their own diagnosis, rather than accept that cancer has been cured by a humble herb.

Another woman healed with this herb, was Anna Cruz Caridade, who had inoperable lung cancer, with branches leading to the neck and arms. She heard about the healing virtues of St. Robert’s Wort and tried it. Very soon, an improvement ensued and, after a time, was completely healed. Some time later, lumps appeared in her breasts, rib and shoulder and her doctor advised a series of radiotherapy treatments. But she remembered what had happened with the lung cancer, and again, tried the same herbal treatment. Gradually, the nodes started to recede and diminish in size, till they were completely gone’.

Now, over 25 years since the man shared the article with me, I know of many people who have benefited with this extraordinary herb. People telephone, and say specialists are rather mystified that they can no longer find any trace of cancer on x-rays or tests. Did their doctor make a wrong diagnosis? I prefer to acknowledge that herbs have been given to us for our health and healing.

Adam called to tell me he had been diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer; his doctor had told him to go away and die. He had been told about herb robert, and started taking the herb daily. His cancer is now in remission.

A lady, in Brisbane, was very sick with cancer, but was not told the full extent of her condition. Lee started on a regime of raw foods, herb robert and wheatgrass juice. Sometime later, the doctor admitted her to hospital and put her through many x-rays. Eventually, the doctor told her the reason for all the x-rays. Previous x-rays had shown extensive cancer of the spine and lymph nodes. The new x-rays showed not one sign of cancer. Lee said the doctor gave her ‘a bit of unconventional advice… to continue with what you are doing’. Lee said she was using 3 teaspoons of herb robert with raw egg yolk, every morning.

I well remember a lady with cancer of the mouth (she had been a smoker), she heard about herb robert from her sister, who traveled from Brisbane to join in a herb course. She made the herb into an infusion: gargling the warm tea and then swallowing it. The specialist was baffled at her next visit. She now lives in full health.

Recently, a lass rang from Brisbane. She had lumps in her breast. Someone told her about herb robert and she had been taking the herb for about 8 weeks. She said, “I don’t know if it is coincidence, but the lumps are going”. Perhaps, it is a coincidence; perhaps, it is a miracle. Perhaps, her body was healing with the help of the herb.

Over 10 years ago, I held a herb course for people at Kingaroy. Some time later, a lady who attended the course, rang me to say that her vet had given the verdict: that their aged dog with cancer should be put down. She asked me if it would be worth trying herb robert. I suggested chopping up half a dozen leaves, very finely, and mixing this with the dog’s food daily. The dog made a full recovery. She told the vet what she had done. Sometime later, she rang me: to say her vet had rung her, asking what herb she used for her dog, as he had another aged dog with cancer.

Recently, Donna rang for some herb robert, as her dog had a cancerous growth and the vet had only given the dog four weeks to live. She started the dog on the herb. This week, she rang to say that the lump had diminished in size considerably, and that she needed more of the plant.

Val called the Herb Farm, to see what could help her dog that had severe abscesses. I told her about the herb and she started giving her pet a teaspoon of the dried herb mixed with a little water and added to the food each day. She rang back, soon after, to say that the herb robert quickly got rid of the abscesses.

Recently, Mary called from North Queensland, to tell me she was enjoying a holiday on the Sunshine Coast, and a new lease of life. Her life had been marred by lung cancer, but now was free of any sign of it, which Mary believes was due, entirely, to taking herb robert daily for eleven months, and that she will continue to take it.

Audrey wrote, from Sydney, to share that her brother has eliminated a skin cancer on his leg, with herb robert, which he was due to have cut out… “Our doctor was very surprised at the results, and mentioned it to a doctor colleague of hers, who is beginning to show interest in alternative methods”.

Some years ago, the local ‘Cansurvive’ group asked me to speak, at their monthly meeting. Martina had numerous skin cancers; she started eating 5 leaves daily and all her skin cancer disappeared. She told a friend, who did the same, eating 5 leaves a day and, after 6 weeks, had no sign of any skin cancer.

Robyn wrote to me from interstate, saying that drinking the herb had resulted in bladder cancer disappearing, not even leaving a scar.

Recently, Janet excitedly rang to say that, after using herb robert for 3 weeks her tumour count went down, from 29 to 10. Janet now shares herb robert with many people; just simply passing on information that has helped her. She told me how she’d had car trouble, having to stop at a service station, and that she started sharing with the assistant. He knew someone with cancer, so he said he would pass the information on. Janet felt that her car problems were part of a divine plan that took her to the service station, as someone needed to know about the herb. This is what we could call our ‘Australian caring spirit’ and sharing the best of herb folklore.

Most people, who start on herb robert, immediately experience relief from pain. Some see improvement in conditions very quickly, while others may only experience better health after many months, of using the herb.

Clarissa wrote from interstate to say, “After 2 weeks on the herb, lumps in the breast cannot be detected with ultra sound, so it is within my interest to keep on with the herb”. No person can say any treatment will eliminate cancer or other diseases; however, it is encouraging to read and hear of people who have taken natural remedies to aid the body’s natural, innate healing capacity. To my knowledge, no scientific research has been done that shows it can cure any ailment. It does have special properties, like many other herbs, that can help the body to heal. Many factors can play a part in recovery from illness: including diet, exercise, natural herbal remedies, positive attitude, a loving environment, and being able to release stress. Many people have benefited by the herb, or experienced pain relief from various conditions, however this does not mean that everyone will experience full return to health.

Herb robert, has been revered in herbal history for many ailments; these have included… to stimulate a sluggish metabolism; relieve fevers, jaundice, depression, osteoporosis, uterus inflammation, ulcers and other stomach problems, for diarrhea, diabetes, shingles, enteritis, skin conditions, bruises, inflammation impotency, rheumatism and arthritis, gout, hemorrhages, herpes, depression, digestive and cardiac disorders, epilepsy, lethargy, eye and adrenal gland diseases; liver, kidney and bladder ailments; mouth and throat conditions including mouth ulcers, mucus congestion, catarrh, colds, influenza, asthma, and other respiratory conditions; infectious sores and infectious diseases; hemorrhoids, swollen breasts, painful inflammation around finger and toe nails; and as a blood cleanser, blood builder and body detoxifier.

A friend had a growth forming over her eyes, causing blurred vision. Barb completely cleared the film, and the problem, by bathing her eyes with an infusion of the leaves.

Doreen shared with me, in a letter, her experience with the herb, “I am now bugged with cataracts on both eyes. The left eye was completely blind. So I made a tea of the leaves and mixed aloe vera with this. I wash the eyes out with this mixture, twice a day. After about 3 weeks of this treatment, I am starting to gain a little sight in the left eye, and the right eye has also improved. Thank you for telling me about herb robert”.

The herb has come to the rescue, as a gargle, for many people with mouth ulcers, bleeding gums and sore throats. Rub bruised, fresh leaves over the area, or use the herb, made into a tea, as a mouth rinse and gargle. Several diabetics have found using herb robert, regularly, has helped to stabilise blood sugar levels.

Herb robert is used to help clear colitis (inflammation of the colon), a condition which interferes with the normal, wave-like motion of peristalsis, causing cramps, constipation and mucus discharge. Recently, an man shared his experience using the herb; he had suffered with irritable bowel syndrome for several years. A friend told him about herb robert and he started taking it as a tea daily and experienced complete relief after several weeks.

Chronic fatigue has been relieved, for people who start on the herb. Robert shared his experience of herb robert with me. For ten years he had been unable to work, due to sickness, and had been to many doctors and natural therapists. In 1999, he was diagnosed with chronic fatigue. He started taking 4-5 leaves a day and, within a couple of days, his problem of cold feet, which was due to poor circulation, was eliminated. Within a short period of time, he was walking and jogging up to 6 km a day, and life was worth living again. At present he is working over 60 hours a week, but he said he must keep up taking the herb daily, to be free of fatigue. He has shared his experiences, with friends who also suffered with chronic fatigue. One friend had suffered for 24 years, and now, also, has received relief by the daily ritual of eating several leaves of the herb.

It was valued highly as a wound herb, no doubt due to its astringent properties. It was also thought to be a herb capable of mending fractures. In Europe, it is seen growing wild, and has been a traditional herb for cancer: as it was believed to be a dose of natural radiation. In the plant world, a number of plants with red leaves, stess or fruit have been considered to have radiation-like substances, and herb robert is one such plant, as leaves and stems often are red. My herbal mentor, called herb robert ‘the radiation plant’.

Rudolph Breuss, in his book, ‘Cancer and Leukemia’, gives advice for treatment of cancer and other, seemingly incurable, diseases, saying that: besides the vegetable juice regime, and kidney tea, herb robert is essential, when dealing with all cancers, as it stimulates the kidneys to reject and eliminate poisons. He recommended that a pinch of the herb be steeped in 1 cup of boiled water for 10 minutes and drunk, cold, daily. In one chapter in the book, he wrote on infertility; he recommended, for couples who have had difficulty conceiving that both husband and wife should sip a cup of herb robert daily (made the same way as for the cancer treatment above). He knows this method is effective, from feedback he has received. In his ‘hints for farmers’ he recommends a handful of herb robert, mixed with concentrates and a little salt, fed for 3 days to cows, that cannot come into calf.

The astringent action, of leaves and stems of the plant, has been valued from mediaeval times, for healing wounds and to stop bleeding: which gave it the common name, ‘bloodwort’. The herb has also been noted as a blood builder. Several people who had been taking it, reported back to me that when having blood tests, the attendant remarked on the bright red colour of the blood, a sign of very healthy haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is a complex compound (of amino acids and iron) which gives the red blood cells their colour, and it is the red blood cells that are the vital vehicle by which oxygen is carried from the lungs to the cells of the body.

For external use, juice from crushed leaves is rubbed on sunspots, rashes, sores; or leaves made as an infusion are used as a wash or a poultice. A hot poultice made of steeped leaves is said to be soothing to bladder pains, neuralgia, bruises, fistulas and persistent skin problems. Besides applying the herb as an infusion in cases of skin cancer (or applying fresh crushed leaves), it is recommended that the herb also be drunk, as a tea. For cancer of the uterus and rectum, as well as drinking the herb as a tea, it is recommended to use the herb as a tepid irrigation, 2-3 times a day, with bougie or enema bag.

Another application of the herb has been as a foot infusion, said to help remove toxins, heavy metals and radiation from the body. This is highly recommended forpeople who have been subject to many x-rays, or people continually working in the fields of computers, mobile phones, and other electronics, giving off ELF and VLF radiation, infrared and microwave irradiation, and x-rays.

To make the Foot Infusion:

Take a handful of chopped herb, place into a bowl (large enough to rest both feet in) pour 4-5 cups of boiling water over it and stir, vigorously. Then add cold water, to adjust heat bearable to place feet in. Sit in a comfy chair with your feet in the bowl for 15 minutes, relax and read your favourite herb book. This is also excellent therapy for tired or aching feet.

The original article I was given stated for cancer treatment, the method of use was to take the leaves and stems of herb robert (either dried and powdered, or finely chopped, fresh leaves) to make a heaped teaspoonful. This was mixed well with a fresh, raw egg-yolk, taken first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. Raw egg yolk contains the sulphur type amino acid cysteine, which has the ability to be quickly absorbed through the walls of the intestine and carry the herb with it into the blood stream and reach the cells to release its healing properties. Don’t be put off by the thought of the raw egg-yolk, as believe me, it is quite palatable. The finer the herb is cut, the easier it is to swallow. The flavour is not unpleasant. If using dried leaf to mix with the egg yolk, the dried can be softened with a very small amount of water before adding egg.

When I experimented, I found approximately 20-25 leaves and stems (10-15cm long) were required to make 1 teaspoonful of finely chopped leaves (number of leaves will depend on size of leaves). To keep up this daily dose, quite a number of plants need to be growing and well established to have sufficient leaves for a daily supply. For people who require a consistent, on-going, supply of leaves, I recommend, that as plants flower and set seed, that these seeds be handpicked.

Seed is mature when the capsule is 2cm long, with the oval seed receptacle being plump and hard, when felt with 2 fingers. Nip off the hard capsules and leave to dry 3-4 days. Sow seeds in a shady spot in pots, or styrofoam vegetable boxes are ideal, as they can accommodate a thick planting of seeds. Cover seed with 5mm of fine soil. Water regularly, so the soil does not dry out. Germination can take from 2-6 weeks (depending on temperature and climatic conditions); and these plants may take 8-12 weeks to be of size to use. Feed plants every 10 days with liquid seaweed or other organic fertilizer.

For people using the herb daily, mixed with raw egg-yolk… it is advisable to get 6 or more large pots, or styrofoam boxes of plants established, and also to maintain an ongoing regime of regular seed planting. It is the consistent, daily, use of the herb that is important, to improve health. Many people eating the herb as fresh leaves, or as fresh or dried leaf tea, have reported improved health from many illnesses. Other people take it daily as a preventative and to strengthen the immune system. When using it as a tea, the suggestion is to drink it hot, ½ an hour before breakfast; 1 cup    made with 1 teasp. dried herb (or equivalent using fresh leaves, which is approximately 4-5 teasp. of finely chopped fresh) to 1 cup of boiling water, steeped 3- 5 minutes. Some people add another cup of boiling water to the dregs mid-morning(some people then even eat the dregs to get everything); and some people make another fresh cup mid afternoon, thus having 2 full strength cups a day and 2 cups made with the dregs. The tea can be sweetened with honey if desired. Many people just eat the fresh leaves on a meal, or blend the fresh leaves together with vegetable or fruit juices.

As people share with me how they have used the herb and the wonderful benefits they have experienced I am over-awed and inspired. Like the amazing feedback from Anna, who rang to say her husband had bad warts for over 30 years, he started taking herb robert tea daily and after several months all the warts disappeared! Let me share how I use the herb. Each morning, before breakfast, I visit my garden to collect 4-5 leaves and stems of herb robert. Then I pick 5-6 gotu kola leaves, several nasturtium leaves and flowers, a small handful of sheep sorrel and whatever else I feel like adding, which may be a comfrey leaf, watercress, yarrow and lemon balm (if I am planning to have avocado on toast). In the kitchen, the herbs get cut rather coarsely with a knife and heaped over muesli, fenugreek sprouts and kefir; toast, or whatever I may have for breakfast.

Herb robert has always been esteemed for its homeostatic action, the ability to help maintain an environment of physiological, organic stability, even when the body’s natural function or condition has been disrupted.

I believe this herb can be a valuable addition to every person’s daily wellbeing. Use it as part of cancer treatment, or cancer prevention. In the year 2000, the Australian Bureau of Statistics mortality figures from cancer, showed 35,628 deaths, in a population of less than 20 million. A recent report in the Sunshine Coast Daily Newspaper, August 26th, 2006 stated that 1 in 3 people are affected by cancer. With this alarmingly high, incidence of cancer in Australia, let’s all do what we can, at a personal level, to change these statistics. Share information of the benefits of herb robert with family and friends. If we can all grow and use the healing properties of herb robert, and thereby increase the concentration of oxygen circulating in our bodies; also, our immune system can be strengthened, so that our body can resist disease, and lay the foundation for vitality and wellbeing. It is believed, that the herb was probably named after the 11th Century French saint, Robert Abbot of Molerne, whose medical skills were legendary.

Let’s use this herb for our health and healing. Herb robert… could be called a true saint… for the way it has helped and blessed so many people.

Isabell Shipard
author of ‘How can I use herbs in my daily life?’

Source: RHS
(with minor alterations to suit southern hemisphere conditions)

This statuesque plant is a relative of the sunflower. Although it boasts attractive yellow flowers perched on 3m (10ft) stems, it is mainly grown for its below-ground tubers that can be cooked or eaten raw. Needing plenty of space to grow, this perennial is ideal when planted as a windbreak or screen.

Jerusalem Artichoke tubers


Jerusalem artichoke is not started from seed, but from tubers.
Plant into well-prepared soil, planting at a depth of 10-15cm (4-6in) with tubers spaced 30cm (12in) apart. If you have an allotment or are particularly fond of Jerusalem artichokes, space rows 1.5m (5ft) apart. Tubers can also be grown in a large tubs filled with good compost.
When stems are around 30cm (12in) tall, draw soil around them to a depth of 30cm 15cm (6in) to help stabilise plants as they grow. Cut back stems (including flowerheads) to around 1.5m (5ft) in midsummer so plants won’t be rocked by the wind, thus avoiding the need for staking. Only water in cases of severe drought.
As these plants do grow tall, they can make an effective screen, but may need some support in very exposed and windy sites. A cage made from stout stakes and strong twine will suffice.
When foliage starts to turn yellow in autumn, prune to leave 8cm (3in) stumps above ground level. Place the prunings over plants to keep the soil warm and aid lifting of tubers in frosty weather.

Common problems

Slugs and snails: These feed on the young seedlings and you’ll see the tell tale slime trail on the soil around your crop, as well as on the leaves.
Remedy: There are many ways to control slugs and snails, including beer traps, sawdust or eggshell barriers, copper tape and biocontrols.
More info on Slugs and snails

Sclerotina: When infected by this fungal disease, plants rot at the base and a white fluffy mould may grow on affected parts.
Remedy: This disease can remain in the soil for a long time, so immediately destroy any infected plants to prevent it from entering the soil. Do not compost the stems.
More info on Sclerotina


Harvest the tubers as required with a garden fork from late autumn into winter.
Jerusalem artichokes are persistent, so if you don’t want them coming back the following year, make sure you remove every last one – tubers left in the ground will regrow into a large plant the following spring.
Scrub and boil or steam until tender, then peel. Jerusalem artichokes have a tasty nutty flavour, but they contain a carbohydrate that is not broken down during digestion and can cause wind.


Nigel Slater uses Jerusalem artichokes in his Artichoke soup with ginger and walnuts, to make a creamy seasonal recipe.


‘Fuseau’:A large, smooth-skinned cultivar, that is easy to peel.
‘Dwarf Sunray’:Long, smooth skinned tubers.


Source: Green Harvest Website:

Jicama Growing Information © Frances Michaels
Botanical Name:Pachyrrhizus erosus
Common Names: Jicama (pronounced he’-cama) has a variety of common names including climbing yam bean; Mexican potato; Mexican Water Chestnut; Mexican turnip; cây củ đậu (Vietnam); seng kuang (Malay); di gwa (Chinese); kuzuimo (Japan); sinkamas (Filipino); man kaeo (Thai); sankalu (Hindi).
Plant Family: Fabaceae

Jicama flowers

Plant Description
Jicama is a vigorous, subtropical and tropical, climbing legume vine from South America. It has very pretty, big, blue pea flowers. Sadly the flowers should usually be removed as the bean pods and seeds are toxic, they also take a lot of vigour from the plant and reduce the harvest of tubers considerably. Let one plant go to seed for your next year’s crop.
Even though this plant is an herbaceous perennial, it is usually grown as an annual, because the root tuber, the perennial part, is also the bit harvested. Jicama can be propagated from a tuber or seed. The plants die back in winter in cool climates but the tubers will shoot again in spring. The root of jicama develops swellings the size of a large turnip, (up to 5 per plant) under the surface of the ground.
Plant Height: Even though this vine can reach 2 – 6 m tall, it is usually pruned to 1 – 1.5 m as removing the flowers can double the yield of roots. In Mexico it is grown in fields and pruned with a machete.

Sow When
Jicama is frost tender and requires 9 months frost free for a good harvest of large tubers or to grow it commercially. It is worth growing in cooler areas that have at least 5 months frost free as it will still produce tubers, but they will be smaller.
Warm Temperate Areas: For areas that have at least 5 months frost free, start seed 8 to 10 weeks before the last spring frost. Bottom heat will be required as jicama needs a warm soil to germinate. Use either the top of a hot water system or a bottom heat propagator. The pots will need to be kept in a warm place. It is unsuitable for areas with a short growing season unless grown in a glasshouse.
Subtropical Areas: Sow the seed once the soil has warmed up in spring.
Tropical Areas: Sow all year in the tropics.

Planting Details
Seed Preparation: Soak the seed in warm water overnight to soften the seed coat and speed germination.
Planting Depth: Sow seed 5 cm deep.
Spacing: Space plants 20 – 25 cm apart in rows 60 – 90 cm apart.
Position: Full sun.
Soil Type: Jicama prefers a rich, moist, sandy loam soil with good drainage that is high in potassium.

The tubers can be harvested from 4 months for small tubers, it takes 9 months for large tubers to develop. The seed pods and seeds are toxic and dangerous to eat. The pods contain rotenone, a toxic substance often used as an organic insecticide.
Eating: The sweet, juicy, crisp tubers are eaten raw or lightly cooked. To prepare, peel off the brown skin. The raw tubers taste like a cross between a water chestnut and an apple and do not discolour when cut. It is a great addition to salads and can be used as a crudité. It is also substituted for water chestnuts in stir-fry. In Mexico it is sliced thinly and sprinkled with salt, lemon juice and chilli sauce. As a food, jicama is low in calories, only 45 calories for one cup of cubed root.
New Crop Potential: As a new crop jicama has potential for small crop growers in warmer areas. We suggest you offer your crop to a local restaurateur, take some prepared pieces and explain how it can be used. Restaurants with a desire to provide fresh ingredients and a willingness to experiment will be at the leading edge of demand for this versatile crop. By selling to the end user you will get a higher value return. Selling at the local produce markets is a sure hit if you always offer free taste samples.
Available as seed: Jicama – Climbing Yam Bean


Grow Your Own Mulch! (and enjoy a cup of tea)

Lemongrass is a perennial clumping grass to 100cm.

Lemon grass stalks

There are several types of lemon grass:

  • Citronella grass (Cymbopogon nardusand Cymbopogon winterianus) grow to about 2 metres and have magenta-colored base stems. These species are used for the production of citronella oil
  • East Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon flexuosus), is native to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand
  • West Indian lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is native to Malaysia
  • While both can be used interchangeably, West Indian lemongrass is more suitable for cooking.
  • Propagation: is by the division of the bulbous base with roots in spring, summer and autumn.
  • Drought tolerant

Dislikes frost

Uses in the Garden

  • Mulch: chop and drop (lower dependence on outside resources)
  • Living fence: plant on garden edge, dense roots act as a weed barrier and inhibit grass sneaking into garden beds; planted densely, a protective buffer from bush turkeys
  • Erosion control: slows water and stabilizes slopping land
  • Insect repellent: crush the plant to release the oils in the garden

See Morag Gamble’s youtube video for some great ideas

Uses in the Kitchen

  • Tea: simmer leaves and stalks in water for 15mins. Sweeten to taste. You can also add mint, ginger, or rosella.
  • Flavour curries, stews, and soups: It is firm and fibrous. The softer, fleshier part of the lemongrass (which is what you want to use in your cooking) is located under the tough outer leaves. Peel away these layers and discard them. What you will uncover is a pale yellow stalk that is softer and easier to slice. Slice off the bulb. Starting from the lower end (where the bulb was), make thin slices of up to two-thirds of the stalk


Luffa (or loofah) is a tropical/ subtropical vine and a member of the cucumber family. It can be used as an alternative dish cloth and it is a fantastic option to use in the kitchen or bathroom- especially if you are interested in plastic free options.

Luffa dried


  • When young
    • Edible vegetable (use like a zucchini; pickle like a gherkin)
  • When mature and dried
    • When the luffa fully ripens, is dried and peeled, and the seeds shaken out, the fibrous skeleton can be used to clean (scrub pots and pans; exfoliate your skin)


  • Summer annual
  • Sow the seeds in spring, after all chances of frost have past
  • Moist, fertile, free draining soil
  • Full sun and a sturdy support
  • Unlike many members of the cucumber family, luffa rarely get powdery mildew

 Luffa seeds are available to purchase from Permaculture Noosa ($3 per packet)

Young Pak Choy plants

Growing Pak Choy, also Pak Choi

(Brassica campestris var. pekinensis)


Best months for growing Pak Choy in Australia - sub-tropical regions are March, April and May

  • Easy to grow. Sow in garden. Sow seed at a depth approximately three times the diameter of the seed. Best planted at soil temperatures between 21°C and 30°C. 
  • Space plants: 30 - 40 cm apart
  • Harvest in 6-11 weeks.
  • Compatible with (can grow beside): Dwarf (bush) beans, beets, celery, cucumber, onions, marigold, nasturtium, rhubarb, aromatic herbs (sage, dill, chamomile, coriander), lettuce, potatoes
  • Avoid growing close to: Climbing (pole) beans, tomato, peppers (chili, capsicum), eggplant (aubergine), strawberry, mustard

Similar to Chinese cabbage but the leaves are smoother and the stalks are longer and thicker. Grows quickly and will also go to seed quickly in hot weather. Best grown in cooler months.

Needs plenty of water.

Paw Paw fruit cut open

Growing Paw Paws


Pawpaw or papaya, whichever name you choose to call it, will still smell as sweet and taste just as good! Eat fresh or grated into a salad (Thai paw paw salad!), you will find many ways to enjoy this glorious fruit. In the garden, paw paw trees thrive in tropical and subtropical zones, however, will also grow in warm-temperate frost-free areas. Make sure you give them plenty of room to grow, as trees can reach heights between 2-5m.

How to grow paw paws in a garden

  1. Choose a sunny spot with well drained soil. Enrich the soil with Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser. If the soil is clay based, add gypsum and fork in well. Mound the soil to improve drainage, if necessary.
  2. Dig the planting hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the root-ball. Remove the shrub from the container, gently tease the roots and cut away any circled or tangled roots.
  3. Position in hole and backfill with soil, gently firming down. Form a raised or doughnut shaped ring of soil around the outer edge of the plant's root zone. This helps keep water where it's needed.  Always water in well after planting to settle the soil around the roots and keep the soil moist for several weeks while the new plant establishes.
  4. Mulch around the base with organic mulch like bark chips, sugarcane or pea straw, keeping it away from the trunk.
  5. Water regularly and deeply as the plant grows – once a week for most the year should be sufficient. During the warmer or drier months, you may need to water twice a week. Deep watering is preferred to shallowing watering every other day. 
  6. Feed with a complete fertiliser, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser in spring and autumn. For an added nutrient boost, feed with Yates Thrive Citrus Liquid Plant Food weekly during the flowering season.
  7. To harvest, pick fruit when it is fully coloured or two-thirds golden and allow to ripen indoors.

How to grow paw paws in a pot

  1. Choose a pot at least 600mm wide and deep. Position in full sun and protect from strong winds. 
  2. Fill pot with quality mix, such as Yates Potting Mix with Dynamic Lifter, making a hole in the centre. Remove shrub from the container, gently tease the roots and cut away any circled or tangled roots.
  3. Position in hole and backfill with potting mix, gently firming down. Water well.
  4. Mulch around the base with organic mulch like bark chips, sugarcane or pea straw, keeping it away from the trunk.
  5. Water regularly and deeply as the plant grows – once a week for most the year should be sufficient. During the warmer or drier months, you may need to water twice a week. Deep watering is preferred to shallowing watering every other day. 
  6. Feed with a complete fertiliser, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser in spring and autumn. For an added nutrient boost, feed with Yates Thrive Citrus Liquid Plant Food weekly during the flowering season.
  7. To harvest, pick fruit when it is fully coloured or two-thirds golden and allow to ripen indoors.

How to grow paw paw from seed

You can grow a pawpaw tree from seeds from fruit of female trees. They generally don’t like to be transplanted, so it’s best to plant them where you intend to leave them. 

  1. Choose a spot in full sun and enrich the soil with organic matter, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser.
  2. Sprinkle the seeds over the top and lightly cover with soil. Water in well and lightly mulch. You cannot tell whether the seeds are male or female, so it’s ideal to plant 4-5 plants – odds are you will have at least 1 male tree for pollination. 
  3. Water regularly as the seedlings grow. Remove any weak plants and discard.
  4. Feed with a complete fertiliser, such as Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver & Plant Fertiliser in spring and autumn.
  5. Once they start flowering, take note of the flower shapes - keep one male plant (flowers are borne on long, thin stalks) and discard the rest. Keep any female plants (flowers are single blooms and held closer to the trunk). If you have any bisexual plants, lucky you!

Growing tips

  • Most pawpaws have male and female flowers on separate trees, but there are bisexual trees available. Male flowers are borne on long, thin stalks and there are usually multiple blooms. Female flowers are usually single blooms that are held closely to the tree. In the tropics, fruit can grow almost all year round. 
  • Most pawpaws have bright-yellow or orange flesh, but you can find varieties with red flesh. Look for ‘Southern Red’ or ‘Dwarf Papaya Torpedo’.
  • Trees will fruit well for at least 5 years, so it is best to stagger planting of trees to ensure you have a fruitful harvest for many years to come.
  • Flowering takes place over several weeks so fruit at different stages of development will appear on the tree at the one time.
Varieties of Sweet Potatos

BOTANICAL NAME:Ipomoea batatas
COMMON NAMES: Sweet Potato
FAMILY: Convolulaceae
ORIGIN: Central America or South America

This is a trailing vine, it is a vigorous grower with attractive lobed leaves and pink morning-glory type flowers. Sweet potatoes do well in both sandy and loamy soils with a pH of 5.2-6.7. The area should be frost-free for at least five months with warm days and nights. Planting sweet potatoes in a different area of the garden each year will reduce disease. Harvest when the tops turn yellow or before the plants are damaged by frost, as this can make them vulnerable to rot.

Food: young leaves and tips can be steamed as a spinach substitute, the tubers are delicious baked, made into soup, used as chips and added to curries.
Orchard groundcover: sweet potatoes can be a useful groundcover in frost-free permaculture orchards. However, if you live in an area with an abundance of wildlife this is unlikely to be successful as bandicoots, brush turkeys and wallabies will all eat them.

Recommended planting time: Wait for the beginning of the warm weather to plant. Tubers should have begun to sprout before planting. Planting too early into a cold, wet soil will cause them to rot.
Planting depth: Plant 7 cm deep.
Plant spacing: Plant the tubers or slips 20 cm apart.
Growing details: The tubers can be planted directly in the soil but it is better to produce sprouts or 'slips' that are then planted. To start your own slips, place the tubers on a raised bed or in a box in a warm, sheltered spot. Cover the tubers with 5 cm of damp sand and when the shoots are 15 cm long, they are cut from the parent plant and planted out immediately. Plants raised from tip cuttings generally store better and are relatively free of disease.

Tubers are ready to harvest when the vines die back in late autumn. Excavate carefully to avoid damaging the skin, start a fair way back from the leaf stem. Tubers can be stored for many months in a cool, dry place.

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Source: Tropical Permaculture How To Grow Banana Plants And Keep Them Happy Growing bananas does not take much effort, but it does require that you get a Read More
Bean seed varieties Source: Kitchen Gardens SAAn initiative of the Botanic Gardens of South Australia  Beans have been grown in tropical and subtropical regions for millennia, and provide an important staple food. There are Read More
Cut Bitter Melon Bitter Melon Source: Harvest to Table name: Bitter gourd, balsam pear, karela, bitter cucumber, bitter squash, African cucumber, alligator pear, ampa Read More
Cassava Cut Cassava tubers Source: Green Harvest CASSAVA GROWING INFORMATION © Frances MichaelsBOTANICAL NAME: Manihot esculentaCOMMON NAMES: C Read More
Ceylon Spinach leaves Plant Profile – Ceylon Spinach (Basella alba) Source: also ABC Gardening Australia’s website for lots of practical tips: Read More
Coco Yam growing Plant Profile – Cocoyam Source: DescriptionCocoyams are herbaceous perennial plants belonging to the family Araceae and are grown primarily for their edible roots, altho Read More
cosmos-sulphureus Cosmos. There are many varieties of Cosmos which grow throughout the world. The most common variety in SE Queensland is the yellow or orange flower.
Cranberry Hibiscus Cranberry Hibiscus Source: © Frances Michaels (Website unknown)BOTANICAL NAME:Hibiscus acetosellaCOMMON NAMES:African rosemallow, false roselle, maroon mallow, Florida cranberryFAMILY:MalvaceaeORIGIN:Native (most li Read More
Egg Plant Eggplant INTRODUCTIONThe eggplant (Solanum melongena) is a native of the subtropical areas of south-easternAsia and was introduced into Europe by early Arab traders. It is a member of the Solanaceaefamily, which includes othe Read More
Garlic Cloves Growing Garlic in the Sub-tropics Source: Growing Garlic(Allium sativum)(Best months for growing Garlic in Australia – sub-tropical regions)Easy to grow. Plant cloves. Read More
Herb Robert in the garden Source: Isabell Shipardauthor of ‘How can I use herbs in my daily life?’ HERB ROBERT(Geranium Robertianum) of the Geraniaceae family Also known by the names of - Herb Robertianu Read More
Source: RHS minor alterations to suit southern hemisphere conditions) This statuesque plant is a relative of the sunflower. Although it boasts attractive ye Read More
Jicama Source: Green Harvest Website: Jicama Growing Information © Frances MichaelsBotanical Name:Pachyrrhizus erosusCommon Names: Jic Read More
Source: Grow Your Own Mulch! (and enjoy a cup of tea) Lemongrass is a perennial clumping grass to 100cm. Lemon grass stalks There are several types of lemon grass: Read More
LUFFA Luffa (or loofah) is a tropical/ subtropical vine and a member of the cucumber family. It can be used as an alternative dish cloth and it is a fantastic option to use in the kitchen or bathroom- especially if you are interested in Read More
Young Pak Choy plants Growing Pak Choy, also Pak Choi (Brassica campestris var. pekinensis) Source: Best months for growing Pak Choy in Australia - sub-tropical  Read More
Paw Paw fruit cut open Growing Paw Paws Source: Pawpaw or papaya, whichever name you choose to call it, will still smell as sweet and taste just as good! Eat fresh or grated into a sala Read More
Varieties of Sweet Potatos BOTANICAL NAME:Ipomoea batatasCOMMON NAMES: Sweet PotatoFAMILY: ConvolulaceaeORIGIN: Central America or South America PLANT DESCRIPTIONThis is a trailing vine, it is a vigorous grower with attractive lobed leav Read More