All posts by Lachy

I Yam what I Yam.

As the weather cools down through Autumn and Winter a lot of tuber producing plants start to die back which means… HARVESTING TIME!!!

An interesting one I dug up this winter was my Greater Yam (Dioscoria alata). There are a very large variety yams, over 850 species, but the most commonly grown is the Greater Yam. The vine grows to 2.5m wide and 3m tall so likes to climb a tree or sturdy frame, a bamboo tripod over a well composted mound works well. Its dense, attractive heart-shaped foliage provided an excellent breeding ground for Praying mantis’ over the summer which are beneficial predators of grasshoppers and locusts.

The tubers of the Greater Yam have a course brown skin and either red or white flesh. One plant can produce one to a number of tubers ranging in size depending on situation, in the ideal conditions tubers have been known to reach over 60kg! Provide the plant with ample water through its growing season in the warm weather for best results and harvest in late Autumn.

I found removing the tubers safely from the ground can be quite tricky as they can run dense and deep…. just think of the bonza harvest! If any are damaged during extraction you can remove the damaged pieces and let the clean cuts heal in a sheltered dry place. These pieces can be grown into new plants! I ended up with about 15kg of Yams, plenty of large ones to eat and small ones to propagate for next season.

As far as storage and consumption; yams heal well and store for a long while in a cool dry place. Once peeled, the Greater Yam can be boiled then pounded into a kind of dough or cut into chips and fried. I found the taste quite like a nutty potato… the texture being far from potato but still enjoyable as chips. I’m sure it’d be nice cut thinly and dried as crisps or…. anything! Calls for experimentation!

Rosella Jam (Not the bird)

Rosella Fruit

The particular Rosella I refer to here is a fast-growing annual woody sub-shrub native to tropical West-Africa by the scientific name Hibiscus sabradiffa. Being a Hibiscus, the Rosella harbours masses of beige hibiscus flowers with scarlet throats on scarlet stems bringing much colour to the garden. In addition to its aesthetic appeal, Rosella seed pods are enclosed by a fleshy set of sepals which can be boiled to make delicious jams, drinks and sweets. The stems also yield a fibre which is useful as string in the garden (very cool!). The Rosella prefers warm climates but do quite well in temperate zones. Plant directly where you want it to grow providing the spot has quite good drainage, otherwise you might find your plant rotting and succumbing to mould attack.

If your Rosella is doing well and looking healthy, wait a while before harvesting to allow as many buds to flower and seeds to mature as possible. While this is happening the scarlet sepals around the pods should only be getting fatter and juicier. From seed to harvest it should take around 6 months, by which time the whole plant will be reaching the end of its life span.

Once ready, cut all of the bright scarlet pods off the stems and take them somewhere for sorting.

Rosella Harvest

The scarlet sepals including the fleshy base-plate surrounding each of the seed pods can be simply broken away from the pods and separated for cooking. The seed pods can be dried and the seed stored for next season or added to the jam making process while fresh for their high levels of pectin (jam setting agent). I used bought pectin for the jam as I wanted to keep the seeds viable for next years crop.

Rosella sepals removed from pods.

Really its all quite simple: Peel and core roughly as many granny smith apples as you feel you need to match the volume of Rosella sepals you have. Chop the apples and Rosella up into smallish pieces and put into a deep pan with as much water as you need to just cover the fruit. Boil on stove top till its all soft and add your sugar and pectin. Add as much castor sugar as you have fruit. Keep stirring to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn and simmer till a cooled spoon of your substance maintains its shape and stick to the spoon turned upside down. Add hot to sterilised jars with sealing pop-top lids… coffee jars do not suffice as they rely on cardboard to form a seal.

Then you have Rosella (& Apple) Jam! YUM!! From the harvest of a single plant I made 5 jars of jam. Not bad for an experiment, and said jam got an enthusiastic ‘seal of approval’ from all whom tried it. 🙂

Rosella sepals ready to cook.

Predatory Insects as Organic Pest Control

Large infestations of pests in the garden often indicate that your local ecosystem is out of balance in some way. For instance, if you are having trouble with aphids it is likely that you dont have a strong enough lacewing and ladybeetle population as these insect types naturally prey on aphids.  An interesting solution i’ve found is to plant sunflowers near the plants in aphid trouble. Sunflowers attract ladybeetles and ants, which farm aphids for their sweet excrement ‘honeydew’, and will actually herd aphids from other plants onto the sunflowers for the production of sweeter honeydew.

Australian lacewings are attracted to flowering eucalypts and other native vegetation, many of which require natives for the completion of their breeding cycle. Interestingly, the larvae of lacewings are what people call ant-lions which create small pit traps above them in the soil to guide wandering ants into their gaping jaws. By establishing some native habitat to support the whole lacewing lifecycle you can utilise the aphid and ant predation to benefit the rest of your garden.

There are a large number of predatory insects that occur naturally in Australia in addition to the aforementioned, such as various wasps, dragonflies, damselflies, spiders, soldier fly and preying mantis. Most of these will be attracted best by native plants of your local area and the establishment of a well vegetated pond.

For more information feel free to contact us on (02) 49100123.

Urban Swales

Before there were houses there was swamp… in Mayfield at least. At our current abode in Mayfield; topographically flat, thick, wet clay.

Thus when it rains we have a drowning effect which tends to rule out a lot of those plants that like it well drained. To help direct and hold the water while allowing the trees of our mini urban food forest to breathe, we dug a set of swales. Its easy to do and can be adapted to any scale and soil type. We dug out the planned pathway, using the excavated soil to mound the swales on either side. Now we just keep the path filled with heavy mulch for the walking surface which doubles as a water sponge and reservoir after heavy rains. In the super-heavy rains, the swales allow the fruit trees to stay above the level of water.