Originating in Central America, the Yam-Bean (Pachyrrhizus erosus) is a climbing perrenial plant of the legume family. The plant prefers warmer weather but will tolerate more temperate climates as far south as Sydney and Adelaide, temporarily dying back to its tubers over winter. Each plant can produce up to 5 root-swellings or tubers beneath the soil surface, each of which can get to the size of a turnip but having a similar crisp texture to water chestnuts and have an apple-like taste eaten raw. The tubers store well and dont lose their crispness through cooking, making them a great addition sliced into stirfries or grated raw into a salad. Yam Bean tubers are a delicacy in Mexico, eaten by the slice sprinkled with lemon-juice, salt, pepper and chillies. YUM!!! The vegetable has even been adopted by American supermarkets as a top-selling specialty item!
Yam Beans prefer light, well-drained, fertile soils and require a long growing season (~9 months) for the best tuber production. Tuber growth can also be enhanced by keeping vines cut short (to ~30cm) and pinching off flowers as they form. This way the plant puts all of its energy into the root system. Propagating Yam Beans is possible via tuber or by seed. The seed stores quite easily and remains viable for a number of years.
In addition to its tasty tubers, Yam Beans have a number of useful qualities making it a superb Permaculture crop:
Legume – The Yam Bean has the ability to fix nitrogen meaning it can provide much of its own nutrients for growth, even a little extra for plants nearby. Try climbing it up corn for example.
Natural source of an organic poison (Rotenone) – All parts of the plant above the soil; stems, leaves, flowers, seeds and seed-pods contain levels of the insecticide, pesticide and piscicide (fish poison) Rotenone (May also have some fungicidal properties.) NB: I recommend that people with young children be aware of this fact. Also, upper parts of the plant shouldn’t be fed to animals.
Aethetic value – when left to flower, produce a showy display of large blue pea-flowers.
We are holding a free sustainability workshop for homes and small businesses. Bring your questions and problems in the fields of Sustainable Timbers, Permaculture/organic gardening, Energy Efficiency, Passive Design, Home Sustainability, Land Management, Efficient and cost effective design solutions, flora and fauna, forest management, material selection, small business sustainability, water efficiency, hot water and home heating options etc.
Following are impacts I can expect to see on myself, my business and the local community if the 4th Coal terminal project goes ahead:
An additional 41 coal trains per day through Newcastle and Maitland will increase dust related health problems like asthma and other respiratory ailments as well as the increase in the accumulation of heavy metals such as Lead and Mercury in the local soils. These soil contaminants make it more difficult to use yards, parks and other urban spaces for local food growth. A waste considering most housing and development occur on some of the most arable soils (ie. The flat lands). Local food production is important in food security, augmenting the farm-grown supply of food and reducing transport energy costs.
Prime agricultural land and fresh water supplies need to have priority over the accelerated expansion of coal exports if we are to accommodate a secure food supply for both our own and future generations. The 4th Coal Terminal would facilitate many more large coal mines (the equivalent of at least 15 ‘mega-pits’) in the Hunter and Liverpool Plains destroying much of this aforementioned prime agricultural land.
The dramatically increased coal exports will then go on to provide at least another 15 coal-fired power plants around the world, continuing to fuel climate change emitting an additional 288 million tonnes of carbon pollution each year. As a first world country we have a responsibility to set a good example and start investing in alternative energy sources, namely the plethora of renewable energy sources we know can be improved and implemented.
Kooragang Island, the proposed site of the 4th coal-loader, provides critical habitat for a number of Nationally threatened species including the Green and Golden Bell Frog and Australasian Bittern. Four species of migratory shorebirds listed under international conservation conventions use habitat owned by the National Parks service at the site which would be lost. In addition, a significant area of the only freshwater refuge in the Hunter estuary, ‘Deep Pond’ is proposed to be developed. This pond’s unique qualities and proximity to the Ramsar Wetlands means it provides irreplaceable habitat for at least 11 species of migratory bird recognised by international treaties.
Because Kooragang Island was the former site of the BHP steelworks, this proposal also presents the risk of mobilising toxic contaminants which are currently bound up in sediment and soils throughout the Kooragang ponds and southern arm of the Hunter River. This contaminant mobilisation could negatively effect the whole estuary ecosystem including a rise in the bioaccumulation of heavy metals in local fish stocks. Too little is known about the true risks to ensure Newcastle communities will be protected from toxic seepage and related accidents. There is no plan as yet to fully remediate the site so as to prevent such events. Lets play it on the safe side!
The 4th coal loader proposal’s Environmental Impact Assessment fails to meet the State and Federal requirements and after construction will provide no additional employment. In fact, the likelihood is that it will result in the loss of other economic activities in the port like tourism, fishing and other shipping.
Cotton fibres for cloth are produced from the fluff around the seeds of the Cotton plant, Gossypium tilaceae, a member of the Hibiscus family. It needs long growing season for good yields and has high water requirements. Hemp fibres are from the stems of the hemp plant, each fibre is many times the length of a cotton fibre meaning energy saved spinning the fibres into thread. Hemp is drought tolerant and can produce good fibre yields without irrigation, particularly useful for this drought-prone country.
“Water is a major limiting factor in cotton production within Australia. Over 90% of the cotton grown in Australia is irrigated using some 12% of Australia’s irrigation water. The majority of cotton is grown in areas where rainfall contributes half the crop’s water requirements.plant, each fibre is many times the length of a cotton fibre meaning energy saved spinning the fibres into thread. Hemp is drought tolerant and can produce good fibre yields without irrigation, particularly useful for this drought-prone country.
Cotton’s average water requirement in Australia is 8 megalitres per hectare (ML/ha) compared to rice at 15 ML/ha, citrus at 12 ML/ha, maize at 10 ML/ha and wine grapes at 7 ML/ha. “
Another problem faced with farming cotton is when ready for harvest it requires a dry period, otherwise is quite prone to rotting and much of the harvest can be lost. With the increasing unpredictability of weather patterns through climate change it may become impractical to continue using cotton as our main fibre source. Conversely, hemp can be left to ‘rot’ in the field in piles for a period of time, the bacteria even helping with the extraction of the fibres from the plant stems (retting process). Hemp fibres being quite rot resistant. Interesting!!
Hemp is exceedingly environmentally friendly as it has no major pests and can be grown at a high plant density which out-competes weeds, removing the ‘need’ for herbicides. The average fibre production per hectare is very high in comparison with any other fibres commonly used such as cotton, wool, and flax. Hemp fibres, seeds and other products have a plethora of uses… too many for me to regurgitate here but i’ll add a couple of links to some great in-depth reading on the subject.
This business and site is especially impressive and worth the read. Lots of good linked references and data.
Of recent I have watched a few documentaries with focus on and around Industrial Agriculture, Food security, Energy security, world ecology and human induced climate change. While I am acutely aware of so many problems in the world I try to remain positive and feel obligated to share a list of a few of these as they cover subjects very pertinent and dire but also rays of hope and realistic solutions.
I realise most people reading a Permaculture blog are probably coming from the right place already… but if that’s you, suggest them to someone you know that will benefit from the enlightenment I hope the global community to achieve in the very near future. 🙂
Life and Debt (2001)
The Coconut Revolution (2001)
The Future of Food (2004)
Big Sugar (2005)
King Corn (2007)
The Last Mountain (2011)
Growing Change (2011)
THE RANT: Every year the scientific evidence just keeps building that our way of life is truly unsustainable on a global scale. Economies severely addicted to non-renewable resources such as oil and coal which cause a plethora of environmental problems in both extraction and use. We have the renewable technology, the powers that be just don’t seem to be able to make the leap. Maybe I can inspire an energy revolution in Australia?
So many countries classed as ‘the third world’, perhaps strangely named seeing as they are inextricable linked to the other ‘worlds’ by the shared atmosphere, oceans and forests. A shared life-support system if you will… The people of these countries are driven into continued and increasingly drastic environmental degradation simply in an effort to survive. This occurs as the vast majority of the world’s resources and material wealth concentrate with a global minority; namely large corporations and individuals of the “first world”.
Living in a first world country I feel privileged in a lot of ways, considering I am in a stable enough situation to be able to address these things instead of the struggle to survive dominating my thoughts. In many other ways I feel guilty/disgusted as I observe many of these trends first hand and have limited power as a sole individual to influence them at the speed they need to be (besides providing inspiration and a good example of the correct path that is).
These things are no longer political issues, they are cold hard facts brought to us by a vast scientific majority which is why I feel I can write about them on a business blogsite. Permaculture stands for equality or fair-share as one of its core ethics and human welfare is so strongly connected to the environment it must not be overlooked in the strive for a better world. 🙂
On a final note; “Its too late to be a pessimist”, an excellent quote which helped inspire this blog entry from the documentary film ‘Home (2011)’. All signs from the most recent data indicate the exponential disintegration of our environment. If our children are to have a living world to support them as it has our generations, the people must take action… now. Information is key to making informed decisions, shop wisely, become self-sufficient, talk to your neighbours, skillshare, get involved in greening your community and above all… DON’T LOSE HOPE. 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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. 🙂
This summer Tree Frog will be putting on a series of workshops in Newcastle and out on a fantastic “No-commitment permaculture lifestyle” property near the Watagans, 45 min from Newcastle and just over an hour from Sydney.
Email Chris at TreeFrogPermaculture@gmail.com to join our mailing list, and add us on Facebook for regular updates.