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Surviving La Nina Wet Season Tips, RIG News #11

2011 February 1
by Webmaster
Jimmy Djiagween

Kim Courtenay shares practical tips to ‘grow it locally’ during the wet season

Surviving La Nina


Through all the trials of last summer’s severe weather events the value of diverse self sufficient gardens on remote communities was never more clearly underlined.

With roads cut and stable crops flooded and flattened on both sides of the country this was a year when ‘growing your own’ for many would have been the most reliable form of food security.

Bananas are a great example and with prices rising steadily due to cyclone damage to plantations around Carnarvon on the west coast and in north Queensland there was never a better time to have a thriving patch in a tropical food garden. Officially the most popular fruit in Australia, bananas are packed full of vitamins, low in fat and high in carbohydrates. They’re a great high energy food for children and people on the go and one of the most inspirational plants to grow.

The key to growing bananas successfully is to grow them in clumps with plants spaced about 2 to 2.5 metres apart which allows them to create a protective micro climate. Growing bananas is like creating an instant jungle. Well fed, watered and mulched plants grow rapidly and soon put up an umbrella like canopy which creates a humid, protected area around the base of the plants.

One reason why bananas are often not found in home gardens is because they are susceptible to some serious pests and diseases they are subject to strict quarantine regulations. The ‘ducasse’ banana plants pictured here satisfied quarantine regulations when they were originally brought into Broome as tiny, sterile tissue cultured plants and after nearly eight years remain pest and disease free.

A patch of bananas can also be established using excess sword suckers which are thick at the base and taper to a small head of leaves. A healthy corm or rhizome will naturally produce more suckers than needed and for good yields the excess ones should be pruned off. If needed these can be carefully transplanted to extend the patch or establish a new one.

Ideally each corm should only be supporting one parent plant, one follower and a single emerging sword sucker at any one time. Once a sword sucker has matured and produced a bunch it will not flower again.

For this reason when harvesting bananas commercial growers usually make two decisive blows with their razor sharp knives – the first to cut the bunch and the second to drop the plant it grew from into the leaf litter below.

Well cared for plants grown in a patch should start flowering after about six months and bunches mature three to four months after that.

Meanwhile with much of the rest of the country copping a hammering at the hands of Mother Nature over recent months, in the Kimberley we’ve seen her kind and gentle side (touch wood). Food gardens in the tropics put on a different face during the Wet and while many popular summer veggies grown down south are out of the question due to the high humidity and insect plagues, a diverse tropical garden can still provide ‘a feed’.

Apart from bananas which produce all year, when the monsoon descends paw paws, sweet potatoes, watermelons and pumpkins will still hang in there.

In the West Kimberley during January which is normally the height of the Wet, the prized local bush fruit, gubinge comes into season.

Containing the highest levels of Vitamin C of any known fruit as well as extremely high levels of anti oxidants, gubinge or Kakadu Plum as it’s known in the NT, is emerging as the ‘next big thing’ on the Australian bush foods scene.

A research project growing them near Broome has benefited greatly from the consistent rains through the prime growing period over the warmer months.

The project is an initiative of Kimberley TAFE which has been promoting the cultivation of gubinge through practical training for over 10 years. Practical training projects involving predominantly indigenous students have demonstrated gubinge can have an important place in tropical food gardens and that in cultivated plantations is presenting a very real and culturally appropriate opportunity for remote indigenous communities.

A cultivation model being trialed at TAFE’s ‘Balu Buru’ training and research centre near Broome that has been generating particular interest has been termed ‘enrichment planting’.

The concept involves planting trees within existing areas of bush with minimal impact to the natural biodiversity. The areas are prepared for planting by removing deadwood then slashing through the natural vegetation.

Drip irrigation lines are laid to water the trees and much of the ongoing maintenance revolves around preventing fires through the planted areas, allowing organic matter to build up in the soil and eventually transforming a regularly burnt savanna landscape into tropical woodland.

One of the more intriguing elements of the project is that evidence now indicates that much of the savanna landscape across Northern Australia was in fact rarely burnt rainforest and woodland in the not too distant past.

Amid a growing interest in the development of the gubinge industry Kimberley TAFE was part of a collaborative project over this Wet season involving the CSIRO, University of WA and Charles Darwin University in the NT.

An underlining philosophy of the initiatives is to maximize involvement with and opportunities for Aboriginal Communities.

Article and images provided with permission by Kim Courtenay, Lecturer in Horticulture, Kimberley TAFE. Kim regularly writes for the local Broome newspaper and is a member of RIG Network’s Advisory Group.

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