Growing in the wet season – technical tips from Leonie Norrington, RIG News, Feb. 2013
Story kindly provided by Leonie Norrington, author of Tropical Food Gardens – A guide to growing fruit, herbs and vegetables in tropical and sub-tropical climates.
We’ve just had one of those huge storms that leave you stunned in a silence of dripping leaves and shell-shocked plants. The air is wet with suspended particles and so absolutely clear, it is like the rain has washed away the dust in the air itself. The garden is so wet even the high ground sparkles, dark green moss covers every surface and the ferns are gold with new leaf and drunk with sloshy joy…
And now back to this year – this tear we’re starved for monsoons – more sun than rain – but doesn’t it make everything grow! We’ve had so little rain my thyme and sage are still alive. It’s so hot! All you can do is make sure you have plenty of water on the inside and water on the outside. Submerge yourself as often as you can in water. A shower, a bath with icecubes floating in it, a pool, even a 44 gallon drum is perfect. And drink, drink and then drink some more. WATER that is…Then at the end, if you have room perhaps some things to do.
Our growing season for cool weather veggies is very short so you need to get the seedling going now. Sow them now in seedling punnets in a shade house to protect them from marauding insects and pummelling rain. Try some beetroot this year along with the normal, snow peas, tomatoes, capsicum, rocket, lettuce, broccoli, dill and coriander.
Fertilise the water chestnuts. Wrap little balls of blood and bone in stocking material and bury them in the mud where it won’t kill the fish or mosquito larvae in the surface water.
Taro and cassava are half way through their growing season now so they will also enjoy a bit of encouragement. Compost is perfect if you have enough to spare, but blood and bone scratched into the surface and covered with mulch will also do the job.
There’s an abundance of Ceylon spinach, Kang Kong and sweet potato leaves rushing about the garden. Pick them, chuck them in the blender and throw them into pastry for quiche, pie or when your making chapattis to give a delicious green colour.
And the banana are flowering. Break off the purple flowering ball when the bunch is big enough and give the plant a good dose of composted chook manure . . . (the pelletised stuff is okay if you can’t get the real stuff).
Put mulch under your pumpkin and watermelon fruit while they’re growing so they don’t rot and cover them with mulch to protect them from sunburn.
Remove your bird nets and prune the lanky fruit trees into shape so they can recover before the Dry season slows them down.
With everything growing madly it’s the perfect time to take tip cuttings. Snip them off first thing in the morning, keep them moist in a plastic bag, give them a quick dip in the rooting powder and into the seed raising mix. They won’t even glance backward.
No dig gardens work brilliantly in our perfect-for-compost weather. Try a couple for your veggie and flower beds garden beds this year. Throw down a layer of newspaper or cardboard to kill the weeds. Then just build up the garden bed in layers: mulch, blood and bone, mulch, green weeds, lime, horse or cow manure, mulch, kitchen scraps, trace elements, more mulch, chook manure, more mulch and a layer of compost and cover with well loosened mulch. Leave to settle and plant in April.
This is the time of great anticipation, and triumph. Well most years it is. Some years it’s most depressing. Like the time my guava had a major fruit set – huge and abundant – then fell over before any of them ripened with whiteants. But I don’t want to talk about that. What is most exciting is when you have cut the guava right back after it finished fruiting last year. Keep it in shape with tip pruning so it grows neatly through the dry, its bark peeling gently to accentuate the beauty of its trunk. When it flowers put out the fruit fly traps, fertilise and mulch. The flowers set fruit, and straight away you toss on the net to keep the birds and moths off. So that right now you are hovering around the ripening fruit threatening the possums, fruit bats and fruit flies with the slow death if they dare to take one before you taste you first ripe fruit. That is success!
A typical Wet season salad would be: Winged beans, snake beans and/or Brazilian spinach dipped in boiling water just enough to soften and deepen their colour. Add to that slices of cooked Jap pumpkin or orange sweet potato. Some sweet leaf or rosella tips, kang kong and Ceylon spinach, lots of Costus woodsonii flowers – the most delicious ginger flower imaginable. And this is showing off – some home made feta cheese made from my own goats milk. Cover it all with a dressing of olive oil and lime juice flavoured with garlic, Thai coriander, basil leaves and chives.
And breakfast? A whole pineapple or mango or six mangosteens. Perhaps a fruit salad of mango, guava, abiu dragonfruit, mulberry with yogurt. Banana pancakes? And/or banana on toast with a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon. Oh and don’t forget the freshly squeezed Ruby grapefruit and or soursop or Kumquat juice.
Wet season dinners would include Numus (it’s not a coincidence that the fish are biting when the lime trees are loaded). Basil chicken, sweet potato gnocci, green paw paw salad, luxa! Fish, chicken, or rice wrapped in turmeric, pepper leaf or pandan leaves. All with heaps of greens – boiled, stir fried, wilted or just raw.
Fruit in season – bananas, black sapote, carambolas, coconuts, custard apples, jakfruit, ripe pawpaw, soursop, lime, passionfruit, sapodillia. abiu, Dragon fruit, durian, elderberries, guavas, lemon, mangosteen, South American sapoti, kumquat, pineapples, rambutans, ruby grapefruit.
Greens in season – amaranth, abika, Brazilian spinach, cassava leaves, Ceylon spinach, kang kong, pumpkin tips, snake beans, sweet leaf, sweet potato leaf, winged beans.
Vegetables in season – akee, Asian cucumber, bamboo shoots, breadfruit, elderflowers, pickling melon, mushrooms, Yam bean. – plantains, banana flowers, banana heart, gourds, cassava root, eggplant, green pawpaw, luffa, pumpkin (jap), pumpkin flowers, sweet potatoes orange and white, okra
Herbs in season – aloevera, basil, banana leaf, chilli (birds eye), chocolate mint, mint, Cuban oregano, curry leaf, flat leaf parsley, garlic chives, galangal, ginger, gota kola, hibiscus flowers, kaffir lime leaves, kenchur, lemon grass, mint, pandan, pepper (green and black), Thai coriander, Vietnamese mint, winter tarragon, elderflowers, green ginger, ginger leaves, tumeric leaves, wild pepper leaf, rosella leaves, tumeric leaves.
Pictured at top: Cover of Leonie’s much loved book.
Story from RIG News, February 2013