Drought tolerant edible plants

I’ve been doing some research about different types of seeds and their characteristics. I love making lists and flicking through seed catalogues, so this little exercise has combined these two joys in one.

Although, I’m not a big fan of watering. It’s…. well…. it’s boring. Thankfully we’ve had lots of rainfall recently so I’ve been able to skip the odd day or two. Matt has a water gauge and has been faithfully recording the rainfall on a registration chart. Sadly, between bush fires and torrential rainfall Australia remains a predominantly dry sunburnt country.

Here’s a list of tough drought tolerant edible plants:

Bean – Scarlet Emperor Runner
Broccoli – Waltham 29
Cucumber – Sweet and striped
Leaf Amaranth
Rockmelon – Planters Jumbo
Tomato – Cherry Yellow Pear, Purple Calabash Climbing
Warrigal Greens (New Zealand Spinach)
Watermelon – Sugarbaby

Once again, if you know of any other edible varieties that are drought tolerant, please let me know.

Edible plants for small areas and pots

Strawberries in hanging basket

There are a range of different plants you can grow in small gardens and areas. Some of these are also suitable to grow in a pot or container. Plants in pots will need more watering as they dry out quicker. Jerry provides insulation for his pot plants by keeping them in their plastic pot, but popping them in a larger display pot and filling the gap up with bits of broken up styrofoam.

The best plants to grow in small spots are: asian greens, capsicum, carrots, lettuce, radish, rocket, tomato, salad greens, and silverbeet. Sprouts are the ultimate space saver. Don’t forget most herbs and chillies grow easily in a pot. And strawberries look pretty in hanging baskets.

Here are some good small varieties to try:

Beetroot – Mini Gourmet
Bok Choy
Cabbage – Mini
Carrot – Mini Round (Paris Market)
Cauliflower – Mini
Cucumber – Spacemaster
Honeymelon – Sakatas Sweet
Pumpkin – Delicata, Golden Nugget
Rockmelon – Ha-ogen, Minnesota Midget
Tomato – Silvery Fir Tree, Sweet Tumbler, Tiny Tim
Watermelon – Sweet Siberia

Let me know if you have come across any others.

Trees for a suburban food forest

I haven’t mentioned that we have about 10 dwarf fruit trees in pots, that we purchased at various times in 2008.

To decide which ones to plant, I made a list of all the trees that were under 3-4metres high, could be grown in a pot and trimmed to size and/or available as a dwarf. I was surprised at the variety available. When purchasing trees also consider their suitability to your climate, water requirements and whether or not you like the fruit they produce. If you eat lots of apple (say), you may like to consider getting a few different varieties – one that fruits early, one middle and one late season.

Here’s a list of suitable trees for suburban backyards:

  • Acerola Cherry
  • Apple (d)
  • Atherton Raspberry
  • Australian Round Lime
  • Avocado (d)
  • Babaco
  • Bananas
  • Black sapote
  • Blackberry
  • Blueberry
  • Boysenberry
  • Calamondin
  • Cape Gooseberry
  • Casana
  • Cassava
  • Ceylon Hill Gooseberry
  • Cherry
  • Chilli
  • Chinese Water Chestnut
  • Choko (v)
  • Cocona
  • Coffee
  • Comfrey
  • Currant (Red or Black)
  • Davidson’s Plum (p)
  • Fig (d)
  • Finger lime
  • Ginger
  • Goji Berry
  • Gooseberry
  • Governer’s Plum
  • Grape (v)
  • Grapefruit (d)
  • Grumichama Cherry
  • Guava
  • Jaboticaba
  • Japanese raisin
  • Jelly Palm / Wine Palm
  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Kakadu Plum
  • Kei Apple
  • Keriberry
  • Kiwifruit (v)
  • Kumquat (d)
  • Lemon (d)
  • Lemonade (d)
  • Lillypilly
  • Lime (d)
  • Loganberry
  • Loquat (d)
  • Macadamia (d)
  • Madrono
  • Mandarin (d)
  • Mango (d)
  • Medlar
  • Midyim
  • Miracle Fruit
  • Monstera
  • Mulberry (d)
  • Naranjilla
  • Natal Plum
  • Olive (d)
  • Orange (d)
  • Passionfruit (v)
  • Paw paw
  • Peach (d)
  • Pepino
  • Persimmon (d)
  • Pineapple
  • Plum
  • Plumcott
  • Plummelo
  • Pomegranate (d)
  • Raspberry
  • Rhubarb
  • Sea Grape
  • Strawberry
  • Tamarillo
  • Tangelo
  • Taro
  • Tea
  • Ugni
  • Yacon
  • Youngberry

Legend: (d) – dwarf available; (v) – vine; (p) – pot.

These edible trees, vines and others may be available in Australia from:

Please let us know if you have any other recommendations.

Update – I have more recently compiled a list of fruit trees for Brisbane backyards.

No dig gardening

When we first started gardening my heart sank after I discovered the soil was full of weeds, and all sorts of different odds and ends. We decided the best solution would be to have a raised bed, filled with no dig ingredients and organic soil.

After researching all the options, we were pleased to discover Birdies Ezy Veggie Beds. We ruled out wood because we have had termites. Treated wood can leach and is not considered organic. Birdies Veggie Beds are made from colour bond corrugated steel and have a rubber edge. We ordered 4 of the 400mm x 3m x 1.5m. (I’d recommend something a little less wide as it’s a little hard to reach the centre of the bed.)

In Australia, we like to claim that Esther Dean came up with the no-dig method (aka lasagna method) in the 1970s. It’s kind of like the way we have claimed inventing Pavlovas (actually it was the New Zealanders). Mind you, she liked to experiment with different gardening techniques and then monitor the effects (like a true scientist). Low and behold, she’s still alive and turned 97 in October last year!

I would shake my head at anyone who claims that no dig is a minimum effort. Setting it up was such a big job that it took us over a month to get all four vegetable beds prepared. The hardest bit was digging up the pawpaw tree, and then moving the organic soil from the grass where it was delivered to the beds. It was humid hot and sweaty physical hard work.

Actually, our beds are less lasagna method and more spaghetti bolognese. Let me explain:

The bottom half of each vegetable bed was made up of the following layers spread evenly:

  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 bags of cow manure
  • ½ bag Lucerne
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • ½ bag Lucerne
  • 2 bags of cow manure
  • 1 bag of sugar cane

The top half of the beds were then covered in organic soil that we purchased from a landscaping centre. We also added organic soil between some of the layers above.

The spag bolg method has all the advantages of the no dig method, but using organic soil to bulk it up helped reduce costs.

A few other tips:

  • When planning where to place the beds don’t forget to add enough space around them for an approximately one metre wide footpath. Consider mulching this area to discourage grass and weeds.
  • If placing the beds on the lawn, place ten pages plus of wet newspaper down first to suppress the grass and weeds. Sprinkle on a few handfuls of blood and bone.
  • Most vegetables have a small root system, so you only need 40cm deep of decent soil. If you are using higher beds you can fill the remaining bottom layer with clean sand, hay bales or general garden waste (minus grass seeds).
  • Alternate layers of wet (manure) and dry (sugar cane, hay, straw).
  • Blood and bone help to activate the composting process.
  • Water each layer thoroughly.
  • You can wait several weeks for the material to start composting before planting. Alternatively, plant seeds in handfuls of compost to start planting straight away.
  • You’ll need to top up the beds each growing season with lucerne, compost and/or manure.

Now the beds have been set up, we haven’t done any digging and fingers crossed that’s most of the hard work done.

Garden design

The design of the garden evolved through lots of trial and error. I was more than happy to pull up a plant and put it somewhere else – but sometimes this had fatal results! This philosophy frustrated Matt who wanted the right decision made the first time and he even tried to instal a ‘no moving plants’ rule. When we were buying plants at the nursery, Matt would ask if I knew where I was going to plant it. Of course, I never knew where it was going to end up – I was totally winging it.

Somewhere I saw the idea of throwing empty plastic pots over your shoulder to help you decided where to plant out your plants and produce a more natural feel to the area. Other advice I received which helped included:

  • Repeat plant in odd numbers – preferably 3s or 5s
  • Plant along fences and paths in a zig-zag fashion to replicate nature
  • The recommended plant widths on the tags are often generous, so plant closer together

If I ever started a garden again I would approach it completely differently. The first thing I would do is create a wish list of features I wanted in my garden. In an ideal world, this is the order I would plant in:

  1. Start planting out natives around the border first – to create privacy and windbreaks where they are needed,
  2. Then plant at the back with trees and bushes over 2m,
  3. Next plant in a second row in from the fence with smaller bushes 2 to 1 m high,
  4. Lastly, in a third row close to the edges and footpaths, I’d plant anything less than half a metre and the ground covers.

Native plant choice

There are a few questions to ask before you buy a plant.

Does it suit the climate?

Is the mature plant the right size for the spot?

Will the soil and water requirements be suitable?

I chose our native plants based on ‘Creating a Sustainable, Waterwise Garden’ by Linda Ross. I also worked my way through back issues of ‘Gardening Australia‘ and ‘Organic Gardener‘ magazines from the library and added more natives to my wish list.

Two other good resources are your state’s or local Society for Growing Australian Plants and the illustrated ‘Australian Native Plants‘ (I have the Concise Edition) by Wrighley and Fagg.

A word of warning though, if I bought a plant at the nursery because it looked attractive or had pretty flowers, it was usually dead within a month of planting.