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Garden update: Wet season planting

We’ve received a lot of early rain this year and, with a ‘big wet’ forecast due to La Niña, have begun to get our garden ready for wet season. The plants are loving the increased humidity, with many flowering and fruiting around the garden, and we have had to mow the lawn for the first time in months (and now it needs mowing every week).

We usually wouldn’t expect regular rain until closer to Christmas so, if we were experiencing extreme heat with no rain in sight, I wouldn’t usually be planting too much in October. However, with all the new growth around (in weeds as well as desirable plants), we’ve been pretty active in the garden lately. The luffa and watermelon seeds we planted only a month or so ago are already bearing fruit, and we’ve just planted another round of corn, eggplant, okra and chillies a couple of days ago. We’ll probably pick a couple of luffa soon to use in cooking (we use like a gourd in soup or stir fry, or use young ones like a zucchini), and leave the rest to dry out on the fence and eventually use them for scrubbing ourselves and our dishes.

With the next stretch of rain we’ll plant out the mango tree that’s been growing in the pot for most of the year (it grew from a seed in the compost). We’ll also start planting some cover crops, like the mung beans that did so well last wet season (in the title photo for this blog), which help keep down the weeds as well as providing a mulch layer at the end of their season (for more effective green manure, I understand it’s best to cut them before they flower, but it’s more fun for the kids to grow and pick the beans).

Towards the end of last year, we bought a number of plants from local plant sales, including a few native shrubs which have been flowering prolifically, and a lot of edible trees and other food plants. After establishing themselves over the last wet season, they’re now really taking off. Our mulberry is fruiting for the first time (I was just commenting to a friend at playgroup last week that it hadn’t fruited yet but I expected it to start soon, as it had lots of new growth then, later that day, noticed it was actually covered in green and pale pink berries). The moringa tree X planted from seed at playgroup last November is shooting up, it will need pruning soon if it’s to stay in reach. The native peanut tree has been growing slowly and steadily into a stocky little tree, that may make a good climbing tree one day (it produces an edible seed with a peanutty flavour inside a bright orange seedpod).

I’ve noticed a number of plants popping up around the garden that I’d forgotten about, cassava, ginger, turmeric and marigolds, to name a few. The tomato plants which grew spontaneously from compost have proved it is not too late for tomatoes, as I had previously thought (someone once told me tomatoes needed a minimum temperature below 20˚C for fruit to set, I don’t think that’s true of this variety). We picked our first tomatoes last week and used them for bruschetta for lunch (with basil and rocket, also from the garden), and there are dozens more ripening on the bush (I also never thought tomatoes grew into giant shrubs, this one is huge, perhaps due to the steady water supply from the washing machine outlet).

Our banana has now been growing for almost a year and is yet to fruit, but it’s getting taller and taller and there are a number of suckers coming up so we’re hoping it won’t be long (I don’t actually like banana, but the kids do). Once they’re a bit bigger, I might relocate a couple of the suckers to a nearby spot, so we can create a bit of a banana circle. We planted some pineapple tops earlier this year, they seem healthy but we’re not expecting them to fruit until next year. I didn’t know bananas and pineapples took so long to grow until I looked into planting them myself, and also was surprised to learn that they die after fruiting (although both start regenerating beforehand, which I think is cool).

We’re going to be pretty busy in coming months, keeping on top of all the weeds and mowing the lawn (and keeping the lawn out of the garden beds), but it’s so exciting seeing all the new growth. We’re looking forward to harvesting and cooking with a lot of our own fruits and veggies over the wet season, everything just grows and produces so quickly.

I’m always surprised when people suggest that we have a limited growing season, with half the year written off as being unproductive. I suppose it’s a matter of shifting your mindset to cooking with what’s available, rather than what you’ve always used (if you’re originally from a more temperate climate). A visit to the local markets demonstrates an abundance of produce right through the year, I suppose we’re just lucky to have travelled extensively through South East Asia, so are familiar with different ways of cooking and eating these foods. We recently took part in a local food challenge, encouraging participants to try eating only produce from the local area for a week. We only committed to using local fruit, veggies and meat, we still used dry goods, oil, dairy and condiments from elsewhere. I would eventually like to have a go at the full challenge, once our children are older and can understand why we are changing our diet for a week (I have more time for preparing things from scratch).

I can’t wait to experiment with more edible plant varieties as I learn more about growing and cooking with tropical fruit and veggies. I’ll post another update later in the season, and perhaps a couple of recipes, I also regularly share garden photos on Facebook and Instagram.

If you’re keen to try growing food in the tropics, I highly recommend these resources:

- Tropical Food Gardens, Leonie Norrington (check if it’s in your local bookstore before buying online, I’ve linked to Book Depository for an international audience)

- The Tropical Permaculture Guidebook (‘Pay as you like’ ebook, written for East Timor, I believe hardcopies are now available at some local bookstores in Australia)


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