Tropical Climate Gardening

Your guide to gardening in the tropics

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Gardening

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The dry season in the Top End is always crazy jammed packed full of activities and events, one of my favourites is the annual Darwin Royal Show mainly for the poultry and gardening sections which is where I tend to spend most of my time going out my way to by pass the loud side show alleys. As my kids are growing older they are just starting to see the excitement with all the rides and show bags so by the end of the day I am very tired and very broke. As much as I hate the rides and show bags I do enjoy seeing my children having fun and this year was extra pleased to see both of them (5yrs & 3yrs) took so much interest in the farm animals and beautiful flowers on display. Paris my oldest said she wanted to enter a mini garden next year so I had better get our thinking caps on so we are ready.

Previous years we have entered in a category or two however this year we were so busy with the business that closing dates had passed long before I even thought about it, never mind there is always next year. I may enter one of my orchids and even give the preserves section a ago however the yummy displays I saw would be hard to beat I bet those ladies have spent years upon years mastering their secret recipe. I have been reading the Grass Roots magazine for a while now and have read so many yummy recipes my favourites are the ones that use the Rosella bush from jams,  cordials and even tea.

One of my dear friends from Katherine introduced me to Rosella tea at the Adelaide River markets earlier this year, there was a lady there selling the dried Rosella with a hint of ginger yummo!! If your ever at the markets make sure you pick up some of this refreshing tea its great hot or as iced tea on a very hot day.

I must say a massive thank you to all the men and ladies out there who contribute to the shows around Australia with their baking its a tradition thats been around for centuries and enjoyed by many. Not just for the old these days as we see so many entries from the younger generation coming through right down to the pre schoolers but I'll say the older generation certainly do know how to cook a mean fruit cake or lovely light sponge. Back when there were no fancy cookbooks, utensils or weird and wonderful ingredients our grandmothers used the simplest of ingredients with lots of love which produced some of the best baking around.  The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook is a must for any of you wanting to try a bit of show baking, I love the fact that a review I once read on this book said it had enough butter and sugar to sustain Australian dairy farmers  and cane growers for years. In the early days there were no waves of people stressing about their waist line they ate what was on the table and got outside allot more than we do today.

This year my husband and I also started dog showing with our Australian Kelpies so show time was busier than normal as we had dogs to wash, excercise and pamper ready for the ring. Usually I like to wander through the flowers and plants writing down the names however this year I only got time to write the bromeliads down so if your after the name of a certain plants just send me a message and I'll do my best to track down the name if I don't already know it.

We loved the Tropiculture display of tropical fruits, these guys always have such a good variety of fruits and vegetables you can grow in our climate and are full of friendly advice. Kev and I recently traveled out to their farm and picked up some tropical fruit trees for our property. It was a fantastic morning with the opening of their vegetable patch and a spread of delicious dishes for the public to try.

There is a long line of photos to scroll through but on our facebook page will also have their album for viewing.

Enjoy Winkb2ap3_thumbnail_fb24.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_fb15.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_fb5.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_fb2.jpg

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©Lawn Ranger Landscaping & Irrigation
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No matter which garden nursery I enter the first place my feet tend to take me is straight over to the section with all the Bromeliads and I'm ever so disappointed if the selection is dismal or even worse they do not stock them! How can one resist the bright colours, strange flowers and fascinating foliage not to mention the instant feel of the tropics.

Most people do not realise even the good old pineapple is a bromeliad, this is usually the first one most Top End gardeners start off with without even knowing it in fact the pineapple is the only bromeliad variety cultivated for food.

The bromeliad has been in the western world now for more than 300 years and was origionaly bought over by a Spanish explorer by the name of Christopher Columbus. The bromeliad was an instant hit and soon spread all over the world around the sixteenth century with other botanist subdividing and introducing new names at a rapid rate. By the nineteenth century there was so much interest in these plants that collectors started to travel to all parts of the glob in search for new plants then they would send them back home.

When I was reading about the history of these plants I found they actually have so much heritage behind them that it's well worth taking the time to read about these fascinating plants they have a very interesting story to tell.  One man that interest me was a Mr Mulford Foster who died in 1978, he had collected so many bromeliads that he was actually the one responsible for introducing more bromeliads than anyone one else in the world. He use to travel with his wife to South America to find and introduce new plants, I recall it was something like 200 or more so he took this business very seriously.

Unfortunately I couldn't read anywhere when bromeliads were actually introduced into Australia but varieties such as the Billbergia pyramidalis concolor have been growing in Australian gardens since the nineteenth century either way it's been a long time. Mr Charles Hodgson was the first Australian to have a specialist collection back in the 1930's and when the USA Bromeliad Society was formed in 1950 Charles was the first Australian Trustee. In 1963 the Australian Society was formed and from there our love for the bromeliad exploded growing each year even today.

Now that you know a little about where the bromeliad came from the rest gets very complicated, I have many books on bromeliads and still find out more information when reading newsletters, web pages and gardening shows as there are so many varieties however there are basically three subfamilies (Pitcairniodeae, Bromelioideae & Tillandsiodeae)

  • Pitcairnioideae- Has sixteen genera and subdivides into 1070 species
  • Bromelioideae -Has 31 Genera containing over 1140 species
  • Tillandsiodeae- Has  9 Genera and makes up the largest known bromeliads

 

Growing

Bromeliades can be grown all around Australia and will also grow indoors and in pots as long as they get light and good drainage. If your planting your bromeliads in the ground make sure the cup (centre of plant which holds the water) is upright it's such a simple task but all to often I see clients cups tilted and the poor bromeliad suffering. b2ap3_thumbnail_Bromeliade-Cup.jpg

Up here in the tropics we have one thing most bromeliads love and that's humidity and warmth but don't over water as they really don't like to be too wet, you will find the wet season will have an effect on your bromeliads in the ground.

Be careful when also fertilising as they don't like allot of this either (see very easy going plants.)

I was told by a local lady to just mix a little slow release fertiler in with the potting mix and that should be sufficient for the plants life time. When the pups start growing just once again apply a small amount of slow release fertiliser or i hear you can even use orchid fertiliser in a spray bottle and spray once every few months.

*Never fertilise directly into the cup

 

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Your bromeliad takes water through the cup not the root system like most plants, your smart plant will use the reservoir of water when it needs it. In the wet season your bromeliads will comes to life with the best coloring as they love the rainwater over tap water which contains chemicals. The Bromeliades mounted and the ones in pots should do really well but those days where we get never ending rain you may need to just watch the ones in the ground (water logging.)

Tree mounting is a fun way to grow your bromeliads, start off with easy ones such as the minature neo's, you wont need to worry about the roots being covered only that the cup gets watered.

Lighting is an important factor, it's good to know which variety you have as some will grow better in more shaded areas and other with more light. As a general rule try to imagine the amount of sun light 50-70% shade cloth gives and find areas where the light reflects this environment. 

 

Propagation

Your beloved bromliad will eventually die in about 1-2 years however pups will produce over the flowering period which is when its time to get propagating.

Pups will start at the base of the mother plant and will develop a small rosette shape (approx 1/3 the size of the mother plant), at this stage you can separate.

When you propagate this way its called the vegetative way and is by far the most fast and simple way to propagate. I have heard you can keep fertilising the mother plant with a mixture of diluted fertiliser and more pups will re produce however a experienced grower once told me its only the first lot of pups that the plant produces which are your strongest, the more pups the weaker they will eventually become. 

When separating the pup from the mother plant do not use any force, it should all be done with ease . You simply snap the pup off with a clean break, if you use force then your risking the pup snapping leaving its lower part still attached to the mother plant (I was always told to stick to using a saw edged knife which I still use today.) 

Once you have succeeded with your pups let them dry out for 24hours then plant in damp peat moss and sand, I also use my trusty old vermiculite but only during the wet season as it can be to drying in the dry season. One of my books also suggests another great method is to place the pups on a base of wet peat moss in a plastic pot so the pup is secure and wont move. Just rest the pup on the moss (do not bury it) I'm yet to try this way out but apparently it gives a fantastic strike rate.  b2ap3_thumbnail_pups.jpg

Note: Not all species will produce pups, some will seed to carry on the species so it's important when you do buy a plant you intend to propagate know the species your dealing with.

 

Pests & Diseases

I wish I had of read up on this topic long before my first bromeliad as I have lost a few in the past due to pests and disease issues and now I'm having a hard time finding the species I once had here in Darwin, looks like I might need to do some late night internet shopping.

Avoid using white oil or copper based fungicides or pesticides, if you must use oil rationale with vegetable oil as it will degrade easily without causing your plant problems.

  • Aphids- Use a strong jet hose to remove what you can and use of chemicals such as Bugmaster, Malathion, Fenthion/Lebaycid and pyrethrin.
  • Caterpillars- Remove any caterpillars seen to the eye by hand and then use some Dipel, if this wont make them budge try the Bugmaster or Permethrin.
  • Grasshoppers - Spray with Permethrin.
  • Mealy Bugs- Use Carbaryl, Rogor, Malathion or Lebaycid.
  • Fungus- This is what made my poor foliage deteriorate, remove effected foliage immediately as it will spread.
  • Crown Rot- If your center leaves are turning brown and start to decay drain the sour water off the plant and soak the plant in Dithane for 40mins. Let the plant dry for a day in the shade then give water once again.

Troubleshooter

  • Base Leaves are starting to brown- Possible over watering and poor drainage.
  • Leaves Wilting- Lack of water, poor drainage
  • Brown marks on leaves- Watering has been done possibly in direct sunlight, check the light intensity and maybe use of pesticide has caused by incorrect application.
  • Inner leaves sticking together- No water in cup (reservoir of plant), insufficient misting
  • Bottom leaves yellow- brown (dying)- Could be just a healthy plant that is shedding its older base leaves as it ages or insufficient nutrients.
  • Leaves elongated- Not enough sun light, too much nitrogen in your fertiliser

 

Bromeliad Varieties


There are so many that I think it's probably better if I link you to a great website which goes through many of the varieties. *warning its addictive once you start.

Bromeliad Varieties www.bromeliads-of-australia.com.au b2ap3_thumbnail_brom.jpg

 

Fun Facts

  • The Puya ramondii is the largest bromeliad in the world, foliage can reach 10 feet in height and 9 feet in width with infloresence reaching 30 feet tall 
  • The pineapple is the only bromeliad cultivated for food
  • Bromeliads do not have one typical flower, instead they have array of smaller flowers on spikes or inflorescenses or in rosette shapes
  • Most bromeliads will only bloom once in their life time
  • Sometimes called air plants as they do not root in the ground

 

Where to buy?

In Darwin most our local markets will sell bromeliades as well as our garden nurseries, price anywhere from $15- $100 depending on the type

There are also many internet mail order specialty sites where you have access to a bigger variety, these people are usually full of knowledge and very helpful as they deal with bromeliades day in and day out.

 

 

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 'Giant Bromeliad'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Kylie Stephens
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  • Helen
    Helen says #
    Thank you for these excellent tips! I have to say I love your website. It is always easy to understand and covers what I have wan
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One of the recognisable plants from the tropics has to be the famous frangipani or called by its botanic name Plumeria. From the frangipani's sweet scent to it's gorgeous spiral flowers it's no wonder this plant is found in so many gardens in the Top End and around parts of Australia. The frangipani is commonly known as the flower of love and used in Feng Shui it was fascinating to see whilst in Bangkok last year the flowers scattered around many temples. In our garden we have a favourite frangipani tree its a Obtusa and we often picnic under it so we can smell the sweet perfumed scent wafting past, my daughter loves to also pick the flowers and make her own version of Paris perfume.   

Frangipani's arrived in Australia from South America in the 1800's through to the 1920's through the Polynesian missionaries and very early travelers. The islanders considered the  frangipani plant to be sacred and used it in many traditional ceremonies. In the 1970's the flower was used allot in political movements to promote world peace and a gained its status as a symbol of harmony which is when the popularity really took off. In Australian backyards the frangipani is more grown for its colour rather than variety but many serious growers and collectors from the frangipani society of Australia are even starting to form new varieties.

The frangipani flower has many uses from perfumes, soaps, oils and pot puris in fact the flower has been used in perfumery since the sixteenth century so its been around a long time. The flowers form a nearly perfect spiral in the bud and then opens up to a pretty spiral shaped flower with 5 petals. You can use your frangipani in many ways around the home too, I like to use my flowers for a perfumed water spray in the build up season, its very refreshing.

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Frangipani varieties to consider when buying

  • Evergreen frangipanis- these offer year round foliage in the tropical climate zones however I think these are some that do well in the cooler zones. It's usually these type that offer the really amazing foliage which is a feature on its own.
  • Deciduous frangipanis- Most well known and most colourful type, they do shed all their leaves in the cooler months (dry season in the NT)   
  • Variegated frangipanis -Comes in both the evergreen and deciduous forms
  • Dward Frangipanis- Very popular in the landscapers world and in high demand, can be pruned and shaped. 
  • Large full sized frangipani trees- 5-6m high by  4-5m wide, these types are the fastest growing, great used around pools as the root system is still relatively small and soft so it wont damage pipes, concrete and drains.  b2ap3_thumbnail_nature-landscapes_hdwallpaper_exotic-plumeria_4682.jpg

How To Grow A Frangipani

Frangipanis like sub tropical to tropical climates and require partial to full sun in order to grow and flower well, if your in a cooler climate you can still grow a frangipani but they do prefer the warmer zones. Frangipanis are fairly hardy and I suppose they tend to remind me of a bougainvilleas as they tend to thrive on neglect, you can grow them in the ground or in large pots. I remember about two years ago I had a cutting and whilst in a rush i just stuck it in an old wheel barrow near the kids sand pit. Within no time it rooted and now its about 2m high flourishing in the wheel barrow, it seemed to love the spot so much I couldn't bare to move it.

If your going to plant your frangipani in a pot we use a ratio of 40-50% high quality potting mix to 50-60% organic materials with sand added. Make sure your frangipani is not exposed to wet feet for prolonged periods, free draining soil is preferred. But as you can see from my wheel barrow story don't stress about the ratio's especially if your in the tropics.

As for fertilising they love organic matter,good animal manure, fire ash and compost, your frangipani wont die if your not fertilising or composting but if you do the foliage will be more lush and I find the flowers tend to be more vibrant.

Prune Or Not To Prune?

Like everything in most gardens your plant or tree will benefit from a prune every now and then.I do both, some of my trees I don't touch, they are happy in their spots and not in high traffic areas whilst others I will prune once or twice year. The frangipani I do prune I like to keep smallish and dense so I prune to half their height. The branches I cut will sprout new multiple branches making it more bushy and ornamental looking but note it can take up to two years for the new branches to flower. 

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Propagation

Propagation is dead easy and done by cuttings (make sure the cut is clean) which all you need to do is dry your cutting for a week in a shady position then pot into pots with a sandy potting mixture. Water once a fortnight until the roots have formed. Frangipani can also be grown from grafting, seed and even air laying but to be honest they are easy to propagate I've only ever done the cutting method or bought whole plants from our wholesaler. When you do propagate your new plant may take up to two years to flower so just be patient, it will happen if you want to try your luck at early flowering look for a fertiliser that is high in phosphorous.  

If you do buy one from the shops depending on size price can be from $22 upwards, markets are a great place to find cheap cuttings and a good place to find rare colours. If your right into the rare finds there are some online places you can try but beware the price for the rare ones can be $100- $250 just for a standard size opposed to the common found colours $22-60

TIP- Use terracotta pots for your cuttings as they can breath and stake the cutting in place, 

Frangipani Problems

  • Rust (Coleosporium plumeriae) This rust looks like small orange pustules which will be found on the backs of the leaves whilst not serious it will contribute to early defoliation. There are varieties which are rust resistant I've read there are three levels of rust tolerance from low resistance to full immune, in Darwin I've not yet come across any frangipani that was affected. If you do happen to come across rust hand pick the leaves and bin them straight away (don't compost)
  • Heat Stress, mainly caused by watering during the heat of the day
  • Powdery Mildew- High humidity can cause this but easily treated with a white oil solution, spay late in the arvo so the leaves wont burn.
  • Mould -Spray with white oil and then feed with a fertiliser high in potassium or potash which will help your frangipanis natural resistance.

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Colours

There are so many colours around today it must be in the 100's they range from the single uniformed colours then there is the two toned colour such as the white and yellow ( still referred to as a white) or the pink and white (referred to as a pink.) The pinks I find very fascinating as they tend to have hues of orange and/ or yellow so you get these pretty tri colours forming. A new variety/ colour is named when these variations are shown consistently and have a unique character.    b2ap3_thumbnail_frangipani.jpg

Did you know?

  • The frangipani flower is the flower of the city Palermo in Sicily, Italy
  • The frangipani flower is the national flower of Nicaragua
  • In the Carribean the frangipani leaf is used as a healing wrap for bruises and latex used for rheumatism
  • Frangipani flowers are worn by Polynesian women to indicate their relationship status, over the left ear means she is taken
  • The frangipani tree is the national tree of Laos where its called dok jampa, all their Buddhist temples have them planted as they are classed as the sacred tree.
  • Nicaragua also have the flower as their national flower and it can be seen on many of their notes of currency
  • In Hindu culture the flower means loyalty
  • Sailors from the Hawaii waters back in the war days would toss a frangipani lei into the waters as the ships passed diamond head. If the lei floated ashore the sailor would return but if it floated towards the ship  it was feared he would not be coming home.
  • Frangipanis are rare in China and more precious than an orchid, if a loved one in China receives a frangipani flower then this means a long lasting relationship.
  • In mexican myth the gods were born from frangipani flowers
  • Frangipanis are drought and fire hardy

 

 

Frangipani Face Cream Recipe

1/2 Cup Aloe Vera Gel

1/8 Cup Glycerin

1/2 Teaspoon royal jelly

1 Teaspoon Frangipani Essence ( I buy mine from Bush Flower Essences approx $14)

Combine all ingredients and dab onto face, gently massage in. this recipe can be kepyt in the fridge for up to 6 months

Frangipani Essence

Great for a calming in stressful situations, inner and outer self awareness, passion, loyalty, peace and harmony 

 

 

 

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©Kylie Stephens- Lawn Ranger
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How To Grow Loofah

 

At the start of this year I ordered a stack of seeds which arrived when we were flat out servicing irrigation systems for our body corporate clients so my poor seed packets sat on my shelf for weeks before I got around to actually planting them in seedling trays. Just as the dry season is approaching I like to research what seeds I will grow this year, plan out my gardens and get them in seedling trays so as they dry season sets in I'm ready to plant out.

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One of the packets was loofah seeds which I bought off an organic supplier online, I bought the loofah so I could use the sponges but I also read they are an edible vegetable.  The packet said to soak seeds in water overnight before planting so I emptied a hand full in a bowl of water to start the process and commit myself to finally planting these poor seedlings out. It was my first time ever planting out loofah so I  was a bit ambitious by planting a whole tray of the seedlings out, little did I know how well they were going to grow.

Within one week all my seedlings has sprouted and were growing at a rapid rate, I was quite surprised as usually one or two seedlings lay dormant or simply cant be bothered rising to the task so to see all of them sitting there all healthy was a good indicator I was onto a good thing.

At this rapid growth rate I thought after 4 weeks I had better get them into the ground so I ventured around the garden finding suitable spots for  Loofah to grow. Loofah grow a bit like a cucumber would so they love to climb and I mean climb! I planted one at the base of a wire fence near an old gum tree and the loofah actually grew up into it and one day whilst admiring my trees I saw about 10 large sneaky loofah hanging from my gum tree.  I late read in a book that the loofah can grow as far as 9 meters upwards so keep that in mind when planting next to tall trees.

Shortly after spotting the loofah in the tree I then realised every single one of my vines had loofah hanging everywhere plus these bright yellow flowers in between indicating more loofah to come! The flowers are just gorgeous, the male flowers will appear first then the female ones with bright hue's of yellow. Flowers will open in the morning then close in the evening whilst also attracting useful bee's to pollinate my veggie patch its a win win. Bee's will actually travel to great lengths to get to your loofah flowers and ants seem to love the vines as well however they do not seem to cause any harm.

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If your growing loofah for the sponge like I was you can pick off the large loofah and dry it out until it starts to turn brown. Once your loofah is all dried out the skin will peel off very easily and you will see your loofah sponge. Simply shake all the seeds out (they just drop out so easy)  and store them away for your next crop. There you have it a organic natural sponge! At this stage you can cut the loofah into portions before storing away. I love the natural look but I do know people that prefer to use a hydrogen peroxide to get that bought at a shop look but personally I cant see why you would want to do that unless maybe your selling the loofah sponge.

I have been using my loofah for a few months now and am totally in love with it, it's softer than the store bought ones but yet you can feel it doing a much better job at exfoliating. My husband has been using his every night and even the kids ask for their loofah when bath time starts. If your into making natural soaps and lotions I see there are so many uses for loofah over the internet its definitely a vegetable I will continue to grow and also start using in my cooking.

Grow your loofah all year round in the tropics however I'm finding with the rains I need to pick the loofah quite green and dry inside otherwise if they start to brown on the vine water gets inside and a bit of mold starts forming. In the dry season I was able to let them brown on the vine then pick as I needed a new sponge.

With Christmas near what better home grown gift to give a loved one, wrapped with a cute bow and spring of wattle.

 

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What is a loofah? A loofah plant is a cucurbit which is a group of plants called gourds (pumpkins and cucumbers), the vine is an annual.

How to grow? Grow in seed trays and plant out at around 4 -6 weeks time, grow in full sun or partial shade however stick to full sun if you can for a better crop.

Watering?  Dont over water your loofah, in the dry water more frequently however in the wet season just let them adapt to the rainfall.

What depth should I plant my seedlings? Sow in ground 3 times the size of the seed and space around 50-80cm apart

How should I growth my loofah? Grow as vines but make sure your trellis is strong as the loofah can get quite large.

When can i harvest? Harvest in the tropics in around 10-12 weeks time, your loofah can grow straight or curved.

What other uses can loofah be used for? Flowers are edible when young, toss in stir fry's or salads. The main vegetable can also be used when young just like a squash, zucchini or okra. If your going to grow the loofah for eating make sure you plant in rich soil to ensure the best taste.

What type of soil do loofah prefer? Loofah like well drained soil with compost and organic matter however I did trail one poor seedling in a area of poor condition and it also done well however the loofah didn't get to the size of the ones in the prepared soil.  

Where to buy? I have been buying from Green Harvest for a few years now with very healthy seeds www.greenharvest.com.au 

        

 

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©Kylie Stephens
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As the wet season starts to set in my garden seems to grow over night.

I walk out in the morning for a stroll with my cup of coffee and I can almost see the blades of grass rising towards the sky right before my eyes. We call the wet troppo season up here in the Northern Territory and for good reason- It sends you troppo. My once pleasant weekends of pottering in the garden in a comfortable climate turns into a stinking hot sauna, everything goes into overdrive even the compost.

Most gardeners I know in the Darwin area are in the same boat this time of year,  veggie garden? What veggie garden? Yes you can have a half passable vegetable garden but as we dart around combating troppo season with weeds on steroids, secateurs in overdrive pruning,not to mention picking up fallen branches from our afternoon storms there is very little time left over.

Just today when I got home from the gardening rounds I walked past my veggie patch and almost had to look away in shame, I 'have not had the time of day to give to my once flourishing vegetable patch. My climbing spinach, basil, capsicums, spring onions and yams are all booming in between the weeds that just wont take no for an answer but in all honesty the more rain the more jobs mother nature creates so I've made the decision to opt for a cover crop this year.

Usually I will carry on planting seedlings to feed the family over the wet but as our business keeps growing my husband and I loose garden time in our own little slice of heaven. In addition to this our vegetable patch is quite close to the entertaining area, I'm a bit of a fussy one by ensuring my patch is in perfect rows, no weeds, compost in check, scarecrow standing perfectly straight, produce looking fresh and i cant forget about my vintage welcome sign to top it all off. Previous years I've tried to image a cover crop and I saw a messy looking garden staring back at me. However as the birthdays roll over I grow a little wiser as this year the idea of letting all my hard work building the soil go to waste makes me feel like a damsel in distress. I've spent a good year building the vegetable patch up with good rich organic matter that the thought of a cover crop excites me, I cant wait for my packets of goodness to arrive in the mail so I can get started.    

If your new to cover crops your probably wondering what is a cover crop and why use them so keep reading.

A cover crop is a green leafy crop you plant over your vegie garden to help protect your soil by reducing wind/water erosion and nutrients being leaked away with heavy rainfall. They also provide a protective armor to the top layer that will hold the soil in place.

Benefits   

  • Help avoid soil erosion
  • Building your your organic soil matter
  • Harvest excess water
  • Adding Nitrogen to the soil

Cover crops will also take up nitrogen and other important nutrients then they get released  back into the soil when you dig (when I say dig you can also just slash or whipper snip as the roots will just decompose anyway) it into the soil at the end of the wet season. Unlike when we apply Nitrogen as a fertiliser allot of waste still occurs as the water passes down into the soil whereas cover crops hold the nutrients in plant residue. Cover crops will also help to control nematodes which are small wormlike creatures however not closely related to the normal garden worms. Majority of the nematodes are not harmful however the ones that are feed on your plant tissue seriously damaging your plants.

 

My suggestions for tropical cover crops

* I always buy organically certified seeds when buying, there are a number of places sell organic seeds the trend for organic is in high demand.

When sowing your seeds just damped the soil then scatter the seeds in the area your wanting to cover, grab a light rake and gently rack back and fourth so your just covering the seeds with a light layer of dirt.

  • Buckwheat

Reaches around 50cm in height, germinates in 3-4 days and is high in phosphorus and quite nice in a salad if you pick the young sprouts. Scatter your seeds over damp bare soil (not water logged) then lightly rake back and fourth to ever so slightly cover the seeds. The flowering will begin in around 4-5 weeks, I've been told its best to dig in the crop whilst still flowering to avoid self sowing.

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  •  Cowpea

This is one I've ordered as it adds nitrogen and builds beautiful organic matter, smothers the weeds and control nematodes plus my chooks can benefit from forage.

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  • Japanese Millet

This is a clumping grass and once again will add good organic matter to the soil.

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  • Lablab

Another one I've ordered is this fast growing legume called Lablab as it loves our wet season weather but yet can still be used in the dry season, which will come in handy as forage and building my soil in expansion areas. With Lablab you can also cut it down through the entire wet and mix it into your soil.

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  • Mung Bean

Adds nitrogen and organic matter, very fast growing and hardy.

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  • Soy Bean

I was told this is a must for Tropical zones as Soy bean loves hot weather and ticks all the right boxes with nutrients, weed control, edible seeds, forage and great at building your soil up.

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Now that you know a little more on the topic of ground covers, get out there and start ordering your green manure to save your soil. I'll be updating this blog once my cover crop gets going and post some pictures of the progress. Peanut might also be a good option.

I have such a large collection of books piling up in my office book case yet I am still to add a book on cover crops, I've been told Dick Raymond has a wonderful collection of books including one on green manures / cover crops. If your lucky enough to stumble upon this book I would suggest you grab it as its a rare title to find as I've found so far.

Feel free to suggest any others that you have found work well in the wet season, I'm more than happy to add it to the list.

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©Kylie Stephens- Lawn Ranger
in Gardening 57791
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