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Food from Perennial(ising) Plants in Temperate Climate Australia for July 2013

This is the mid-Winter post for the ongoing research project about perennial plants and self-perpetuating annual plants providing food in temperate climate Australia. The original article introducing this project, stating its aims, and providing participant instructions, can be found here. Growers are sending me information on a month-by-month basis, then this information is collated and published the following month. All previous posts from this series can be found by clicking on my author name (Susan Kwong), just under the post title above.

Note: I have decided to finish my involvement in this research project after the next post, which will then be a full year of all four seasons here in temperate climate Australia, as it began in September last year. However, because people have found it to be useful, I would like to extend an invitation to anyone who might be interested in continuing it, to contact me for details of what’s involved: 5555susana [at] gmail [dot] com

Grower #1

Grower # 1 – Chris McLeod Fernglade Farm
Latitude 37.5 ° S
Broad climate information Cool Temperate with temperature ranges between 0 degrees and 40 degrees Celsius. Rainfall is delivered fairly consistently throughout the year except in drought years when January and February are usually dry. Rainfall in a drought year will still reach about 500mm/year and in a wet year it can be over 1,400mm/year. It is not a particularly windy spot, but at least once a year winds will peak in excess of 100km/h (a Tornado went through last Christmas Day).
Brief description of garden/farm

The site is at an elevation of 700m above sea level in a volcanic massif (about 25 kilometres long). The highest point on the mountain range is about 1,020m above sea level and the range is predominantly forested although it has been logged intensively from about 1860.

Fernglade farm is on 22 acres of which about 4 to 6 acres are actively managed. The farm has no fencing and is open to the wildlife of which there is plenty and a lot of the surplus goes towards them. There are about 300 fruit trees in two separate food forests, 14 raised vegetable beds (and areas set aside for self seeded vegetables), 2 hugelkultur beds, a few berry beds, raised beds for potatoes, worm farm, 12 chooks and 60+ medicinal and culinary herbs.


Botanical name Allium cepa var. proliferum
Common name(s) Tree Onions, Egyptian Walking Onions
Parts used for food Greens, top bulbils, onions
How used Greens used as scallions. Top bulbils pickled, or used fresh without peeling when immature. Onions used as salad onions, or cooked.
Notes This was another donation from a gardener in Macedon and I love the strong onion taste from these plants. They will eventually form heads on top of the stalks and fall over producing a new plant which will be replanted elsewhere. They are perennial.

Botanical name Allium schoenoprasum
Common name(s) Chives
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Raw, cooked
Notes These perennial onion plants happily grow all year around and I simply give them a haircut whenever I require an onion flavour in cooking. The purple flowers also provide great bee food for most of the year.

Botanical name Artemisia princeps
Common name(s) Japanese Mugwort
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Raw, cooked
Notes I love this plant although the bitter flavour is an acquired taste (I grow many types of wormwoods here and the wildlife love them). It has happily self-seeded as you can see and a strawberry guava is growing in amongst it with some geranium and rhododendron around it. I grow a lot of flowers for the bees so that they have food whatever the time of year and conditions. The bees were even out and about today harvesting pollen.

Botanical name Beta vulgaris var. cicla
Common name(s) Perpetual Spinach, Perennial Spinach
Parts used for food Leaves, stems
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes Perennial spinach is an awesome plant and it survives the hottest summers and once established keeps on producing leaves all year. I have today added another couple of plants to tide me through the summer conditions.

Botanical name Brassica juncea
Common name(s) Mustard
Parts used for food Leaves, flowers, seeds
How used Fresh
Notes In the past few weeks the mustard plants have really taken off. I love their peppery taste and they are a great addition to the garden. Once you have planted mustard you will always have them as they are prolific growers. Self-seeding annual.

Botanical name Brassica rapa ssp. chinensis
Common name(s) Chinese Cabbage (non-heading)
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Raw, cooked
Notes After the previous ultra-dry/hot summer, I moved a raised garden bed into the complete shade and threw in some seeds and this is the result. The largest plant in the photo is Chinese cabbage which also turns up around the food forest as a self-seeded plant (plus you can also see rocket, mustards and red cabbage).

Botanical name Centella asiatica
Common name(s) Gotu kola
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Fresh
Notes This perennial plant is a staple green in Asia, but it also has powerful anti-inflammatory medicinal properties so it is good to consume after a hard day’s work. There is also a rosemary and lime balm in the photo which helps to shelter it from the wind.

Botanical name Cichorium intybus
Common name(s) Chicory
Parts used for food Leaves, flowers, roots
How used Leaves, flowers, roots
Notes Perennial. This plant is a staple summer green here and produces edible greens all year around without any attention. It previously produced flowers and I’m waiting to see whether it self-propagates in these conditions. Roots can be roasted and used as a caffeine-free coffee substitute.

Botanical name Citrus limon ‘Eureka’
Common name(s) Lemon ‘Eureka’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, preserved
Notes During the depths of winter, the lemon variety ‘Eureka’ has outperformed the Meyer lemon in that it is, as you can see, covered in fresh lemons. The Meyer has green lemons but they are not yet ready to eat.

Botanical name Citrus limon x reticulata
Common name(s) Lemon ‘Lemonade’
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh
Notes This is without doubt the best tasting lemon and I look forward to larger harvests in future years. I was a bit sceptical about the claims at first, but have been won over by the lovely taste of this fruit.

Botanical name Diplotaxis tenuifolia
Common name(s) Perennial Rocket
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Raw, cooked
Notes What more needs to be said about this plant which provides green leafy produce for 9 months of the year. Even the dogs give it the thumbs up here! It truly grows like a rocket.

Botanical name Melissa officinalis
Common name(s) Lemon Balm
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes A great addition to a herbal tea and provides a good shot of vitamin C.

Botanical name Polygonum odoratum
Common name(s) Vietnamese Mint
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Fresh
Notes Perfect for any pho! Perennial. This is without doubt the hardiest mint in this environment and produces great tasting green leafy material all year around. It was recently in flower, but I have only propagated this about the farm from cuttings.

Botanical name Rheum x cultorum
Common name(s) Rhubarb
Parts used for food Stems
How used Cooked
Notes A lovely local lady provided me with some rhubarb crowns which originated from her grandfather, so I now have about 10 plants dotted around the place. The wallaby has recently got a taste for the plant which is a nuisance. I stew the stems up with a bit of honey and sugar and it is supreme.

Botanical name Rosmarinus officinalis
Common name(s) Rosemary
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Cooked
Notes Is originally a medicinal herb which is apparently great for your memory. I add the leaves to all sorts of foods and it is a refreshing taste during the depths of winter.

Botanical name Salvia officinalis
Common name(s) Sage
Parts used for food Leaves, flowers
How used Raw, cooked
Notes Recently, I had a sore throat and consumed a few leaves of sage over a day or two and it sent that sore throat packing. Sage is a powerful anti-biotic and is traditionally used in a tea as a gargle for sore throats. Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

Botanical name Sanguisorba minor
Common name(s) Salad Burnet
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Raw, cooked
Notes Is a true giver in that it produces green leafy plant matter here no matter what the conditions. It also happily self-sows and I would not be surprised to see this plant one day turn into a triffid. This is one plant not to turn your back on.

Botanical name Solanum lycopersicum (syn. Lycopersicon esculentum)
Common name(s) Tomato
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes This is a photo of the last of the 50kg+ of the cherry tomatoes that I harvested this year. These sit in the warm kitchen happily ripening, whilst the remaining green tomatoes got turned into green tomato chutney, of which I now have a year’s supply. Local people with polytunnels sell tomatoes from December to about February. Mine are growing outdoors so they only ripen between early March up until about late June. This is a very old school way to grow them as most people want tomatoes by Christmas, but they need a lot of heat to ripen (not necessarily sun, just heat). I’m only without local tomatoes from August through to November, which suits me fine. I can only grow cherry tomatoes as the larger fruit does not ripen here. The trick with tomatoes is to harvest them all before the outside temperatures reach 3 degrees Celsius or less. If you bring them inside before this, they’ll happily continue to ripen inside, so you can have fresh tomatoes until about late July/early August. If you leave them outside below 3 degrees they will start to rot on the vine. Some of the tomatoes self-seed here whilst others came from Diggers Club seeds which happily self-seed.

Botanical name Solanum tuberosum
Common name(s) Potato
Parts used for food Tubers
How used Cooked
Notes These have two definite cycles here and they take about 6 months from planting to harvesting so there is a summer and winter harvest. The ones in these photos have self-seeded and are hiding amongst borage, Vietnamese mint and geraniums.

Botanical name Thymus citriodorus
Common name(s) Lemon Thyme
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes I love walking by this plant and breaking off a chunk to munch on. It really has a strong lemon taste and is ultra-hardy in that I don’t have to water it over summer.

Botanical name Tropaeolum majus
Common name(s) Nasturtium
Parts used for food Leaves, flower buds, unripe seed pods
How used Leaves, flowers, unripe pods/seeds fresh. Flower buds, still-green seeds pickled.
Notes This is another plant with a peppery taste. It has now naturalised to the conditions here. Shown here hiding in amongst rocket with carrot, feverfew and parsley.

Grower #5

Grower # 5 — Susan Girard
Latitude 33.714043 S; Altitude 1017m
Broad climate information Rainfall approx. 1,400 millimeters mostly in summer.
Summer daytime temperatures low 20°C, with several days over 30°C + (more recently!) Nighttime temperature in the low teens.
Winter temperatures <10°C in the daytime with approx 0°C on clear nights and 3 – 4°C on cloudy nights. Regular frost overnight. There are 1 – 2 settled snowfalls per year.
Brief description of garden/farm

South facing site, ¾ acres block, adjoining part of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area (approx ¼ is protected, so Zone V). Mandala gardens X 2 – front and back yards, orchard, hothouse; chickens and ducks


Botanical name Allium porrum
Common name(s) Leeks
Parts used for food Stem, leaves
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes Perennial. Pictured are the smaller leeks that will be separated soon and allowed to grow bigger, we ate all the big ones!

Botanical name Brassica oleracea
Common name(s) Kale (Tuscan)
Parts used for food Leaves
How used Fresh, cooked
Notes Still going strong after 3 years.

Botanical name Citrus reticulata
Common name(s) Mandarin
Parts used for food Fruit
How used Fresh
Notes They were about the size of a 20 cent piece. Very cute.

Botanical name Smallanthus sonchifolius
Common name(s) Yacon
Parts used for food Tuber
How used Raw, cooked, dehydrated
Notes Tubers are harvested after flowering and the top growth has withered and died back. Is seen as a useful sweet-tasting food for Type II diabetics because of its inulin content.

Grower #5 is still harvesting food from Allium tuberosum /Garlic Chives, Citrus x meyeri /Meyer Lemon, Helianthus tuberosum /Jerusalem artichoke, Petroselinum neapolitanum /Flat-leaf or Italian Parsley, and Solanum tuberosum /Potato.

Much appreciation to the growers for this great info! For anyone else who is growing perennial food plants and/or self-perpetuating annual food plants in temperate climate Australia , and who’d like to contribute plant profiles for August’s post, you can email me for the proformas

  • 5555susana [at] gmail [dot] com

Until next month, happy growing, harvesting and eating!

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