Saturday, 20 January 2018

Do you have a 'Money Tree'?



It's not a myth. There is something commonly called a 'Money Tree', also called the Provision Tree by the United Nations. 

No, of course, it doesn't grow notes, but it produces an abundance of other currency - nutritious abundant food, habitat, shelter, timber, fuel ... and it grows in parts of the world where this is sorely needed. There is a story about a poor many praying for some money when he looked up and saw the Malabar Chestnut - which then became his source of livelihood.

I am so delighted to have a few of these magnificent Malabar Chestnut trees growing in my food forest - not just abundant and useful plant, shade providing, but beautiful too. Did you know it is also symbolically associated with good fortune, good luck and prosperity in places such as Japan and China? 

Malabar chestnut (Pachira aquatica) goes by other names too including Saba Nut and Guyana Nut. While you can find it almost everywhere in tropical and subtropical regions, it's originally from Central and South America. 

As you can guess from it's botanical name, it prefers moisture - humid climates, moist forests, being near waterways. However it does grow in pots too and in less moist conditions, although in these conditions it has slower growth.



In the ideal habitat of Malabar Chestnut, it is a fast growing tree that can reach 18 metres. Usually in a garden it's more like 6-7 metres. 

It's an easy plant to grow. It doesn't like frost, but apart from that, it is very adaptable to periods of drought or flood, and is disease resistant.

EAT THE SEEDS

I eat the seeds raw or cooked (and put the seed pod back into the garden as organic matter).  They can be used in so many meals - as a nut, in salad, in stir fry, as a flour, as a beverage... . 
  • As a nut, think along the lines of chestnuts and cashews when they are roasted. When you eat them freshly roasted and hot they are soft, but if you wait until they cool, they go crisp. 
  • Raw they are more like peanuts. 
  • Grind the roasted nuts into a baking flour or hot drink too.
  • They are delicious roasted - plain, sprinkled with a little salt or drizzled with some honey. 
  • To prepare them, I prefer to soak the seeds overnight first before roasting them though because this makes the seed swell and burst open its coating (which you remove). 

HARVESTING AND STORING SEEDS

The seeds (or nuts) are super easy to harvest. When the seedpods burst open near the end of summer, it means the seeds are ripe and ready to eat. You are likely to find them all over the ground under the tree when they are ripe. Go out everyday to collect more and more and more!

When you have a bumper crop it's fine just to store them raw in a cool dry place. They'll keep for months (if you haven't eaten them all by then).

EAT THE YOUNG LEAVES

The young leaves can be used too in salads or cooked as a vegetable in stir fries for example.


EAT THE FLOWERS

The spectacular large nocturnal flowers are reason enough to grow this plant. They look incredible and the vanilla scent is wonderful. You can eat them like a vegetable as well.


USING THE TRUNK

The trunk has a swollen cylindrical look - not surprising since it is related to the the boabab. The bark can be used for making handicrafts. The wood too is soft lightweight wood that is good for making things like rafts, for carving and other non-structural uses.


HOW TO PROPAGATE A MALABAR CHESTNUT

Getting new Malabar Chestnut plants from existing plants is simple. You can do it either plant one of the seeds or propagate by branch cutting. I usually take a 30 cm length from the tip of a branch and plant directly in the ground. You could get it started it in a pot too.


DO YOU (OR COULD YOU) GROW MALABAR CHESTNUT?


  • Do you already grow Malabar Chestnut? Do you use them in other ways?
  • Are you in a warm climate? Perhaps you have space for a Malabar Chestnut or three?


FREE FOOD FOREST MASTERCLASS

Join my on my next free Masterclass: How to start a food forest.
Registration is now open for my next free online masterclass: How to Start a Food Forest. I go live on Monday January 22nd, 8:00-8:45pm AEST (includes Q&A). Even if you can't make it, I encourage you to still register to receive the replay link. Click here to register: https://events.genndi.com/register/169105139238469461/2cb39235bd

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Free Masterclass #3: How to Start a Food Forest


Registration is now open for my next free online masterclass: How to Start a Food Forest.
I go live on Monday January 22nd, 8:00-8:45pm AEST (includes Q&A). Even if you can't make it, I encourage you to still register to receive the replay link.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Growing salt in your garden?!


Do you have a local variety of saltbush? Have you tried it? 

There are several types, but the main one growing wild around the Gippsland Lakes where I am now is Seaberry Saltbush. The leaves are so salty you can use it to replace salt in your meals.  

I've become quite partial to chewing a salty leaf or two of the wild bushes I find around this Island, and collecting a few to toss in with the dinner soup.

I've also taken to nibbling on the juicy saltbush berries growing wild around here. They are tiny, bright red, and simultaneously salty and sweet. The berries are abundant and when I find a good-tasting bush, I collect a handful to add to salads and sauces. 

Seaberry Saltbush (Chenopodium candolleanum syn Rhagodia candolleana) is of the Chenopodiaceae family - same as beetroot and spinach.

It is a scrambling dense shrub with glossy leaves that are semi-succulent and it has bundles of bright red berries at the tips of the stems around this time of year. 

It is a common Australian native plant that is found growing wild in many coastal environments in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

  • It grows in really tough conditions.
  • It is adapted to harsh saline conditions and can withstand lots of salt spray.  
  • It thrives in coastal sandy soils, on dunes.
  • It is a very useful plant for revegetation of degraded sites and can act as a small windbreak. 
  • It is fire resistant because of the juiciness and salt content of the leaves. 
  • It is also drought tolerant
  • It is moderately frost tolerant
  • It can tolerate full sun and full shade.

Birds love the berries too and particularly and it’s a refuge for them, lizards and little mammals.  They like to hide in the dense scrambling mass of shrubby stems.

Both the leaves and the fruit were eaten by Aboriginal people. 

Children like to use the red berries for painting and face paint!

Seaberry Saltbush is really useful in a polycultural edible garden. They attract beneficial insects (lacewings, ladybugs) and they are deep-rooted and hardy. They grow quickly, protect the soil and shade weeds. It has actually been used as a beneficial intercrop between lettuce beds.

It’s easy to propagate by cutting or seed. 

It’s quite an attractive plant that can be used in a garden setting too, but it would need a bit of pruning to keep it from scrambling too far.

A great plant for a coastal food forest, verge garden, perennial edible garden and bushfood garden. Would also be a hardy potted plant.



Monday, 8 January 2018

Seven year beans: grow perennial protein


We call Madagascar beans (Phaseolus lunatus) our magic beans. They:
  1. are fast growing
  2. live for 7 years
  3. are hardy and low-maintenance
  4. are adaptable to various soils
  5. provide abundant protein - great for us!
  6. produce abundant organic matter - great for soil life!
  7. are totally edible - all parts
Not only do Madagascar beans grow so fast and produce so much, they also taste great, add lots of fibre and protein into our vegetarian diet, are versatile to cook and, well, look fabulous - large purple-spotted beans!   I use them in soups, stews, curries, salads, veggie patties and dips. The beans can also be made into tempeh. 

The Madagascar bean vine is a vigorously climbing perennial legume for warmer areas - it thrives in hot humid areas. In my subtropical garden (which can experience frosts in winter), it dies back each winter but happily reshoots when the temperatures rise again. 

Each year the vine gets stronger and more productive. The main stem on my vine is now quite substantial. I have it growing on a strong trellis - it needs it!

Madagascar bean is actually a type of lima bean. The white variety is also known as butter bean - a common bean found in cans on supermarket shelves. This bean can be eaten as both young and dried beans. The young pods and leaves are also edible, but need to be cooked well - they can be fibrous and the leaves a bit bitter.

Madagascar bean is an ancient vegetable from the Andes. It was first domesticated in Peru possibly as early as 8000 years ago.

As well as producing food, these beans help create a mass of organic matter, improve the soil, and can be used to create summer shade and screening.

Click here to watch my new short film: Grow Perennial Protein.






Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Community shared milking: a neighbourhood farming project



I am part of a cow collective, a small group of neighbours who share the care of a few lovely cows and their calves for milking.  In this film I explains how it works and take you with my family down to the farm.

We take turns in milking and so milk just once a week. We take home around 20 litres which we use for awesomely fresh coffee cream, wicked smoothies, delicious yoghurt, kefir and superb cheeses.

Our kids love the milking morning, caring for the calves and cows. Working together with community makes things easier. We all share the care, the cost, the milking and the abundance.

Shared farming projects could provide an answer for many small-scale and urban agriculture activities.




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Saturday, 30 December 2017

Wild parsley: finding leafy greens at the beach.


It's summer here and everyday we are at the beach. We're here on our annual family holiday to visit my parents in the Gippsland Lakes. I've come here every year since I was a toddler. We spend our days cycling around the sandy tracks finding birds and wildlife (koalas, kangaroos, echidna), jumping off jetties, or taking to the lake in a sailboat.

I am increasingly finding myself fossicking amongst the undergrowth around this secluded lakeside for wild greens and fruits. I've found so many interesting things - it's wonderful!


Wild harvesting at the beach

Every day the kids and I try out freshly wild harvested ingredients in our meals, or find some other way to use them, such as...

Wild Parsley (Apium prostratum)

The other day I found some wild parsley in front of the house. It’s sometimes called sea parsley or sea celery. I have never noticed it before - there at the lake edge amongst the pebbles and sand.  

It has quite fine and small leaves in is low growing. Perhaps because it is flowering now I noticed it. It is of the umbellifereae/apiaceae family and therefore has the umbrella shaped flower of fennel and carrots, but smaller.

I tasted the leaves - they are just like parsley or celery leaves, just pleasantly salty. Into the salad they went! You can eat the leaves, flowers, seeds, stems and roots.

It grows all along the southern coast of Australia, and even up the east coast to the southern parts of Queensland. There's even a particular variety that grows just on Lord Howe Island. 

There are two main varieties:
  • Headland Sea Parsley (Apium prostratum var. prostratum) has a prostrate form with broad leaves and it grows on coastal dunes and headlands.
  • Mangrove Sea Parsley (Apium prostratum var. filiforme) has a more upright form and it’s leaves are narrower. This one grows in swamps and on the edge of tidal lakes. This is the better tasting variety. This is the one I found.

It looks quite like parsley, but the leaves do vary from place to place. It's easy to identify because the smell and taste of the crushed leaf is so unmistakably like parsley or celery.

Wild parsley is actually very similar to European parsley and can be used instead of it in any recipe. It can be used raw, in soups, stews, salad dressings, sauces, to flavour butter or on seafood. It can be dried too.

It’s a perfect plant for gardens near the Australian coast because it is so hardy. It can actually grow right on the waters edge, sometimes even submerged by salty storm tides! It grows in composting seaweed and sand.

It would grow well in a pot or in a semi-shaded position in the garden. 

Interesting facts about sea parsley...

Did you know that sea parsley was actually an important vegetable for early Australian explorers. Captain Cook collected bulk amounts at Botany Bay to ward off scurvy.

Early settlers around Albany in Western Australia grew it as a hardy vegetable, but it has never really been grown commercially.

Although sea parsley is an annual, it has a robust tap root like a carrot, which gives it a semi-perennial capacity. It also self-seeds readily after it's summer flowering.

Sea parsley is a native Australian herb that is rich in immune-boosting chlorophyll, anti-oxidants and vitamin C. Not only is it healthy to eat, but it's great on your skin too. It is used in the beauty industry as an ingredient to reducing inflammation of the skin, treat acne and help with skin regeneration. 

It is quite easy to make your own natural face care products such as this simple non-drying mask.

Home made wild parsley face mask for oily skin.

  1. finely chop a handful of parsley
  2. mix it with 2 tsp of cold pressed apple cider vinegar 
  3. stir in a teaspoon of raw honey

Put it on your face for 5 minutes and gently wash off with warm water.

(Note: you could use normal parsley for this if you can't find sea parsley)

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Thursday, 21 December 2017

Pumpkin Greens: Harvest a Leafy Abundance



Pumpkins are so much more than the orange flesh, as delicious as that is. I actually use pumpkin all the time to make soup, curry, sauces, dips, baked veggies, but there's so many more benefits and bonuses from growing pumpkin such as ...
  1. Pumpkin leaves and stems are delicious, nutritious and a totally abundant source of leafy greens.  I eat them every day.
  2. I have pumpkin vines tumbling around under my food forest as a living mulch and habitat for lizards and frogs.
  3. I also allow pumpkins to climb up over the chicken house to provide summer shade.
  4. When they die back, I use the leaves and stems as mulch and organic matter.
  5. I make chips from the skin
  6. I toast the seeds and drizzle them with tamari.
  7. I eat the flowers.

Check out this short film I just made about how I harvest and use this thriving vine to supercharge the amount of greens I have access to in my garden, particularly in the warmer months when other things wilt and wither away.




Happy gardening. Feel free to share this post.


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