Kitchen Garden: Subtropical summer
Our resident tropical garden expert Arno King has the lowdown on all the seasonal jobs, as well as the tips and tricks to get things happening in the subtropical kitchen
New for northerners
Anro joins our kitchen garden team this summer to provide specific advice to food growers living where summers are hot and wet. Follow his tips for great harvests year-round.
Look for tough, subtropical greens that power through the hottest, wettest months of summer. Malabar spinach or basella is a staple in my garden for its delicious succulent green leaves - I especially like it in palak paneer. It’s native to subtropical Asia and Africa and can be grown as a groundcover or to maximise the long climbing stems can be trained up a support. Keep plants well watered and well fed for the best harvest. Malabar spinach is readily grown from cuttings or from seed (Diggers Club, Green Harvest, Eden Seeds).
Make it snappy
The secret to tasty amaranth, also called Chinese spinach, is to grow it quickly, with plenty of food and water, harvesting tender shoots to produce multi-branched bushes. Use it as a spinach substitute and try Caribbean or Indian recipes where it takes centre stage.
Amaranth. Photo - SviP/Shutterstock
Don’t cook your vegetables! Raised vegetable beds can be a liability in warmer parts of Australia. Metal ones particularly heat and dry the soil, cooking your vegetables before you eat them! I recommend you raise edges by no more than 15cm. This minimises heating and makes it a lot easier to incorporate composted organic matter and to turn the soil, which stimulates bacterial activity.
If you have a raised garden, plant draping groundcovers, such as sweet potato, Malabar spinach or allherb, Plectranthus amboinicus, along the edge to insulate the sides from the sun’s heat, and position annual vegetables towards the moister, cooler centre. Don’t know allherb? It’s a replacement for thyme and oregano that thrives in areas with summer rain.
Position annual vegetables towards the moister, cooler centre. Photo - Alison Hancock / Shutterstock
Cherry and currant tomatoes are more tolerant of heat, heavy rain and dryness than their larger cousins and are more resistant to many common tomato diseases. As they have a thicker skin, fruit are rarely bothered by fruit fly, making them my choice for the warmer months of the year.
Most cherry tomatoes grow as large sprawly climbers, and for ease of harvest, are best trained up a trellis or tepee. My favourites include ‘Broad Ripple Yellow Currant’, ‘Red Currant’, ‘Beam's Yellow Pear’, ‘Pink Bumble Bee' and a large-fruited one that appeared on the edge of my dam spontaneously and continues to grow there 10 years later.
Snake beans are hot weather stalwarts that retain their crispness in curries, stews and stir fries - as well as their colour. Colour, you ask? Years ago I was stuck with only green snake beans, but I now grow some dozen cultivars - all coloured. 'Red Noodle' has deep red pods; 'Thai Purple' is purple; ‘Mosaic' is a lavender brown; 'White Snake Bean' is a whitish green Chinese selection; and ’Thai Soldier' is white with red spots.
Climbing varieties are most productive, space-efficient and easy on the back and can be trained up temporary tepees or trellis. Dwarf varieties pod quickly, but have a shorter life than climbers. Semi-climbing varieties can make great groundcovers. Hunt them up at Asian markets, Thai Buddhist Festivals and on-line.
Snake beans are hot weather stalwarts. Photo - Apple2499 / Shutterstock