ABC Organic Gardener Magazine Essential Guides Herbs & Spices - Issue 4

ABC ORGANIC GARDENER ESSENTIAL GUIDES: The popular Essential Guide series, brings together some of Australia’s best gardening writers in a series of guides. The guides are a comprehensive, must-have for every organic gardener. The 124-page, book-quality magazines will serve as a reference for years to come.

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in this issue

8 min
full of beans

While I was researching garden ideas for my most recent TV project Through The Seasons, I came across the Heritage Food Crops Research Trust (, which some years ago imported a wide range of heritage Mesoamerican bean seeds into New Zealand. With names such as ‘Cherokee Cornfield Bean’, ‘Apache Red Bean’, ‘Hopi Black Pinto’ and ‘Tarahumara Purple Star’, they captured my imagination and I managed to secure a stash from my local Southland Seed Savers group to grow my own. The seeds I was given came from varieties that had been grown for hundreds if not thousands of years. Some were resistant to drought, some could grow in the shade, and all had the prettiest seeds imaginable. My winter bean soups would never look or taste better. The seeds I obtained are…

4 min
currant affairs

I used to grow blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum) to make blackcurrant and sweet cicely jelly. The rich, strong slightly acidic blackcurrants combine beautifully with the subtle sweet anise flavour of sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata). On moving closer to the coast (in southern Victoria), I assumed that both these cold-loving plants would not survive or thrive, but after seeing blackcurrants fruiting on a nearby property, they are now back on my list, along with the closely related redcurrants (Ribes rubrum). White currants are an albino cultivar of redcurrants. All these currants grow as bushes to about 1.5m high and about 1m wide. They can actually be grown as medium-sized hedges, with the drawback that they lose their leaves in winter. Blackcurrants and redcurrants are eaten fresh, but they are also made into nutritious cordials…

7 min
trees of life

Planting a tree is an important moment in a gardener’s life, an intention that speaks to the future. After all, trees are the grandparents of the garden, often outliving those who plant them. Trees purify the air and make our cities liveable with a range of psychological benefits identified as ‘biophilia’. They also support an amazing variety of wildlife, from birds and bats to possums and goannas. Butterflies and bees enjoy their blossoms and many other insects also depend on them for food. For many urban gardeners, choosing a tree is a big decision, as there may only be room for one or a few at most. For those with more space, trees are still a long-term commitment so it pays to consider your choices carefully. Do you want a tree…

1 min
trees doing good

One-third of the world’s cities obtain most of their drinking water from protected forest areas. Trees absorb city air pollutants (nitrogen oxide, ammonia, sulphur dioxide and ozone) by trapping them in their leaves. A hectare of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for one year for 36 people. Trees cool streets and cities by up to 6°C. Trees planted strategically around a home cut summer air-conditioning energy by up to 50 per cent. By reducing the energy consumption demand, we reduce CO2 and other pollutants such as mercury vapour emitted by coal-fired power plants. Trees help fight the climate crisis. In one year a hectare of mature trees absorbs the CO2 emitted by four gasoline-powered automobiles, driving a combined distance of 90,000km. One apple tree can yield 400kg a year, providing family, friends and wildlife with…

3 min
patch from scratch revisited

More than a year after the designers, horticultural advisors and television crews packed up and left them to their own devices, the remarkable Gordon family of inner-western Sydney have transformed their bare backyard into a thriving urban farm. Alex and Stuart Gordon, along with kids Noah, Aurelia and Frankie, were already interested in growing food and living sustainably when they entered Organic Gardener’ ‘Patch from Scratch’ competition – to make over a backyard garden into a bountiful oasis – but they just didn’t know where to begin. It’s fair to say now, after a steep learning curve involving permaculture principles, hard landscaping, chicken wrangling, composting, planting, watering, feeding, natural pest control and propagation, they’ve nailed the gig. When I visit on a sunny Sydney autumn day, the four main vegie beds are…

5 min
get set for spring

Some gardeners talk about the sap rising in spring. It’s a lovely concept and you can almost see it happening at this time of year. The garden feels full of potential with buds opening, fruit forming and vegies responding to warmer soil. Unfortunately, new growth also means weeds that have to be removed as well as pests becoming active. In the tropics and subtropics, there is the prospect of the dry season coming to an end, so it’s a good time to start planting herbs, vegies and flowers that thrive during the wet season. Penny Woodward tropical How To Drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera) has high nutritional and protein value. Use leaves fresh or dry. To dry leaves, strip, rinse and pat dry then spread onto drying racks. Blend dried leaves for powder (pictured right)…