Golden Cane Palm, (Dypsis lutescens) is a native of Madagascar and is wide-spread throughout Queensland. Lets face it, when you think of tropical or subtropical vegetation, palms are one of the first things that spring to mind, closely followed by Bougainvillea perhaps.
When we bought our present home, we were thrilled that the edges of our block were lined, on three sides, by palms. There are a few different types but the most prevalent are the Golden Cane. We have twenty-five! Now as I said, we were delighted to have this tropical all around our home right up until the first day we had strong winds.
Suddenly we had a huge pile of palm fronds to dispose of. I don’t have a trailer, or even a tow bar, so a trip to our local green waste centre was out of the question. Plus this was to become a re-occurring problem. The answer was to modify the trees and to repurpose the fronds.
Golden cane palms are usually multi-trunked and can reach heights of up to 4 metres. Around the base at ground level there is always a few young, very thin youngsters waiting to spring into action. By removing the tall trunks it is possible to turn the tree into a shrub.
The young shoots soon start growing and will quickly hide any unsightly stumps left from the trunk removal. If pruned now and then, the shrub can be quite manageable if left to grow to about 2M. Of course, old and wind-blown palm fronds still happen but the fronds are smaller and thus more readily disposed of or re-purposed.
As we modify the palms, (work still in progress), the trunks are being used as a rustic garden edging, around an area we, optimistically, call the forest garden. This area has already been planted out a little bit (work still in progress) with Agave, Bromeliads, Cordyline and Dracaena, It is to be hoped that the overall effect will be functional, for containing mulch, as well as visually appealing.
Some of the thinner trunks have been used as stakes in the food garden too.
The fronds have their leaves stripped and these are then passed through our mulching machine. The spines of the fronds are roughly chopped and are also passed through the mulcher. The resulting grow-your-own mulch is used throughout the garden. It takes a while to break down so is a useful weed suppressor as well as a soil improver.
The wide base (or basal) of the frond is also chopped but is disposed of with our household rubbish, as our mulcher doesn’t process these so well Now this seems a waste of a good resource, so the plan is to build a small fire pit in the garden and then burn these bases. I’ve read that the bases burn hot and clean, providing good quality ash for the garden and is high in silica.
Home produce gardeners throughout Queensland have several other names for these pesky critters, none of which can be used in polite company. These pests cause more damage in the fruit and vegetable garden than practically any other creature and this season has been one of the worst. The QFF can (and does) strike throughout the year but they are particularly vigorous during our summer storm season. They thrive in the warm humid atmosphere.
They are not fussy in their choices and will target, for instance: avocado, capsicum, cherry, citrus, custard apple, dragon fruit, grape, guava, kiwifruit, mango, nectarine, papaya, passionfruit, peach, pear, persimmon, plum, pomegranate, prune, quince, loquat, tamarillo and tomatoes. Plus many, many other fruits.
The female pierces (stings) the maturing fruit and lays a clutch of white, banana-shaped eggs just below the surface. Hatching takes place after two to three days and the resulting larvae are white carrot-shaped maggots (about 7 mm long when mature) that tunnel in the flesh. They carry bacteria that aid in fruit breakdown. The mature larvae can ‘jump’ by curling into a ‘U’-shape and then rapidly straightening.
Larvae mature in 7-10 days in summer and emerge from the fruit to pupate in the soil below. The pupal stage lasts about 10 days. The life cycle takes about 2.5 weeks during summer. The adult flies congregate on foliage and fruit to feed on bacterial colonies and later to mate.
Adults lay eggs (‘sting’) in the fruit and the larvae feed in the flesh. Affected fruit are readily recognised since rots develop rapidly and the skin around the sting marks becomes discoloured.
Apart from some early pickings, our entire tomato produce has been stung. It was very heartbreaking after all our efforts and hopes but what can you do? If I’d had some chooks I could have fed them the tomatoes, I suppose, but instead I put all the affected tomatoes into a plastic bag and left them in the sun for a while before disposing of them.
The plants have still got some flowers, so perhaps the next crop might be pest free – all gardeners have to be optimistic, don’t we? In addition, we’ve hung some organic home-made fly traps around and plan to throw a mosquito mesh over the plants. Fingers crossed for a later and better outcome.
I must admit that when I first saw the stung fruit, I wondered what an earth I was doing wrong but after checking with neighbours and checking out some internet sites, I realised this was happening all over the state. This year, the QFF has been so bad it rated a segment on the evening news.
Of course, if I wasn’t an organic gardener, there is a whole lot of nasty sounding chemicals to be used, with varying with-holding times. Covering myself with protective clothing, goggles and rubber gloves before spraying in the food garden is not my idea of gardening at all!
Incidentally, whilst on the subject of organic gardening, when we are with a group of friends and I’m talking about the benefit of manure in the garden, my wife says I should use the word fertiliser rather than manure and I always reply, “Darling, it’s taken me fifty years to learn to say manure”!
There is not much more upsetting than getting up in the morning and finding that one of your much-loved plants has been severely decimated or has disappeared all together. This usually happens in your front yard and means you have been visited by at least one of your local Midnight Nursery Shoppers. These Shoppers come slinking along in the wee hours and fall into one of two categories:
The first group is jealous of your plants and want to take cuttings no matter what. They usually have no idea of how much to take (or how) and so will just hack off a lot. If enough of the plant remains, it may regrow back to its former glory.
Sometimes this group will just dig up the whole plant for transplanting to their own gardens.
The second group will go around your neighbourhood and just dig up whatever takes their fancy, usually just before the weekend. These plants are then potted up and then sold to unsuspecting customers at weekend markets.
How much nicer it would be if the first group simply knocked on your door and asked for a cutting. If this was done, the Shoppers would perhaps gain some knowledge of the variety, some history and maybe even some propagating tips. A shared love of plants, maybe over a cup of coffee, could grow into a friendly network where one could swap plants and ideas, etc.
One can only dream, I suppose, but, then again, all gardeners must be dreamers or they’d never spend their time try to grow the perfect fruit, vegetable or flower.
All gardens can satisfy four of the senses but only a fruit and vegetable meet all five.
- SIGHT. As I approach my patch, I can see, poking above the fence line, our dragon fruit climbing the vertical and horizontal posts, the staked tomatoes, the bean poles and the climbing frame laced with cucumber tendrils and leaves. Once within the enclosed patch, I can check out the flowering zucchini and pumpkins. I look at how our lettuces are getting on and the carrots too. I smile because what goes down must come up!
- SOUND. Whilst I’m pottering around in the patch, I can hear the local birds singing out their morning chorus. There are kookaburras, parrots, ravens, sparrows and rosellas, plus some as yet unidentified birds. As I walk around the beds, I’m sometimes startled by the sudden scurrying of one of the resident lizards. Bees and other insects are buzzing around too. Wonderful!
- TOUCH. I regularly brush against some of the plants I’m growing, whether its securing tomatoes to their stakes or pushing aside the zucchini to check on fruit progress. As I pass the beans I often just trail my fingers through their lushness. Of course, I also handle the seeds and plants when I’m preparing for the next batch of produce and wondering how things will grow. Finally, spent plants are placed into the compost heap – as long as they are not obviously diseased. Tactile!
- SMELL. Of all the senses this one is the most evocative. When handling or picking from the plants the aromas released are redolent of summers past, meals to come and childhood. The spiciness of sweet basil and the freshness of garden mint. There’s also thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and more. Perhaps, for me, the pungent smell of tomato leaves is the most nostalgic. I’m always transported back in time to an old farmhouse where an aunt lived. She kept many chickens and along side one of the coops a group of volunteer tomatoes were growing – probably from a dropped fruit. This is my first memory of any tomato plant and I can remember brushing the leaves in wonder and the aroma of the leaves wafting up to me. I was so young I didn’t know (or perhaps didn’t care) how tomatoes came about. Sheer magic!
- TASTE. Okay, I know you can eat rose hips and marigold leaves from an ornamental garden and other things too but the fruit and veggie plot grows stuff to eat only. Sometimes they can be pretty to look at but the only reason they are there is to be popped into your mouth. Whether you pick them for later meals or munch as you are wandering around the patch, that’s their purpose and our obsession, of course. Surely there cannot be anything much more rewarding or satisfying then starting off a tomato plant, for instance, nurturing and caring for it whilst it grows, harvesting the ripe fruit and consuming it at the first opportunity while it is still warm from the sun’s kiss. The circle is complete! Happy gardening
My favourite time for visiting and working in the garden is first thing in the morning. There is a freshness in the air and I leave footprints in the dew laden grass as I walk over to the patch. Landscape designers call these well travelled tracks, “Pathways Of Desire. In my case this is very apt.
I like to see how the vegetables and fruit have weathered over night and check for any insect or bird attack. I’m often joined by a kookaburra, who sits on the horizontal bar supporting the Dragon Fruit. I think he’s waiting for me to uproot some weeds just in case I reveal a tasty worm.
During my early morning ramble I’ll think about what needs doing that day, whether it is in the patch or around other areas of the garden.
Subtropical Queensland can get pretty warm and sticky during the summer months so the early morning is the best time to do any heavy and time-consuming tasks. As can be seen from the above photo, I need to get into the patch and do some weeding in the pathways with my trusty hoe.
The photo also shows our super-sized dwarf beans. Only the plant grows big – the pods remain standard size. I thought I’d try growing them close together to eliminate any weed competition and to shade each others root zone (rather than mulch). Well, weed growth has been negligible but the beans don’t seem so abundant within the square as compared to the ones on the outer. I’m also concerned that with our summer humidity being so high, that such close proximity to each other may encourage disease. Next time I will grow them further apart.