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Methods of growing Bush Tucker

By Wendy Seabrook

Commercial cultivation of native bush foods is a very young industry. Hence the cultivation techniques being used by growers on the north coast are to a certain extent experimental. However it is worth looking at the methods different growers are using and discussing the rationale for using these techniques.

Plantations range in structure from those mimicking the standard commercial orchard design to permaculture food forests. Bush tucker food forests have a mixture of species planted in a design which imitates the structure of a natural forest ecosystem. At the other end of the continuum, although growers are planting out using rows in the orchard set up, very few are planting monocultures. Generally orchards have up to 10 species which are either planted in different rows or grouped in a certain part of the orchard to create a mosaic of species. The rows are interplanted with shelter belts of native species providing also refuges for insect pollinators, and the predators and parasites of insect pests.

Trees and shrubs can be stacked by growing large canopy species in rows interplanted with understorey shrubs and small trees. However don't select canopy species which require hand picking of the fruit from the trees! Nut trees like Macadamia or Atherton Almond are good canopy species. In stacking consider also the rooting habit of different species. By planting shallow and deep rooted species together you could reduce your spacing between plants, and more effectively use available land. Increased density may slightly reduce individual yield but increase overall orchard productivity.

The food forest structure is often used by growers who are using bush tucker species for revegetation programs, whether in steep gullies, for wind breaks, or just for amenity purposes. However in these circumstances it is important to realise that the productivity of the trees will often be lower than in an orchard because of such factors as competition between plants for nutrients, shading, etc. Harvesting and maintenance will also be less efficient. Vehicle assess will be restricted and it will take longer to pick the crop.

Whatever design you use, it is important to know a little about the ecological conditions the species grow in in their natural habitat, and to use this information to imitate the natural growing conditions in your species mix and planting design. For example, your productivity will generally be higher if you grow species within their natural geographic and climatic range. Some species like the Davidson Plum are understorey trees in the wild, and in the commercial orchard benefit from light canopy cover.

However, while some species are more hardy and can survive in exposed sites or on poor soil, and can be used to plant out these areas, productivity may not be as high as on better soils on your property. In this case if you are only assessing the planting program using economic criteria, it may not be financially viable to plant in these locations.

Most growers prefer to use natural fertilisers and, if herbicides are used, generally only Roundup (note previous editions of Going Organic have highlighted that Roundup may not be as safe as originally believed). Weed and grass control around the base of the trees or shrubs is achieved using either weed mat or mulch. Black weed mat is better for lighter soils. Heavy clay soils can become waterlogged under weed mat. Initial tree growth can be enhanced by the addition of manure in the tree hole and further additions are recommended at least annually. Crops will need to be irrigated. Sprinklers are recommended rather than drip irrigation, because roots tend to group around the drip site.

There are alternative ground covers to grass, and use of nitrogen fixing species will improve the productivity of your orchard. Farmers are experimenting with Pintoi's bean (a peanut), Makulotus (a relative of lucene which grows better on the north coast) and Creeping Vigna. All these species are perennials.

Readers' Comments

From: "J. Tymowska" jen_mo_tym@hotmail.com
Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2003

As no one else has sent you comments - I thought I would. I have absolutely no experience in this field but have just begun intensive research and wanted to tell you that this page is the first one I am printing out to start my own set of reference notes, so it is appreciated. Thank you.

Jennifer Moore-Tymowska

From: Sue Woolfe sue.woolfe@arts.usyd.edu.au
Date: Thu, 06 Apr 2006

I have 6 bush tomato seeds(jarlparrpa) gathered from bush tomatoes. The bush was growing wild in red desert soil, growing wild. I have dried them. Could someone tell me how to grow them? Thanks, Sue

If you have some relevant experience, please send us your comments to be added to this page.

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