Posts from the ‘permaculture in small gardens’ category

Mashua: AKA Perennial Nasturtium

Nasturtiums are my favourite plant ever – one of my earliest memories is of drinking rain drops out of their leaves (cause that’s how the fairies did it) and they’ve really stuck with me ever since. As I grew older I loved the fact the you can eat the leaves, flowers and make ‘poor man capers’ out of the seed pods, plus they’re a great living mulch in the garden, attract beneficial insects and easy on the eye.

Over the years I’ve planted them in pretty much every house I’ve lived in and these days I have a giant mural of them on our bathroom wall. I even took it to the next level and requested that Anton (my now husband) sew my wedding dress so it depicted a nasturtium patch… And he did – it’s amazing, as is he. So when I found out that there’s a perennial nasturtium (called mashua) only less than a year ago – well, I got excited.

Mashua-PhotosImage from here

It’s official name is Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) and it was traditionally grown in South America as a root crop. That’s right people, you can eat the leaves, flower AND TUBERS. I know, amazing.

While it is a perennial, it’s sensitive to frost and cold so will die back in winter and grow fresh plants from new tubers in spring. So late winter is the time to pull it up, subdivide all those tubers for eating and/or growing.

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It grows rampantly as a climber or ground cover and the flowers and leaves are similar to the common nasturtium plant, but have their own twist.

mashua-Pilifera-plant-1024x767Image from here

IMG_3939The leaves die back as the cold sets in with winter

As this was the first time we grew the plant, we just watched to see what would happen. They spread out under our fruit trees, had a half hearted go at flowering (it was a bit cold) and then slowly started to shut down and go ‘green/brown’ as winter set in.

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In recent weeks we started weeding the orchard and noticed a plethora of tubers at the base of each plant. Up until then, we didn’t realise that (a) they had such prolific tuber production and, (b) you could eat them. It was a happy day of discoveries that one. So far we’ve only tried eating them roasted (just like potatoes), sadly we weren’t in love with their taste, but will keep trying different recipes until we are.

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And they’re beautiful, don’t you think? We’ve currently got a big bowl of them in our house and each friend who comes through leaves with at least one in their pocket to have a go in their own gardens. Plus we’ve sent some over to the Hobart City Farm to grow in their perennial beds. Gotta spread the love round.

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We’re feeling a bit ‘mashua rich’ at the moment – all this loot came  from one plant.

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From what we can gather, mashua generally grows in a temperate climate and, like seed potatoes you can cut each one into smaller bits, with each one becoming its own plant. If you do this, just make sure each piece has at least two eyes (the dimply depressions) on it and that you harden them off so the cut can dry out and form a callus.

Where can you get your own mashua plant?

If you’re lucky enough to be in Tasmania, visit Provenance Growers at the Hobart Farm Gate Market and they’ll sort you out. If you’re in the US, I found this fantastic mob called Cultivariable who stock it, plus a million other great, lesser known food plants.

Good articles & blogs

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Our Orchard Design & Development

We’re slowly developing our front garden, turning it into a compact orchard with loose qualities of an edible forest garden and a key focus on cycling nutrients, building soil and looking good. You can read about the development of parts of this space here, which we’re slowly, but surely nudging towards looking something like the sketch below…

orchard sketchWe don’t really have a good photo of what this space looked like before we started work on it. But here’s a photo of the excavator moving rubbish (the previous owner dumped there) when we were in the early stages of getting things started.

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At the moment it looks like this.

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One of the first things we did when we stablised the main steep bank was plant it out with lots of vigorous seeds including white clover, calendula, borage, corn flowers and nasturtiums – plus we had volunteers such as dock and plantain spring up everywhere to ‘hold’ the bank together. We’re now enjoying the “instant” beauty of these plants while we wait for all the native ground covers and small bushes to grow. They’re so small you can’t see them in this photo, but they’re there!

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The central path has been dug out on contour, filled with these fancy things which look like milk crates (designed for grey water systems), wrapped in geo fabric and back filled with woodchips. Most of the time it’s an empty space, over designed to be able to cope with crazy floods (just in case) so there’s no risk of it flooding or causing water logging with the plant’s roots. Eventually we’ll be directing greywater from our house (kitchen/bathroom water) into this absorption trench, currently this is where the overflow from our rain tank (which is so big it never over flows) is directed.

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Globe artichokes and comfrey have been planted on the downhill side of the slope to capture excess water runoff (they love moist, fertile spaces) and to stablise the slope.The comfrey also gets slashed back a couple of times every summer and used as mulch for the fruit trees.

IMG_2171A young apple tree in its early days of being trained along the wires

IMG_2172One of our cherry trees being ‘fan’ espaliered

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We cut down the existing wild plum tree (which was all pip and no flesh) and did a bark graft with a super awesome plum variety. It’s looking pretty exciting and promising!

IMG_2166Kiwi vine with perennial nasturtium and a rogue cape gooseberry in the background

We also planted hops which are a perennial crop that grow super tall into Summer and get cut down every Autumn. The idea is that they can be trained along the same framework as the fruit trees and kiwis, just at a different height, so they can all live harmoniously in a compact space.

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Anton and some of our hops – our first harvest from our young orchard space.

In the photo below, you can see a fluffy plant on the bottom right, along the line of espaliered fruit trees – this is asparagus, which has gotta go. It’s simply too big and dominating for our super compact orchard and will compete with our fruit trees for nutrients and space above and below the ground. I had a moment of false enthusiasm when I planted it so will be transplanting it into another space this coming Winter. In a larger orchard, asparagus can be planted easily, we’re just a bit space poor on our crazy steep slope.

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One day in the not too far future the empty lines of wire you can see will be covered in kiwi vines and mature fruit trees. It will be pretty spunky. But we reckon it looks pretty spunky right now compared to the massively weedy mess it was when we started – think large sprawling cotoneasters and rosehips with thorns that could rip your eyes out. We kinda already feel like we’ve ‘made it’, imagine how we’ll feel once we’re hanging out in there, enjoying some homebrew and eating fruit straight off the tree… Good, really good.

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