Alternative Crops for the Northern Rivers
Living and growing on Bundjalung country in Byron Bay we enjoy a subtropical climate. The summers are typically warm, wet and humid and the winters are mild. This means we can grow a huge diversity of crops that thrive. Growing food suited to this bioregion makes our job a whole lot less intensive as the plants are adapted to the conditions and as a result there is less pest and disease pressure.
Many of the popular annual vegetables grown need constant loving care and attention. They have a short lifespan and growing season, therefore a high turnover making them intensive to produce on both people and soil. Many of the alternatives available to us are perennial crops and require much less turnover and are consequently less intensive on people and soil.
Forget potatoes and baby spinach, below are three of my favorite alternative crops to grow here, all of which you can find at Santos Organics when they are in season.
INSTEAD OF: Baby spinach
GROW: Okinawa spinach &/or Brazilian spinach
WHY: Okinawa spinach is a perennial low growing plant native to Indonesia. The leaves are stunning with purple undersides and deep green on top. It is beautiful in salads or as a sauté green. Brazilian spinach is native to Brazil and is a low growing perennial plant. It’s best used for cooking. Both these spinach are hardy and grow easily from cuttings. They thrive in part shade or full sun in rich, moist soils.
INSTEAD OF: Potato
GROW: Cassava or taro
WHY: Cassava is a perennial starchy root crop. It is a branching shrub. It is both ornamental and edible and one plant can yield up to 20kg+ of cassava root. It thrives in a variety of climatic conditions including dry and wet, hot and humid. Taro is another perennial starchy root crop with big beautiful leaves. It grows as an understory plant in part shade or full sun. Taro is easy to grow and harvest and tastes creamy and nutty. Both these roots need to be peeled and boiled to eat (note cassava peel is about 1cm thick). They should be processed as soon as possible after harvest.
INSTEAD OF: Kale
GROW: Sweet potato or Kang Kong
WHY: Although kale can be grown here in the cooler months with relative ease, it doesn’t grow well in the warmer months. Instead we grow sweet potato and Kang Kong. Sweet potato is a low growing sprawling plant and the leaves can be eaten as a delicious sauté green. Plus after 9 months of growing it you’ll have sweet potato tubers too! Kang Kong is a low growing perennial tropical green that thrives in wet warm humid environments. It’s perfect in salads and stir-fries.
These are just a few of the incredibly delicious plants we are lucky enough to be able to grow here. There are many, many more. I encourage you to try growing some lesser-known varieties and observe the difference. Trust me once you grow in accordance with your bioregion, you won’t grow back.
Special thanks to our local farming writer Lydia @cosmos_patch for this article.