Unusual edibles

Arno King introduces southern gardeners to some northern vegetable staples that succeed down south

Diggers is trialling subtropical fruit in Victoria and heirloom seed in Queensland

Are you dreaming of having a year round supply of produce from your garden? Yes? Well, it's time to get busy!

Autumn is traditionally harvest time and if your summer plots were successful, you should be in full picking mode, with bumper crops of warm season vegetables and fruits. But you’ll need to get busy planting new crops now to extend your harvest well into the winter months.

Autumn vegetable gardens are my favourite. In temperate zones they are slower, more diverse and require less attention once established than spring and summer vegie gardens. There is also the added bonus of having less pests and diseases around to lay claim to your crops.

For the subtropical and tropical gardener, the range of crops that you can choose broadens as you approach the dry season with less humid conditions and growth in these zones is always fast!

For southern temperate zones, there are a few tricks based around the fact that the crops planted in autumn will have a longer growing season. They will be subjected to cooling temperatures and shortening days, until the winter solstice when the days lengthen again.

These changes in day length are accompanied by temperature variations that initiate certain responses in some plants. In latitudes closer to the equator the variation in day length is not so pronounced. Days are rarely less than 10 hours long and, with consistent warm temperatures, plant growth is not curbed like it is in the south.

So the trick for southerners is planting and choosing crops with these climatic changes in mind. If that sounds a bit technical, it really isn’t and is well worth a try .... especially if you have traditionally been a summer gardener.

There are many vegetables that you can plant during autumn. I suggest fine tuning your choices to include expensive vegetables that you like to use.


There are many childhood anecdotes about the dreaded choko. Everyone knows they are very vigorous and productive plants in much of Australia. Unfortunately the fruit don’t freeze well, so there is a dilemma what to do with all the fruit.

I love the tender, walnut-sized fruit, fresh from the vine, and don’t leave too many to get larger, avoiding a glut. I prefer the white-fruited choko as it is tender, less slimy and fruit are easy to locate on the vine. Chokos were once grown over the outhouse.

These days I would suggest growing them over the water tank. They need a solid support. A word of warning, when looking for inspiration, avoid pre-1990 Australian choko recipes!

Malabar Spinach/Basella

While European spinach is definitely a winter crop in most of Australia, there are many ‘summer spinaches’ to fill the gap. Malabar Spinach is one of the most reliable and can be grown from seeds or cuttings.

It can be grown as a climbing plant or cut back regularly to form a dense ground cover with slightly larger leaves.

The tasty, deep green, succulent leaves need to be cooked very briefly or they will become gelatinous. In subtropical and tropical areas Malabar Spinach is a perennial vegetable. Code: S213


This iconic ‘fruit’ (botanically a calyx) was introduced from Africa, many tens of thousands of years ago, by the Aborigines who developed varieties with extremely large “fruit”.

In turn, European growers have developed further cultivars with larger fruit, compact bushes and varied fruit colours, and while many cultivars have disappeared, some are still being grown by dedicated gardeners. Renowned for Rosella jam, fruit can be dried for a delicious and healthy tea. Young leaves and shoots taste of cranberries and are used in salads or lightly cooked. Code: S427

Chinese Spinach/Amaranthus

An old faithful in my summer garden, amaranthus tolerates heat waves and dumping rain.

With regular watering and feeding it produces tender greens that can be used in a variety of dishes. I have a soft spot for the cultivars with deep burgundy, red or yellow leaves.

They really add colour to the vegetable garden. I tend to sow new patches every couple of months to keep up a regular supply of tender leaves.

Snake Beans

Snake beans or long beans are super-productive and hardy plants that thrive during warm wet summer months. They are available as climbing, bush and semi-climbing cultivars. Beans are generally harvested at 300mm when juicy and tender with colours that don’t fade when cooked.

Bush snake beans flower and pod much earlier than climbers. I plant them at the start of the season to get my ‘bean fix’, but they are also good to try in cooler areas with shorter summers. Code: S027


This strangely-shaped tuberous root is becoming more commonly seen in grocers these days. The root is crisp and sweet and can be cooked or eaten raw, in both sweet and savoury dishes.

The plant resembles a climbing bean in growth; but beware, all above-ground parts are toxic. This plant is tough and reliable and suffers no pest problems. It is readily grown from seed.

African Cabbage

Numerous African cabbages, known as Ethiopian, Kenyan and ‘Women meet and Gossip’ are grown in Australia.

These plants are more tolerant of temperature and moisture variability than many European and Asian cultivars and produce tender and delicious leaves over the summer months when other types start to bolt.

Plants form open heads of broad leaves and tall stems and generally seem to be less attractive to pests.


Autumn Vegie Gardening

Bernadette Brady chooses the vegetables to plant when temperatures are falling

Be Your Own Kitchen Gardener

Robyn Fox explains the secrets behind growing heirlooms for Heronswood's restaurant

Can we trust others to grow our food?

Clive Blazey talks about the destruction of our food quality

Community Food Gardening

Bernadette Brady explains how community food gardening overcomes social alienation

Creating an Edible Landscape

Bill Bampton talks about the challenges of combining beauty and functionality in the garden

Extend your life by eating lots of fibre

Clive Blazey explains why processed and fast foods are making us sick

Grow Your Own Garlic

Garlic expert Penny Woodward explains why it can be so tricky to grow

Grow Your Own Greens

Bernadette Brady shows us the fibre foods to plant in autumn and grow through winter

Grow Your Own Herbs

Bill Bampton's top ten points for herb growing

Growing Your Own in the Edible City

Indira Naido relates her adventures in gardening on her inner city balcony

Heirloom Fruit

Marcus Ryan explains why fruit doesn't taste as good as it used to

Heirloom Silverbeet and Beetroot

Clive Blazey explains how almost all the vegetables we eat today were available before 1900!


Jac Semmler tells you why spring is the time to get excited about growing heirloom tomatoes

Making a beautiful garden edible

Bill Bampton explains how to create a food border by combining the ornamental potential of edibles with the edible potential of ornamentals

Plant Based Fibre

Arabella Forge explains why you should eat more fruit and vegetables

Pumpkins Better Than Butternut

Evette Jungwirth ponders on producing the perfect pumpkin

Q&A - Cane Fruit

Cane fruit guru Phil Rowe answers your questions about berries

Q&A - Citrus

Citrus expert Ian Tolley answers your questions about citrus trees and fruit

Q&A - Fruit Trees

Julian Blackhirst answers your questions about summer pruning and general care of fruit trees

Q&A - Tomato Growing

Our experts Julie, Tim and Evette answer your questions about growing tomatoes

Start Your First Food Garden

Bernadette Brady encourages you to start your own vegie garden

The urban herbalist

Bill Bampton's top ten herbs to grow in containers

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Arno King

Brisbane-based horticulturalist, garden writer and presenter Arno King grows a wide range of vegetables, spices, herbs and fruit and many reliable heritage crops and saves seeds to share with other gardeners.
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