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Issue 1 ~ Mar-Apr 1997
Facts-Fictions Lemon Myrtle
Russell Costin of Limpinwood Garden Nursery answers some most-asked questions on plant selection and care. In this issue he looks at the Lemon myrtle.
The following advice and information is given by a man with over 20 years experience in growing these varieties in both pots for the Ornamental Nursery Industry and in the ground for commercial bushfood production. It is biased towards commercial production and this should be kept in mind when considering the answers. It is in reply to the many questions asked by interested and prospective bushfood growers and its aim is to dispel current misconceptions and detrimental advice which is not healthy for the industry.
Q. How many lemon myrtles do I need for a reasonable return?
A. In optimum growing conditions (adequate water, fertiliser, etc) you should expect to harvest .5 to 1 kg from each tree within the first 18 months with current Sydney prices being $12.50/kg. The amount harvested should double or more each following year so ascertain your cost, work out what you can afford to spend to prepare your plantation properly and add to the numbers as finance becomes available.
Q. Do they need irrigation?
A. Yes, most definitely. These are rainforest trees and they need mulch and water to perform their best during dry times for commercial production. They will not survive on I litre per week as is being suggested. Mini sprinklers are preferable to drippers as rainforest trees have spreading surface roots, but either will work.
Q. Can I let cattle or other grazing animals into the planting to keep grass and weeds down?
A. Absolutely not. They will damage the trees, the mulch, the irrigation lines and the roots systems of the trees with their hoof impact. They are also a potential hazard to quality assurance (microbiological contamination, eg coli). No other horticultural crop uses such practices. Remember, people eat this food with a minimum of processing.
Q. Where do these plants occur naturally?
A. Much misinformation is being put about on this. 'Lemon myrtle' grows in Queensland from Gympie to North Queensland. It does not occur naturally in northern NSW but does grow extremely well there.
Q. What soil type and pH range is suitable?
A. A pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is the optimum for all rainforest bushfood species. Anything either side will cause malabsorption of nutrients which shows in the yellowing of the leaves. Most red soils are suited to rainforest trees and bushfoods. Other soil types can be structurally improved to facilitate better conditions for your plant's performance, eg. by ripping and addition of gypsum, legume cover, etc. Avoid flat areas that could become waterlogged and heavy black soils.
Light sandy soils can be improved with organic matter and nutrient addition and copious mulch. Dolomite is the preferred pH modification material for organic growing rather than lime (except on high magnesium volcanic soils). Sulphur is used to lower pH.
Q. What should my Lemon myrtle plants look like?
A. Like the smaller version of the upright form of a superior variety, eg `Limpinwood Selection' in Limpinwood Gardens Nursery. Beware of clonal stock from untested seedlings. Cutting grown plant stock from seedlings will have juvenile foliage, smaller and often light green to brownish leaves (purple in winter) with a light fur covering. Prostrate and sprawly (untidy) in growth, they will not mature in years to come. They show significantly lower bio mass production as well as lower oil yield and quality during their maturation to adulthood.
Q. How can I be sure to buy the right stock?
A. Limpinwood Gardens Nursery is proud to announce that it is setting a standard in quality production of clonal stock. We now issue certificates to all our customers guaranteeing the 'Limpinwood Selection' of clones of Lemon myrtle to be the progeny of high performance superior quality adult stock. Anyone genuinely claiming to sell you a superior plant would have no hesitation to give you a written guarantee about the clone being of a proven parent stock.
Q. What is an acceptable quality?
A. Mr Vic Cherikoff of Bush Tucker Supply Australia Pty Ltd, the leading bushfood processor in Australia, has defined a minimum standard of Backhousia citriodora leaves to have an oil yield of no less than 2.5% fresh weight and a minimum of at least 95% citral for product acceptance. Product consistency and quality are an essential consideration for your commercial production of bushfoods. The `Limpinwood Selection' of Lemon myrtle is significantly higher in both yield (6.26%) dry leaf and citral (97.7%).
Q. Can I plant bushfood species in my rainforest regeneration or timber plot?
A. No, definitely not if you want to be in the commercial side of the bush-food industry. These plants, with the exception of the NSW Davidson plum (Davidsonia pruriens) and some minor understorey species all need full sun in an orchard situation to perform to commercial standards (full sun exposure on their canopy for flowering and fruiting and for maximum oil yield for leaf crops). They will not grow in shaded or highly competitive situations. They will benefit from wind shelter and this is how regeneration and timber plots can benefit your orchard, by sheltering it from wind. In full sun the plants grow dense and compact for ease of harvesting.
Q. I/we are concerned about monoculture of bushfood.
A. This is not a major problem or issue. Most growers are planting 4-6 major species and a dozen or more minor species plus other varieties for windbreaks and as bird attractants. Such a plantation is not a monoculture even if it contains thousands of one species.
Q. Do my bushfood trees need mulch and what is best?
A. Yes, most definitely. Contrary to other opinions, you will struggle to keep your young plants alive after planting without mulch and when the wet season arrives you will struggle to find your plants among the weeds. These are not vegetables or annual crops. They are extremely long lived trees able to produce for probably hundreds of years and warrant being given the right conditions. The argument given that 'I can't afford the mulch.' is answered with 'Plant fewer trees and do properly what you can afford.'
Ask for - and get -a guarantee of the stock
Modify your soil pH if necessary
Check for oil yield and citral content.
Give them full sun
Determine stock numbers on what you can afford to spend on preparation and care.
Integration of a Bushfoods Company
Growers need to focus on market demand - it's small but growing – we need co-operation
to realise its potential...
Australian Native Produce Industries (ANPI) is the first large-scale, fully integrated operation involved in bushfoods in this country. Through its three divisions - the production nursery, farm and food processing factory, warehouse and distribution centre, and its close ties with the Red Ochre Grill Group of restaurants it is literally involved from the paddock to the plate.
The nursery has been totally devoted to native food plants since 1992 and has focused on superior genetic material for existing and potential growers.
It offers over 150 native food species which cover the full range of climatic and soil conditions, from arid to rainforest, tropical, sub-tropical, alpine and coastal.
Organic management systems are used throughout the nursery. The company's Chief Executive Officer and agricultural scientist, Andrew Beal, stresses that the focus is on commercial integrity,
"This is an exciting industry to be in but growers would be wise to stay focused on the market and current demand - there are a number of species which are commercially viable and actively sought after by processors and others - these should form the mainstay of new plantings with the 'second ranking' species planted as a longer-term, higher risk investment."
ANPI offers two distinct product ranges:
The Grower's Range:
ANPI has provisional PBR protection on 7 native plant varieties with others pending and has obtained licences from other plant breeders such as the CSIRO for the propagation of superior material. The ANPI nursery is the home of:
The Australian Blood PBR Lime
The Australian Sunrise PBR Lime
The Australian Outback PBR Lime
The Frahn's Paringa Gem PBR
Rivoli Bay PBR Muntries
Kosciusko Slender PBR Mint
Southern Ocean PBR Sea Parsley and numerous other unprotected superior types. In some cases, superior but unprotected planting material is available to farmers under non-propagation, non-distribution arrangements.
The PBR protected native Limes are currently being offered to farmers with a technical support package and fruit buy-back contract. Prospective farmers from anywhere in Australia are invited to inquire.
Complimenting the Grower's Range is the Red Ochre Collection - an upmarket range of native food plants which targets the home gardener. This range is available nationally through mail order. Established production nurseries in WA, QLD and NSW with an interest in native food plants are invited to inquire about licensing arrangements.
The farm is located in the Riverland region of South Australia which has a climate and soil types to enable a broad range of main-stream fruits and nuts to be grown. Both dryland and irrigated crops are being established and crop management emphasises minimum chemical usage and organics systems.
This 200 acre site is being developed exclusively for native food production, research and demonstration purposes.
Native plants grown at ANPI nursery
ANPI sources raw product from all over Australia to manufacture two ranges of all natural products:
The Red OchreTm Retail Range of processed and raw native foods (available nationally through supermarkets and gourmet shops) and
The Food Service Range of processed and raw native foods for the restaurant and catering industries.
The Very Best in Native Foods
Superior native food species for the farmer and the gardener.
Over 200 raw and processed native food products through its ware house and distribution centre.
Catalogues, price lists and information available from the nursery: phone Dianne on
(08) 8595 1611,
Fax (08) 8586 4511.
PO Box 163 Paringa SA 5340. Distribution Centre:
phone Mary on
(08) 8346 3337,
87 Harrison Rd, Dudley Park
Young Kamilaroi artist Michael McGuane talks of his paintings, his inspiration and his desire to know more of the traditional food wisdom of his people.
Michael is editor of the Kabi Kabi News, put out by the Kabi Kabi Aboriginal Corporation. Enquiries about his paintings and didgeridoos can be made by phoning: 07 5479 2766
Michael McGuane is 20 years old. He has been painting for only 4 months but he is already building up a respectable body of work which he hopes, one day, will be his livelihood.
"I was always interested in drawing and always felt I could do it. I am self taught though I've had other artists give me a few pointers. My style has changed a lot since my first couple of painting - I now have a motif - this leaf -which I use. I also paint a lot of things which are concerned with food - plants and animals."
"I came from down the Dalby area, but I've been up here on the Sunshine Coast for about a couple of years. I start with a story or an idea - usually a story or the description of something - like maybe a meeting or a hunt or some special animal or something I've heard.
"I really don't yet have that much knowledge of our own food but I'd like to know more. There's a lot of knowledge with the old people, you know, and if we don't learn from them, our culture may be lost. That's one of the reasons I started painting -to try to keep that alive so maybe my kids will know it too.
"I think that by painting, we're also able to get a little closer to each other - whites and everyone. Maybe bushfoods are like that - they make it easier for us to talk to each other."
Here the women go into the bush to find the witjuti grub, then to sit around the fire and eat them.
President of the Australian Quandong Industry Association
The quandong has, since the commercialisation of the macadamia nut, the greatest potential to become the first Australian only fruit to be fully commercialised and exported in vast amounts as both raw and value-added products.
The great strengths of the quandong are its unique taste (there are plenty of bad tasting quandongs so don't make a judgement until you have tasted AQIA approved products), the versatility of it (it can be made into many value added products from ice cream to meat marinade) and the fact that we have the required cultivars - even if most of them are still in the bush. There is scientific evidence that the kernel is of high medicinal value and it can tolerate soils that are depleted in nutrients. Mature trees prefer alkaline soils and are extremely resistant to drought, lime and frosts and we have a growers' association up and running.
The weaknesses of the industry lay in the depressing fact that both Israel and America have taken seeds to set up their own industries, that there is apathy at both federal and state government level, the slow rate of return (trees don't produce until they are five years old ) and the fact that seed, seedlings or grafted saplings are only available in limited supply. Little work has been done on control of insect pests, such as the quandong moth.
The quandong tree is believed to be as old as the land itself and has been part of the staple diet of the various Australian peoples down through the ages. It has a higher vitamin C content than oranges and the kernel, bark and leaves are used by the aboriginal peoples to help healing and to cure ailments.
Quandong trees are usually two to three metres high with a canopy of dense leaves, however the tree is reputed to be non self fertilising and thus there are a great many varieties. I have seen trees with trunks two and a half metres in circumference and eight metres high.
Fruit size ranges from as big as two fifty cent pieces to smaller than a five cent piece, taste ranges from positively bitter/sour to sweet - the accepted taste for quandong is a tart yet sweet taste. Visually, the fruit is light to dark red, round to semi oval shaped with a stem at the top and a calyx on the bottom. The flesh ranges in thickness from I mm to 6mm and is cream to white in colour. The seed (kernel) is contained within a round, hard, woody, deeply pitted stone which in some cases bears no size resemblance to the covering fruit and is usually free within it. The tree is semi-parasitic and obtains most of its nutrients by extending shallow lateral roots and attaching them to other plant roots (hosts - trees, shrubs, grasses) by way of a haustorial connection.
The fruit of the quandong can be frozen or dried and when packed correctly has an extensive shelf life (no one has lived long enough to know how long). The method of vacuum packing is being considered at the moment.
AQIA was formed in December 1983 with the aim of being recognised as the governing body that unites and assists quandong growers with research and development, quality assurance, marketing, other growers and customers.
AQIA aims to create quality standards for quandongs to help promote the industry and allow it to develop sustainable, high quality domestic and export.
Reprinted from the Monterey Times, Jan '97.
Australia dazzles the traveller on arrival. The light is different. It's said to have something to do with the latitude of the Southern Cross, but combined with the pollution-free atmosphere, the air has a Baccarat-like purity. So much has been written about Australia, but few write about how clean it is everywhere! Then, there's a strumming kind of energy present - one rhythm in the cities, a logical bustle; quite another in the bush, where nature directs a continuous bird symphony and there's no true quiet. Careful!!! Oz (Australia) is about to weave her particular mantle of magic, an invisible garment that you'll wear all your life.
Her wines have been fully touted, but again the question "Why is so little written about the exciting variety of fine food which provides the showcase for the Australian grape product?" Food shopping is costly, but for all that, exciting. For the first time I realized what supply and demand means. Even if the pawpaws (papayas) are grown in Queensland, it costs less to ship 70,000 crates far across the sea than to ship 70 crates by local freight to nearby Sydney. A head of lettuce may fetch a bargain price of $2.89 and an Australian-grown avocado may bend your budget with its "2 for $7" sale tag! Many extraordinary chefs introduced
us to the huge culinary quilt which blankets the land from the rolling sheep country to the Northern bush-, from the environs of the Glass House Mountains and the Great Barrier Reef, to the ochre moonscape that is sacred Ayer's Rock. Unlike many Western countries, each of Australia's major cities has a unique style, as different from each other as are the resident practitioners of the culinary arts. Food is a common language, but the warm "mateship" of all "Ozzies" is singular. Its presence envelops one, whether enjoying Devonshire tea in the Victorian atmosphere of the Central Hunter Valley's antique townships, gingerly nibbling on a baked goanna in the out-back, or assisting in the feeding of grape pickers, as I did several years ago in the Hunter Valley during "Vintage". One of the most exciting things for me was studying, in depth, the phenomenon of bush food. It's always fun to hear about exotic and to us, sometimes repulsive foods that other folk devour with relish. During this trip we not only listened to vivid descriptions of odd earth foods but we tasted, and in many cases, re-ordered, a good many hopping, crawling, slithering critters which have long been a staple of the Australian Aboriginal diet. Some examples: little bubbles of nectar from honey ant sacs. Crisp fried witchetty grubs rolled in sea salt and cayenne pepper (they tasted much like the salty munchies some generous bartenders give with your foamy brew). Wattle (acacia) seed pasta comes to the table golden hued and fragrant. Quandong (a wild desert peach) syrup is poured over ice cream or waffles. What a treasure trove of culinary discovery! Suddenly, many of these unusual products are challenging chefs and finding favour on Four Star menus, not only in Australia, but abroad as well. Some examples. Spicy emu pate from Perth, transparent slices of emu prosciutto, served with shavings of Kangaroo Island Haloumi cheese, and then you have ravioli stuffed with wild Warrigal spinach and ground wallaby meat. From Bush Tucker to Pan Asian Pop, Australian food is delinitely "here". On my most recent trip, four restaurants, two in Sydney, one in Melbourne and the last in Adelaide brilliantly demonstrated how far Australia has come from the days of Vegemite and spaghetti sandwiches.
The 'Red Ochre Grill (Adelaide) is the brilliant result of a dozen years of experimenting with Australia's "native" foods. Owner chef Andrew Fielke not only cooks it, but also markets the unusual raw materials for his contemporary bush cuisine. Warm bread made from bunya nut flour and wattle seeds prepares the palate for the bush banquet to come. Course after course introduces and seduces the diner and when the stewed quandongs arrive with their chocolate dipped acacia seed luiles, you're almost ready to apply for citizenship. Australian food is much like her people – complex but delightful.
David Thompson of Dinkum Fare looks at our historical relationship to foodstuffs and makes a spirited plea that we 'don't do it again'.
After the initial awe and fascination with unfamiliar terrain and species, colonising people settle down to tame their new environment. The bush has to be cleared, domesticated plants and animals introduced into the alien environment and the battle against nature begun.
Crops and livestock are nurtured in the harsh climate and protected against predation by native pests. Gradually over time the people and their agriculture acclimatise to the new environment and the war waged against nature appears to be won.
But nature has her own priorities and imperatives and the balance must be maintained, so the battles against her standards soon create the reaction, and exact a toll on the usurpers. Pests start to ravage the introduced species, soil fertility drops, salination increases, weeds proliferate and rivers start to die.
The search for solutions and a truce in the war against nature comrnences, for, if an honourable peace cannot be found, all will be devastation. The generations pass and what to their predecessors was alien and harsh is regarded by each successive generation as normal and home. Land protection and conservation of native vegetation begin. Groups interested in propagating native plants and rearing native animals spring up.
The utilisation of native species to; provide shelter mitigate erosion, lower the water table and provide habitat for pest predators thus begins.
By the fifth generation after colonisation, the people have become sufficiently comfortable with their environment and sensitive to its SVStenis, to look at the bush, not as Useless and unproductive, but as full of unique, valuable species, worthy of inclusion in the introduced agricultural system. We are the fifth generation since European colonisation of Australia.
The exploitation of indigenous species has begun, bush food is once again on the menu.
This new wave of interest in exploiting native species has the inherent problem of all commercialisation - the essence of the activity is lost in the economics of the operation. Instead of economics serving the enterprise, it is used to control it. Here lies the danger to the bushfood industry.
I contend that the essential elements of bushfoods are that:
Species belong in specific locations and habitats. They are associated with other species as part of the economy of the region.
Species have a genetic variation and diversity necessary to maintain their capacity to adapt and evolve. They are "wild" and produce without human manipulation. Nature imposes the conditions and priorities of their existence. They are fundamental to the oldest continuous culture on earth.
If we don't reconcile our methods of utilising bushfoods with their basic nature, we will not only destroy their essence, but will miss the chance to develop a sustain-able system of agriculture and ethical business behaviour. The bush-food industry has a unique opportunity to provide leadership by exploiting native species in a sensitive, innovative way.
Cultivation or husbandry should pay cognisance to, the ecological niche the species fills and take place in permaculture or polyculture systems that emulate nature.
Wild populations must be protected and wild harvesting reduced to a level consistent with conservation and cultural requirements. Action must be taken to maintain the wild and natural characteristics of the food.
Clean, organic techniques should be employed in production. Consultation and involvement of Aboriginal people is essential to ethical operation.
Without these actions the industry will deliver the final assault on Australia's natural environment and a further dispossession of indigenous people.
Apart from the philosophical aspects of bushfood production, the industry must protect the economics of the business, by ensuring the integrity of its products. Any action that degrades the integrity of the foods, will reduce their desirability to consumers and the premium they are prepared to pay for unique products.
An emu reared in a battery and fed on chicken food will lose its essential character, and taste like a big chicken.
A genetically engineered quandong cultivated in monoculture and irrigated will become a nectarine.
We must carry our new interest in indigenous food to a respect for its nature and spirit.
If we fail to act responsibly in this new agriculture, like the four generations before us, we will bugger the bush.
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