Thursday, 27 April 2017

Which kitchen sponges can I compost?



Sponges are a convenient way to wash dishes and wipe up spills, but are they good for you or the environment? I've been detoxing my home and focusing on the soaps, now I've turned my attention to the actual wipe - not pretty!

It turns out they are neither good for our health or the planet. Firstly, they are a source of much waste.  The sponges each household throws away in a year will take up landfill space for more than 52,000 years. Plastic based sponges cannot be recycled or composted. 

Secondly, moist sponges are apparently the number one source of germs in your entire home - great places for salmonella, E.coli and staphylococcus - dirtier than your toilet or your bin. It's not enough to just wash sponges, they need to be sanitised too - boiling, zapping or soaking in vinegar.

The other problem with sponges is that they are disposable and full of chemicals. Even after they have been thrown away, the bacteria-killing triclosan that they’re impregnated with negatively impacts aquatic ecosystems. Triclosan, an antimicrobial agent (and pesticide) that has been linked to cancer, developmental toxicity and skin irritation. 


Magic sponges - not compostable and create microplastic waste

White magic sponges are made from melamine foam. Melamine foam is made from the compound formaldehyde-melamine-sodium-bisulfite and is not compostable. In fact they contribute to microplastic pollution of oceans and marine animals.


Standard foam sponges - not compostable and emit toxins

Most sponges are now made from synthetic and petrochemcial materials. Polyurethane, often used in sponges, can emit formaldehyde.  They are not compostable.

Standard cellulose sponges are compostable but usually contain chemicals.

The common kitchen sponge is made of cellulose fibre (eg: wood pulp), which is compostable, but it is typically soaked in chemicals to prevent bacterial growth.

What can you use instead?

  • Grow your own sponges. Loofahs ( Luffa acutangula), a type of gourd grown in warmer climates (edible when young, leaves too). Once they are full size, harvest and soak them in a bucket for a few days until the skin starts to come away from the 'skeleton'. It's easy to remove at this point, and the seeds can be shaken out.  Wash and dry the loofah in the sun and it's ready to be used as a bath or kitchen sponge.

  • source 100% cellulose fibre sponges. These are completely biodegradable and can be fully composted. Some you can fine are made from hemp or bamboo.

  • cotton rags
  • crocheted dishcloths from natural fibres

Important maintenance of natural wiping cloths:

  1. After use, rinse with hot water, wring and hang to dry.
  2. At the end of the day, soak sponges and dishcloths in full strength vinegar for at least 5 minutes, preferably overnight. Other suggestions include boiling or microwaving them, but vinegar kills 99.6% of the bacteria. Pretty good really. No need for bleach, boiling or zapping.
  3. After a week or two, compost it.

Have you tried making or growing your own sponge growing, or do you compost your wipes? What's your sponge of choice?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Simple life birthday gifts

 

A gift does not need to be a thing - it can be time, kind words, a song, a shared experience, noticing beauty in nature with your children...

It was my birthday on Sunday.  I had such a wonderful day - a quiet family day full of love, laughter and sharing. There were no presents bought - my family's gift was being present. No plastic, no wrapping, no unnecessary things just because it's my birthday.


Thank you too to all the people around the world who sent me wonderful birthday messages.

I really have no need for extra things as gifts. In fact, I am in the process of shedding 'stuff'. 


My children were so wonderfully attentive all day and made me feel very loved and special.





  • Maia created a delicious dragonfruit salad breakfast, a specially brewed garden tea and a lovely dinner table setting. She also sewed me a cute little felt bunny to keep on my writing table.
  • Hugh made me an amazingly scrumptious cake all by himself. 
  • Monty collected beautiful leaves for me on our walk and held my hand. He also sang to me lots and lots, and gave me wonderful cuddles.

Other wonderful gifts today were:
  • time to reflect, think and just be;
  • time relaxing and chatting together as a family;
  • playing together;
  • cooking together;
  • walking in nature together;
  • love and hugs;
  • listening to, or playing music together;
  • sharing a special but simple meal together.

In fact these are quite usual things we do together as a homeschooling and work-from-home family, but sometimes in our daily lives I forget to value them. I spent time on my birthday reflecting on what is most important in my life. What came most clearly to my mind was having quality time and shared experiences with the people I love - in nature and community.

Of course there are other important things in life, but we can often allow those to override the things that are the most valuable - which are generally quieter and more subtle.


What's your favourite way of sharing a birthday?

The children played tennis on the local courts in the morning and I had a chance to catch up and share a coffee with my friends while we watched - lovely outlook out across the Mary Valley to the forested hills behind - and gorgeous Autumn weather. 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Simple DIY all purpose vinegar


Did you know that you can make your own natural vinegar at home simply and cheaply - something very much like natural apple cider vinegar? Kombucha vinegar.

Vinegar is so versatile - for your health and as a great non-toxic cleaning product around the home. I use it for:

  1. drinking - diluted with water - helps create alkaline environment and balance my system, lots of vitamins too.
  2. sprinkling on salad as part of a delicious salad dressing, blended with lots of garden herbs too
  3. adding to soup for extra flavour
  4. hair rinse - leaves hair feeling shiny and soft, and free of build-up from products
  5. face toner - cleans face mildly and well
  6. foot soak - helps to reduce my cracked gardening feet
  7. dishwashing rinse - leaves glass and cutlery sparkly clean and removes soap suds
  8. add to rinse cycle in washing machine to soften towels
  9. everyday surface cleaning - antibacterial cleaner
  10. window cleaning - for no-streak cleaning
  11. toilet cleaning - great for the compost toilet 
  12. add to chickens water to help them stay healthy




I just found out how to make my own simple vinegar at home (by doing nothing actually). I can't believe how simple it is. I'm wondering why I'd never learnt this before! I find this kind of information liberating. 

Thanks to the reader who commented on my recent post about making citrus cleaner using homegrown citrus peels and vinegar. I'm so glad she mentioned that she used kombucha vinegar as a cleaner.

There on my bench was a big jar of the stuff and I hadn't realised how wonderfully useful it was till recently. I'd just recovered this big jar from the back of the pantry shelf. In February I had made a batch of kombucha (took about 10 minutes maximum), but forgot about it. I can't believe I was about to tip it out and start again.

Kombucha tea needs only a few days to a week to brew and if you let it ferment for too long it becomes sour to drink  - it becomes kombucha vinegar.  Mine however has been there for just over 60 days - well and truly brewed!

Kombucha vinegar has around 2% acetic acid while apple cider vinegar has around 5% which makes it milder, but it is still very effective.

Now I am going to brew kombucha both for the tea and for the vinegar.  (How to make kombucha tea is the topic for another post - but there is so much information about there to discover.  Stay tuned too for a film about kombucha vinegar.)

How to make get a kombucha SCOBY

If you don't have a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to get yourself started making kombucha, ask a kombucha-brewing friend, or simply use a good quality local unprocessed and unflavoured kombucha tea from the shops. Put 1 cup of it into a bowl, cover with a fine cloth and let sit for a week. You will see a new SCOBY beginning to form.

How do you use kombucha vinegar?

Do you use kombucha vinegar? Do you have any favourite ways of using it for cleaning, personal care, or gardening perhaps too?

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

We unplugged our television ... and it feels great!



We unplugged the television in January and after just one day the kids forgot to ask for it.  I have to say I was more than a little surprised at how easy it was. I had braced for big (huge) arguments.

Something had to change!

We were never huge watchers and avoided commercials, we had constructive conversations about what we watched, but something had to change. Things were out of hand around the telly.

The turning point for me was noticing that our 3 year old boy was starting to become addicted. We had clear limits but he threw tantrums when we refused to turn it on, and when it was time to turn it off again. I thought we had been managing it well, but it was becoming clear that a big shift had to happen to change this pattern. He was watching 'educational' programs on ABC but still, this wasn't healthy. 


Impact of television

There's a lot of research out there about the impact of watching too much television (for all ages) and you've probably heard a lot about this - from obesity, depression, anxiety, decreased brain function, behavioural problems and more. 

There is really so much more to be doing with our lives - playing, telling stories, hanging out with friends, reading, connecting with nature, watching the stars, riding a bike ...


Redesign our living space

It's been 3 months since we disconnected our television and honestly we don't miss it at all, in fact we are so very happy we did this. The big black screen is still sitting up on the wall - a relic perhaps. We don't know what to do with it, and haven't got around to creating a replacement piece of artwork to put over the holes we drilled into the wall - aha - a great task for the kids! 


Got to get rid of the TV still hanging on the wall. We'll remove it soon, and the shelves. We've decided to turn this corner into an art and picture gallery displaying colourful pieces we create and images of fun active things we do together.

One huge bonus is that we have re-designed our living space to ignore the telly on the wall. The couch is no longer looking toward the wall with our backs to the room. Now when we relax on the couch, we face into the room, toward the people in it, and toward a beautiful view out across the lake and forested hills in the distance...a much better outlook!

Without even realising it, we allow the television to dominate the way we design rooms, even house layouts.  I love the way our main living space feels now ... sans telly.


Selective media watching

We still do watch some media, but we are all far more selective of content because we can manage that now. The children can select specific things to watch online as part of their homeschooling, such as:
The computers they use are in a shared space so the screen is easily visible and we can monitor and share the experience with them. They take notes while they are watching, and what they learn becomes part of their interesting table conversation.

Little Monty is allowed select from the ABC iView app for a short periods.


There's so many more hours in the week without television

Evan and I thought we might select interesting documentaries, but typically we don't watch anything in the evenings any more. I feel far more productive, energised and uplifted doing other things in the evening. We:

  1. spend more quality time with the kids and each other
  2. share our ideas 
  3. play music
  4. research things we want to learn about
  5. read great books
  6. write
  7. design and plan eco-living workshops
  8. make short films
  9. do some exercise

There are suddenly so many more hours available each week.

Even though we were always quite selective in what we watched and we never turned the telly on until the kids had gone to bed, I realise in my adult life I have wasted an enormous amount of time just sitting watching - just to switch off for a bit - just for some downtime at the end of the day. 


Turn off the TV for the kids and for yourself.

What started out as an action motivated by wanting to improve things for our kids, has ended up being a huge bonus for us 'grown-ups' and the family as a whole.  

Many of you reading this have already done this too, perhaps a very long time ago. I am happy to be joining you and if you haven't tried it yet, I wholeheartedly recommend giving it a go.


Have you tried? What impact did it have in your life?



Subscribe to Morag Gamble's Newsletter


Monday, 17 April 2017

How I downshifted my wardrobe by 80 percent.


Today I downshifted my wardrobe by 80 percent and it feels great! It has simplified things, given me lots to redistribute and and helped me to unclutter the room leaving it feeling fresh, clean and airy.

I have big bags of clothes ready to give away and a good collection of old stuff to feed the worms.  I realised I actually wear only a handful of my clothes, so while I like the others or had sentimental attachment to them, there really was no need to keep them. Also some of them I liked so much, they were threadbare and holey. It was time to let go.


Some of the bags of clothes waiting to head up to the charity stores in Maleny.

Living like a backpacker

Back in the early 1990s, Evan and I were travelling around the world a lot with our backpacks and lived amply on a handful of simple clothes. However, since we've had kids and settled a bit more, things have accumulated. As much as I promised myself this would never happen, it did. It was definitely time for a big clear out. I'm pretty sure what I've kept would be able to fit into a backpack again.

I love wearing sarongs here in the subtropics - they are lightweight and easy to store and care for.

Special souvenirs of musty space-fillers?

Not only were my own clothes filling up the wardrobe space, but clothes I had kept from when our children were little - things I thought were special souvenirs of their baby days. What they had become really were musty, stained and old (storing things in humid subtropics is difficult). I have kept just a few really special items and packed them very well.


Getting up my nose

All these surplus clothes were collecting dust which I was really starting to find was getting up my nose - literally.  Today, everything got washed with soapnuts and eucalytus, and the entire wardrobe and room was wiped down with diluted vinegar. It feels so fresh again.

How did I sort through it all?

Basically I just made one big pile on the floor  in the middle of my bedroom and methodically went through each piece.  It took me half a day to sort, wash and clean out all the dust from the back of the wardrobe  - a big commitment of time, but one that is going to save me lots of washing, sorting, putting away etc. later.  

As I went through the clothes I placed them in nine different piles and bags: 



  1. Keepers -  I went through this pile a couple of times to refine my choice to pick natural fibres, ethical items and ones that are biodegradable.
  2. Storage box - a selection of a few things for different seasons and some favourite skirts which will be good when I lose a few kilos (!?)
  3. Gift bag - almost new children's clothes that are suitable for friends with young children.
  4. Hand-me-down pile - some retro pieces of my clothing that now fit my daughter
  5. Charity store bag - all the good quality clothes that were left
  6. Upcycling box - a few pieces I liked that had fabulous fabric, but no longer a good style are awaiting redesign (when I get a new sewing machine pedal - Monty was experimenting with scissors recently).
  7. Rag bag - too bad to fix but good for rags.
  8. Worm pile - too bad to fix and fully biodegradable.
  9. Rubbish - too bad to fix and not good for rags or worms. (thankfully this was the smallest pile)

My small selection of clothes for storage for another season.
Tomorrow I'll give the worms a big feed and take the bags to the charity store in town to free up my hallway.  

Working out what to wear in the morning is going to be so easy!

This is all that is left in my wardrobe -  a couple of skirts, shirts, singlets and long sleeve tops - and my favourite jacket with all the pockets for collecting seeds while I'm out and about.
My next declutter project - my office!  Now that's a real challenge.


Subscribe to Morag Gamble's Newsletter


Saturday, 15 April 2017

Two simple ways to grow your own mulch.


Organic matter is essential for a healthy edible kitchen gardens. I am always looking out for ways to get more organic matter into my soil. 

Organic matter:
  • feeds soil life
  • supports an increase in soil life diversity
  • improves soil structure
  • helps to retain moisture in the soil. 

Regular composting and mulching does builds organic matter in the soil. You don't need to dig it in - the thriving ecological system that exists (or is regenerating) below the surface will draw it down into the soil.

Mulch can be expensive to buy, and sourcing reliably seed-free mulch can also be challenging. I use organic sugar cane or local seed-free grass bales in the garden areas where I have salad greens and leafy annuals, but for the rest of it, I often rely on the 'chop and drop' method and living mulch. These help to reduce waste and also simplify work in the garden. 


Chop and drop

Chop and drop mulching is a way to harness abundantly growing plants - ones which easily produce a lot of biomass and are happy to be trimmed. A good haircut actually can help the growth and form of many of these plants.

Here's a couple of the things I use for this:

  • finished vegetables 
  • pigeon pea
  • QLD arrowroot
  • comfrey
  • lemongrass
  • legume trees such as acacia and ice-cream bean
  • sugarcane
  • bamboo

The corn has finished so I have knocked it back and left it in situ. When it breaks down some more, I will plant a new crop through it.

I've done similar things with the pumpkin vines when they are finished. You can see here the self-propagating sweet potato coming up through, and the new cutting of Cranberry Hibiscus.
Pigeon Pea is a short lived leguminous shrub (4-5 years) that grows a few metres tall. I regularly chop it back and use it's small soft leaves as mulch around the garden. A good haircut helps the plant keep it's shape and not take too much space. Great edible seeds too - been used in India for thousands of years.

The great big juicy leaves of fast growing QLD Arrowroot (Canna edulis) make great chop and drop mulch in my subtropical garden. The recover quickly too.
Comfrey produces an abundance of leaves that are easily digested by the soil and which add great nutrients. In the middle of the growing season, I regularly take all the leaves off comfrey plants for this purpose and they happily grow back again.

Living Mulch

I allow a range of plants to cover the soil and these plants often have many uses (food, fibre, living mulch, habitat ...) which makes them even better than plain mulch in my food forest and polycultural kitchen garden.

Some of the plants I use in this way in different parts of my garden are:
  • clover
  • pinto peanut
  • sweet potato
  • pumpkin
  • Brazilian spinach (clumps)
  • pepino
  • mints
At the moment, the sweet potato leaves are making a wonderful living mulch as an understory in my food forest. The leaves are edible, and I rarely have weeds growing up through these great mats of plants. This patch of sweet potato in my garden is under turmeric, orange, yakon and cranberry hibiscus and has found a balance with pepino on the ground.

A short film about this topic is on my film list and should be ready soon. I will include more information and details about plants there.

One of my favourites is actually lemongrass because it smells so good. Which plants do you use for chop and drop and living mulch?

Happy mulching!


Subscribe to Morag Gamble's Newsletter


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Urban farm: community permaculture in action. A new film about Northey Street City Farm 10:13mins with Morag Gamble.



Let me take you on a little tour of one of Australia's first city farms, Northey Street City Farm . I have just finished making this little film (10:13 mins).



Northey Street City Farm is a community permaculture project I helped to establish in 1994 soon after I'd returned from a year abroad, and I think it is one of the projects I am most proud of and thankful for having been involved with. I learnt so very much there and are so grateful to the many mentors I encountered. The 5 years I volunteered there in the early days shaped so much of the work I do now.

There have been so many people involved in the farm shaping it into what it is today and I am so incredibly impressed at how it has evolved over the decades. I'm so delighted to still be involved after all this time - albiet just as a drop-in teacher role.

Back when was 24 and so ready to get my teeth into doing something practical and positive. I had just returned from studying at Schumacher College (the then newly opened centre for ecological thinking where I took courses with Systems thinker Fritjof Capra, Deep Ecologist Arne Naess, Gaian Ecologist Stephan Harding, Counter-development advocate Helena Norberg-Hodge and Earth Pilgrim Satish Kumar). 

I had also travelled solo to ecovillages such as Findhorn, sought out pioneering community gardens and sustainability centres in the UK such as the iconic Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales, and also travelled over the Himalayas by bus to volunteer in Ladakh with Helena Norberg-Hodge (www.localfutures.org.uk). Eco-activist Vandana Shiva was also in Ladakh at the time working with the project too, as was Pulitzer prize winning poet/ecologist, Gary Snyder.  

Back home in Australia mind was full of ideas of what was possible, my heart was full of hope and I was just so keen to put my heart and soul into a meaningful project that could contribute to the positive ripples of action in many directions.  Something that would enable me to connect my head, heart and hands.

It's 24 years since the Northey Street City Farm initiators came together to look for land.  When I stand in this space today, look at what has been created, think of all the people who have shaped and been involved in the project, and consider how many lives it has touched, and how many projects it has inspired around the world, I am so moved and in awe of what people can do together.


This is such an excellent example of community permaculture in action. 

So what is at Northey Street City Farm
Northey Street City Farm is an organic community-led urban farm just a few kilometres from downtown Brisbane. In the 4 acres of land, which is leased from the Brisbane City Council, there are areas of raised beds for the shared kitchen garden, there's extensive areas of market garden where food is grown for the market, and numerous allotments where people can have their own little plot. There is an abundance of food produced and shared. 

Kids yoga at City Farm on Market Day

Most of the area however is one huge urban food forest with hundreds of fruit trees, perennials, nut trees, timber trees, medicinals and more. It is so amazing and so unique. There are honey bees and native bees, chooks, worms and compost systems. In the midst of all this, there's a permaculture nursery, permaculture education, sustainable living classes, cooking classes, yoga groups, kids groups, earth arts projects, cultural and music events - the list goes on.

The wonderful participants in my recent weekend Introduction to Permaculture Workshop

Every Sunday there is thriving farmers market - the first organic farmers market in Brisbane with music, food, natural products for the home. The chai cafe opens in the heart of the farm and people wander through the gardens enjoying being in this edible oasis.

Local CSA farmers, Sandy Creek Organics, bring their produce to the organic farmers market every week. There is such a diverse range of local organic produce of high quality,

Wonderfully, there are no fences. It is an open and accessible project that welcomes everyone to come and get involved.

The permaculture workshop participants helped to revive a couple of kitchen garden beds that are used for making everyday lunches at the farm.

On the garden walkabout in this film, you will see and hear about many of the key features of the city farm and be introduced to delicious array of incredible edibles. 

More city farm and community farm films coming
I'll will return to Northey Street City Farm soon and other urban farm projects to do more filming. There are just so many wonderful local projects happening in so many neighbourhoods everywhere.

Workshops at City Farm

There are ongoing workshops offered at City Farm about sustainable living and permaculture. I run two Introduction to Permaculture weekends each year as well as a series of one day and half day programs on a variety of topics. Visit the city farm website for more details www.nscf.org.au

Looking at how city farm started
You might be interested to see how Northey Street City Farm all got started so I've dug up an old film from 2005 made by a couple of old friends. It includes interviews many of the people who were the driving force behind this place becoming established so successfully.  Eating Your Park (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BEgss2df5c)


Further information about community gardens and city farms:
In Australia, a fabulous resource for getting a community garden or city farm started is the Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network. Morag was also part of the founding group of this national network.

In other countries, there are superb resources too such as:
  • Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, UK 
  • RUAF Foundation :www.ruaf.org (Urban Agriculture and Food Systems)

Subscribe to Morag Gamble's Newsletter


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Grow your own cleaner: DIY citrus spray.


I love the idea that in my permaculture garden I can be growing a lot of ingredients for the household and personal products I use.  It's super simple to do, I know they are safe for my family and my greywater, and doing this helps me reduce the waste I create and walk a little lighter on the earth.

Take for example the natural all-purpose household cleaner - citrus spray. It's actually very easy to make and is so useful for cleaning around the home. 

All you need is a jar, citrus peel and apple cider vinegar. It makes a very effective and safe home cleaner, and I really like the fresh citrus scent - particularly because it's fresh real citrus from the garden.

What is citrus spray good for?

Citrus spray can be used to clean bench tops, windows, showers or anywhere you need a natural all purpose cleanser. Please note that this cleanser does not work well for marble or stone surfaces, as well as certain granite counter tops... the acid content may cause etching. It does work like a charm for glass windows, showers, mirrors, and many other household surfaces!


What citrus can you use?

Any. Fortunately I have a citrus abundance in my garden almost all of the year. I purposefully selected varieties to stretch my citrus harvest season as long as possible. There are lemons and limes, mandarins and tangelos, oranges and grapefruits, lemonades and Buddha's Hand, kaffir lime and finger lime.


How to make citrus spray:

  • Collect citrus peel and fill jar with peels
  • Pour apple cider vinegar over peels, put a lid on and let it sit for 2 weeks
  • Strain off the liquid and dilute 2 parts water to 1 part citrus vinegar (compost the peels)
  • Use as a spray cleaner around the home.

The oils in the citrus peels add disinfectant properties to the vinegar and the peels contain d-limonene which is a natural solvent that breaks down and removes oil from dirty surfaces. It takes time for the d-limonene to fuse with vinegar which is why it's important to let it sit for a couple of weeks before you use it.


Extra garden ingredients...

I like to get creative with the mix too - adding extra things from the garden. You could add a twig of rosemary, a few mint leaves, sprigs of thyme, or a few leaves of lemon myrtle into the mix. You can use any of the citrus peels - they each bring a different aroma. Imagine grapefruit and mint, orange and cinnamon, lemon and thyme - it's up to you.

If I could grow apples here I would - we all love apples - then I could make my own apple cider vinegar. Perhaps I need to take a trip to Stanthorpe, the closest apple growing region and buy a few boxes. I should ask one of the farmers at the market to bring me up some boxes of damaged apples for this purpose. More on that another time....

Vinegar or Apple Cider Vinegar

Not all vinegars are natural. If you are buying vinegar chose ones that specifically say naturally brewed or fermented. There are the distilled vinegars made in a distillery/brewery and synthetic vinegars made from diluted synthetic acetic acid. Not all countries approve of using synthetically created acetic acid for human consumption, but Australia does and so does the USA and EU.

About white vinegar production, the US Food and Drug Administration (which Food Standards Australia seems to copy) says:

“Presently, we authorize the manufacture of vinegar from ethyl alcohol synthesized from natural gas or petroleum derivatives. It is our opinion that most of the distilled spirits used in the production of vinegar are derived from natural gas and petroleum…

Keep an eye out for a youtube clip about this soon.

Do you have another favourite recipe for making household citrus cleaner?




Subscribe to Morag Gamble's Newsletter


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Sweet potato greens: more nutritious than the tuber. Do you eat them?




Sweet potato leaves - I love them - a tender green with subtle flavour and far less oxalic acid than spinach or chard. They grow so prolifically, if I didn't eat them, they may well just take over! 

Sweet potato leaves with Cranberry Hibiscus, Society Garlic and Pepino

Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatasleaves are not just a survival food (well they are I suppose, because this plant is so hardy and abundant), but the leaves are actually super nutritious and delicious as well! 


Have you tried them?

I use sweet potato leaves (both young and mature) in:

  • stir fries
  • sauteed with garlic, ginger, chilli and coconut milk
  • curries - added just at the end to avoid overcooking and losing nutrients
  • soups - added just at the end too
  • omelettes - folded in the middle at the end.
  • vegetable eggy-bakes
  • veggie patties
  • salads (here I use only the young ones)
  • green smoothies

Sweet potato greens are enjoyed in many areas of the world, particularly in Asia, Pacific and Africa, but elsewhere they are typically overlooked.

How do you cook with them?
  

Sweet Potato Forage

They are good forage for animals too. The wild wallabies that visit my garden love them - they do a great trimming job along the terrace wall!

What animals do you feed them to?

Did you know the sweet potato leaf is healthier than the root?

Usually people know sweet potato for the lovely sweet tubers rather than the leaves, but research has shown that the leaves have 3 times more vitamin B6, 5 times more vitamin C, and almost 10 times more riboflavin than the sweet potatoes. Sweet potato leaves are high in vitamins A (a powerful antioxidant) too and have substantial amounts of protein, fibre, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, potassium and iron.

Sweet potato growing with comfrey, turmeric and dwarf citrus.

Sweet potatoes in my permaculture garden

In my garden I value sweet potatoes because they:

  • have a multiple crop - leaves, shoots and tubers
  • are an excellent ground cover and living mulch
  • provide habitat for garden helpers - frogs, lizards ...
  • suppress weeds with their thick growth and shading
  • produce biomass for composting as well as chop and drop
  • come back year after year without assistance
  • provide an abundance of edible leafy greens except in mid-winter

A spreading edible green

I allow the perennial sweet potato vine to sprawl as a living mulch under my dwarf fruit trees. It is limited in its spread by contour pathways and a terrace wall, so it cannot get out of hand. 

The shoots that come over the terrace wall are the ones I eat - although every now and then the wallabies come and help me with this job too. I worked hard over the years to find a place to grow sweet potato where the wildlife wouldn’t eat it all - now we share, which is absolutely fine because it is so abundant.

Growing for tubers or leaf?

While it is a perennial plant in warm climates, if you want to harvest both the leafy greens and sweet potato tubers, it is better to treat it as an annual and dig up your tubers. Without replanting, you end up with lots of leaf and few tubers in the next season.

I have sections where I grow for the tuber, but where I want living mulch I typically allow the seat potato here to be growing jut for the leafy greens - this way I don’t need to dig up my food forest understory.  However, if I get a big frost and lose it, I’ll clear it out plant fresh cuttings or tubers when it warms again.

A point of caution

A white sap comes from the stem when you cut it. It can be irritating to the skin - I’ve got tough gardeners hands and it doesn’t seem to bother me, but just something to be aware of. I suggest you wash the leaves when you take them inside and before eating just to wash off the sap before adding to a salad or cooking.

Some extra reading:



Subscribe to Morag Gamble's Newsletter