Issue 11 - June July 1999

Methods of growing Bush Tucker

By Wendy Seabrook

From TROPO's Organic Info Library 

Commercial cultivation of native bush foods is a very young industry. Hence the cultivation techniques being used by growers on the north coast are to a certain extent experimental. However it is worth looking at the methods different growers are using and discussing the rationale for using these techniques. Plantations range in structure from those mimicking the standard commercial orchard design to permaculture food forests. Bush tucker food forests have a mixture of species planted in a design which imitates the structure of a natural forest ecosystem. At the other end of the continuum, although growers are planting out using rows in the orchard set up, very few are planting monocultures. Generally orchards have up to 10 species which are either planted in different rows or grouped in a certain part of the orchard to create a mosaic of species. The rows are inter-planted with shelter belts of native species providing also refuges for insect pollinators, and the predators and parasites of insect pests.

Trees and shrubs can be stacked by growing large canopy species in rows interplanted with understorey shrubs and small trees. However don't select canopy species which require hand picking of the fruit from the trees! Nut trees like Macadamia or Atherton Almond are good canopy species. In stacking consider also the rooting habit of different species. By planting shallow and deep rooted species together you could reduce your spacing between plants, and more effectively use available land. Increased density may slightly reduce individual yield but increase overall orchard productivity.

The food forest structure is often used by growers who are using bush tucker species for revegetation programs, whether in steep gullies, for wind breaks, or just for amenity purposes. However in these circumstances it is important to realise that the productivity of the trees will often be lower than in an orchard because of such factors as competition between plants for nutrients, shading, etc. Harvesting and maintenance will also be less efficient. Vehicle assess will be restricted and it will take longer to pick the crop.

Whatever design you use, it is important to know a little about the ecological conditions the species grow in in their natural habitat, and to use this information to imitate the natural growing conditions in your species mix and planting design. For example, your productivity will generally be higher if you grow species within their natural geographic and climatic range. Some species like the Davidson Plum are understorey trees in the wild, and in the commercial orchard benefit from light canopy cover.

However, while some species are more hardy and can survive in exposed sites or on poor soil, and can be used to plant out these areas, productivity may not be as high as on better soils on your property. In this case if you are only assessing the planting program using economic criteria, it may not be financially viable to plant in these locations. Most growers prefer to use natural fertilisers and, if herbicides are used, generally only Roundup (note previous editions of Going Organic have highlighted that Roundup may not  be as safe as originally believed).

Weed and grass control around the base of the trees or shrubs is achieved using either weed mat or mulch. Black weed mat is better for lighter soils. Heavy clay soils can become waterlogged under weed mat. Initial tree growth can be enhanced by the addition of manure in the tree hole and further additions are recommended at least annually. Crops will need to be irrigated. Sprinklers are recommended rather than drip irrigation, because roots tend to group around the drip site.

There are alternative ground covers to grass, and use of nitrogen fixing species will improve the productivity of your orchard. Farmers are experimenting with Pintoi's bean (a peanut), Makulotus (a relative of lucene which grows better on the north coast) and Creeping Vigna. All these species are perennials, as is Pigeon pea.

Issue 12 will have an article which looks at a well designed planting which puts the theory into practice.

The ed.

Index 11
From the Editor
Queensland Bushfood Association
A word on Buying Seed
Yarrawarra Aboriginal Corp
What's fruiting?
Native Herb Forum 1.
Ethnoecological Research.
Illawarra plum.
Methods of Growing Bushtucker
Bushfoods and Farm Forestry
Bushfood Artist.
Backhousia citriodora.
FEATURE: Davidson Plum.
Principles of Oil Extraction. J
Queensland Conference.
Solanum centrale association.
Somewhat Useful Pages.
The Value Adders: Greg Trevena and Fudge A'fare
Book Review.
Red Ochre Grill
Famous Palates
davo Davidson plum - Davidsonia pruriens

Bushfoods and Farm Forestry

Margaret Bailey

In Issue 10, Margaret looked at the complementary nature of bushfoods and farm forestry. In this second part, she looks at financial returns and species requirements.

Financial returns

It is clear that for some specific crops where there is very little product available but where it can be harvested through the year, growers can demand and achieve consistent high returns. However, one of the problems faced by small growers is that the total capacity of the region to produce is still quite limited for many crops. Limited production, and especially seasonal production, does not automatically mean high prices or indeed any sale at all. If processors cannot be guaranteed sufficient quantities (and quality) consistently through the year to ensure they can set up a manufacturing line, they will not buy small amounts seasonally.

On the other hand, many growers have found that as a crop becomes readily available the price drops rapidly. This has been true of Lemon myrtle, where there is currently a glut on the market and wholesalers have stockpiles of dried leaf and are only taking product from a few specific growers.

Potential growers should also be aware that some crops ripen within a very short space of time, such as Riberries, and that at the peak they will only receive low prices. Capacity for storing frozen fruit and releasing later on to the market can bring the grower a higher price.

At the present time, widely varying prices are being quoted to growers by wholesalers. ARBIA has begun publishing farm gate prices in its monthly newsletter - interestingly a move that brought protests from some wholesalers.

It is not easy to forecast prices. A business plan which was based on 1996 prices would now need some considerable revising, with many prices having halved and forecast of prices for fruits, currently around $10.00 per kg, bottoming out at $3.00 per kg within the next year or so.

Species requirements.

In general terms species which have their origin in a rainforest ecosystem will need to have a high rainfall regime. Many species will not tolerate frost as in their native forest situation they would mostly be protected from frost. It is a common assumption that all rainforest species require heavy shade. The reality is that many such species strive towards the light and it has been pointed out that good access to sunlight is critical for higher quality fruit and oil yields. Most of the species before (Issue 10) prefer the slightly acid soils. However, it is also important to ensure that the soil is well balanced with high organic content as most rainforest plains are adapted to utilising the high leaf litter content of the surface of the forest floor and often fairly shallow soils of the rain forest

It is important to know the type of natural situation where the species originate to be able to determine the type of growing system that any particular species requires. Those which originated on the light sandy soils of the coastal fringe will have different requirements from those from inland rainforests or from those of the wetlands.


Although growing bush foods and timber together seems like an excellent option it is not as straightforward as it may seem at first sight. Nevertheless, for for the grower who can work through these issues and resolve them satisfactorily, there is the potential to enhance your property aesthetically, economically and ecologically in a way that few other enterprises can do.

Note: Margaret Bailey is currently the Secretary of ARBIA - the Australian Rainforest Bushfood Association. However, the views expressed above are her own and are not the views of the organisation.


Susan Tilley - (bush) Food artist

Susan Tilley Food Art Australia Pty Ltd., P.O. BOX 410 PRAHRAN VIC. 

PH. 9510 1631,  email:

As a freelance food stylist to the advertising industry, I have been commissioned by most of the leading food companies at some stage or other, via their advertising agencies, to present their product in creative and innovative ways for magazines, posters, billboards, books, television etc.

Though I've done my fair share of traditional food styling and packaging assignments (like the recent relaunch of the Arnott's cracker range) I am usually called in whenever more unusual food designs are required, like the recent media campaign of food landscapes to promote Kraft Philadelphia cheese, or unusual food billboards to celebrate the opening of "Let's Eat" at Prahran Market in Melbourne.

Alongside my work commissions, I have also been creating my own poster projects which embrace food as an illustrative medium for photography by using the fantastic natural colours and textures of food ingredients to create my collages.

Always in search of wonderful new ingredients to inspire my art, the thought of creating Australian images out of bushfoods seemed the perfect challenge. And it was.... as there appeared to be far too many bushfoods for one poster I decided to create two, the first concentrating on seeds, nuts, dried leaves and spices, and the second to explore as many fresh fruit, vegetables and leaves that I feasibly could.


The first Bushfood poster by Susan Tilley - you have to see it in colour to really appreciate it!

Each poster features a bushfood design as a centrepiece; a goanna (created from wattleseeds, bush tomatoes and native pepper) for the first, and a native red capped parrot (created from about 15 vibrant fresh fruit and vegetable ingredients including dianella, Davidson's plum, lemon myrtle and wild rosella flowers) for the second. I have endeavoured to design them as unique eyecatching display pieces, with a broad range of appeal for adults and children.

The two posters together are intended to represent an extensive, quick visual glossary of Australian Native Bushfoods, all of which have been specifically collected, then individually photographed, exclusively for the posters.

The concise copy has been designed from an educational perspective and depicts important aspects of Aboriginal, botanical, geographical, historical and culinary significance. All the bushfoods are shown to scale for easy comparison and reference.

It was my intention that the posters remain as generic and independent as possible for the benefit of the bushfood industry as a whole. However, I would never have been able to even consider producing the work without the willingness of many members of the industry to share their invaluable knowledge and expertise. The first poster grew from a collaborative effort with Andrew Fielke.

The second poster, which is still under production and not expected to be completed until next year, owes special thanks to the generosity and enthusiasm of Juleigh Robins who initially supplied me with many bushfoods, then introduced me to the network of wonderful people within the bushfood industry with whom I could liaise, and in turn, develop my own extended network to supply me with other fresh bushfoods as they came into season.

The logistics of completing the second poster and all the efforts of those who helped me, makes an interesting story in itself for a later date, but for now I am hoping to make good sales of the first poster to enable me to complete the second.

An order form for the first of the full colour posters, Seeds, Nuts, Dried Leaves and Spices, is enclosed with this magazine.

When laminated, the poster will last indefinately and, hopefully, become a valuable addition to your bushfood repertoire.


Queensland Bushfood Association

Formed at the Conference in Brisbane held August 21 this year, the Association is now calling for participation from individuals and groups around the State. We envisage that a number of regional or species-specific groups will form which will work closely beside or within the Association.


Increase awareness of opportunities in commercial bushfood production.

Inform objectively on the choice of species for planting and marketing.

Update on research progress, and ,where data is not available, refer to research in similar species.

Stimulate action on marketing, collaboration and a business plan using other industries as a point of reference.

Refine research plan for the future and insure rapid feed-back of information to industry.

Why get together?

  • Greater range of products and marketed volume.

  • Greater strength when dealing with buyers, agents, wholesalers, retailers.

  • Less risk of supply shortfall due to drought and other adverse conditions.

  • Able to share costs:

  • Production - share equipment.

  • Post harvest - packing and grading facilities.

  • Processing - drying, grinding, cooking.

  • Marketing - distribution, shipping, market

  • Research

  • Greater opportunities for promotion:

  • More cost effective

What do we hope for?

Commitment, Cooperation, Competitive advantage.

To find out more, phone John King on

07 3284 2203


From the Native Herb Group - Backhousia myrtifolia

Family: Myrtaceae

Common names Myrtle leaf, scrub ironwood


Medium sized evergreen tree with opposite, ovate /lanceolate leaves and white stellate flowers arranged in cymes.myrtifolia


The tree is found in sheltered gullies and alongside watercourses, it is very common in eastern Australia.

Part used

Dried leaf


Essential oil - alkenebenzene derivatives including emelicin and trans-isoemelicin.



Carminative, astringent, sedative, anaesthetic, corrective, platelet inhibitor


Dyspepsia, heartburn, colic, diarrhoea, irritable bowel, nervous tension & irritabilityToxicology

Emelicin, a chemical component of the essential oil, is mildly genotoxic in rat hepatocytes, however it is not hepatocarcinogenic. Long term use of the herb during pregnancy is discouraged.

Preparations and dosage

Infusion - F.E. 1:3, 1-3mls