plant profile: moringa, horseradish tree

2015/04/23 deej 0

Moringa (Moringa oleifera), also known as drumstick tree or horseradish tree, is a pretty, graceful tree which produces edible seed pods (eat them when they’re green and tender, after cooking like snow peas) and edible leaves and flowers (eat raw or cooked as a green vegetable). There’s a tree growing over the fence of a back yard near my old house in North Perth, and I can confirm that both the flowers and leaves are very good raw, with a slightly nutty, broccoli flavour and a hint of mustard-like spiciness. They’re also very moreish. I’ve tried them in a quiche, but not on their own when cooked, but I feel pretty confident.

According to the USDA analysis, Moringa leaves contain about 9% protein, and around 8% carbohydrates. In addition, based on the US recommendations for adults, 100g of Moringa leaves supplies a significant percentage of the average daily nutritional requirements for a person:

  • Vitamin B6: 92%
  • Vitamin C: 62%
  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B6): 55%
  • Vitamin A (as beta carotene): 47%
  • Magnesium: 41%
  • Iron: 31%
  • Thiamine (Vitamin B1): 22%
  • Calcium: 19%
  • Manganese: 17%

The name ‘horseradish tree’ comes from the fact that the roots, which apparently taste like horseradish. There are contraindications to eating the roots though, as they contain low levels of neurotoxic compounds. The flowers and immature (green) seeds and seed pods can also be eaten, although the seeds and flowers may contain low levels of the same toxins as the bark and roots. The immature seed pods (“drumsticks”) are traditionally cooked and eaten like green beans, and are a common ingredient in a number of South-East Asian curries and stews. The seeds can be pressed to produce a light cooking oil, which can also be used to lubricate machinery. Suspension of the ground seeds can be used as a primary coagulant to clarify turbid water.

Moringa trees can reach up to 10-12 m in hieght. They have a spreading open crown, typically umbrella-shaped, and deep roots. The bark is corky and grey. The branches are brittle and fragile, and the foliage is feathery. White to cream, sweet-smelling flowers are produced throughout the year, on inflorescences 10 – 20 cm long. The seed pods are green when young and turn brown on maturity. The mature pod splits open to expose 15-20 rounded, oily seeds, 1-1.5 cm in diameter surrounded by 3 papery wings, up to 2.5 cm long.

Under good conditions, moringa trees are very fast-growing, as much as 3m in a year. They can be coppiced for the production of foliage, and the foliage can also be used as fodder for animals. This is a tree that we will be planting several of, all through the food forest.

What moringa needs:

  • Water – Moringa trees are drought resistant, and will thrive in a wide range of conditions. Readily colonizes stream banks and savannah areas where the soils are well drained and the water table remains fairly high all the year round. It is quite drought tolerant but yields much less foliage where it is continuously under water stress.


  • Sunlight – Moringa likes full sun.


  • Soil – Moringa prefers well drained soils, and will produce better in a rich, loamy soil, although it will survive in sandy soils almost equally well.


  • Space – Moringa is a smallish tree, and doesn’t require a lot of space. However, it is fast growing and can take over if not pruned.


  • Warmth – Moringa loves sun and heat, and can be damaged by frost – especially when young.

What moringa has to offer:

  • Edible leaves, seeds, and flowers. Edible oil from seeds.


  • Attractive, ornamental small tree for landscaping.


  • New trees, from seed or from cuttings.


Images sourced from Wikimedia Commons:
File:Sonjna Moringa oleifera in Kolkata, West Bengal, India
File:Drumstick tree (Moringa oleifera).jpg

House Update – April 2015

2015/04/19 deej 0

It looks like, just maybe, we have a green light finally. I’m not sure if I’m even excited after all this time or just relieved that the bank got off its rear end and dealt with the mistakes they made when signing us up for this mortgage refinance shenanigans in December.

The first progress payment has been released to the builder, so building can start now. We’re waiting to hear when the building will actually start, which will depend on what else in in the queue at the builder. So we don’t have a delivery date yet, but.. it’s closer than it’s ever been. 🙂

Blazing Swan 2015

2015/04/19 deej 0

Blazing Swan 2015 - Hug DeliA couple’ve weeks ago now (time flies! I meant to write this post just after we got back) we just spent the long weekend at the Blazing Swan festival, dancing and exploring and engaging with some quite amazing artworks and people. Blazing Swan is an offshoot of the famous Burning Man festival in the US, running in rural Western Australia. This is the second year it’s run, and I think it’s doing really well.

I thought twice about writing about this, because on the face of it a music & art festival has nothing to do with sustainability or permaculture – except that it does.

Blazing Swan 2015 - signOne of the tenets of permaculture, and the one which has always been the hardest for me to really grasp and understand, is people care. I mean, obviously caring for people is important, but how is it a fundamental rule of equal importance to a sustainable future with caring for the ecosystems which support us? The answer – or an answer, at least – is exemplified by the community that grows at something like Blazing Swan.

Blazing Swan 2015 - dancingThe idea of the festival is around radical de-commoditisation and self-sufficiency, and it encourages a gift economy. In other words, once you get there, nothing is for sale; everything is a gift. People got up early every morning to make pancakes for breakfast for anyone who came past, as their gift to the community. Another camp made vegetarian nasi goreng. The locals from the town of Kulin, where the festival is held, brought a sheep in each evening and roasted it over a spit to give out to whoever was there and wanted some. A random woman who I’ve never met before, came up to me wearing a many-pocketed costume and asked me to choose a number between 1 and 15. She then opened the pocket with the number I’d chosen and gave me whatever was inside – a miniature LED torch as it happens. Five sound stages played dance music 24 hours a day for the full week of the festival, just for the chance to play to a crowd who wanted to listen and dance. Other people ran both planned and impromptu workshops, sharing skills that they had. And you know what happened? I started thinking, what could I bring next year, what could I do for these people to give back?

Blazing Swan 2015 - contact juggling classHumans have a very strong reciprocity circuit in our brains, which means that we’re psychologically wired at a very deep level to want to give gifts to people who give us things. It’s a well known psychological principle – look it up.

Community is built by people getting together and trusting one another, and part of that process is gift-giving. It’s the same reason why it’s traditional to take flowers or wine to a dinner party, to partially repay the hosts for their hospitality. We form these bonds between us by these very actions, and those bonds are important to our mental and emotional health. We’re a social species, and we genuinely need one another. Not only that, but community is the antithesis of the greed and commercialism of the eat-consume-desire-produce unlimited economic system that we inherited from the industrial revolution.

Blazing Swan 2015 - salt flat mandala

If we don’t form communities of trust, then how will we ever get other people to listen to us when we ask them to take action to protect the ecosystems that make up this beautiful planet, to make changes so that we can live in balance with the other species which call this place home? People care is important because humans alone, cold and hungry and frightened, will do anything and damage any system to survive. It’s the same single-mindedness which has put us at the top of the food chain. But humans as a group, supporting one another, don’t need to do any damage to survive. Community not only makes us happier, healthier creatures, it gives us the space to live well and do no harm.

And isn’t that what we want, really? To live well and do no harm?

Blazing Swan 2015 - sunset

Lessons Learned: Bunnies

2015/04/09 deej 0

This has been a long process so far, and we’ve learned a lot – mostly by doing it wrong and having to deal with the mistakes. The rabbits, for example, haven’t been nearly as successful as I’d hoped.

Tsuki rabbitWe brought Tsuki the British Giant home almost 2 years ago. She was a bright, inquisitive bunny, about 4 months old, a soft tawny colour with good bone structure, good teeth (no hereditary issues visible) and she was already a big rabbit. The idea was that we’d get a boy bunny, and Tsuki would be the mother of a line of meat rabbits. We’d keep a few of her babies to breed with, but most of them would end up as dinner. Tsuki herself, our matriarch to be, was not going to be eaten – she was going to have a long, happy life full of hay and tasty grass and greens and lots of baby bunnies.

Our first boy bunny, Tlaloc, died mysteriously. Rabbits do that sometimes. He was a chinchilla grey Flemish Giant cross, and a sweet bunny. But these things happen, and we moved on.

The second boy bunny, Mouse, was a Californian / Dwarf Lop cross. Not the ideal sire for a meat rabbit line, but he was what we could get at the time. We named him Mouse because as a baby he was quite timid, and would hide behind things like a little mouse.

Mouse took some time to get the hang of breeding. He was smaller than Tsuki, so he had trouble convincing her that he was a full grown male, and at first she wouldn’t let him near her. Eventually she relented, but Mouse then had to work out which end to go for. He did a lot of humping her head before he figured out what the raised tail at the other end meant. He did get it eventually – and Tsuki then had a false pregnancy for a month.

The second time around she gave birth, but we found dead baby bunnies the next day. At the time we thought that perhaps she’d gotten a fright and tried to eat the babies – as rabbits will sometimes do. Turns out – as we discovered on the next litter – that it was actually rats. They came in at night and ate the (still living) babies while Tsuki watched fearfully from a perch nearby. The third litter died from some mysterious rabbity illness of the bowels, except for one baby boy. Tsuki was a good mother, and raised the one baby very successfully.

BrighteyesBecause there was only one, we didn’t eat him. Instead we named him Brighteyes, and thought we’d keep him – since the idea was always to get at least one more doe to broaden our genetic pool. Mouse still wasn’t the best choice as a sire, so we thought that perhaps we could keep Brighteyes as the boy bunny, and mitigate the inbreeding by including a couple’ve totally unrelated females in the herd.

Tsuki and BrighteyesWe moved the rabbits all up to Gallifrey, to a larger colony pen there, and went up twice a week to fill up their food and water dispensers. A lot of work, but it was only going to be a couple’ve months until our house was built and we could move up there ourselves. (The house is still in progress – we now have building permission, so with luck we’ll be in.. soon.) It worked quite well, in spite of the extra work of heading up there twice a week to check on the rabbits. A fourth litter was born successfully and the ten babies grew well.

Then – next lesson – we put in a new, updated food trough for the rabbits. Unfortunately, it was low enough for the babies to jump into it, and high enough to be above the baby-proof wire around the bottom of the pen. All ten babies jumped out of the pen and were lost. We saw a few of them hanging around for the next week, but although we tried making a ramp (baited with grain and chaff) for them to get back into the pen and their mother, they weren’t smart enough to use it. We still had only a single surviving baby rabbit (Brighteyes) from this whole period.

So we fixed the fencing, and we fixed the feed trough, and we fixed the nest box. We separated the bunnies, and then put Mouse in with Tsuki again to try for another litter. And then we waited to see if she was pregnant. Before we could find out, she got sick. She seemed a little unwell, sniffles and a bit lethargic, so we separated her form the other two and quarantined her to see how she went. She seemed to have some facial swelling, and we wondered if she’d been stung by the bees (which use the rabbits water containers to drink from as well) and was just having an allergic reaction. This was not the case.

In 1950, the Australian government released myxomatosis, a rabbit pox disease, in an attempt to control the feral rabbit population. At the time, it had a 90% death rate; it now has about a 50% death rate in the wild (feral) rabbits – but in pet rabbits the death rate is still around 90%. A vaccine exists, but is illegal in Australia because it is a live virus vaccine, and might conceivably get out and enhance the resistance in the wild rabbit population. Tsuki had myxomatosis. Mouse and Brighteyes started showing symptoms a week after Tsuki.

Myomatosis is a horrible disease. It causes tumours in the facial and genital regions, and swells the airways shut, starving the animal of oxygen. It depresses the immune system, leading to secondary infections. And there is no cure. Vets advise euthanasia in every case. So, the weekend before easter, we killed our rabbits. One at a time, we picked them up and placed them int he controlled atmosphere killing chamber we’ve made, and piped in nitrogen gas until they fell asleep due to oxygen deprivation. Nitrogen doesn’t cause the feeling of suffocation that carbon dioxide does (although rabbits and other rodents actually don’t suffer from that anyway, so carbon dioxide is a safe and humane gas to use on them – on other mammals and birds it produces the feeling of suffocation due to carbon dioxide buildup in the blood). The bunnies went gently to sleep, and did not wake up.

dead rabbits

I don’t know if we’ll try again with rabbits. On paper they still work really well – but myxomatosis is mosquito born, so we’d have to make a mosquito proof pen for them if we did keep them, and that’s not easy. We might try guinea pigs instead; they breed more slowly and they don’t taste as good, but they’re not susceptible to myxoimatosis (or any other massively fatal disease which is illegal to vaccinate against).