May – Permaculture Sustainable Food Gardening in Subtropical Australia

by Ewa Bekiesch, Permaculture designer, educator, sustainable living consultant, and healthy food advocate.

We are in the middle of the subtropical autumn. The very first “cold-weather” greens and veggies are ready for harvest. Others are starting to compete with each other and with the self-seeded ones which are also trying to claim some space in the garden bed and around, and I love it! Food everywhere πŸ˜€ This happens when you allowed them to go into seeds last season. They are simply popping out everywhere and the only job you have is either harvesting or replanting to create more space in the overcrowded food forest community. Even dough we have autumn, it feels like spring with all the greens coming out of nowhere. What else can be done in May? Check the list below πŸ™‚

General jobs in May

  • I tend to be too generous while placing new seeds in the ground so thinning out the new growth might be necessary. I am usually harvesting the young greens, like bokchoy or radish, regularly and enjoy them as they come while making more room for the other ones
  • Watering freshly planted fruit trees and bushes if necessary. They need to strengthen up before the winter comes!
  • Watching young vegetable seedlings and protecting them from predators. Collecting caterpillars or slugs if needed. The days are still very warm so there are plenty of them around.
  • Weeding the garden beds if needed.
  • Applying compost tea + water mix (1:4), every 2-3 weeks onto the garden beds. Most of the winter vegetables like brassicas, garlic, beetroot, carrots, and so on need lots of nutrients to grow. Help them thrive. I have made a video about how to make and use compost tea. You can watch it here.
  • Have you recently planted new fruit trees? If so, do some research to check if they can handle cold winds and temperatures around 0 degrees Celsius. Some trees are very vulnerable while young, especially when there is no other or only a little vegetation nearby. Some frost protection cloth might be necessary.
  • sowing, planting, harvesting – see the list below

What NOT to do in May

  • Trimming bushes and trees should be considered carefully now. All established and overgrown evergreen trees and bushes may help the young ones to get through winter by blocking off the cold winds. The deciduous ones like Mulberry, Peach, Nectarine, Apple, Nashi Pear, and others need to be pruned as required which is usually about the time before they get new growth. I am planning to write a separate article about what I am looking for before I start cutting.
  • Leaving old leaves on the banana plants is also highly recommended to protect the trunks during winter.
  • Planting new fruit trees and bushes is also a big NO in May as they most likely won’t get established before winter. Especially the tropical varieties have only little chance to survive when planted in May.

Sowing, planting, harvesting


  1. This is the monthly edition for that particular month. If you haven’t read my ‘autumn gardening jobs’ article yet, start there: Autumn – Permaculture Sustainable Food Gardening in Subtropical Australia
  2. There are more plants you can grow in the subtropical climate but I am limiting my list to the plants I grow and have the best experience with.


Many of them are self-seeding in our food forest. If you don’t know some of the plants in the list below, check my ‘Food Forest Guide’ for more info about the plants, how to grow and use them, along with some other tips and tricks.

  • Indiana Lettuce, Chinese Sword Lettuce – Lactuca indica
  • Ethiopian Cabbage – Brassica carinata
  • bok choy, pak choy
  • rocket lettuce
  • radish
  • beetroot
  • broad beans
  • cabbage
  • carrot
  • cauliflower
  • celeriac
  • celery
  • coriander
  • chives
  • dill
  • kale
  • mizuna
  • mustard greens
  • leeks
  • lettuce
  • onion
  • peas
  • rocket lettuce
  • silverbeet
  • flowers
  • garlic
  • potatoes


No trees in this list, mostly because there are too many fruit trees you can grow in a subtropical climate so simply choose what you enjoy eating and what suits your garden. If you want to know what trees we are growing, check our ‘Food Forest Guide‘.

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Celeriac
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Mizuna
  • Mustard Greens
  • bush basil – Ocimum oxcitriodorum
  • Goldenrod – Solidago
  • Gotu Kola – Centella asiatica
  • Lemongrass – Cymbopogan citratus
  • Longevity Spinach – Gynura procumbens
  • Okinawa Spinach – Hawaiian lettuce – Gynura bicolour
  • Peruvian Parsnip – Arracacia xanthorrhiza
  • St John’s Wort – Hypericum perforatum
  • Goldenrod – Solidago canadensis
  • Tarragon, Estragon – Artemisia dracunculus
  • Pigface, Baby Sunrose – Aptenia cordifolia
  • Brahmi-Memory Plant – Waterhyssop – Bacopa monnieri
  • Bana Grass – Pennisetum purpureum x amaricanum
  • Sugarcane Red – Saccharum officinarum
  • horseradish
  • oregano
  • shallots
  • onions
  • garlic chives
  • sweet potatoes
  • strawberry plants
  • mint


We are harvesting daily and as required, depending on what we like to eat and cook, and/or what needs to be harvested. The May harvest list includes and is based on what grows in our food forest and what is possible, including fruit from our trees. As you may think, we don’t harvest all of it every day. Many of them simply keep growing and wait patiently for their turn to end up in the kitchen, as green mulch ‘chop and drop’, some of them go to compost if they are taking over, or as food for our chickens, ducks, or worm farm. The possibilities are endless.

Perennials crop we harvest in May:

  • bush basil – Ocimum oxcitriodorum
  • Cranberry Hibiscus – Hibiscus acetosella – leaves
  • Galangal – Thai Ginger –Greater Galangal, Alpinia galangal – leaves and roots
  • Gotu Kola – Centella asiatica – leaves
  • Lemongrass – Cymbopogan citratus – leaves and stalks
  • Longevity Spinach – Gynura procumbens – leaves and stalks
  • Okinawa Spinach – Hawaiian lettuce – Gynura bicolour –  leaves and stalks
  • Peruvian Parsnip – Arracacia xanthorrhiza – leaves and roots
  • Rosella – Roselle – leaves and calyx
  • Tarragon, Estragon – Artemisia dracunculus – leaves and flowers
  • Cassava – Manihot esculenta – leaves and roots
  • Brahmi-Memory Plant – Waterhyssop – Bacopa monnieri – leaves
  • Bana Grass – Pennisetum purpureum x amaricanum – leaves for mulch
  • West Indian Arrowroot – Maranta arundinacea – root
  • Sugarcane Red – Saccharum officinarum – cane, mostly to dry and store for meat smoking later on
  • Sweet Leaf – Sauropus androgynous – leaves
  • Elderberry – Sambucus Nigra – berries and flowers
  • Alpine strawberries – Wild Strawberries – berries
  • Aloe Vera
  • Dragon fruit
  • shallots
  • garlic chives
  • pineapples
  • sweet potatoes – leaves and roots
  • bananas
  • passion fruit
  • pawpaw – leaves and fruits
  • Horseradish leaves – leaves and roots
  • limes
  • grapefruit
  • Blackberry – leaves
  • Limes
  • Dandelion – leaves

Short living perennials and annuals we harvest in May:

  • squash, tromboncino, zucchini, pumpkin
  • Winged bean
  • chilly, capsicum
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes
  • all sorts of herbs
  • Asian Pigeonwings, Butterfly Pea – Clitoria Ternatea
  • Okra – Abelmoschus esculentus
  • West Indian Gherkins, Maroon Cucumber – Cucumis anguria
  • Bottle Gourd, Calabash – Lagenaria siceraria, and other gourds
  • Luffa – Luffa aegyptiaca
  • QLD Arrowrot – leaves for chickens and bulbs for us
  • mustard greens
  • bok choi, pack choi
  • kale
  • radishes – leaves and roots
  • Mexican cucumber, cucumelons
  • Tomatoes

I’m pretty sure that I forgot about one or the other plant we sow, plant or harvest but will update as we progress into the month. Any questions or comments? Consider joining our discussion board. Looking forward to meeting you there. If you would like to learn how to plan and design your edible garden, and how to grow food, consider joining one of our workshops or enroll in the self-paced online course. More info here.

I hope that my article helps you to plan and organise your garden, and brings you one step closer to growing an abundance of food to become self-reliant sooner than later πŸ™‚

The next article comes out in the first week of May.

What are you sowing, planting, and harvesting in your subtropical garden at the moment? Leave your comment under the article below or in the discussion board on my website.