Thai herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables are at home in a tropical climate, so if you live in a sub-tropical or temperate climate, you will need to find a warm frost-free microclimate within your garden - reflected heat from a wall is good, as is a spot under eaves to avoid the effect of frost.
Consider a stroll down to your local Chinatown food markets to see what Thai vegetables, herbs and spices are available and for information on how they can be grow. Find out how each is used and discover some interesting new plants.
Food markets are a good place to start, but plants are also available by mail order, such as Green Harvest or at the local nursery.
Find the warmest and sunniest part of the garden; a north-westerly aspect is perfect. The time to plant is early spring or between October and March. Add organic compost and manures to improve the nutrient component of the soil. If your soil is too heavy, make a raised bed or a small hill or ridge to improve drainage.
Plant the taller growing plants like banana and papaya at the back. Plant medium growing plants such as ginger, cardamom and galangal in the middle and plant the shorter herbs like basil and mint at the front.
These can be procured via mail-order or they can be divided if there is a clump available. The root spices can be grown from pieces of tuber, such as ginger, turmeric & galangal.
Galangal (also known as galanga) is used in soups such as Tom Yum and Tom Kha Gai, curry pastes and is sliced up for use in salads.
Lemon Grass is used in soups such as Tom Yum, Thai curries and is sliced for use in salads.
Ginger is used in many different dishes. It's spicier than galangal and the skin must be peeled before using.
Young Ginger is picked earlier than ginger and has a more subtle flavour. The skin can be left on for cooking.
The best planting time is late winter/early spring (late dry season/early wet season, in the true tropics). Select a spot where the plants get plenty of light but no direct sun, and where they are protected from wind.
Select fresh, plump rhizomes. Look for pieces with well-developed "eyes" or growth buds. (The buds look like little horns at the end of a piece or "finger"). Soak the rhizomes in water overnight as shop-bought ginger may have been treated with a growth retardant. Break up the ginger and galangal rhizomes into smaller pieces with a couple of growing buds each or just plant the whole thing. Plant the ginger root 5 – 10cm deep, with the growing buds facing up. It can grow up to 60cm high.
Towards the end of summer, as the weather starts cooling down, the ginger will start to die back, so reduce watering, and even let the ground dry out. This encourages the ginger to form rhizomes. Once all the leaves have died down, the ginger is ready for harvest.
Start harvesting little bits of ginger root, once it is about four months old - just dig carefully at the side of a clump. Green ginger does have a lot less flavour than mature ginger. The best time to harvest ginger is any time after the leaves have died down and it usually it takes 8 to 10 months to get to that point. Break up the rhizomes, select a few nice ones with good growing buds for replanting, you can replant them straight away and keep the rest for the kitchen. Just simply peel, chop and freeze the whole lot.
Plant the Thai chilli and Thai eggplant in a really hot spot as the hotter the spot, the more chilli that is produced. Put a stake in first and plant, tying the plant up as it grows. Make a bamboo climbing structures like a wigwam if growing snake beans.
Chinese or Purple Eggplant is used is used in stir-fries or is steamed.
Long Bean or snake bean is used in curries, stir-fries, and Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad). They're crunchier than regular green beans.
Put the shade-loving herbs such as the Vietnamese mint and coriander beneath other plants, while lemongrass and Thai basil love the sunshine.
Thai Basil has a strong aniseed flavour and is used in curries and stir-fries. It's also eaten fresh with noodle soup and will not keep for long (it also does not freeze or dry well).
Thai Fruit trees:
Banana, papaya, kaffir lime and mangoes need full sun and room to spread.
Dwarf banana - Dwarf Cavendish (aka ‘Cool Bananas’) fits better into smaller gardens.
Kaffir Lime - This citrus grows to 4m and is loved more for its foliage than its fruit. The leaces are used whole in soups and curries and cut-up for salads. They can be preserved in the freezer.
Mango ‘Kensington Pride’ - This is also known as ‘Bowen’ and has wonderfully tasting fruit. Remove the first flush of flowers if living in Sydney, to encourage new ones. This is to prevent the rain that is common at the same time of year, to wash off the pollen.
Papaya - Green unripe papaya is available in most Asian markets. This is shredded to make the famous spicy, Thai salad, called Som Tum!
• Leftover Thai greens can be put in a glass of water to grow new roots and then planted
• When using fresh turmeric prepare it much the same way as you would with ginger
• To have fresh ginger all year just peel, chop and put it in the freezer
www.greenharvest.com.au - (rhizomes/lemongrass)
www.thehippyseedcompany.com.au - (seeds)