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Blog Posts 2010
A blog about growing vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers for enjoyment
A book containing a collection of all blog posts for the year 2010, arranged by category.
Chemical Alternatives Citrus Pests Critters, Friend or Foe? Dragonflies Dragonflies – cont... Gardening can be Dangerous Pest repellent Plants 1 3 5 7 9 66
Camellia Flowers for Cutting Grevillea robusta Growing Hippeastrum In my Garden – late October Michelia figo Rose Pruning Basics The Plant-Light Relationship Winter in my Garden 12 14 16 18 20 21 23 25 27
Fruit & Nut
Avocado Bush Tucker Carob Growing Citrus in the Home Garden Growing Kiwifruit Kaffir Lime More Bush Tucker 29 31 33 35 38 40 41
Calendula officinalis Chamomile – is it Roman or German? Gifts From the Garden Growing Basil 43 45 48 50
Growing Herbs, for the Home Gardener Head Cold Nettle Nasturtium Parsley Parsley – profile Pest Repellent Plants Plants : We Cannot Live Without Them Rosemary for Remembrance Rosemary – Profile White Horehound Yarrow
52 54 57 59 62 63 66 68 70 71 75 77
Seed Storage 79
Calendula officinalis Chickpea Gifts From the Garden Head Cold Lavender Heart Cookies Lilly Pilly Recipes More Bush Tucker Nasturtium Parsley – Profile Rosemary – Profile Stuffed Capsicum (pepper) White Horehound 43 120 49 56 81 83 41 61 65 73 85 76
Soil & Fertilizers
Soil Amelioration Soil is Not Dirt 86 89
Are Your Plants Hormonal? Coffee Hedges and Screens Introduction to Eucalyptus Is your Garden a Mirror? Low Cost Macro Photography Planning a Productive Garden 91 93 95 97 99 100 102
Robinia psuedoacacia Sensory Gardens Shady Gardens Tea Ten Gardening Tips The Truth & Nothing but the Truth Tromp l’oeil
104 106 109 113 114 115 116
Arrowroot Chickpea Chinese greens Florence Fennel Leafy Greens My Vegie Patch Potager Seed or Seedling? Tips for New Vegetable Gardeners Trouble with Tomatoes 118 120 122 124 125 127 129 131 133 135
Thanks to the World Wide Web, today’s gardener has access to far more information than gardeners of 50 years ago. I believe today’s gardener is also more aware, when it comes to garden chemicals. We have choices. And if you choose to try some alternatives when it comes to tackling pest and disease problems, here are some simple solutions. Keep in mind that these solutions probably won’t work as fast as their chemical equivalent and may need several applications rather than one dose. It also does not imply that these recipes are ‘safe’ just because they are home made. Treat them with respect. SOAP SPRAYS are frequently used for soft bodied insects like aphids. They should only be applied with low pressure because under high pressure, with an atomiser, they can be a health hazard. Soap sprays can also damage plants and soil when used in excess. Regular use on plants can break down the protective waxy coating on plant leaves, a bit like breaking down the skin on our bodies or the paintwork on cars – not a good practice. Do a test spray first. Try one or two leaves and leave it for a few days to observe the results before spraying the whole plant. Choose a soap that is made from caustic potash and not caustic soda or use a ‘Pure’ soap. Grate about 60 grams of the soap (with a cheese or vegetable grater), into a nine litre bucket of water, then swish the water until it is frothy. Pour into a watering can and spray on to affected plants. SOAP and BAKING SODA (BiCarb Soda) can be used as an anti-fungal spray. Try using it against downy mildew, black spot and fungal rusts. Again, be mindful of human and plant protection. Do a spot test (on the plant, not yourself) and cover up, especially the eyes, when using the mixture. Also, do not use on a hot day. Dissolve about 150 grams of baking soda in the 9 litre bucket of water, and then add the soap (60 grams). Use as described above.
COOKING OIL is often used to make a white oil solution to treat scale insects. Never use this spray if the temperature rises above 24°C (75°F) and stays there for three or four days after spraying. For some gardeners, that will mean NO spraying during the summer months. Add one cup of water and two cups of cooking oil to a blender and mix until you get a milky white solution. This is the ‘concentrate’, which is then diluted with more water at the rate of 20 to 70 ml of concentrate per litre of water. This mixture separates out quite quickly so must be used strait away. Do not make any more than you need for an application. MILK SPRAYS have been used as a chemical alternative for black spot on roses, for – like – forever. Does it work? That depends on who you ask. The milk and water spray has a number of uses, but the main use is, as a fungicide. It is also apparently a good spray for treating mildew on cucurbits. Mix one part real full cream milk with nine parts water. Some people suggest a ratio of 50/50, equal parts milk and water. Experiment a little and see what works for you. Spray with a watering can or atomised sprayer but remember to always wash the container thoroughly afterward. Off milk just smells – well – off. MILK and FLOUR can be mixed together to make a spray against red spider mite, two spotted mite and azalea lace bug. Mix four cups of flour with a quarter cup of milk, pour in to a baking dish, oh, sorry wrong recipe.(My attempt at humour). Mix four cups of flour with a quarter cup of milk then add mixture to 20 litres of water, stirring constantly until well mixed. Spray on to all surfaces of the plant and repeat every two days until symptoms subside (critters disappear). Wash equipment well. SUGAR, most people’s addiction, is used as a soil drench to control nematodes. Dissolve two kilograms of sugar (I don’t think the nematodes mind which sort) in ten litres of water. (a great syrup for preserving fruit) and pour over the soil where there is suspected nematode activity. Although this drench works to destroy nematodes, unfortunately it will have the same effect on worms and other soft bodied soil life. Use at your discretion. SALT is a great weed killer but don’t go there. It is very bad for the soil. Use boiling water instead. If you have any other gems that can be used in the garden instead of chemicals, let me know.
You are very fortunate if you can grow citrus plants in your garden without them being affected by pests. I have listed some of the more common pests below. Black citrus aphid is usually a problem on young citrus trees. They are seen on new growth, mainly in spring and if severe, can cause stunted growth and the production of honeydew, which can then develop into sooty mould. If ants are detected, they must also be dealt with because they can disrupt the control of black aphid by natural predators. The aphids multiply rapidly and early detection is important. Both biological and chemical control can be used on Black aphid. Biological control usually occurs naturally by early summer and is obtained by encouraging natural predators such as ladybirds, hover fly, lacewing larvae, birds and parasitic wasps. Scale. Many types of scale attack citrus trees. Some are: - red scale, soft brown scale, black scale and cottony cushion scale. Red scale is the most common and usually causes the most damage to trees. The other three types of scale are normally controlled by natural predators. Red scale are very small insects that have a waxy covering that is circular in shape and reddish brown in colour. Infestations can cause blemished fruit, split fruit and fruit fall. If the infestation is particularly severe, it can cause stunting of the tree and even death. As many as 45 nymphs are produced per female. They prefer warm, dry conditions followed by autumn rain. Control can be achieved by spraying the tree in mid-summer with a ‘summer spraying oil’. Make sure all of the leaves are thoroughly covered by the oil, which suffocates the scale. Follow the directions on the label or, if making up your own spray, make a two per cent solution of oil in water and stir the mixture constantly while spraying to avoid the oil/water separating. Sooty mould looks just like the name says – soot. It is a black powdery substance on the leaves and twigs, and sometimes also on the fruit. Sap sucking insects (that’s like plant vampires), such as aphids, mealy bugs and whitefly larvae, are the cause of sooty mould. They excrete (eewww) a sweet, sticky, honey-dew, and the mould grows and feeds on this.
Ants like to transport aphids, which helps in the spread of the honey-dew, so it is important to control or treat the ants when they are seen on or around the affected trees. Mites of various types may also infest citrus. Citrus rust mite causes damage on immature fruit during summer and autumn. It prefers humid conditions with temperatures below 35°C. Heavily infested fruit appears to have a coating of dust which is actually the mite and its castings. Broad mite attack can cause leaf edges to curl under, and the under-surface of leaves to go a bronze colour. Fruit that is situated lowest on the tree are affected first. Citrus red mite, are 0.5 mm long and dark red in colour. Their presence causes leaves and immature fruit to lose colour and appear pale, with leaves eventually falling from the tree, starting at the top. Natural control can occur if weather conditions change or if there is a high number of ladybirds. Creating an environment for natural and beneficial predators is always helpful in the control of any problem pests.
Critters – Friend or Foe?
Are you constantly annoyed by bothersome pests on your favourite plants and vegetables? Do you head straight for the spray container, eager to fill it with the latest chemical or organic spray? Why? Gardeners have been trying to eradicate pests for as long as they have been gardening. Millions of dollars have been spent on chemicals, helping to increase profits of chemical manufacturers, for what? The pests seem to re-appear again next season or next year. What about the effect on the food chain? If you eradicate one pest, even temporarily, you will change the feeding habit of the predator, perhaps even decreasing its numbers, and on it continues. Have you ever considered welcoming the so called pest and fostering bio-diversity in the garden? Imagine having an array of butterflies to watch as they dance around your garden, because you didn’t spray the caterpillars. Or an assortment of bugs for children to wonder at, with their different shapes and colours, because you didn’t spray the grubs. If you have certain vegetables or a favourite plant that is constantly being attacked, look at the growing conditions. Is the plant in the optimal position for sun or shade, drainage and frost, buffering winds, salt spray etc. etc. If the optimal growing position is not supplied, move the plant, if you can. If the plant or vegetable cannot be moved, think about planting sacrifice plants. Pests usually seek out the weakest plants first, so if its cabbages (for example) that you are having problems with, plant a couple in the garden where they will not grow at their best. Make sure it is away from your desirable plant, or the vegie patch, and hopefully the majority of the pests will attack the weaker plant rather than the one you are eye-balling for dinner. Better still; plant some native plants (to your area) that will encourage predators to your garden, to help keep the pesky critters under control.
Do you really need control for twelve months of the year? Some of the pests that visit your garden, may only pose a problem two or three times a year. Learn tolerance. What is so bad about sharing some of your produce with others? Even if the ‘others’ are perceived pests. Minor damage to a piece of fruit or a vegetable will not affect the taste. Learn to accept small losses, knowing you are creating a diverse habitat in your garden.
As I was enjoying the garden yesterday, a rather large dragonfly ‘buzzed’ me. A bit optimistic, I thought. I am used to seeing those beautiful blue damselflies in and around the garden and fish pond, but I rarely see dragonflies. So off I went inside the house to do some research on dragonflies. It turns out that dragonfly’s all-around vision, some having 28,000 single lenses in their large compound eyes, and they like to eat flies. Oh, and the nymphs have gills inside the rectum. Ewww, gross. The mind boggles. But wait, there’s more. If a dragonfly nymph is under attack from a predator, it can squirt water under high pressure, from said gill, out the end of the abdomen. This jet propels the dragonfly nymph away from the attacker. OMG I have a mental picture now. At that point I had to close the book so I could roll around on the floor laughing. By now, I not only had a mental picture of jet propelled, water squirting, dragonfly nymphs but also a picture of my flatulent producing friends skimming around water holes. It’s time to stop the pictures.
Now that I have regained some composure, I will continue with the article. Dragonflies have the ability to see stationary objects 1.8 m (6ft) away and if the object is moving, they can see that object up to 5 m away. Their legs, six in all, are covered with spines and are used to capture prey in flight. The dragonfly can also eat its prey while flying (true take away). Their flying speed can reach 80 to 97 kmph (50 to 60 mph)
The adult dragonfly lives for only a few weeks to a few months, it’s main purpose to find a mate and produce offspring. The young nymphs remain in a watery environment for one to five years and moults about 12 times before leaving the water to shed its skin for the last time. I am very fortunate to have my interlude with the dragonfly in its very short time as an adult.
Gardening can be Dangerous
I was prompted to write today’s blog post after a visit yesterday by a brown snake taking a drink from my fish pond. I regularly enjoy gardening activities, especially weeding because you don’t have to think too much and can just day dream while enjoying the warmth of the sun. Complacency can be a threat to your health and well being in this great country. Australia has a mighty impressive list when it comes to venomous snakes. A great website (www.deadlyaustralians.com.au) lists information on Australia’s not so friendly fauna. According to the website, of the World’s most venomous snakes, Australia has 20 of the top 22 in order of lethal potency, and number one to number eleven are Australian. That means that Australia has the top eleven deadliest snakes in the world. From this list of 22 deadly snakes, four have been seen on my property and I still, pull knee- high weeds without wearing gardening gloves. (I think I’ve been in the sun too long). The common brown snake (pictured here in my pond) is the World’s second most venomous snake. It grows to around 1.5 metres (5 foot something) long but some have been seen to grow up to 2.3 metres long (seven foot something). They are usually found in dry areas and feed on mice, rats, frogs, small birds, lizards and other snakes. They lay up to 35 eggs which incubate for six to eight weeks. Shortly after they hatch my cats seem to find them and bring them to the house to play with before eating (see photo). I always have to remember to keep the door closed to the house during summer or the cats would bring them inside. Two of my cats have been bitten by brown snakes over the years. The first cat cost me around $500AUD at the vet for the anti-venom and an overnight stay (about four or five years ago). The second cat managed to survive the bite by lying very still for three consecutive days without eating or
drinking (moving around too much pumps the venom through the system quicker). Some cats are able to overcome the effects of the snake bite, if they have a lot of fur and the snake does not get a good strike, but most dogs are just too stupid, and they keep running around to pump that venom through their veins. Another snake found on my property is the Tiger snake, the Word’s 4th most venomous snake. These snakes are frequently found near water and average about one metre (3 feet) in length. Tiger snakes can be territorial, so if you see one, expect that they will probably hang around for a while. They are also nocturnal during warm weather (late spring, all of summer and early autumn), so no walking barefoot in the garden on a moonlit night. Oh – they are also aggressive and will attack if they are disturbed (must all be females, haha). I recall a time when my girls were younger; having to calm them down after a tiger snake chased them when they were catching yabbies in the creek at the back of our house. They feed on frogs, fish, small birds, rats, mice, lizards and other small animals. Their litter can be up to 60 young but more commonly around 35. A visitor to my front door last summer was a redbellied black snake. They are not as venomous as the snakes already listed, but still, I wouldn’t like to be bitten; the bite can be fatal if untreated. As the name suggests, they have a red under belly and are shiny black on top (quite pretty really). Normally found near a source of water, they grow to around 1.5 m or 2.0 metres long (just over 6 feet). They are not aggressive but will strike if they feel threatened. You can find them under timber and rubbish or down a rabbit hole (not that I am looking for them) and their preferred food is frogs, but they will also eat lizards, small mammals and other red-bellied black snakes (charming). The introduction of the cane toad into Australia caused a decline in the number of redbellied black snakes because the poison in the frogs was enough to kill the snake. Over time the snakes have become aware of this and now have altered their diet from frogs to rodents.
I read recently that Australia has 130 land-dwelling snakes, 70 of these are venomous and 25 of the 70 can cause death to humans. They don’t tell you that in the promotional material aimed at overseas visitors coming to Australia. Anyway, I was going to talk about deadly spiders in the garden as well, but this blog post is becoming a bit lengthy, so I will mention them next post. Happy gardening.
I recently purchased a Camellia and at the time was undecided whether to buy a sasanqua or japonica. I eventually bought the sasanqua hybrid, because I liked the flowers, but it was also the best choice for my climate. Camellia is from the Family Theaceae and there are currently over 300 named species. The three most commonly grown camellias in Australia are C. japonica, C. sasanqua and C. reticulata. Of course there are also many hybrids available. The greatest numbers of species occur in Southern China but they are also found growing in Japan and Indochina. All species are evergreen shrubs or small trees and most have flowers in the white, pink and red range of colours, although there are some with flowers that are pale yellow to bronze in colour. Most of the new releases have been deliberately hybridized and are no longer straight species of C. japonica, C. sasanqua or C. reticulata. Camellia japonica is parent to thousands of these cultivars and hybrids but few have any perfume. Camellias grow best in well-drained, slightly acidic soil that is moist and enriched with organic matter. Good drainage is important because Camellias are susceptible to Phytophthora (root rot), but moist soil is also important for good growth. The addition of organic matter can help with this because it has the capacity to hold water for later use by the plant. Most Camellias are moderately frost hardy although some species are frost tender. They enjoy a mild, humid climate and grow best in part shade. This of course will depend on local conditions. Camellia sasanqua is more sun tolerant than the others but morning sun is preferable to afternoon sun. For longer lasting flowers and good looking foliage, semi shade is best. Camellia sasanqua is a vigorous grower and the leaves are small and glossy. Because of the size of the leaves, this camellia is a good choice for formal hedging. The plant will respond well to pruning and the small leaves create a bushy appearance. If you do not want to create a hedge then there is really no need for pruning but a light trim after flowering won’t hurt.
The sasanqua camellia produces an abundance of flower buds that open continually over a long period from early autumn until mid winter. It will flower in shade, semi-shade or full sun (not harsh) and most flowers have a fragrance. There are varieties with single or semidouble flowers and many seeds are produced. Camellia japonica found growing in its natural habitat usually has red, five- petalled flowers that are quite small. The current garden variety of C. japonica has been through 300 years of careful selection. The Chinese favoured and selected plants with double flowers and the Japanese selected plants with single flowers. Currently, cultivars are classified according to flower size and form. The smallest being miniatures with flowers under 6 cm (2½”), and then small, medium, medium-large, large and very large (sounds like an advertisement for clothing). The very large flowers are over 12 cm (5”). The forms of flower are described as single, semi-double, anemone-form, informal double or peony-form, rose-form double and formal double. (It’s getting quite complicated and sounds to me like departments in a corporation). Would you like fries with that? The japonica’s may need thinning if the foliage becomes very dense. Remove any branches that are crossing over and rubbing, and thin out the centre to allow more air to circulate and light to penetrate. The best time to prune is after flowering but you can also prune in early autumn. Wait until the flower buds have formed and then remove any stems that have no buds. Camellia reticulata is more upright in growth habit than C. japonica and the leaves are large and leathery. They bloom from late winter to mid-spring and have some of the largest flowers of the camellia’s. Below is a short list of the common camellia varieties and their respective growing zones. Camellia japonica, zone 5 – 10 Camellia sasanqua, zone 9 – 11 Camellia reticulata, zone 7 – 10 Camellia oleifera, zone 7 – 10 (grown for the seed oil used in cooking and cosmetics) Camellia sinensis, zone 9 – 11 (Tea) What has been your experience growing Camellias? By the way, this is my third attempt.
Flowers for Cutting
I spent twelve years in the Floriculture industry, growing and propagating protea, leucadendron, leucospermum and banksia. These plants were grown in the field under drip irrigation, on acidic sandy soil over clay. I was also involved with the growing of ‘soft’ flowers, meaning they were grown under cover. Some of the flowers grown were carnations, lisianthus and snapdragons, just to name a few. It occurred to me that you may be interested in some ‘behind the scenes’ information of this industry. Firstly, let me point out that this industry is not organic. There is an extremely heavy reliance on the use of chemicals. Unfortunately, because they are flowers, the first thing that most people do – is sniff the flowers. Please don’t do that unless you can guarantee that there is no chemical residue on the flowers or foliage. The general public expect perfection in bunches of flowers, and florists also expect perfection with extra long stems. This is very hard to produce without the aid of chemicals. So chemicals are used to grow the plants, extend their stem length, keep bugs and diseases at bay and prolong the vase life after picking. It really is a cocktail. As far as vase life is concerned, temperature plays a very important role. For a plant to produce a flower, then nectar and ultimately seeds, it takes a great deal of energy. This energy is produced by respiration, through the consumption of sugars and starches that were produced during photosynthesis. It is very much like respiration in humans, that is, we derive our energy through the food we eat. The high respiration rate produces heat which can be thought of as the rate of deterioration or death. Therefore, the faster the respiration rate, the sooner the flower will die. It seems logical then, that lowering the respiration rate will slow down the deterioration of the flower. This can be achieved by lowering the temperature. Commercial flower growers and florists will keep the cut flowers under refrigeration. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, and in this case, tropical flowers should not be kept at temperatures below 10°C. There are three main temperature ‘groups’. The first is the tropical flowers which do not need to be cooled. The second group of plants require moderate refrigeration above 4°C but not higher than 6°C. Some plants in this group include: - gladioli, anemones, alstoemeria and
acacia. The third group require full refrigeration at 1°C to 4°C. These include:- roses, carnations, chrysanthemums, gerbera, gypsophila and tulips. Now obviously you want to display your flowers and not keep them in the refrigerator, so how can you prolong their vase life? You could buy special flower preservatives to put in the vase with the flowers, or you could make your own. Here is a recipe straight from the horse’s mouth (so to speak). 1 litre water 2 teaspoons sugar 1 teaspoon vinegar OR a pinch of citric acid ¼ to 1 teaspoon household bleach Mix all ingredients together and use in a vase with fresh cut flowers. The idea behind this recipe is – the bleach will kill off any bad bugs or bacteria, the vinegar or citric acid will change the pH of the water to a more acid solution so the flower stems can then take up the sugar (food) more readily and it also unblocks any air bubble blockages that may have occurred when cutting the stems before placing them in water. Another important factor in prolonging the vase life of cut flowers is the presence of ethylene. Ethylene is a gas that cannot be smelled or seen. It reduces the vase life of cut flowers and accelerates their senescence. The major source of ethylene is car fumes, so be wary of buying flowers from shops who keep bunches of flowers in buckets on the footpath. Another source of ethylene is ripening fruit and dying flowers. If one flower in a bunch starts to die, the rest will soon follow and never keep a vase of flowers next to a bowl of fruit for the same reason. I hope these tips have been helpful to you, and if you want sweet smelling flowers that are not loaded with chemicals, grow your own.
Grevillea robusta is locally known as Silky Oak. It was given this common name by pine cutters who thought the timber resembled English oak and also noticed that the timber was silky when newly split. The species name robusta, comes from Latin robustus, which refers to the stature of the tree. It grows naturally in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, often found along creek and river banks. Large numbers of trees were planted in Hawaii and South Africa. In Uganda and East Africa the tree is used to shade coffee plants. The tree can grow quite fast and tall, up to 35 metres, with a straight trunk. Once mature it has a somewhat pyramid shape. Because of the fast growth and the showy flowers in spring, the tree has been a favourite for avenue planting where space allows it. For most city back yards the tree is considered too large. The leaves are fern-like in appearance (pinnately lobed with secondary and tertiary lobes, see pic) and light green in colour on the surface with a lighter coloured underside. They can be up to 30 cm (12”) long and the reason for the lighter coloured underside is the fact that they are covered with silky hairs. If the tree is under stress at any time, either from cold or drought, it has a tendency to drop its leaves. The flowers, when they appear, are spectacular. Each raceme is up to 12 cm (5”) and each flower is about 10 mm long. The style is about 20 mm long, brightly coloured and remains after the perianth has fallen. In plain English, they are toothbrush-like, shaped flowers, bright gold/orange in colour.
The flowers produce copious amounts of nectar and the tree is an excellent bird attractor. Not only honey eater birds and parrots are attracted to the volumes of nectar, but bees are also lured into the mass of golden flowers. What a wonderful tree to have in the garden. It has the ability to draw birds and bees from far and wide, and once in the garden they can also visit other plants, to pollinate them. Gardeners who grow this plant as an indoor specimen, (UK and Europe), sadly, never get to experience the beauty of this tree in flower. Many Australian publications on ‘Bush Tucker’, note that the Aboriginal people made a drink from the flowers or sucked the nectar straight from the flowers, reported to be high in vitamin C. The University of Queensland Botany Club, also mention a palatable drink can be made from the nectar rich flowers. However, in 1930 a mixture of pistils, capsules and seed were tested by Smith and White and found to have a positive cyanide reaction. I am not aware if this test has been repeated. All I can say is, proceed with caution. Grevillea robusta is a very hardy tree and because of its hardiness, it has been used extensively as a rootstock for less hardy species of grevillea as well a rootstock for weeping standards. To produce a weeping standard grevillea, allow the rootstock (Grevillea robusta) to grow to about 2 metres (just over 6 feet) or any height you want really and then graft a prostrate species on top. If you would like to experiment with a weeping standard, find someone in your neighbourhood who has a Silky Oak growing. Knock on their door and ask politely if they have any young seedlings available that you might be able to use. I can almost guarantee that they will welcome you in with open arms, because the darn things seed so prolifically that it is almost a pest plant (in the right climate). Be warned.
Hippeastrums, frequently referred to as Amaryllis in the Northern hemisphere, are a group of bulbous plants with showy flowers, mostly from South America. Hybrids of Hippeastrum equestre were introduced into Holland around 1700 and the first commercial attempts at hybridising were carried out in 1799 between Hippeastrum reginae and H. vittatum. The best named varieties produce up to four large, brightly coloured trumpet or funnel shaped flowers that are 15-20cm (6”-8”) across on tall stems that are about 50 to 60 cm (24”) high. Because the stems are quite tall and because they are hollow, protection from strong winds is advisable. The flower buds and stems grow from the side of the ‘neck’ part of the bulb and the showy flowers appear in late spring and summer. They are flowering here (Southern hemisphere) now. There are many hybrids and cultivars available today, some even have double flowers. The typical flower colours available are various shades of red/crimson, orange-red, fire engine red, (great at Christmas time)red and white striped, pink, white and a long time favourite, - Apple Blossom, which is white with pink stripes. When planted in groups or on masse, they are a real eye catcher. Hippeastrums can be manipulated to flower at Christmas time, in the Southern hemisphere, by placing the bulbs in the refrigerator at 5 degrees C until mid November. They are then removed from the fridge and planted in the ground or in a pot when the temperature is around 20-25° C. This change in temperature should initiate flowering.
The flowers should appear approximately five weeks after planting out or potting up. If the flowers are developing too quickly, move the plant (if it is in a pot) to a cooler location. This should slow flower development. Conversely, if the flower buds are taking too long to mature, move the pot to a warmer location. Hippeastrum flowering times are very closely related to temperature. Once the individual flower buds have separated, it will take about three to four days for them to open. The best growing environment for the bulbs, is an area where the soil is well drained, has had some organic matter added – like animal manure, away from strong winds, with plenty of sunlight if you are growing them in a cool temperate climate or in dappled shade if you are growing them in a warm temperate to desert type climate. Plant the bulb with the ‘neck’ protruding above the soil. At least one third of the bulb should be above the surface of the soil. Water weekly during dry spells in the active growing season. Some hippeastrum bulbs are evergreen and some are deciduous. Many gardening books tell you to lift and store the bulbs over winter. Personally, I think it depends on your soil type and climate. I have not lifted my bulbs in over 20 years and they are multiplying and flowering nicely. The plants can be propagated by division of the bulbs in autumn or by bulb scaling which is used in commercial production. You could also have a go at propagating them by seed. You might just come up with a wonderful new variety.
In My Garden – late October
Strolling around my garden between showers of rain, I thought a series of photos showing various stages of flower development on Grevillea ‘Moonlight’, might interest you.
Michelia figo is known in Australia as Port Wine Magnolia and in the Northern Hemisphere as Banana shrub. Wow, such a small flower that really ‘packs a punch.’ I am lucky enough to have two of these wonderful shrubs and each spring I am alerted to the fact that they are in flower, not by looking, but by the beautiful aroma as I step outside in to the garden. It is a wondrous experience that almost parallels the double choc fudge brownie with double cream and caramel sauce that I had for lunch today. The plant is in the Magnolia family, correctly known as Magnoliaceae and has had a couple of botanical names. Synonyms for Michelia figo are Magnolia fuscata (found in old text books) and Michelia fuscata. The plant was named after a 17th century botanist called Pietro Antonio Micheli. I am unsure why it was named after him or if the divine aroma of the flowers had any significance. If any readers or botanists out there know, please share. The genus Michelia consists of around fifty tropical and sub-tropical, evergreen flowering trees and shrubs. They are closely related to Magnolia and are native to Asia. So you can guess from their place of origin that they prefer a warm temperate to subtropical climate and a fairly sheltered position, although they are reasonably cold tolerant. Most books tell you that they prefer plenty of sun but I have found the extremely harsh, hot dry summers here in Australia are just too hot for them. My plants receive morning sun and afternoon shade and are located in a north facing position for winter warmth (south facing if you are in the Northern Hemisphere). Keep the plants well watered during spring and summer and try not to relocate them after their initial planting. They don’t particularly like being moved. Michelia figo is a compact shrub, (especially if it is pruned lightly after flowering), that is slow growing, reaching 3 to 5 metres (10 to 16 feet) depending on climate, soil etc. The best planting time is spring but if that is not possible, the next best time to plant is when it suits you, or leave it in a pot. They do well in containers.
The soil should be moderately rich and have good drainage. Fertilize well and cover the soil with a generous amount of leaf litter. If you would like a plant but don’t yet have one, but your neighbour does, propagation is by seed or semi-hardwood cuttings during summer and autumn. All Michelia bear their flowers in the leaf axils. They are small and appear in spring, are heavily scented and appear to be a different colour depending on where they are grown. In the Northern Hemisphere the flowers are described as cream with purple streaks and an aroma like bananas, hence the common name. In the Southern Hemisphere the outside flower petals are the colour of a rich port wine (hence the common name here) and apparently smell like port. I believe we each interpret smells differently and to my nose, the flowers smell like bubble gum – sweet and fruity. The essential oil of Michelia champaca, a close relative of the Port Wine Magnolia, is used in perfumery. Perhaps the essential oil of Michelia figo is not used because the wearer wouldn’t know whether to dab it on or lick if off.
Rose Pruning Basics
In the Southern Hemisphere we are approaching rose pruning time. Although the flowers are beautiful, I must admit that I am not fond of the plant. You almost have to suit up in knight’s armour, as if going in to battle, just to get close and personal with them. I do recall many years ago, a series of rose bushes that were bred to be thornless. At the time, I was working in a retail nursery and sales of the new rose were almost nonexistent. The flower shape was good and there was a range of about four colours to choose from. Eventually I started asking customers why they were still buying traditional roses instead of the new thornless variety. The answer surprised me. “It is not a rose unless it has thorns” was the standard reply. Well bugger me, I thought. I bet they don’t prune their own rose bushes when planted on masse. Anyway, If you have a few rose bushes and are new to rose pruning, here are some rose pruning basics. Hybrid Tea, Floribunda and Bush Roses are the most commonly grown roses here in Australia. The standard procedure for pruning these plants is to first remove any dead wood. Then look for any branches that are crossing each other, which could lead to injury followed by infection. Once these have been located make a decision on which one should be removed. Your decision may depend on the direction the branch is growing or the size of the branch, or the age of the branch. The direction needs to be toward the outer part of the bush (i.e. growth pointing toward the outside of the bush) and not toward the centre. The size of the branch ideally should be larger than pencil thickness and young wood should be retained in preference to old wood. Once the crossing branches have been dealt with, next you remove thin, spindly growth from all over the plant and then remove any growth which is growing into the centre of the plant. If the plant has any obvious suckers (growth from below the graft) these should be removed but if the rose bush has water shoots (new, strong growth from above the graft) these need to be retained as they will form the future framework of the bush.
All of the above cuts should be made with a sharp tool (secateurs or loppers) and the cuts should be made flush with a stem. Do not leave stubs which could get die back. The next and final step is to reduce the height of the rose bush. For a light prune you would remove about one third of the height (growth) and cut the stem to an outward facing bud. A light prune will give you more flowers but smaller in size (good for floribunda roses). A hard prune, means removing about half or 50% of the height (growth) which will give you fewer flowers but larger blooms (good for hybrid tea roses). Whatever you decide, it is highly unlikely that you will kill the rose bush. They are very forgiving and will still reward you with some beautiful flowers after they have scratched you to pieces first. Climbing Roses are treated differently. They flower on old wood and these canes should not be cut back or shortened. Instead, one third of the old canes are removed completely at ground level each year after flowering. So if you have six canes growing from the base, you would remove the two oldest. That way, the plant is kept young and full of vigour. Flowering laterals can be shortened to 2 or 3 buds, again after flowering. Banksia roses are simply thinned after flowering. Easy. Weeping standard roses, just like the climbing roses, have all of the oldest canes removed from the base, up to 50% of the total number of stems can be removed.
Miniature roses are the easiest to prune. It is a bit like having a number one crew cut; you just shave the lot and leave stubble. This can be done by hand or with hedge shears. If the rose is a grafted one, make sure that the cuts are above the graft.
The Plant-Light Relationship
Most gardeners are aware of the importance of light for plant growth, but just how important is it? Anyone that has ever tried to grow a plant in dimly lit conditions indoor’s, knows that the plant suffers and usually declines or dies. There is no such thing as an indoor plant. Plants grow outdoors, but we choose specific plants that are capable of growing in low light situations. These are usually plants from rainforest areas where the canopy is quite thick and minimal light reaches the forest floor. Plants need sufficient light (intensity) to photosynthesize and different types of plants require different amounts (sun lovers vs. shade lovers). Photosynthesis is quite an amazing thing. Chloroplasts within the plant (mainly in the leaves), absorb energy from sunlight, mostly the blue and red spectrum of light (where solar energy has its maximum output). Think of a rainbow and the colours in it, remember ROYGBIV? Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Well, plants don’t much like the green part of the light spectrum so they don’t absorb the colour. It is reflected back from the leaf surface or passed straight through the leaf tissue, and that is why plants appear to be green to our sense of sight (unless you are colour blind). This absorption of light energy is transferred into electrical and chemical reactions which in turn produces organic compounds such as sugar and starch, or carbohydrates (this is an over-simplified description) that the plant uses as fuel for growth. The second important plant/light relationship is phototropism. This is when plants bend toward a light source. When a seed germinates and the new shoot heads for the sky, it had better not be under an overhanging rock. But what if it is? That’s when phototropism comes into play. Or have you experienced an indoor plant that leans toward the window or source of light and you have to give it a quarter turn every week or so? That’s phototropism. Plants contain hormones (yes, they can get hormonal just like humans) and one hormone in particular is called ‘Auxin’. This is a growth promoting chemical, also known as IAA, you may have seen it on labels when using products for striking cuttings. Anyway, this auxin hormone is responsible for giving plants that lean-too or banana bend look. When the plant senses that it is receiving light from one direction only, the movement of auxin is initiated and all the little hormones move to the dark side of the plant.
Because auxin is a growth hormone, the excess amounts on the dark side of the stem, causes that side to grow faster than the lighted or sunny side. Hence, a curvature in the stem. This can be a real problem for florists who like to work with straight stemmed flowers but keep them in a dark cool room with the door being opened frequently to expose light. The third plant/light relationship is called photoperiod. Yes, you guessed it. It is the period of light a plant receives. Why is this important? Well it could be why your vegetables bolt to seed when you don’t want them to. Plants are divided into three groups according to their response to the length of day. 1. Long day plants (majority of vegetables) 2. Short day plants 3. Intermediate (or, ‘I don’t care’) day plants The long day plants require 12 to 14 hours of uninterrupted daylight to produce flowers and set seed. These vegetables will not set fruit in the glasshouse during winter. Or if its flowers you are growing, they will not flower in the glasshouse during winter (unless you artificially light the glasshouse). Some examples of long day vegetables include: lettuce, spinach, silver beet, beetroot, potato, radish and flowers: Hibiscus syriacus, henbane and Rudbeckia bicolour. The short day plants require long nights (or short days) to initiate flowering. The critical period seems to be 8 to 10 hours of daylight. Chrysanthemums are a good example of short day plants. They always flower around Mother’s Day in May (autumn) in the southern hemisphere, when the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting longer. To have Chrysanthemums all year round, growers place black plastic ‘curtains’ inside glasshouses to mimic an extended night period. This tricks the plants into thinking that autumn has arrived and they duly initiate flowering. The intermediate group of plants will flower and set seed regardless of the length of day. Examples of day neutral vegetables are: peas, tomatoes and French beans. So if you are still having problems with vegetables bolting to seed or plants not flowering, then there is another reason, for another blog post.
Winter in my Garden
I like the heat. It's not for everyone but I definitely have more energy when the temperature rises. During the winter months (although reasonably mild where I live), I might as well be a grizzly bear. Hibernation is very attractive. Because of my apparent unwillingness to garden outside during winter (unless the sun is shining), not a lot happens or is achieved in my garden, except for the occasional 'weeding day'. So today I went for a stroll around my garden (the sun was out) and took some photo's to share with you.
When I was younger I had the misfortune of being served avocado at a Christmas function. My reaction at the time was that the taste and texture was somewhat like soap. Being at a flashy pub and in 'important' company, I couldn't just spit it back out of my mouth and onto the plate, so I swallowed the mucky stuff with an agonizing look on my face. But here we are many, many years later and I was served a guacamole dip at a function. Well what do you know. I actually liked it. Perhaps it was the crackers that accompanied it. Anyway, I now have an avocado tree growing because I have developed a taste for the fruit. Avocado (Persea americana syn P. gratissima) is a member of the Lauraceae family. It is native to central and south America in the tropical latitudes. There are three main groups - Guatemalan, West Indian and Mexican. The Guatemalan varieties are from tropical highlands and can cope with a light frost. Their fruit has a thick rough skin. The West Indian varieties (not from West India) are from tropical lowlands of central America and are very cold sensitive. The fruit from this group has smooth leathery skins and the lowest oil content. The Mexican avocado tree's leaves have a distinct aniseed aroma and the fruit is small with thin skin and the highest oil content of the three varieties. The tree is evergreen and small to medium in size (6-15m) for grafted varieties but seedling grown trees can reach a whopping 30m. They need very well drained soil (they are susceptible to root rot),rich in humus with a pH neutral to slightly acid. Their requirements are similar to growing citrus. Of utmost importance is protection from strong winds, hot or cold. They have brittle limbs and a shallow root system. Because of their shallow root system it is very beneficial to mulch heavily in hot climates. They are also not drought tolerant so water must be given freely during summer. While the plants are young they will also need protection in regions with hot summers, from direct sun and afternoon sun. Also plant them with the graft side facing away from the sun. Try not to damage the roots when planting out and after planting care should exclude any cultivation near the root system.
Grow them in a frost free area if possible or on a north facing wall in the southern hemisphere or a south facing wall in the northern hemisphere if you are in a cold area. The best varieties for colder areas are Mexican and Guatemalan cross. Pull any mulch away over winter, otherwise it will increase the incidence of frost damage to the leaves of young trees. Avocado trees can be pruned to keep them small and keep the fruit at a better picking height. Remember the brittle branches? That means it's not safe to climb the tree for the fruit. With a young tree, prune it at 2 metres in height to encourage lateral branching (and easy picking). Varieties and hybrids differ in their size and shape with Hass (Guatemalan) growing tall and Fuerte (hybrid Mexican x Guatemalan) having a straggly spreading habit. Grafted trees commence bearing in about four to five years while seedlings may take nine years. Some seedlings also require a pollinator and you can never be sure what the tree will look like or what the fruit will taste like. The fruit does not start to soften until it is picked from the tree and you can leave some of the fruit hanging there until you need it. Avocado fruit is very nutritious, containing 14 vitamins including A, B1, B2 and C, and 11 minerals including potassium. The fruit is also 2.1% protein. They are very easy to grow from seed but make sure the seed is fresh as viability is short. Remove the outer tunic, keep the seed moist and in a humid micro-climate an voila, an avocado tree. The seedling can then be grown on or used as rootstock for a named variety. The scion (top part of a grafted tree) can be grafted using whip, whip & tongue, cleft or side graft. Give it a try and let me know how you go.
Australian bush foods hold the interest of many visitors and locals alike. Some have become known worldwide, like the Macadamia nut for example, others just remain an oddity. I will briefly list a few of the more commonly found bush foods – common that is, in gardens. Grevillea robusta, common name Silky Oak, is a stately rainforest tree grown in many parts of the Australian continent as an ornamental. The Aborigines soaked the nectar filled flowers in water to make a sweet drink. This tree has one of the richest sources of nectar.
Leptospermum spp., known locally as tea-tree. These shrubs were used as a tea substitute by botanist David Nelson and gardener William Brown of the HMS Bounty in 1788. They are beautiful plants commonly grown in many gardens for the profusion of white flowers.
Kunzea pomifera, or Muntries to the locals. This unattractive ground cover is often found in coastal sand dunes or dry sandy desert areas. The plant fruits best in alkaline well-drained sandy soil. The fruit, a fleshy edible capsule, looks smells and tastes like a miniature apple. The berries can be eaten fresh, on their own, or in a fruit salad, or dried or frozen for later use. They are very nice stewed or made into jam. The Aboriginal people of the Coorong in South Australia dried the fruit and then pounded them into cakes for trading among the clans. Today Muntries are grown commercially in plantations.
Enchylaena tomentosa, common name, Ruby Saltbush. Many people consider this plant to be an annoying weed. It is a spreading groundcover with greyish coloured leaves and is found in arid regions and coastal locations. The plant is well adapted to saline soils. The fleshy leaves can be boiled and eaten as a vegetable and in the MacDonnell Ranges; the fruit were soaked in water to make a sweet tasting tea.
Marsilea drummondii, known as Nardoo. The leaves look somewhat like a four leaf clover but the plant is actually a fern. It is found in colonies on river flats and in swamps. When the plant is grown submerged in water, the leaves float, but when grown in the soil, the leaves and stalks stand upright. Nardoo is the infamous plant known in Australia as the food which Burke & Wills ate, when they starved to death.
Also known as St. John’s bread, but the botanical name Ceratonia siliqua L., derives from Greek keras, horn and Latin siliqua, alluding to the hardness and shape of the pod. The carob is an evergreen, long lived, medium sized tree, growing to about ten metres high and wide. It is densely branched making it an ideal shade tree and it suffers little from pest and disease problems. The tree is relatively slow growing, reaching about seven metres in ten years in my climate. The carob is thought to be native to the Eastern Mediterranean region and it grows well in all countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The carob tree has similar temperature requirements to that of citrus but demands much less water, it is more tender than the olive and its rooting habit is similar to pistachio, meaning the root system is extensive and penetrates deeply into the soil, reportedly up to 20 metres [wow]. Soil requirements for good growth are well drained deep sandy loams but the tree will grow in other soil types as long as they are not waterlogged. Soil type will affect tree size and productivity. The main growth periods are spring and autumn with growth slowing down once the temperature falls below 10 °C but if the tree is grown in favourable warm conditions, growth does not slow down. The carob tree is a xerophyte meaning it can survive in very dry climates with an annual rainfall of 250 mm per year. Of course bean production will increase if the rainfall is around 500 mm per annum, or if the tree is irrigated. Ceratonia siliqua is in the Legume family (same as peas & beans) but interestingly does not nodulate and therefore is unable to fix nitrogen like other legumes. There is however, an association with a mycorrhizal fungi, which can improve general nutrition levels to the tree. Carob is dioecious with some hermaphroditic forms, meaning that male and female flowers occur on separate trees (just like kiwi fruit). So if you want a good crop of beans you will need a male and a female tree, although there are some hermaphrodite varieties available. Areas suitable for planting carob would have cool but not cold winters (trees are damaged when temperatures fall below 4°C), mild to warm springs and warm to hot dry summers (sounds like my place).
These climatic conditions would occur in areas of the northern hemisphere between latitudes 30° to 45° and in the southern hemisphere between 30° and 40°. Winter chilling is not required for fruit set but temperatures above 9°C for 5000 to 6000 hours are needed for the pods to ripen. Rain in autumn can also interfere with pollination and have an adverse affect on fruit set. The pods ripen in autumn and are harvested shortly after. Top yielding commercial trees can produce 1 tonne of beans. Pods (without the seed) can be eaten fresh or ground into a powder after drying. They are an excellent source of dietary fibre (supposedly as much as wheat bran) and pectin, a beneficial fibre that helps the elimination of toxins. The pods also contain many of the B group vitamins as well as minerals, especially calcium. Some sources quote “twice as much calcium as whole milk”. The carob flour can be used to flavour confectionary, yoghurt, cereals and coffee. It is naturally sweet and prized as a health food. If stored in a cool, dry, dark place, the flour will keep for up to one year. The seeds (not the pods) are very hard and uniform in weight. All pods weigh almost exactly one carat each (200 mg) which is still the standard measure for gold and precious stones.
Growing Citrus in the Home Garden
With a variety of citrus growing in the garden, there can be a supply of fruit for most of the year. The main types of citrus grown are: - oranges, lemons, mandarins, grapefruit and limes, but of course there are many more. Citrus purchased from garden centres have been budded onto approved rootstock. Usually, the choice of rootstock will reflect where the citrus tree is to be grown. If you live in an area with heavy clay soil, the rootstock will be different to those recommended for sandy soil. Choosing the correct site to plant a citrus tree is important. For example, avoid planting one in a lawn because the shallow roots of the citrus cannot compete very well with the turf grasses. Allow ample room for growth. The mature tree will need about four metres diameter (this is a generalisation, as individual trees and rootstocks may differ) and approximately six metres in height. Young trees will need protection from prevailing winds and severe frost. They are subtropical trees and thrive best in areas of high rainfall and sunny conditions. Citrus prefer to grow in deep well drained soil of medium to sandy texture. If your soil is not like that, choose a citrus that has been grafted onto a rootstock that will withstand heavy clay soil (if that’s what you have). Planting the tree in the centre of a mound approximately 30 cm (12”) high and 2 metres across will help to improve the drainage and avoid water logging in heavy soils. Plant the tree at the same depth as it was planted in the pot with the strongest roots facing the prevailing wind. Firm the soil around the roots and water well. Do not bury the bud union and avoid planting in hot weather. The best time to plant citrus is spring or autumn in frost free areas or late spring in frost risk areas. Your newly planted trees should be kept moist and if summer temperatures are high, the irrigation frequency may need to be increased.
The average mature tree will need about 70 to 100 litres of water a day during summer, depending on soil type. Mulching the citrus tree will help to protect its surface feeding roots. Use a layer of mulch about 10 cm – 15 cm (4”-6”) deep, depending on material used, and keep it at least 10 cm (4”) away from the trunk of the tree so as not to encourage collar rot. Lemons are particularly susceptible. Minimal pruning is required but remove any obvious dead wood. Once the tree has developed its own shape, you can ‘skirt’ or prune up to 40 cm from the ground to help with air flow and ventilation. This is a precaution against fungal diseases. The most common diseases or problems with citrus are collar rot, scale insects, sooty mould, fruit drop and yellowing leaves. With collar rot, the bark above the ground will split longitudinally. Initially the infected areas look water soaked but soon become dark brown and then the bark lifts from the wood as it dries. The first signs of collar rot are yellowing of the leaves with leaf and fruit drop. Scale can be found on the leaves, twigs, branches and stems. It is a small insect that lives beneath a protective scale, sort of like its own little house. These can be removed manually if the infestation is small or a spray of white oil can be used as long as the temperature is mild. Sooty mould looks like the name suggests – soot. It can occur on leaves branches and fruit and is usually associated with ants. When treating the tree for aphids or white fly, the usual cause of sooty mould, also treat the ants because they ‘harvest’ the aphids and move them to nearby plants. Fruit drop can occur if the tree is carrying too much fruit or it can occur due to poor soil drainage, fertilizer burn or irregular watering. Yellowing of leaves often occurs in areas where the soil is alkaline or where certain minerals are unavailable or deficient. Zinc deficiency appears as yellowing of the edges of leaves and between the veins of the leaves. Manganese deficiency appears as blotchy yellowing all over the leaf Iron deficiency appears as yellowing between the veins but the veins themselves stay green. There is usually an association with limestone or high pH with iron deficiency. Potassium in the soil can affect the uptake of these mineral nutrients, so they are frequently applied as a foliar fertilizer.
It all sounds as if it is too much effort but just imagine those freshly picked oranges, lemons and mandarins, - yum
Kiwifruit (Actinidia chinensis) is also known as Chinese gooseberry. It is a deciduous vine that originates from the Yangtze Valley of China. In Australia, home gardeners commonly grow this vine over a pergola. It can reach quite a substantial size and needs about 6 to 8 metres of trellis space, so make sure the support is strong and secure, and large enough to accommodate two plants. The vine will take three or four years to bear fruit but will continue to produce fruit for 20 to 40 years. Hence the strong support. You wouldn’t want your support to rust or rot after about 10 years and have the whole lot come crashing down. There are separate male and female plants (this is called dioecious) so you will need one of each to produce fruit. If you are considering growing kiwifruit for large fruit production, one male plant will be sufficient to fertilize up to 8 female vines. If the plants are not in flower, there is no way of knowing if the plant is male or female. You will need to take the nursery’s word for it. Or if you know someone who already has a male and a female plant, cuttings can be taken from late spring until early autumn. Bottom heat and misting will help the cuttings to root quicker. Kiwifruit prefer to grow in a mild climate. If they are grown in very hot climates, the yield will be reduced and if they experience heavy frosts in spring, the young shoots and flowers may be damaged, again leading to reduced yields. If you can grow passionfruit, you will most likely be able to grow kiwifruit. Give the vines a warm protected position away from damaging winds. The soft shoots are brittle and prone to wind damage. The preferred soil for growing kiwifruit is a friable sandy loam with good drainage and a pH around neutral, but a slight variation in pH either direction (acid or alkaline) is ok. Dig plenty of organic matter into the soil prior to planting to help improve the soil structure. Most vines are planted in winter when they are dormant but potted or bagged plants can be planted any time of the year with a little extra care. Space the vines 6 to 8 metres apart and do not fertilize until growth resumes in spring. If erecting a trellis specifically for kiwifruit, have the uprights about 1.8 m (6’) high and space the wires 40cm to 60cm apart. Start training the young vine as soon as growth begins. Select the strongest shoot, which will become the main trunk, and remove side shoots as they appear.
If growing conditions have been good, this main shoot should reach the top of the trellis (1.8m) by the end of the first growing season. At the start of the next growing season, train the shoot horizontally along the trellis, either left or right. Allow another side shoot to develop near the top but in the opposite direction to the existing shoot. Now you should have two arms, one to the left and one to the right. Side shoots that develop from the arms can be trained across the top of the structure (like a roof) but prune out any growth that is rubbing or crossing over another shoot. Once the vine is mature or bearing fruit, pruning is best carried out in winter after harvesting the fruit. If the pruning is left too late the cuts will bleed. Fruiting laterals are pruned to the second bud past the previous season’s fruiting buds. Male plants are usually pruned in summer to encourage fresh new growth that will bear flowers the following season. Kiwifruit are heavy feeders and will need to be fertilized regularly, usually spring and summer. They also have a shallow fibrous root system so regular watering is essential. Do not let the roots dry out. Mulch will help to protect the soil and shallow roots, but keep the mulch at least 20cm away from the base of the vine as it is susceptible to collar rot. The good news is, kiwifruit seldom suffer from pest or disease problems. The fruit is oval shaped and slightly larger than a passionfruit with a brown fuzz coating. They are easily peeled and can be eaten fresh or used in jams, chutneys or my favourite – on top of Pavlova. The fruit normally ripens late autumn or early winter, depending on location and if left on the vine the fruit will begin to soften. If you anticipate storing the fruit for a lengthy spell, then pick the fruit before it becomes soft but when it is mature, around late autumn. But why store it? It’s so yummy you just want to dig right in and eat them straight off the vine (after peeling of course). So, why the name kiwifruit? New Zealand horticulturists further developed the Chinese gooseberry to produce a range of varieties with larger fruit, less vigour (less pruning) and heavy yielding. Most kiwifruit sold in Australia are imported from New Zealand.
Kaffir lime or Citrus hystrix is an interesting plant from SE Asia. It is a small tree and grows from three to five metres tall but if kept in a pot it will often only reach 1.5 metres. Coming from SE Asia you would expect that the tree likes a warm climate and indeed it dislikes temperatures below 7 degrees Celsius (45F). If you can supply a warm site the tree will reward you with glossy green leaves that look like they have been strangled in the middle or if you prefer, they look like two smaller leaves joined together in the middle. Theses leaves can be harvested throughout the year for use, fresh or dried and are used in Asian stir fries, curries and soup. The flowers are small and white with the typical sweet citrus perfume and these are followed by green warty, knobbly fruit. The fruit is not used as we would typically use a lime because it does not contain much juice. Instead the rind or zest is candied or dried to flavour curry pastes. If you are contemplating growing one make sure the soil is well drained and well mulched in the summer months. Give the plants plenty of sunshine and water in the growing season and fertilize with a citrus fertilizer in spring and late summer. No pruning is required luckily, because the branches have sharp thorns.
More Bush Tucker...
The Australian continent is vast and because of this, the climate is also vast. The northern regions of Australia experience tropical conditions, then heading south you pass through desert until finally at the southern portion of the continent (the island of Tasmania) you will find cool temperate conditions. Because of this vastness, there is a huge variety of plants that Australians call ‘Bush Tucker’. From tropical fruit and tubers, to desert seeds and temperate greens. Today I will cover a plant from each region. Syzygium spp. and Acmena spp. known collectively as Lilly Pillies. There are over 50 species of Lilly Pilly in Australia and all of them have edible fruit. They range in height from 30 m in their rainforest habitat, to about 50 cm for a miniature garden variety. They are found growing along watercourses so if you wish to grow one in your garden, make sure it has plenty of water in the growing season. The tree is covered with white fluffy flowers over the summer months and then followed by berries that are purple, red, pink or white, depending on variety. These berries can be eaten fresh, made into cordial, jam or jellies. Yummy. A word of warning – do not park your clean white car beneath a Lilly Pilly when it is in fruit. You will be hard pressed to get the stains out. Lilly Pilly Jelly Lilly Pilly fruit Sugar Tartaric acid Water Wash the fruit and remove stalks. Place in saucepan and just cover with water and bring to the boil. Cook until the fruit is tender then strain through a jelly bag overnight. Next day measure the liquid and add one cup of sugar for every cup of liquid and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly until setting point is reached (test this by placing some liquid on a cold saucer).Tartaric acid will help the liquid to set. Add one teaspoon per six cups of liquid. Bottle in sterilized jars and enjoy.
Portulaca oleracea, some of its common names are pigweed, purslane and munyeroo. Pigweed can be found worldwide, mostly as a garden or farm weed. Early European explorers to Australia ate it almost daily commenting that it was a substitute for spinach and uncooked, taste like lettuce (I am sure they had serious problems with their taste buds – or perhaps spinach and lettuce have improved in taste since then). Aborigines used the seed, which is 18-20% protein, to make ‘cakes’ which were then traded among the clans. The seeds were collected by placing the uprooted plant, upside down on a piece of kangaroo skin or bark. The seed was then ground between flat stones into a type of flour, then made into a paste and cooked. The thick root was also eaten, apparently having a taste similar to potato.
Tasmannia lanceolata or Mountain Pepper is a cool temperate tree found in moist gullies. All parts of this plant have a hot and spicy flavour but it is the berries that are mainly used as a condiment. The berries are dried then ground and sprinkled over food much the same way as white or black pepper (Piper nigrum) is used, but apparently the heat of Mountain Pepper is stronger and more aromatic. The tree is quite small, only three metres high with a spread of about two metres. The leaves can be harvested all year and the berries harvested in autumn from female trees. Add whole leaves to casseroles or stews but only near the end of the cooking time and remove before serving. The leaves can also be dried and stored in an airtight container. Now I would love to place a photo of Mountain Pepper here for you but I have tried to grow it several times in my garden but as soon as the hot weather of summer arrives, they turn their toes up and die. I have tried three plants over three years but have now decided to give up. I will buy the leaves or berries from the specialty shop instead.
According to James A. Duke, Ph.D. “Research shows that this herb is antibacterial, antifungal. anti-inflammatory and antiviral. Calendula also stimulates white blood cells to gobble up harmful microbes and helps speed wound healing." Calendula officinalis has been used internally and externally. It has also been used to colour food e.g. cheese. Ailments treated with Calendula include eczema, acne, nappy rash, cuts, bruises, burns and varicose veins. In the sixteenth century Calendula was believed to possess powerful magic and a concoction of oil, hazel, thyme rose water and Calendula allowed the user to see fairies. External use has mostly been in the form of a cream but liquid infused oil can also be used. To make Calendula cream, first gather the petals and dry. Once dry infuse them in an oil of your choice (preferably organic). Olive, almond, jojoba and sesame are all acceptable. Try to match the oil to your skin type. The hot or cold infusion method can be used. Once infused, strain the oil from the petals. I use a colander initially and then re-strain using a coffee filter. Pour into sterilized bottles or jars and label and date. The liquid can be used at this stage or further processed into ointment or cream. To make a cream 1:1:3 (1 part water, 1 part beeswax, 3 parts oil) 20 ml water (or floral water) 20 gm beeswax 60 ml oil (I use 55 ml Calendula & 5 ml wheat germ) In a double boiler, melt the beeswax. Add the oil (Calendula) to the beeswax Stir in a preservative i.e. a vitamin E capsule or wheat germ oil. If using wheat germ oil, this becomes part of the total amount of oil Heat water (this can be Calendula infused or distilled) in another pan until it reaches the same temperature as the oil/wax mixture. Both should be around 70C/158F Remove from heat and slowly add the water to the oil/ wax mixture stirring constantly until emulsification is complete (about 10 minutes). The oil/wax mixture will turn white and start to harden If you would like to add a fragrance, do so now by adding a few drops of essential oil. Scoop the cream into sterile, wide mouth jars and label. Store in a cool dark place (like the refrigerator) and shelf life will be 6 to 12 months.
If you would rather use an ointment, leave out the water and change the ratio of oil/wax so that you have more wax than above and less oil. Harder salves/ ointments have a protective influence, while softer salves/ creams allow better skin absorption. A ratio of 17:100 (wax: oil) would work well Calendula officinalis
Chamomile – is it Roman or German?
Do you ever feel confused when reading about chamomile? I certainly do, but thankfully we have botanical names to sort it out. Both plants belong to the Asteraceae, or daisy family, so people with a known hypersensitivity to daisy plants, should not handle either one. And both have undergone name changes, which doesn’t help if you are reading old text books. Roman chamomile is Chamaemelum nobile, but was previously known as Anthemis nobilis. The plant grows from 10 to 30 cm (4-12”) high and 45 cm (18”) wide and is an aromatic evergreen perennial. The flowers are solitary with creamy white ray florets and yellow disks, typical daisy flowers, and they occur in summer. The leaves are finely divided and have a strong apple scent. There are two other varieties that are popular with gardeners, they are: ‘Flore Pleno’ which has double flowers and only grows to 15 cm (6”) high and ‘Treneague’ also known as lawn chamomile, which grows to 10 cm (4”) high and does not produce flowers. All varieties prefer a light well-drained soil in full sun, if you live in a cool climate, or dappled shade, if you live in a hot climate. If the winters are very cold or very wet the plants may be affected. The flowers and the essential oil are the parts used medicinally, economically and culinary. Culinary use was made famous in Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit when a tea was made from the flowers. They are also used to flavour Manzanilla sherry. Economically, the essential oil is used in hair products to lighten and condition and give a shine to fair hair. When the essential oil is distilled from the flowers it is a blue colour. The depth of the colour changes depending on where the plant is grown. The essential oil is also a uterine stimulant and should not be taken internally or used externally during pregnancy. Medicinally, the flowers are used as an anti-inflammatory. Internally, they are typically used for indigestion, insomnia, hyperactivity and fevers.
Externally, the flowers are made into a cream or lotion and used for skin irritations and insect bites. Fresh flowers can also be used in hot water as a facial steam treatment. An infusion of flowers is also said to be good for the prevention of damping off in seedlings, - it’s worth a try. German chamomile has also undergone a few name changes. Today it is known as Matricaria recutita, but previously it was known as Matricaria chamomilla and even Chamomilla recutita (I wander if plants suffer from identity crisis). German chamomile also has a couple of common names, they are: wild chamomile and scented mayweed – as well as German chamomile. Both plants are used for similar purposes and some herbalists even combine the two at various proportions. Dry to moist, well drained soil in full sun is the best spot for this chamomile. The plant is an annual growing from 15 to 60 cm (6-24”) tall and 10 to 38 cm (4-15”) wide. The flowers appear from summer to autumn and look like Roman chamomile flowers. German chamomile does not smell the same as Roman chamomile and it has a less bitter taste. The flowers are harvested when they are fully open, and they can be used fresh, dried or frozen for later use. If drying the flowers, do not store for long periods because the volatile oil is quickly lost. German chamomile has a slightly different chemical analysis to Roman chamomile, having a slightly higher proportion of volatile oil. The anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties of the oil are very effective in healing burns and preventing ulceration and infection. It is an aromatic sedative herb that benefits digestion, relaxes spasms, reduces inflammation, promotes healing, relieves pain and stimulates the immune system. Medicinally, it is used to treat irritable bowel syndrome, digestive complaints brought about by nerves, insomnia and motion sickness. Externally it is used to treat sunburn, wounds, haemorrhoids, mastitis and leg ulcers. It is not advisable to use German chamomile while pregnant, breast feeding or taking anticoagulant medication.
Economically, it is used in cosmetics and hair preparations. Extracts are used to flavour liqueurs, ice cream and confectionary. So are you any the wiser? Why not grow both. Often when plants are grown side by side, it becomes much easier to identify them.
Gifts from the Garden
A garden can supply us with a wonderful array of gifts for ourselves or others. If you grow flowers for picking, a fresh bunch of flowers and foliage can make someone’s day. Or perhaps you are a dab hand at dried flower arranging, or using dried flowers, foliage and fruit for decorating cards and boxes. Then there is always fruit. Fresh fruit in a basket is not only for those in hospital. Mix fresh produce with jars of preserved produce or jam made from the same fruit and decorate the jars with some dried leaves from the same tree or shrub. Or you could candy the fruit, make cordial, syrup, liqueur (yum) or fruit flavoured vinegar. Cover an orange with cloves and some pretty ribbon to make a sweet smelling pomander to hang somewhere as a room freshener. Even vegetables make good gifts. Fresh veg, pickles and preserves are all well received by thankful friends. Dried vegetables like gourds can be decorated and made into bird houses, bowls and just ....well... nice decorations. And cakes, yummy – carrot and walnut or zucchini and almond or anything else that takes your fancy. You could put together a gift basket containing fresh zucchini, zucchini cake, zucchini patties with a jar of fruit chutney and a packet of zucchini seed with a nice recipe attached. I chose zucchini because even growing just two plants; they seem to produce enough to feed the neighbourhood. Pot plants are another great gift, simply gift wrap with a note card, or turn a plant into a ‘standard’ or a bonsai or topiary. Put two or three plants together that are used as an herbal remedy (e.g. calendula, yarrow and comfrey) with a recipe, how to make an herbal cream for cuts and bruises. Another gift idea for an organic gardener is to make a basket containing some fresh garlic and chilli along with the recipe of how to make garlic and chilli spray. Do you have friends that are interested in herbs or herb gardening? A variety of gifts can be made including: flavoured vinegar and oil, flavoured butter and sugar, herbal tea, edible wreaths, tussie mussie, bath bags, sleep pillow, pot pourri, seasonings, etc, etc. If you have a creative mind, the list is endless of gifts you can make from things in the garden.
Culinary Salt Recipes Basil Salt Combine equal parts basil and rock salt Chicken Salt 4 parts garlic 2 parts marjoram 2 parts thyme 1 part tarragon 4 parts rock salt (optional) Fish Salt 2 parts fennel 1 part lemon thyme 6 parts marjoram 8 parts parsley 1 part oregano
Basil, its name reminds me of a TV program that was around years ago. This year, for some reason that I have now forgotten, I decided to grow basil in a pot instead of in the ground (big mistake). I bought a packet of mixed basil seed and up-ended the lot into a rather large terracotta pot. I know better. You should never over sow because of the risk of damping off and it is a real chore if you have to prick out all of the young seedlings. Never the less, the whole packet was sown so that I could have a forest of assorted basil to pick and make pesto. I kept the pot inside my plastic poly tunnel expecting growth to be rapid. I check the plants in there daily and I was keeping a close eye on the germinating basil. It was like watching grass grow. The baby basil plants are currently about two inches high. I checked the label to see what the date was when I sowed the seeds. I couldn't believe it, 30 th October 2009. The little buggers were three months old and still only two inches tall. Hmm, I thought, a new dwarf variety. The lesson for me is to plant the basil in the ground (like I usually do), so the plants can take up nutrients from the soil. They are gross feeders and will take as much fertilizer as you can give them. Something they didn't get while growing in the pot. No home-made pesto this year. Basil plants prefer to grow in rich, well drained, light soil in full sun, although in extremely hot climates it appreciates a bit of afternoon shade. Basil does not particularly like being transplanted so is best sown in situ. Basil leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season but do not collect more than 50% of the leaves from any individual plant. The leaves can be used fresh or juiced, or even dried for later use. Whole plants can also be harvested. If you are going to do this, harvest just before flowering starts, but remember to let at least one plant go to seed for next seasons planting. The leaves are usually associated with tomato recipes and pasta sauces (pesto) but can also be used with vegetables, soup, vinegars and herbal oil. The oil from the basil plant is used commercially as a food flavouring and also in dental products. Aromatherapists use it as do perfumeries, oh, and it is also used in insect repellents. Medicinally, basil is used for treating cold and flu symptoms, nausea, insomnia, skin infections, poor digestion, migraine, gastroenteritis, anxiety(probably from the gastro) and snake bite. Snake bite !!!
Considering I had a 1.2 meter red bellied black snake at my front door about a week ago, I think I had better go and fertilize those dwarf, not happy, basil plants in the pot.
Growing Herbs for the Home Gardener
An herb is any plant used whole or in part as an ingredient for health, flavour or fragrance. Herbs can be used to make teas; add flavour to cooked foods such as meats, vegetables, sauces, and soups; or to add flavour to vinegars, butters, dips, or mustards. Many herbs are grown for their fragrance and are used in potpourris, sachets, and nosegays; or to scent bath water, candles, oils or perfumes. More than 25% of our modern drugs contain plant extracts as active ingredients, and researchers continue to isolate valuable new medicines from plants and confirm the benefits of those used in traditional folk medicine. Herbs as a group are relatively easy to grow. Begin your herb garden with the herbs you enjoy using the most. For example, choose basil, oregano, and fennel for Italian cooking; lavender and lemon verbena for making potpourri; or chamomile and peppermint if you plan to make your own teas. The optimum growing conditions vary with each individual herb species. Some herbs such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, bay, marjoram, dill and oregano are native to the Mediterranean region. These herbs grow best in soils with good drainage, bright sun and moderate temperatures.
Plan your herb garden by grouping herbs according to water, light and soil requirements. Most herbs enjoy full sun, but a few tolerate shade. Herbs can be classified as either annual, biennial, or perennial. Be aware of the growth habits of the plants before you purchase them. Some herbs, such as borage, anise, caraway, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill and fennel, should be sown in situ, because they grow easily from seed or do not transplant well. Other herbs, such as mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon, should be purchased as plants and transplanted or propagated by cuttings to ensure production of the desired plant (do not come true from seeds).
For fish bay, chervil, dill, fennel, lovage, parsley
bay, basil, caraway, chervil, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme.
bistort, chives, fennel, hyssop, lovage, orach, purslane, summer savory, salad burnet, sorrel, sweet cicely
For egg dishes
basil, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, fennel, summer savory, sorrel, tarragon, lemon thyme
basil, bay, borage, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, marjoram, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, summer savory, tarragon, thyme
chervil, chives, parsley, tarragon
bay, marjoram, parsley, thyme
Herbs for Pot-pourri
Alecost, bergamot, sweet flag, lavender, apothecary’s rose, rosemary, sage, southernwood, lemon verbena
Herbs with Fragrant Leaves
Alecost, angelica, bergamot, catmint, chamomile, clary sage, coriander, curry plant, geranium (scented), hyssop, lavender, lavender cotton, lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, myrtle, rosemary, sage, savory, southernwood, sweet cicely, thyme, wormwood.
The head cold is still with me (grrr...) and it takes the occasional trip south to visit the chest cavity. Now it’s time to get serious about evicting the offending visitor. Herbal teas, aromatherapy rubs and steam inhalations are on the menu. American Indians chewed coneflower root (Echinacea spp.), or made it in to a tea, to treat the early stages of cold and flu. Echinacea is found in most over the counter herbal preparations for cold and flu. It helps to boost the immune system by increasing levels of properdin in the body (a protein that inhibits virus replication) The plant is considered an effective detoxicant for the respiratory system as well as the lymphatic and circulatory systems. The rhizomes are lifted in autumn, and then dried for later use. I can’t grow the plant in my soil and climate so it’s off to the chemist I go. Garlic, (Allium sativum) is another cold fighting plant. It contains allicin, which is a broad spectrum antibiotic. Garlic is traditionally used to help prevent infection and used to treat colds, flu, bronchitis and whooping cough. It is taken raw, or as a syrup or tincture (if you are brave) or in capsules, for those of us that are not so brave, or don’t live a solitary life. I planted my garlic about a month ago and it’s not ready to harvest yet, so I guess that means a trip to the fruit and vegie shop.
Ginger, (Zingiber officinale) is another cold, cough and flu fighting plant (say that three times) used mainly in Chinese medicine. The fresh rhizome or root is shredded and then placed in water and simmered for 15 to 20 minutes before being used as a tea. It contains many antiviral compounds and one chemical in particular, has a specific effect against the rhinovirus. Other constituents of the rhizome suppress coughing, reduce pain and fever and have a mild sedative effect. Alas, ginger needs a tropical climate to thrive and I live in a warm temperate climate, so – you guessed it – off to the store I go. Can you see a pattern developing here?
Elderberry, (Sambucus nigra) contains compounds that are active against the flu virus and give relief to aching muscles and fever. The flowers and berries contain flavonoids and the berries also contain vitamins A and C. (Did I mention raw berries are poisonous?). The traditional medicinal use of elderberry was internally for colds, influenza, catarrh, sinusitis and fever. (I think this is the one I need). It is also combined with Tilia cordata to treat upper respiratory tract infections. I do have several Sambucus plants in my garden but, its winter here – and they’re deciduous. A prepared over the counter, ‘cold and flu’ remedy, sounds like my best option.
Eucalyptus spp. or gum tree leaves, are frequently used in steam inhalations to clear the nose and sinuses. (now these, I can grow). Eucalyptus also loosens phlegm in the chest and is a great antiseptic, astringent and decongestant. The essential oil can be used if you do not have access to the leaves. A drop of Eucalyptus essential oil placed on a handkerchief (yes I still use hankies), is great to have in your pocket for the occasional ‘sniff’ to clear the nose.
If making a steam inhalation, place two drops of Eucalyptus essential oil and two drops of rosemary or thyme essential oil in to a bowl or basin of hot water. Place your head over the bowl and cover with a towel to prevent the steam from escaping. Come up for fresh air occasionally. If your cold is a bit ‘chesty’ you could make an aromatherapy chest and neck rub by combining the essential oils of Eucalyptus – 2 drops, Rosemary – 3 drops, Lemon – 1 drop, with one teaspoon of vegetable or sweet almond oil. Massage around the chest, neck and sinus area of the face. I’m feeling better already.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica & Urtica urens) is considered by most people to be a pest plant. It has a long history, going back to the Bronze Age, as a useful plant for manufacturing cloth, as well as a source of food and medicine. There are records from Ancient Egypt suggesting the use of nettle infusion for the relief of arthritis and lumbago pain.
Burial shrouds made of nettle have been discovered in Denmark and nettle was one of the plants used in ‘Nine Herbs Charm’ by the Pagan’s in the 10 th century. Stinging nettle is a fibrous herbaceous perennial or annual, depending on the species, found in most temperate regions throughout the world. It is often seen growing in cultivated land that is rich in Nitrogen and it makes a great green manure when turned back in to the soil. If harvesting nettle to dry for later use, be very careful when opening the bag or container that the dried nettle is stored in. The small ‘stingers’ could possibly be inhaled and cause irritation to the throat and lungs. Fresh nettle can be used like a vegetable. Collect the young leaves (very carefully) and cook them as you would spinach i.e. steamed, lightly boiled, lightly fried with ginger or added to soup. It can also be used as an ingredient in herbal beer. Older nettle leaves contain crystals of calcium oxalate, so stick with the young, new leaves. Commercially, nettle is grown for its chlorophyll content which acts as a colouring agent in food and medicine. Nettles are said to strengthen, support and feed the whole body (human) and therefore are good for the immune system. The herb is considered to be anti-asthmatic, astringent, diuretic, galactogogue, haemostatic, hypoglycaemic (you’ve all heard of the glycaemic index!!!), hypotensive, styptic, rubifacient and a tonic.
Therefore it is used internally for anaemia, haemorrhage, haemorrhoids, arthritis, rheumatism, gout, allergies, prostate enlargement and skin complaints. Extracts are also used by body builders. Externally, nettles have been used to staunch wounds and treat nosebleeds. Also for arthritic pain, sciatica, neuralgia, gout, burns, insect bites (which is worse – insect bite or nettle sting?), haemorrhoids (ouch) and combined with nasturtium to treat hair loss (questionable). The plant is rich in vitamin A, C, D and K and is very high in chlorophyll, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and sulphur. The plant can also help to clear toxins from the body as well as slightly reducing blood pressure and blood sugar. Freshly pressed nettle juice is said to be good for nervous and physical exhaustion. So why aren’t we all eating it? Most of us are just not game enough to try it and it seems sooo easy to pop a vitamin pill. If you don’t currently have any stinging nettle growing in your garden, it can be propagated from seed sown in spring or by division of the perennial variety, also in spring. Grow it in a moist, nitrogen rich soil in sun or part shade (in hot climates). The perennial nettle Urtica dioica, has a much stronger (nastier) sting than the annual variety Urtica urens, but they will both cause some unsavoury words if grasped with bare hands. If you want to ‘show off’ in front of friends and harvest nettle with your bare hands – make sure it is the annual variety and grab it at the base, near soil level, when you pull it out. That should do the trick.
Garden nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) elicits different memories for different people. For me, it brings back childhood memories of outback dunnies. It seemed as though everyone in Australia that had an outside toilet, had a nasturtium plant draped over it. Was the strong smell of nasturtium leaves supposed to mask the bad smell of raw sewerage? Or was the beauty of the flowers supposed to distract the eye away from the ugliness of an outside corrugated iron box? Whatever the reason, the memories are fond ones that also bring up associated dunny memories, not appropriate for a gardening blog. The nasturtium plant is native to South America and was introduced to Spain in the 16 th century. During the 17th century the leaves and flowers were a popular ingredient in salads. Today, the leaves and flowers are still used in salads to add colour and a peppery flavour. The flowers are also used to make beautifully coloured vinegar and the freshly chopped leaves can be used to flavour soft cheese and egg dishes. The unripe green fruits are often pickled and used as a substitute for capers and the hard ripe seeds can be roasted and ground, to be used as a seasoning. If pickling the fruit, keep in mind that they contain significant amounts of oxalic acid and may be harmful if eaten in large quantities. Moderation in all things is a good motto. The plant is fast growing, reaching 3 metres (10ft) in no time. Most gardening books describe it as a trailing annual but in South America it is a perennial and in my garden, it is a short lived perennial. So if you live in a cool temperate region, the plant will behave like an annual but if you live in a warm temperate region the plant may well behave like a short lived perennial. Nasturtium is hardy to 3°C (37°F) and will ramble along the ground like a ground cover or it will sprawl over a rock or structure if it encounters one.
The standard height quoted in books is 3m (10ft) but in my garden the stems are still crawling along the ground at around 5 metres. If you don’t have the room for a ‘regular’ nasturtium, there are dwarf varieties available. Seed can be sown in spring or late autumn around 13 -16°C (55 - 61°F) and once established it can self seed freely, even becoming weedy in some gardens. Sterile cultivars can be propagated from tip cuttings or basal cuttings taken in spring and summer. Nasturtium plants prefer to grow in well drained soil that is not too rich in nutrients. Rich soil will encourage leaf growth, while poor or impoverished soil will produce more flowers and fruit. Grow in full sun, or part shade in hot climates. The almost circular peltate leaves can grow to 18 cm in diameter (wow) and have a radiating pattern of veins i.e. radiating from the point where the petiole joins the leaf. After rain, beads of water gather on the bright green leaves and can be rolled around and played with – a real delight for children (and me). The flowers are usually yellow, orange or red, and appear on long to very long peduncles that are attached to the hollow stem. Each flower has five petals and five sepals with the upper sepal lengthened into a spur that contains nectar. They are showy and slightly scented growing to 6 cm (2½”). Nasturtium is often used as a companion plant to deter whitefly and cucumber beetle. It is also planted at the base of apple trees to deter woolly aphid. When planting Brassica, grow nasturtium between the rows. The nasturtium leaves contain sulphur heterosides similar to those found in some Brassica plants. This means that insects normally found attacking Brassica plants will also attack the nasturtium, therefore the damage will be spread between the Brassica plants and the nasturtium plants and not the Brassica alone. In the kitchen and in the medicine chest, the whole plant can be used. Leaves, flowers, buds, fruit and seed are all used. The plant is a bitter tonic herb that is antiseptic, diuretic and expectorant. It also controls fungal and bacterial infections. It is used internally for respiratory infections and genito-urinary infections, scurvy and poor skin and hair conditions.
Externally, it has been used to treat baldness (this could make someone rich), minor injuries and acne. Seeds have similar properties and are used in the same way. If you are feeling adventurous, try stuffing the flowers with a flavoured cream cheese to serve as hors d’oeuvres, or pickle the fruit and use as you would capers. Pickled nasturtium seeds 50g green nasturtium seeds 25g salt 300ml water Pickling spice Malt vinegar Stir the salt into the water, and then add the nasturtium seed. Leave for 24 hours. Strain and rinse well in fresh water. Dry with paper towel and then place into a jar. Put a muslin bag filled with pickling spice into the jar with the nasturtium seed. Fill the jar with malt vinegar and seal tightly. Leave for 3-4 weeks before using.
Have you ever been out for a meal at a nice restaurant and not received that little green sprig of plant matter on top of your food? There is actually a reason for providing that sprig of parsley as a garnish with your meal. Parsley has been used as a breath freshener for centuries and you are supposed to eat it after you have finished your meal, but there is no scientific proof of this claim. Next time you go out for a meal try it and let me know if it works.
In the Middle Ages it was thought that parsley was one of the Devil's favourite plants, so if you wanted to grow it, the parsley had to be sown on Good Friday under a rising moon. It was also said that the seed went to the Devil and back several times before it would start to grow. This is because the seed are slow to germinate. Parsley was fed to sheep to bring them into season and also fed to sick fish to cure them of whatever was ailing them. Chariot horses of ancient Greece were fed parsley because it was believed to increase their speed. hmmm Nutritionally, parsley is rich in vitamins A and C, iron, potassium calcium, iodine, riboflavin and fibre (Small 1997), but if you leave it sitting on your plate, then it's of no nutritional value to you whatsoever. Parsley has little value in today's medicine apart from stimulating urine flow and treating digestive problems, but in folklore it was used for treating insect bites, to dry up breast milk, as a cure for baldness, a kidney tonic, an aphrodisiac (really!!!), as a poultice for sore eyes, it was even used for jaundice, dysentery, warts, tumours, asthma, dropsy and fever. What a marvellous herb. If that information has you running for the tabouli, perhaps you would like to try growing your own. Parsley, whether curly leaf or flat leaf, is a biennial plant. That means you will get a lot of leaf in the first year of it's life cycle and in the second year it will flower and set seed. Sadly it will then die. Parsley prefers to grow in moist, well drained soil and depending where you are in the world, plant it in full sun or light shade (hot climates). If you live in an area with heavy frosts the parsley may need some protection over winter. If you are gardening on sandy soil in a hot climate, mulch the parsley well.
The leaves are harvested before flowering and can be dried, frozen, juiced or used fresh. Parsley can be used in bouquet garni, fines herbs, tussie mussies, Italian mixed herbs and Chermoula spice mix. It complements savoury and egg dishes, pasta, soup and mashed potato. It is good as a sauce for fish and poultry or mixed with butter as a tasty spread.
Plant Profile – Parsley
Family: Genus: species: Common name: Varieties: Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae) Petroselinum crispum var. crispum curled parsley P. crispum var. neopolitanum (Italian parsley) P. crispum var. tuberosum syn. P. sativum (Hamburg parsley) Origin: Europe and Western Asia
Plant description: biennial, 25-75 cm tall (depending on variety). Leaves divided pinnately into feather like sections, lower leaves are ternately decompound with wedgeshaped segments deeply cut into lobes. Flowers are white or greenish-white and very small with five petals and five stamens on long peduncles in terminal axillary umbels. The fruit is grey-brown in colour, ovoid in shape, ribbed and up to 2 mm in diameter. Propagation: soak seed in warm water overnight and sow in spring when soil temperatures rise above 10°C. Soil: Aspect/climate: Cultivation: moderately rich, friable, moist but well-drained. full sun to partial shade. new plants need to be planted each year for a constant supply.
Pests & Diseases: may be attacked by carrot weevils, parsley worms or nematodes (in sandy soil), also susceptible to crown rot. Parts used: leaves, roots, seeds.
Harvesting & storage: easily dried in an oven, pre-heated to 120°C. Place the leaves on a tray in the oven after turning the heat off and turn a few times while the oven has residual heat but is slowly cooling. After 15-20 minutes the parsley should be crisp and dry, then store it in an airtight container in a cool dark place. Fresh sprays can be wrapped in foil and frozen. Flavour: mild.
Properties/actions: carminative, diuretic, antiseptic, emmenagogue. The root has laxative properties. The plant contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins A and C and several B vitamins. Weight: Used in: per tsp (5ml) of whole dried chopped leaves = 0.3g tussie mussies bouquet garni (with thyme, marjoram, bay leaves) fines herbs (with chervil, chives, tarragon) mixed herbs Italian herbs Chermoula spice mix (with coriander leaves, onion, cumin, cayenne) Complements: savoury dishes seasoning mixes and salts egg dishes mashed potato tabouleh soup pasta dishes sauces for fish and poultry Traditional use: wreaths of parsley were used for adorning the tombs of the dead. It was also worn by bridesmaids at weddings. Parsley also had a reputation for being an effective deodorizer and breath freshener and used for the relief of pain in the stomach. It was also used to repel head lice. Warning: not to be taken in large quantities or in seed form during pregnancy.
Culinary: 150 ml mayonnaise 142 ml sour cream 30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley 30 ml (2 tbsp) chopped fresh chives 30 ml (2 tbsp) cider vinegar 4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped Salt and freshly ground black pepper Mix all the ingredients together and season well. Allow to stand for several hours before using. It should store for up to 4 days in a screw-top jar in the refrigerator. Makes about 300 ml. Green Goddess dressing
Parsley skin freshener
½ cup chopped parsley 1 cup boiling water Place the parsley in a ceramic bowl and pour the boiling water over the herb. Allow the mixture to cool completely, then strain and pour into a clean container. To use: apply to the skin using a clean cotton ball.
Medicinal: 3 sprigs fresh parsley 1 cup boiling water
Steep the parsley in the boiling water for 10 minutes. It is good as an overall tonic and assists the bladder, kidneys and liver. It has a cleansing effect.
Pest repellent Plants
Plants that have the ability to repel pests (whatever that means to you – and no, it doesn’t include your spouse), come in various shapes and sizes. Plants grown in the garden for pest control have some advantages over commercial sprays. First being, no chemical spray drift onto desirable plants or neighbours gardens. Not all insects in the garden are pests and some are even beneficial. Many of the insects do little harm and actually feed on other insects that are pests. Pest repellent plants can mask the scent of targeted plants from invading insects. If you have a favourite plant that is constantly being attacked by insects, try planting some heavily scented plants next to or nearby the vulnerable plant. The attacking insects will not be able to ‘sniff out’ their prey. Apart from confusing insect pests, some pest repellent plants will actively repel them. Try planting several around the garden or vegetable patch. You may also like to plant a variety of plants in the garden that attract predators, like ladybirds and lacewings, to help control the bothersome insect pests. Biodiversity in the garden is a wondrous thing. Some of these plants are also useful for making sprays, but always be mindful of your actions. Dogbane (Plectranthus ornatus, Plectranthus caninus) is a strong smelling perennial ground cover, growing to about 15 cm when not in flower and around 30 cm high when in flower. The flowers are a pale lavender colour and occur mostly in autumn. The leaves are fleshy with hairs on the upper surface and they have a very strong odour. The common name comes from its apparent ability to repel dogs, but not all dogs are affected. The plant reputably repels a range of pests in its vicinity. Give the plant a warm protected position away from frost. Once established, it requires very little water. Cotton lavender (Santolina chamaecyparissus) is another plant used as a pest repellent. Its main use is in repelling moths and silverfish. The plant is a small shrub to around 50 cm high with grey foliage and yellow flowers during summer. The fine leaves are aromatic (and don’t stink like dogbane) and can be dried and placed in sachets to repel moths in linen cupboards and wardrobes. The dried leaves can also be used to repel silver fish. Just scatter them on the bookshelves or place many small sachets behind books. If that does not work, try blending 50 ml of white vinegar with 50 drops of lavender essential oil, 50 drops of
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peppermint essential oil and 50 drops of citronella essential oil. Place in a 350 ml spray bottle and add 250 ml of water. Shake well and use on a cloth to wipe down bookshelves, once per week. Marjoram and Oregano, (Origanum spp.) known for their culinary use, can also be used to deter pumpkin beetle from nearby cucurbits. They are also useful in protecting onions from maggot and brassicas from the white cabbage butterfly. Choose a variety that will grow well in your area. Wormwood, (Artemisia absinthium) has long been used to repel lice on chickens by planting a hedge around the chicken coup. The plant can have a negative effect on nearby plants by inhibiting their growth, so choose their position in the garden carefully. The active ingredient in wormwood is thujone which adversely affects the nervous system. For this reason it is no longer used in the drinks: absinthe, pernod or ricard. It can however, be used to repel aphids, whitefly, bean fly and some caterpillars. The fresh leaves can also be used to repel fleas on your pet, by rubbing them through the animal’s coat. The leaves can also be dried and powdered and used to repel ants, thrip, moths and flies. What a plant. This is just a very short list of pest repellent plants. There are many more to choose from and I am sure you will be able to find some that will grow in your climatic conditions.
Plants: We Cannot Live Without Them
Plants are absolutely necessary for our survival.
We can live without corporations, computers, television, houses filled with knick-knacks etc, etc, but we cannot live without plants. To all of the gardeners, market gardeners, fruit growers and farmers – I salute you.
Plants purify the air we breathe and absorb the pollutants we constantly pump into the environment. They also help reduce soil erosion and storm water runoff, and they stabilize the soil. They also provide us with material to build houses. Trees provide summer shade which can reduce the need for using air conditioners. It is said that one correctly placed oak tree can give the same effect as using four evaporative air conditioners. The difference in temperature (in a hot climate) between full sun and under the shade of a mature tree can be as much as 10°C. Evergreen shrubs can reduce air flow velocity by as much as 85%, this again leads to a saving in fuel consumption. Most importantly, plants provide us with food and medicine. Plants are used in medicine in different ways. The naturally occurring plant material, or plants that are used in their ‘raw’ state, are referred to as natural remedies or botanical medicines. The use of plants in this manner is called herbal medicine. Non toxic plants and their extracts are used for stabilizing blood pressure and increasing the body’s resistance to stress, bacterial and viral invasion and toxins. These plants are known as ‘adaptogens’ and one well known example is ginseng. According to the World Health Organisation, herbal medicine accounts for approximately 80% of the primary health care of the world’s population. Many pharmaceutical drugs also contain plant based ingredients. One example is Taxol, used as an anti-cancer drug. It is derived from the bark of Taxus brevifolia and Taxus baccata.
Many other drugs have been produced from botanical findings. Morphine and codeine are produced from poppies. Treatment of Hodgkin’s disease and childhood leukaemia are derived from Madagascan periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), and the heart drug Digoxin comes from foxglove (Digitalis lanata). So as you can see, we need plants for our survival. Look after them.
Rosemary for Remembrance
There was a fatal accident today, about one kilometre from where I work. Although I did not know the man who died, I pondered on his life and actions for today. I am certain that when he left his house this morning, he had no idea that he would not return home for dinner. This blog post is for all the people who never made it home for dinner. Rosemary was grown on the graves of ancestors in western parts of Asia, to invoke help and guidance for the living. When we think of rosemary, the word remembrance often pops into our head at the same time. Rosemary is also associated with friendship and trust and sprigs were traditionally carried at weddings and funerals. The botanical name for rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis, is derived from the Latin ros, meaning dew, and marinus, the sea. This refers to observations of rosemary growing near the coast. The ancient Greeks spoke of rosemary as having a stimulating effect on the mind and aiding memory. Students would wear rosemary sprigs in their hair for this reason and consequently it became known as a symbol of remembrance. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, rosemary branches were burnt indoors as a fumigant against the Black Death. The leaves were also burnt in sick rooms and churches as a substitute for incense. Rosemary was commonly grown around the Mediterranean region, from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. It was used to freshen the air, make lutes, keep moths away from linen and books, dispel bad dreams, give a pale complexion, make one merry and ward off all manner of evils in the body. Culpeper also advised smoking the leaves to treat coughs and consumption, and using rosemary ointment to treat ‘benumbed joints’ and finely powdered leaves were also used as sneezing powders (snuffs). During the nineteenth century, in the United States, rosemary was prescribed as a stimulant, antispasmodic and emmenagogue. The essential oil was mainly used as a perfume for ointments and liniments
Today, rosemary essential oil is still added to liniments and hair care products while leaf infusions are used for their tonic, astringent and diaphoretic principles. It is said to be good for relieving headaches. In the kitchen, rosemary is usually associated with roast lamb, but can also be used in stews, soups and sauces. If you happen to live in an area where the climate is similar to a Mediterranean one, rosemary should grow well. How about making a space in your garden for all who ‘never made it home for dinner’
Rosemary - Profile
Family: Genus: species: common name: varieties: Origin: Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) Rosmarinus officinalis rosemary several varieties and cultivars exist with flowers of blue, violet, pink or white and varying leaf length and width. the Mediterranean region.
Plant description: evergreen shrub to 1.5m. Young branches are covered with soft downy hairs. Leaves are opposite, linear, to 4cm long with revolute margins, dark green above, grey-green and hairy beneath. Flowers are pale blue, to 7mm long, with a prominent concave upper lip. They are found in few-flowered whorls in short axillary or terminal racemes. The whole herb is characterized by a strong persistent aroma. The fruit are very small spherical nutlets with smooth surfaces.
Propagation: tip cuttings in early spring or heeled cuttings in summer, autumn and winter. Rosemary can be grown from seed but seedlings are slow growing. Soil: Aspect/climate: well drained, coarse and sandy. Neutral pH. full sun
minimal maintenance. Plants do not transplant well.
Pests & disease: Parts used:
minimal leaves and twigs
Harvesting & storage: Hang freshly cut bunches in a dark, well-aired, warm place for a few days. When the leaves are dry they can be easily stripped off the stems (from the bottom up) and crumbled into small pieces. Sprays of fresh rosemary may be wrapped in foil, sealed in a plastic bag and stored in the freezer for some months. Because rosemary is an evergreen plant it is best harvested and used fresh. Rosemary oil is produced by steam distillation. Flavour: strong, pungent, astringent, pine-like, peppery, warming, woody and herby with a lingering camphor-like aftertaste. Aroma: pine-like, minty with hints of eucalyptus.
Properties/actions: antioxidant, astringent, diaphoretic, stomachic, emmenagogue, expectorant, cholagogue and tonic, carminative, rubifacient, antispasmodic, antidepressive, antimicrobial and antibacterial (rosemary oil). Recommended for: depression, headaches and muscle spasms.
Weight per tsp (5ml): whole dried cut leaves 1.8g ground 1.6g Used in: Italian herbs seasoned stuffing mixes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, soup, sauce, herb butters, savoury jams and honey. scones mashed potato zucchini & eggplant soy beans pork lamb duck pates & game
Traditional use: principally as a culinary herb. It was also a favourite strewing herb and also has an association with memory, lover’s fidelity and remembrance. Rosemary can be used externally as a compress, or as a herbal oil for the relief of muscular aches and pains. Rosemary was also used as a hedging plant in knot gardens or other formal situations. Warning: oil of rosemary is not recommended for use by pregnant women.
Culinary Mint & Rosemary Stuffing 225g onions 2 celery sticks 225g fresh white or wholemeal breadcrumbs 30ml mint sauce 10ml (2tsp) chopped fresh rosemary finely grated rind of 1 lemon 1 egg, beaten salt & freshly ground pepper Finely chop the onion and celery and soften them in the butter. In a large bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, mint sauce, rosemary and lemon rind. Stir in the celery and onion. Mix well and bind together with the egg. Makes enough stuffing for a 4.5kg to 5.4kg turkey.
Cosmetic Milk & Honey Bath Oil with Rosemary 2 eggs 45ml (3tbsp) rosemary oil 10ml (2tsp) honey 10ml (2tsp) baby shampoo 15ml (1tbsp) vodka 150ml milk Beat the eggs and oil together, then add the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. Pour into a clean glass bottle. Add 30-45ml (2-3 tbsp) to the bath and keep the rest chilled, for use within a few days. The addition of a little shampoo makes this a dispersing oil which does not leave a greasy rim around the bath.
Medicinal Rosemary Tea 250ml (1cup) water 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary Boil the water and pour it on to the rosemary. Leave to steep for a few minutes, then strain and serve. Rosemary tea, taken daily for some months, is the best long-term solution for poor circulation.
It’s near the end of winter here in the southern half of the world and there is the inevitable head cold or two (me included – cough, cough, sneeze, wipe), so I thought it appropriate to do an article on horehound. White horehound or more correctly Marrubium vulgare, is an aromatic plant that can grow between 20 cm – 60 cm (8” – 24”). The stems are erect, greyish in colour, soft and downy when young and becoming woody with age. The leaves are ovate in shape, covered in white hairs with bluntly toothed margins and are arranged opposite each other along the stem. The flowers are small, white and tubular in shape, typical of plants in the Lamiaceae family, and are arranged in whorls in the leaf axils. Black horehound (Ballota nigra) is a related species and was once used for similar purposes. It is now considered less effective than the herb white horehound. Marrubium vulgare is native to Eurasia and Northern Africa but has made itself at home in many other countries. In parts of Australia and New Zealand it is under statutory control as a weed. I find it amusing that a plant can be considered a pest in one location (where I live) and just 30 km away, where I work, herbalists struggle to grow the plant in their cold, wet location. The plant prefers to grow in very well drained soil with a pH that is neutral to alkaline and in full sun. But, the plants in my garden only receive morning sun and full afternoon shade, and are growing fantastically. In their native habitat they are found growing on dry grassland, in pastures and along the edges of fields. White horehound can be propagated from seed sown in spring (do not let it set seed in areas where it may have weed potential), division of the clump or softwood cuttings, also in spring. The leaves were once used to make beer and also to flavour liqueurs, but it is mostly thought of today when someone mentions sore throat, head cold or the flu. The leaves or flowering stems can be used fresh or dried and are extremely bitter.
In the 16th century, several herbalists recommended mixing the bitter leaves with sugar to make syrup for treating wheezing and coughing. The same or similar recipes are still being used today to make horehound toffee (recipe below). It is thought that white horehound was first used in ancient Egyptian times as a cough remedy. The plant contains a potent expectorant, diterpene marrubiin. This bitter aromatic herb is not only an expectorant but also an antiseptic that can reduce inflammation and relieve spasms. It can increase the rate of perspiration and stimulate the flow of bile. It has been used internally to treat bronchitis, catarrh, colds, chest coughs, whooping cough, asthma, liver problems, gall bladder disorders, typhoid fever and palpitations. Also as a gargle for sore throats and combined with sugar to make syrup or candy, also for sore throats. Externally the leaves have been used for skin eruptions and minor skin injuries. There is a caution if using this herb – prolonged use may cause high blood pressure. But really, it is sooo bitter that I don’t know why anyone would want to take it for extended periods of time. Horehound candy (Shaker recipe) 3 cups boiling water 3 oz horehound leaves 6 cups dark brown sugar 1 teaspoon cream of tartar 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon butter Steep leaves for 20 minutes and then strain. Discard leaves. Add sugar, cream of tartar and butter, to the infusion. Cook to hard boil stage and then add lemon juice. Pour into buttered pan and score when cooled.
Cut into squares before the candy is completely set. Wrap individual candies in paper and store in a cool dark place.
Achillea millefolium is an interesting plant to grow in the garden. In areas with a reasonable rainfall, yarrow has the potential to spread, sometimes further than the gardener actually wants and it can become invasive. In my climate, with an average annual rainfall around 400mm (16”) per annum, it is a very well behaved plant. I like to use it as an indicator plant. That is – when the yarrow wilts slightly or looks droopy, I know it is time to water the garden. Apart from being a useful indicator plant (in my climate), I found that yarrow leaves were great for staunching bleeding. Years ago, I suffered from constant nose bleeds and regardless of where I was, at home gardening, visiting friends or at work teaching, I had to deal with bleeding all over the furniture. If the nose bleed happened at home, I would go to the yarrow patch and pick a few leaves, then shove them up my nose (children, please do not do this at home). What a site – a grown woman walking around the house and garden with green matter hanging out of her nose (my apologies if you have now developed a mental picture [grin]). The thing is – in my case the yarrow stopped the bleeding. There are more than 85 species of Achillea occurring mostly in temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere. The plant was named after the Greek hero Achilles, who used it to heal his soldiers’ wounds during the Trojan War. Currently, yarrow is known to reduce inflammation and promote perspiration. It is also used to relieve indigestion, relax spasms and apparently is effective in lowering blood pressure. Externally it has been used to treat wounds, nosebleeds (yay), haemorrhoids (ouch); ulcers and inflamed eyes (always seek doctor’s advice). When made into a tea, the taste is quite pleasing, unlike some herbs, and I have read (somewhere) that it is a good drink to take before going to bed. It apparently relaxes you – but if it is a diuretic, I’m not so sure about taking it before retiring for the night. I certainly don’t like getting out of a warm bed to empty my bladder in the middle of the night.
Achillea has also been used for divination. In China, yarrow sticks are used when consulting the I Ching. It can also be used in salads and as a garnish, it is used in perfumery, wine making and bitters – sounds like a ‘must have’ plant. There are also cultivars with a range of flower colours which last well in a vase when picked. So if you would like to grow this worthwhile creeping perennial plant, make sure the soil is well drained and the sunlight is plentiful. The plant will reward you by producing lovely flowers, useful leaves and it also attracts beneficial insects.
Here in the Southern Hemisphere autumn is just around the corner. It's time to start collecting and storing seed of your favourite vegetables, herbs and flowers. When on a quest to collect seed, make sure you have all of the equipment ready and at hand. You will need paper bags or envelopes, pen or pencil, glass jars, sieve, paper towel and silica gel crystals. Most flower and vegetable seed have a viability of about three to five years under good storage conditions but there are always exceptions to the rule so this blog post is a general guide. Generally, the larger the seed or the thicker the seed coat, the longer the seed will store for. Why don't seed store indefinitely? Because they are a living organism and while in storage they are still respiring even if it is very slowly - a bit like being in a coma. So if you can provide optimum conditions while they are hibernating - they will last that little bit longer. The aim is to keep the temperature almost constant and the humidity level low, 5% to 10% if possible. This should keep the life process of the seed at the lowest rate. For most vegetable seed the ideal temperature is around five degrees centigrade, so for long term storage a refrigerator would be ideal. It is also extremely important that the seed are dry before storing. If the seed are damp they can soon generate their own heat and if they have been placed in a plastic bag or sealed container they will go mouldy. If they are not in a sealed container but in open-air conditions, the seed will absorb moisture from the atmosphere and if the temperature is to their liking, they may sprout. The thickness of the seed coat will dictate the rate at which the seed absorbs moisture. At low moisture levels the seed are also able to handle temperature fluctuations better. To save storage space it may be beneficial to extract the seed from the fruiting body. A good example would be parsley seed. If you harvest the whole seed head, they are bulky and get tangled and just take up too much room, but if you rub the umbels between the palms of your hands or run them over a sieve, the seed easily falls out of the umbel and is much easier to store. Label the paper bags with the name of the seed, the date, the place of collection and the collector’s name (this could be a friend or relative from out of town). I also like to jot down any peculiarities the seed may have. For example "refrigerate for two months then warm, moist stratify for two months" or "extra long germination, up to 18 months".
Place the seed in the paper bag or zip-lock plastic bag if you are absolutely sure it is dry, and then put the paper bag into a glass jar (several small paper bags can go into one large glass jar). At this point, I drop in a silica gel sachet that I acquired when I bought my last pair of shoes, or that leather handbag [grin]. I am always telling friends to save those little sachets for me. Close the lid on the glass jar and place in the refrigerator, or at least in a dark cupboard where the temperature is pretty even. A note about tropical and sub-tropical tree seed. They cannot be completely dried. Drying destroys the embryo inside the seed. Most sub-tropical seed have a very short viability and need to be sown soon after harvest. Once they have germinated, the young seedlings can be held in their containers in a dormant state, if placed in a moist shady position. When they are given more light the growing process will continue. Rain-forest seed are cool-stored in moist peat in a plastic bag until planted out. Palm tree seed can be stored and germinated in this way. As mentioned earlier, there are always exceptions to the rule (there's one in every crowd). Citrus seed cannot be dried out nor should they be stored under low relative humidity. They are best sown in moist sand and kept in high humidity under refrigeration. If all goes well and you have managed to store the seed without any weevils or other insect pests, then you can hope for a good germination rate when the time comes to sow the seed.
Lavender Heart Cookies
A short post today because I am in the throes of pre-Christmas baking. In the southern hemisphere we are currently harvesting English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), which is the only lavender that should be used for baking. The other lavender species tend to have a nasty or unpleasant after-taste. So here is the recipe for the lavender biscuits (shortbread) that I baked this morning. 115g / ½ cup unsalted butter, softened 50g / ¼ cup caster sugar 175g / 1½ cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting 2tbsp fresh lavender florets (or 1tbsp dried), roughly chopped 25g / ¼ cup icing sugar, for sprinkling
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Mix together the flour and lavender, and add to the creamed mixture. Bring the mixture together in a soft ball. Cover with clear film and chill for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200° C. Roll out the mixture on a lightly floured surface and stamp out about 18 biscuits using a 5cm heart-shaped cutter. (This morning I used star and Christmas tree shapes) Place the biscuits on a baking tray lined with baking paper and place them in a preheated oven for about 10 minutes, or until they are golden brown. (do not overcook) Leave the biscuits to stand for about 5 minutes to firm up Using a metal spatula, transfer them carefully from the baking tray on to a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar.
You can store the biscuits in an airtight container for up to 1 week or place in the freezer for later use (wrap them well).
Lilly Pilly Recipes
I spent this afternoon in the garden and noticed the Lilly Pilly (Syzygium spp.) trees were loaded with fruit. So, being the flexible person that I am, gardening was out for the day and preserving was in.
Here is a photo of the Lilly Pilly fruit on the tree.
The fruit is then washed and cut in half to remove the stone. I could have left the stones in, but unsuspecting visitors may be embarrassed about spitting the pips out.
The first batch I made was Brandied Lilly Pilly. Place a layer of fruit in a sterilized jar and lightly cover with sugar. Keep adding more layers of fruit and sprinkle with sugar each time until you reach the top of the jar. Cover with Brandy and label the jar. Shake the jar daily until all of the sugar has dissolved, then place in a cupboard for three months before using.
The second batch of fruit was used to make preserved Lilly Pilly in Quince sauce. If you would rather make sugar syrup instead of Quince sauce, mix equal parts of sugar and water in a saucepan and add some lemon juice or pectin, then bring to the boil. Keep the mixture at a rolling boil until the sugar has dissolved then add the Lilly Pilly fruit. Keep the mixture boiling for about 10 to 15 minutes, and then ladle the fruit into sterilized jars with a slotted spoon. Keep the liquid boiling until it has reduced by half, then pour over the fruit and seal well.
The reason I used Quince sauce was because I had it in the cupboard from a failed batch of Quince jelly last year (it didn’t set so I called it sweet Quince sauce) and it meant that I didn’t have to make the sugar syrup. Just heat the sauce and fruit together until boiling and follow the instructions from there. Both of these recipes can be eaten with ice cream or cream. The preserved Lilly Pilly is nice when placed in the middle of a small square of puff pastry and baked in the oven. If you have made any brandied fruit or preserved fruit before, use the Lilly Pilly as you would for any other fruit. But look at that colour – its stunning.
Stuffed Capsicum (Peppers)
A friend visited me recently and came bearing gifts. He is a commercial vegetable grower and missed picking a few squash and zucchini, so they were the size of a wallaby (slight exaggeration). He wanted to know how to cook a stuffed zucchini so I used my recipe for stuffed capsicum. They weren’t too bad but “stuffed capsicum have more taste”, I told him. So the next evening we stuffed some capsicum (he also bought a truck load of them as well (another exaggeration). They were a great hit, so for my friend and anyone else who likes stuffed capsicum, here is the recipe. Ingredients: 6 red or green (or any colour) capsicum/peppers 2 medium onions, chopped 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 500g minced steak salt & pepper to taste half cup wine or stock 1 large ripe tomato, chopped 1 cup cooked rice 1 cup tomato juice or chicken stock Method: Slice tops off capsicum and remove seeds and membrane. Combine steak, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, wine and tomato. Add rice and mix well Fill capsicums with the mixture and place in baking tray or slow cooker. Pour the tomato juice or chicken stock over the lot and cook until minced steak is done, approx 40 mins in a moderate oven or three hours on low in a slow cooker. This recipe will serve six people with a side dish, or three very hungry people. They go well with a green salad and garlic bread.
Ameliorate: - to improve or make better. I believe that virgin soil needs no amelioration. It is fine just as it is. The problem we face is, the soil we farm or garden in, is not as we want it, for the plants that we would like to grow in it and has probably been altered through previous farming or gardening practices. So we add fertilizers, lime and gypsum etc. in the hope that we can improve the existing soil conditions. My question is “What’s to improve on Mother Nature?” I think a better term or word (other than ameliorate) would be ‘change’ or ‘manipulate’ – to our advantage. So, here are some suggestions to change your current soil conditions and why you would consider such changes. Most of the soil amendments or additives used in the garden alter the soil structure (gypsum) or the soil pH (lime). Good soil structure is important because it allows the free movement of water through the soil profile as well as allowing harmful gases to escape from the soil around the root zone of plants. A soil with a good structure also allows easy movement of oxygen into the pore spaces between the soil particles. Why is this important? If your soil has a poor structure due to compaction (stop parking the car on the front lawn), the air and water cannot move freely through the soil profile and there is a good chance that newly planted trees and shrubs would find it difficult for their roots to penetrate the soil. For existing trees and shrubs, it would mean that any water added to the soil, through irrigation or rain, would travel extremely slowly through the profile and possibly linger like a bad smell. The plant roots would start to die from lack of oxygen (nothing to do with the bad smell) because the water is being held in all of the pore spaces. Poor drainage, we call it.
Many clay soils are considered to have poor structure and the usual recommendation is to add gypsum. Be aware that gypsum does not react with all clay soils. There are two predominate types of clay soil. Slaking clay and dispersing clay. Gypsum will only react with dispersing clay. It flocculates (look it up in the dictionary) the soil particles, kind of clumps them together, to create larger pores for better drainage. The best way to treat slaking clay is to add organic matter. How do you know if you have slaking or dispersing clay? You could ask an Agronomist or you could attend one of my talks. Or hang in there and I will eventually cover it in a future blog post. Sandy soils can also have poor structure. Unlike clay soil, water can move very quickly through sandy soil. Many sandy soils are referred to as ‘gutless’, meaning they have little ability to sustain good plant growth. The reason for this is the free movement of water through the profile. The water leaches or takes with it, any nutrients that were previously available for plant growth. The lack of ability to hold on to moisture for any length of time, also means that plants can suffer from water stress more often than if the same plants were grown in a good loamy soil. The best way to address these problems is to add organic matter. The organic matter will help to retain moisture in the soil and it will also help to retain and release nutrients to the plant. So why do gardeners add lime? You sometimes hear the terms ‘sweet soil’ and ‘sour soil’. This is a reference to the acidity (sour) or alkalinity (sweet) of a soil. Many farmers add massive amounts of fertilizers to their crops. Over time this can cause the soil to become acidic. To address this problem, they add lime to the soil.
The reason for doing this, whether on a farm or in a suburban backyard, is the relationship between soil pH and nutrient (fertilizer) uptake by plant roots. Plants have a preference for the amount and type of nutrients available to them. Just like you and I have a preference in what we like to eat. If the soil pH is outside of the limit or tolerance of a particular plant, then the plant is unable to extract the particular nutrients that it requires for good growth. The nutrients are often there but the plant cannot access them for various reasons. Think of yourself looking to go out for a meal but the restaurant is closed. The food is there but you cannot access it unless someone opens the door to the restaurant. Changing soil pH is sort of like opening the door to the restaurant. All of a sudden the plant has access to the required nutrients. If your soil is acidic and you are not growing acid loving plants, then the addition of lime will help to reduce the acidity. The amount of lime used will depend on your soil type. Seek professional advice. If your soil is alkaline and you would like to grow azaleas – forget about it. Alkaline soil can be encouraged to be less alkaline with the addition of sulphur. This is not however a cheap fix like lime. Again, seek professional advice. This post is getting quite lengthy and more like a lesson than a blog post. I must stop somewhere, so here it is. If you have a real interest in soil science, there are many books available on the subject, from beginners to advanced. The more you understand your soil, the easier gardening becomes.
Soil is Not Dirt
One thing that I find mildly annoying is calling soil, dirt. Dirt is what politicians put on each other, soil is a valuable resource. We use soil to grow food, grow timber for building materials, make beautiful pottery and to build mud brick homes. Soil health is very important to our own health. Food that is nutrient dense is grown in a soil that is very much alive and brimming with soil microbes. When we talk about plant nutrition we often think of feeding the plant with major and minor nutrient elements such as the big three; nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. What we really should be thinking about is feeding the soil. If we do this, the plants will thrive. A healthy organic soil has the ability to ‘hold’ on to nutrient elements until the plant requires them. Humus, the end product of decomposed organic matter, has a negative ionic charge that attracts and holds any nutrient element that has a positive ionic charge (called cations). Think of a magnet that has a north pole one end and a south pole the other end. Now instead of thinking north and south poles, change that to positive and negative. When you place two negative magnets together they will repel and the same happens for two positive magnets. But place a negative and a positive together and they will be attracted to each other and form a bond. The interesting thing is, organic matter and clay particles have a negative charge. That is super special if you want your soil to be nutrient rich. The ability of the soil to hold on to these nutrients is called the cation exchange capacity. The plant roots can then treat the soil almost like a supermarket, and go shopping for the nutrients they require for growth. The plant roots do not just take the nutrients they want, they pay for them in the form of bartering. The plant will take up a nutrient in exchange for a nutrient that it already has in its system. Cool hey?
What is also interesting is that plants really don’t care whether the nutrients are in organic form or chemical form. Nitrogen will always be nitrogen and calcium will always be calcium, but if you supply the nutrients (fertilizer) in an organic form, then you are feeding the soil and the myriad of soil micro-organisms. This of course is great for the life of the soil. To be continued........
Are your Plants Hormonal?
There are three factors affecting plant growth 1. 2. 3. Signals from the environment Nutritional factors Hormonal signals
Hormones are chemical substances produced in small amounts in one tissue and transported to another tissue where they have an effect. (Most men of course would proclaim that hormones have a huge effect when they are referring to their partners) They are chemical messengers which regulate growth. There are five important hormones which are found in nearly all seed plants and these hormones co-ordinate the growth of the plant as a whole. Many of the effects of the external environment on development are mediated by the distribution of these hormones within the plant. They are; 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Auxin Cytokinins Gibberellins Abscisic acid Ethylene
Auxin was the first plant hormone to be discovered and it is manufactured in shoot tips, embryos, fruit and young leaves. Auxin promotes the elongation of shoot tissue cells. It is also the hormone involved in geotropic responses (curvature) of shoot tips to gravity. In many plants the presence of auxin in the growing tip of the stem inhibits the growth of lateral buds below the apex. This phenomenon is called apical dominance. Removal of the growing tip, and thus the auxin, removes the inhibiting influence and the lower buds may sprout. That is why ‘pinching out’ the apical bud stimulates bushier growth in many ornamentals. Application of artificial hormones containing auxin to cuttings will stimulate production of roots. Development of fruit is stimulated by treatment of the flower with auxin. Treatment prior to pollination of the flower will produce seedless fruit.
Cytokinin stimulates cell division and its presence will stimulate the differentiation of vascular tissue (e.g. xylem). Buds which are inhibited by apical dominance may be ‘released’ by cytokinin. Cytokinin delays the ageing process and senescence in leaves. (I am surprised cosmetic chemists or scientists have not come up with an anti-aging cream containing cytokinin – perhaps because we are not plants) Gibberellin is an important hormone in stem elongation (no comment here). Many dwarf plants are the result of diminished gibberellin in the stem. It also promotes bolting and rapid elongation of the stem. This occurs naturally in many plants which grow in a rosette form and produce a long flowering stalk. Gibberellin also promotes flowering in some long day plants, and also promotes pollen development. Abscisic acid (ABA) stimulates the closure of leaf stomata. When a plant is under water stress and begins to wilt, abscisic acid is produced in the leaves, and closure of the stomata occurs quite rapidly in response. Abscisic acid also regulates leaf abscission. Ethylene is a gas made in small quantities in plant tissue, which triggers the fruit ripening process. It is used to bring about the uniform ripening of bananas and control the flowering in pineapples. A rotten apple produces ethylene gas which causes nearby apples to rot. CO2 storage of apples prevents the ripening effect of ethylene. So – are your plants hormonal?
The coffee plant Coffea arabica is an evergreen shrub growing four to six metres high. The plant originally grew wild in Ethiopia as an understorey plant, but is now cultivated in many tropical regions, and grows best at altitudes ranging from 1300m to 2800m. These areas are frost free, have a mean daily temperature of 20°C and an average annual rainfall of 1800mm to 2000mm. Most coffee plants are grown from seed and then transplanted into the field at around 12 months old. The plant produces red or yellow berries, with each berry containing two seeds (beans). The average mature plant produces between 10-20kg of fruit annually, enough berries to make approximately 0.7kg of roasted coffee. The plant is usually five years old when considered mature and produces flowers and fruit once per year. After the berries are harvested they are put through a sluice (a bath of running water) where sticks, leaves and unripe berries float on the top. The good berries sink to the bottom and then go to a pulping house where machinery removes the pulp. Following the pulping process, the beans are run through a series of fermenting and washing tanks. The beans are then dried in the sun and left to cure for several weeks. The next phase, called milling, removes the parchment and the silver skin (a thin skin surrounding the seed). As the beans come from the machine, a fan blows off the loose skin, (a bit like exfoliation). The beans then go on to a separator, which removes sand, dust and broken beans, they are then sorted until only the largest beans remain. The beans are then taken to a roasting plant where they are emptied into chutes and again cleaned of dust and foreign material. The coffee then goes to a blending machine, which can mix different types of coffee, and then to storage bins, before being roasted. The beans are roasted at 482°C for 16 to 17 minutes where they lose about 1/6 of their weight. They are then cooled and cleaned, then stored until ground. After being ground to drip, regular or fine requirements, the coffee is packed in vacuum tins or paper bags. Instant coffee can be either powdered or freeze-dried, and is often produced from the plant Coffea canaphora ‘Pierre’ known as ‘Robusta’, which is inferior in quality than Coffea arabica. Powered instant coffee is made by brewing coffee in huge containers and evaporating the water from the brew, leaving powder crystals.
Freeze-dried instant coffee is made by converting freshly brewed coffee into an extract and freezing it in slabs. The slabs are ground into chunks and put in pressurized chambers. Moisture in the form of ice is drawn off, leaving dry coffee crystals. Decaffeinated coffee, in most cases, is produced when the caffeine is removed by means of a cold water extraction, done with the aid of chemicals.
Hedges & Screens
Hedges can be an asset to the garden or they can be deleterious. The positioning of your hedge or screen will determine which of the above effects will occur. They can be formal or informal, or even semi-formal and they can range in height from 15cm (six inches) up to three metres (approx nine or ten feet). A good question to ask your-self would be, “why do I want a hedge?” Perhaps you want a privacy screen from the nosey next door neighbour (visual pollution), or maybe you would like to create a micro climate in your garden so you can grow that special plant. Whatever the reason, the hedge or screen must serve a function, - it must be justified. Hedges and screens have been used for borders and barriers, privacy, protection from wind, dust or airborne salt, for directing a view or screening a view and even to direct movement by restricting human and animal access. Whatever your reason for choosing to plant a hedge or screen there are some important criteria to consider when selecting the best plant. First of all the plant must be tolerant of constant pruning and capable of quick rejuvenation. You don’t really want to wait three or four months for the plant to bush up again after pruning. Next, the plant needs to be low branching with a dense habit and preferably have small leaves. It must be long lived with a moderate growth rate. (If you are thinking of building a maze, you certainly don’t want slow growing plants. People would cheat and step over the top instead of working their way out). Ideally the plant would be resistant to pests and disease; there is nothing worse than a dead plant or two in the middle of your formal hedge. The chosen plant must also be able to compete with its neighbours for light, water, nutrients and good root development. The soil and climate are also important considerations when making your choice of plants. Some of the limitations or disadvantages of formal hedges include the fact that they are labour intensive, there is significant root competition because of the close proximity of planting, odd plants may die out, leaving gaps and they can often take years to develop to the desired height and density.
On the positive side, screens have more flexibility (as opposed to hedges). They create a soft, natural appearance which is often times more pleasing than a fence. You can create a screen from mixed or single plant species, giving different results. Chosen plants can be dense in their form or more open, giving a semi-permeable effect and reducing wind velocity. Plants other than small trees and shrubs can be considered. What about climbers on a trellis or containerised plants? Espaliers are also useful and they take up less ground space for the same or similar end result. So why did I say that the planting position is important? Because if you get it wrong, instead of protecting your plants or garden a hedge or screen can funnel wind, hot or cold, and frost, right onto your desirable plants. Look at your site, know the wind directions all year round and if you are in an area with frost and you are trying to grow frost tender plants, watch the behaviour of the frost and notice where it settles. Frost tends to move much the same way as water does, that is, downhill. It will also build up behind a solid barrier. Once you are sure that you have things under control (in your own mind at least) get on with the planting. The plant spacing should be approximately one fifth to one quarter of the mature width of the chosen plant and why not think about growing an edible hedge or screen for extra pleasure. Some all time favourites are: - rosemary, hyssop, lavender, dwarf myrtle and lilly pilly just to name a few. If you would like the botanical names just ask me.
Introduction to Eucalyptus
Australian forests (what is left of them) are made up of trees, mostly from the genus Eucalyptus. The word Eucalyptus comes from the Greek Eu, meaning well and kalyptos meaning concealed, which describes the appearance of the developing flower and the fact that it is covered by a cap. Eucalyptus species have been planted in many parts of the world, sometimes becoming problematic. There are over 500 species of Eucalyptus growing in Australia and prior to seed movement by Europeans only nine species were found growing outside of Australia, most of these occurred in New Guinea. Four main characteristics are frequently used for identification of Eucalypts (gum trees). They are: bark, flowers, fruit and leaves. The bark is usually described as smooth or rough. Within the rough category there is further distinction between stringy bark, iron bark, bloodwood, box and fibrous. The smooth barks can be described as having scribbles, flakes or ribbons. Inflorescence characteristics are identified by the type and arrangement, the number of flowers and the peduncle. With unbranched (axillary and simple) inflorescence, the clusters develop on a single axillary peduncle and with branched (axillary and compound), the clusters occur on two or more peduncles arising from a rhachis. The third and less common type of inflorescence is called terminal and compound where a number of clusters develop in a branched arrangement at the tips of branches. The peduncle itself can also be used in identifying certain species. They are described as simple or compound, stout or slender and round, elliptical, angular, flattened or strap-like. Buds are comprised of three parts, the pedicel, hypanthium and operculum. The pedicel is either attached directly to the apex of the peduncle or each bud develops at the top of its own pedicel. The shape of the operculum, also used for identification, is described as beaked, conical, elongated or hemispherical and the length is either long or short. The fruit is a capsule that is dry and woody, often called a gum nut. Fruit width is either small (narrower than 0.5 cm), medium (0.5 – 1.5 cm) or large (wider than 1.5 cm). The number of valves varies between species and there is the same number of fruit in a cluster as there are flower buds in a cluster.
Flower colour is red, pink, orange, yellow, greenish yellow, cream or white. Leaves are often similar, only changing in length. The leaves are produced from buds that are not covered by a protective scale. Theses naked buds allow rapid growth and multiple stems unlike some Northern Hemisphere trees that have a protective leaf bud and only produce one set of branches each spring/summer. The juvenile leaves are often arranged differently along the stem to that of the adult leaves. For example juvenile leaves can be opposite and adult leaves alternate, along the stem. The shape of the juvenile leaves can also be a characteristic of one species. The leaves have a thick waxy cuticle to help prevent moisture loss and mature leaves hang down in a vertical position so only a small surface area is exposed to the hot midday sun. One of the adaptations found in Eucalypts is the lignotuber, a special swollen structure at or near the base of the plant. It contains a mass of woody tissue with large food reserves and numerous dormant buds. The trees will sprout from these lignotubers if exposed to fire, drought or hard pruning. The Mallee Eucalypts develop the largest lignotubers and can be found producing many trunks from the same lignotuber. The Eucalypt or gum tree can be seen by some to be a pest or nuisance but they provide food and shelter for native birds and animals. The hollows in the branches are home for 25% of Australian mammals and a large number of Australian birds. They also provide shelter on farms and hardwood timber for building. They help prevent soil erosion and decrease soil salinity problems. Their recreational use is often overlooked, providing forests for camping, bird watching, bushwalking and just chilling out.
Is Your Garden a Mirror?
Is your garden formal or informal? Is it orderly and rigid or relaxed and cottage like? Do you have a structured garden at all? Perhaps you have some occasionally mown weeds with a car nicely parked on top. Do you have a lot of ornamentation? It is said that dog owners often times look like their pets. Can the same be said of gardens and garden owners? If indeed, our garden is a reflection of ourselves, then I’m not inviting anybody around for a garden party. What is your garden like?
Today I have a guest blogger, Rob Fairweather of wilddogphotographics.com, who is quite a dab hand at taking close up photographs of flowers and bugs. In this post, Rob is talking about a cheap torch he purchased from the hardware store and ended up using it with his camera to take macro shots, instead of using an expensive flash.
Low Cost Macro Photography
Rob Fairweather www.wilddogphotographics.com
Over the past year or so, digital cameras have begun to “come of age”. Many “Compacts” are beginning to challenge the more expensive DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras – where specialist functions are involved. Of course, there's always the size, weight and convenience aspect of the Compact, but in certain areas, the optics used in the Compacts has unexpected advantages. As the size of the image detector is reduced, the optics can also be made smaller and cheaper – but at the same time, the depth of field of the recorded image increases. (The depth of field is defined as the distance around the focus point where at the intended viewing size, the image is acceptably focussed.) This means that if we want to enlarge an image excessively, then the effective depth of field decreases, because any focussing errors become very noticeable. One of the biggest problems in macro photography is that as we move closer to the subject, the depth of field decreases dramatically. To increase the depth of field again, we have to reduce the lens aperture (use a higher f stop). This of course reduces the amount of light that the camera sees, and so we have to use a lower shutter speed to compensate. Light levels can drop so far that special electronic flash gear is required! That is – up until now! A few weeks ago when shopping in our local hardware shop, I noticed some LED torches for sale at around $20. I picked one up, and turned it on – to discover that it had a zoom feature (wide angle to spot), and generated a very intense white light. I bought one there and then. I've been waiting for such a light source for some time. Yesterday I decided to check out it's suitability for a close-up light source for macro shooting.
I used 3 cameras for my test – a Canon IXUS 860IS (8 Mp slim line), a Canon Powershot G10 (15Mp compact), and a Canon 5D MkII (21Mp DSLR). The two compacts could focus down to 1 or 2 cm in macro mode, and the SLR to 30 cm with a macro lens fitted. My subject was a bract of flowers measuring about 5cm high on a little succulent. The individual flowers were about 5mm across, and I focussed on one particular flower during each test. The IXUS lens aperture was fixed at f/2.8, whereas the G10 was shot with the aperture at f/2.8 and also f/8. The 5D was shot at f/2.8 and f/16. Colour rendition with the IXUS needed a little adjustment in Photoshop to match the other two cameras. Except for the IXUS, I used a tripod to hold the cameras, however the IXUS and G10 would have been quite happy without the tripod, because they were both fitted with image stabilisers. Settings for each image are as below. 5D_31 f/16, 0.3 seconds - 5D_32 f/2.8, 100th second G10_33 f/8, 20th second – G10_34 f/2.8, 160th second IXUS860_21 f/2.8, 500th second. 5D_36 shows the torch and the camera setup while the G10 was photographing the flowers. The depth of field using the 5D for this shot is rather wanting (f.6.3 60th) hand held. I focussed on the camera and figured that the rest was acceptably rendered for this task. As you can see, the compacts do a much better job with their lensed wide open than the DSLR, and the G10 produces a very acceptable image when stopped down to it's minimum aperture. It's lens would have only been about 2cm from the flowers during the shoot. For very small subjects in the garden (bugs etc,) the torch light can be zoomed in to produce a very intense light spot. Total cost of the lighting setup – about $20 – and you get to find your way home in the dark!
Planning a Productive Garden
Why plan a garden, productive or otherwise? You do not have to make a plan prior to planting out your garden. It could just evolve and change as your taste changes, but there are definite advantages to planning the garden or brainstorming with the family to find out individual expectations of how the garden will be used. How many people are in the household? Are there any pets? Does anyone in the family have allergies? Do the pets have plant allergies? How much time can you allocate for gardening and maintenance per week? And the list goes on..... With a little bit of prior planning, the plants in the garden could grow healthier, meaning they are less likely to suffer from insect attack or fungal diseases. A good example is the correct sighting of a nasturtium plant to lure cabbage moth away from the cabbages. A productive garden could mean different things to different people but in my mind, if the garden gives me pleasure in any way, be it shade on a hot sunny day, shelter for birdlife, flowers to smell or fruit and vegetables to eat, then it is producing happy moments for me. The first task for a new garden would be to test the soil. Texture, structure, pH, drainage, infiltration rates and wettability are all simple tests that can be performed by the home gardener (Details in a future post). Once you have an idea of your soil type, and its ability to support plant life, then take note of where the sunny and shady spots are, in the garden. Remember that the angle of the sun will change throughout the year as well, so some spots that used to be in shade over one season may be in the sun next season, and are there any neighbouring trees or buildings that might change the micro-climate of your yard? If you have pets, especially dogs, where do they run when you open the back door and let them out? That may not be a good place to position the vegetable or flower bed unless you can fence it off. What about planting aromatic herbs or flowers near windows so you can appreciate their fragrance. But don’t plant too many together or their individual perfume will be lost. Or plant insect repellent herbs near doors and around entertainment areas.
The garden does not have to be lawn in the front yard with a few flowers, a square of lawn in the backyard with a few more flowers and the garden shed, and the vegetable patch out of site. Plants can be mixed harmoniously so that fruit trees, berries, vines, flowers and vegetables all grow happily together. This is often the case with companion planting. Some fruit and nut trees produce a beautiful show of flowers prior to setting fruit and some of the flowers grown for aesthetic purposes are actually edible. Vegetables come in many shapes, colours and textures and add to the overall appeal of the garden, so don’t hide them, but be proud of your ability to grow home grown tasty produce. If you like a bit of formality in the garden, why not use thyme, hyssop, chives, lavender or rosemary as a clipped hedge for bordering paths instead of the usual English box. And perhaps at the end of each row you could allow the chosen hedge plant to grow a bit taller and prune it into a pyramid or ball shape. All of the pruning’s could be dried for later use or made into products like herbal ointments or cosmetics or added to food preserves for additional flavour. If you like a more informal approach, try using parsley as a filler plant in the flower garden or oregano as a ground cover anywhere in the garden. If you have an area for garbage bins, compost heaps, spare plant pots and a potting bench, perhaps you might like to screen them off by erecting a trellis and planting an edible climber or espalier an edible tree. Or maybe you would like to grow some plants from a warmer climate that would not normally grow in your area – then how about changing the micro-climate to create warmth. A few well placed paving bricks and stone walls, or even a water feature, may do the trick. So with some careful planning and a bit of creativity, almost anything can be achieved. Share some of your achievements.
Robinia, aka Black Locust, Honey Locust, False Acacia. Whatever you want to call it, it should be banned. I was pulling out Robinia suckers today; they were in the lawn, garden beds and the orchard. As I was doing this and cursing the day I planted them, I started to wonder why the heck did I plant them in the first place. Granted, the flowers are pretty, but was that the only reason? So back to my library I went. I told myself I needed to do some research, but in reality I just needed a break from working in the baking heat. I’m not getting any younger. One reference book told me that the tree is native to eastern United States from Pennsylvania to Georgia and west to Iowa, Missouri and Oklahoma. It is planted as an ornamental shade tree, growing up to 25 m (80ft) with very fragrant flowers (probably why I planted it). Another book confirms this information and also adds, the tree is common in open dry sites with poor sandy soil (probably why I bought it) and has wood that is among the hardest, heaviest and most rot resistant of any tree in North America. This particular book also claims that the tree has a limited native occurrence, found mostly in the Ozarks and the central and southern Appalachians. Interestingly both books have conflicting information on the toxicity or lack of, for this Robinia. One particular book on edible plants, goes into great detail on the correct time to harvest the flowers for eating, even describing the taste and offering suggestions for their use in cooking. The next segment of the same book goes on to explain that the seeds are also edible and the author has personal experience in eating them. He also makes a comment that some other authors claim the seeds are poisonous but he has been unable to find any verification of their toxicity. On to the next book, which is about common poisonous plants. This author mentions that the entire tree is toxic, particularly the bark, leaves and seeds which contain poisonous proteins similar to ricin in Castor Bean, but less toxic. He goes on to say that human poisoning from Robinia is potentially serious but rare and fatalities are unknown. So who is correct? The doctors and chemists who analyse the plant parts, or the forager who has gathered the information from family and friends over decades of use. I don’t know, so I went for a third book in the library. This one is big and bulky and looks impressive, but what about the information?
According to my third source, Native American Cherokee used the root bark for toothache and the trunk bark as a seasoning to flavour medicine. Horses also foraged on the leaves and chickens foraged on the seeds. So what is the answer? Anything that I currently have in my pantry sounds better than peeling bark from a tree or climbing 25 m to pick some flowers for fritters. Oh for an easy life.
What a wonderful thing to have physical senses and to appreciate them in the garden is even better. So what is a sensory garden? It is a garden which stimulates all or some of our five senses. All gardens are sensory to a certain degree. They either, look pretty (sight), smell nice (smell), grow fruit and vegetables (taste), have rusting leaves, running water or wind chimes (sound) or have different textured leaves (touch).
A well designed garden can be a pleasure to the eyes. Good use of open space and enclosed areas can create interest, relaxation or intimacy. The use of colour can change a person’s mood. A Lot of green foliage is relaxing to the eyes where as a lot of ‘hot’ colours are stimulating and give a ‘wow’ factor but do not encourage the visitor to sit and contemplate. A visually impaired person would appreciate colour contrasts in foliage of the plants in the garden. Grey or variegated white leaved plants carefully positioned along a path, show up well when illuminated of a night thus helping to guide the walker along the path. Or light coloured pavers used as a header course along the edge of a path will achieve the same result. Plants that are pollinated by birds or butterflies add another dimension to the visual garden. As do plants that reflect the seasons. Deciduous trees indicating the approach of winter and early flowering spring bulbs to herald the beginning of spring. Aroma. This is an interesting one because, not only do we have some incredibly wonderful smelling plants but, we also have some almighty rotten stinking plants. Have you ever smelled Dracunculus vulgaris? OMG. This plant is pollinated by blowflies. That may give you some indication of the flower scent and Ruta graveolens (rue), I think comes a close second. Have you ever smelled stray tom cats at the height of breeding season? Yep, that’s rue. Because the two words ‘sensory' and 'garden’ sound so romantic and ‘nice’, let’s forget the stinkers and concentrate on the less offensive plants. Remember it is not only flowers that smell but also foliage. Freshly mown grass has a distinctive smell, agreeable to most (except hayfever sufferers) and rain on a lemon scented gum tree also has a unique refreshing aroma.
Smells or odours can also bring back memories from recent or long forgotten events. Research has also shown that certain plant aromas can stimulate specific responses in a person. For example, basil, jasmine, rosemary, thyme, bergamot and pine are stimulating to the senses, so you would not plant these in an area where you have seating and want to encourage someone to spend some time. Conversely, lavender, lemon balm, clary sage and chamomile have a sedating effect, so you would plant these around or near a garden seat. Remember not to plant all of your favourite scented plants in the same garden bed. The smell would be overwhelming and not distinctive. Give each plant their own space, so you can enjoy the individual aroma. Taste. This sense is rather obvious with gardeners growing the plants they like the taste of. It may be vegetables, fruit, berries or herbs and spices to use in cooking. The most important thing here is to be aware of any poisonous plants that you may have growing in the garden and keep children and pets well away from them. Sometimes even the most beautiful plants like Wisteria and Laburnum can be deadly to children. The sound of running water in a garden can be very soothing (unless you have a full bladder) and carefully placed wind chimes can indicate wind direction, or a tall person walking in to them if they are poorly positioned. If you take the time to stop and listen while sitting in a garden, there is no silence. Bees humming, frogs croaking, birds chirping or warbling, crickets singing, dogs barking, lawn mowers revving etc, etc. The idea is to concentrate on the pleasant sounds, so if you want birds in your garden, provide them with food water and shelter. If you want frogs in the garden, create a frog pond – but remember they don’t have watches and will not stop making a noise just because you think it is bedtime. If placing wind chimes around the garden make sure they are not in walk ways, but carefully positioned where there is no foot traffic, but a high likelihood of a gentle breeze. The sense of touch, like the sense of smell, can be pleasurable or not. Rubbing your fingers over the soft leaves of lamb’s ears (Stachys sp.) is a wonderful experience but brushing up against stinging nettle may be memorable but not pleasurable. There are so many plants available to gardeners that the variety of leaf forms and shapes is enormous. Soft leaves, prickly leaves, smooth leaves, rough leaves, hairy leaves, no leaves and on it goes. The plants and trees themselves are also wonderful to touch, smooth bark, rough bark, shrubs that bounce back when crushed, grasses that move in the slightest breeze (or is that a snake in there?) and let’s not forget the soil.
How wonderful it is to place your hands in the soil and be part of creating a garden for the senses.
Is shade a problem in your garden? And exactly what type of shade do you have? When we talk about shade plants or shady gardens we need to be a little more specific if we are seeking advice. The type of shade you have will influence the choice of plant to grow in that position. The garden could be in dappled shade, part shade, full shade, wet shade, dry shade or seasonal shade. Let’s look at each one. Dappled shade is normally found under large trees with an open or sparse canopy. The leaves block out some of the sunlight but not all of it and as the sun moves through the sky, the shade moves across the ground so that any one plant is not in the shade permanently Part shade is a place in the garden that receives at least four hours of sunlight everyday but is also in the shade for part of the day. This could possibly be an east facing direction or a west facing direction. That is, the plant receives either morning or afternoon sun and morning or afternoon shade. This can also happen on a southerly aspect (southern hemisphere) where the garden bed may be in the shade for most of the day but receives late afternoon sun (in summer) depending on your latitude. Full shade is an area in the garden that does not receive any direct sunlight at all. This can occur on the southern side of a building (southern hemisphere) between two houses or buildings. Full shade can also occur under the canopy of very dense evergreen trees. Wet shade as the name suggests, is usually found in areas of full shade which also have heavy clay soil with poor drainage. The soil tends to stay wet, even waterlogged at times because there is little evaporation from the sun. These areas are certainly a challenge for the gardener but there are plants available that will grow in this environment. Dry shade is extremely challenging when it comes to gardening. These areas often occur under trees with a dense canopy. The foliage blocks out light, dew and rain to the area below it.
Understory plants grown in this environment have to compete for light, water, nutrients and competition from tree roots. In some situations it is best not to plant in these areas but to lay down some gravel, pavers or plants in pots. Seasonal shade is often found under deciduous trees, or as mentioned earlier, on the southern side of a house (southern hemisphere) during summer. Deciduous trees can be used to great advantage, providing winter warmth and summer shade to areas in the garden. So how can you tell if a plant will grow in the shade? Most shade loving plants do not have the same appearance as sun lovers do. Sun loving plants often have thick or small leaves, or a waxy or hairy coating. Their vampire-like shade loving cousins frequently have large leaves that are also thin. These leaves need to be energy efficient because of the low light levels (intensity and also duration) so some shade loving plants produce leaves that appear purple or reddish. The purple/red leaves contain chemicals (anthocyanins) that perform the function of backscattering light, which makes them absorb energy (through light) more efficiently. Many shade tolerant plants originate from rainforests. The canopy in a rainforest can be very dense and plants found growing on the forest floor have adapted to low light levels. If your garden has a micro-climate similar to a tropical or sub tropical rainforest, look at plants that naturally grow in those regions (assuming you also have the required amount of water they need). If you live in an area where the climate is cooler, take a look at the plants that naturally grow in a cool temperate forest. To create a shady garden, start planting trees NOW. Many of the shade loving plants also like lots of water and high humidity, so keep the soil well mulched to retain moisture and plant densely to create a humid environment. Perhaps you could also install a fish pond or water feature to help to increase humidity levels.
Here is a short list of some plants that will grow in the shade. But remember to cross reference with soil pH, temperature and drainage. Cycas revoluta (sago palm) Nandina domestica (sacred bamboo) Nephrolepis cordifolia (fishbone fern) Cordyline spp. Liriope muscari (liriope) Platycerium superbum (staghorn) Dicksonia antarctica (tree fern) Clivea miniata (clivia) Camellia spp. Agapanthus sp. Monstera deliciosa (fruit salad plant) Philodendron sp. Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) Ajuga reptans (bugle) Brachyscome multifida (cut-leaf daisy) Bergenia cordifolia (bergenia) Lomandra longifolia (mat rush) Hibbertia obtusifolia (Guinea flower) Dianella tasmanica (flax lily) can be very aggressive Correa alba (white correa) makes a nice cup of tea Acanthus mollis (oyster plant) can be weedy Viola hederacea (native violet) oh cute Ophiopogon japonicus (mondo grass) Hedera sp. (ivy)
Lonicera sp. (honeysuckle) Viburnum tinus (laurustinus) Assorted Bromeliads Of course there are many more, but I have to stop somewhere.
After publishing a post on coffee recently, I thought it best to also post an article on tea. The tea plant Camellia sinensis grows in tropical and subtropical climates. The plant grows quickly where the air is warm, and more slowly where the air is cool, adding to its flavour. The finest tea comes from elevations of 900m to 2100m. The plant matures in three to five years and workers, called ‘tea pluckers’ pick off the new shoots by hand. Mechanical harvesters are now common in countries with flat land. There are three main kinds of tea: 1. 2. 3. black green oolong
The difference is in the method of processing. Black tea. Harvested leaves are spread over racks and air is blown over them to remove moisture. The leaves are then crushed and placed in a fermenting room under controlled temperature and humidity. Finally the leaves are dried in ovens and become a brownishblack colour. Green tea. The leaves are placed in large vats and steamed, which prevents them changing colour. They are then crushed and dried in ovens. Oolong tea. The leaves are partially fermented which gives a greenish-brown colour. Grades of tea, refers to the size of the leaves and not the quality of the tea. In order of size, starting with the largest, the grades are:
orange pekoe pekoe pekoe souchong
The smaller leaves generally used in tea bags are classified as:
broken orange pekoe broken orange pekoe fannings fannings
Instant tea, (a powdered form) is made by brewing tea leaves on a large scale and then removing the water by a drying process. Plants grown in different locations produce tea that can vary in taste and quality. What is your preference?
Ten Gardening Tips
1. Always face an empty wheelbarrow in the direction of travel BEFORE you fill it up. It is much easier to move a heavy object forward, than try to manoeuvre its direction once loaded. When designing vegetable beds, make them no wider than 900 mm (approx 3’) so you do not have to tread on the soil when planting, weeding and harvesting.
3. If you have already made your vegetable beds wider than 900 mm, place a flat paving stone or piece of hardwood timber, between the planting rows. Use these to step on so you don’t tread on the soil. 4. Grow quick growing vegetables like radish, between longer maturing vegetables, like cauliflower. The quick growing vegetables will be grown and harvested before the longer maturing varieties need the space. This is called inter-plating. 5. To prolong the life of lemons after harvest, store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. 6. After harvesting pumpkins, store them on their side in the sun for about three weeks, turning them regularly. They should then store for about 12 months. 7. To keep wooden handles on gardening implements in good condition, treat them twice per year with an equal mixture of Linseed oil and turpentine. 8. Remove the dead flower heads of annuals, shrubs and trees (if you can reach), to give a longer flowering season. 9. Bentonite, humus and swales help to ameliorate the problem of non-wetting soils. 10. When constructing garden steps, the tread should measure between 300 -450 mm and the rise should measure between 100 – 150 mm. This should make the steps feel comfortable to walk on.
The Truth and Nothing but the Truth
When I am researching a particular plant, I find it fascinating when reading all of my gardening books and magazines that the information contained in them can be different and even sometimes conflicting. What a dilemma this must be for the new gardener or student. One book might tell me that a certain plant grows to five metres and is well behaved. The next book has me believe that the same plant is a forest giant to thirty metres that drops loads of purple fruit on my white car and I will never be able to get the stains off. Now I am confused. Do I plant it near the neighbour’s driveway or in my garden? Often times, both authors are correct. One author may be talking about the plant in it’s natural habitat and the other author may be describing the growth of the same plant in conditions that are not ideal for optimum growth. So what can you do? Look at where the author comes from. Does he or she live in a cold and wet climate or a veritable desert? Then research the origins of the plant. What country does it naturally occur in and at what altitude. What is the annual rainfall and average temperature? You would then have a rough idea of how the plant might behave in your garden. And don’t be fooled by a cute 30 cm sapling in a small pot at the nursery begging “pick me, pick me.” Lurking under that skinny floppy twiggy plant, could be your worst nightmare. Research at the outset might cost you a small amount of time but could save you heartache and a lot of money in the future.
What an interesting name for life-like art work. Artists create three dimensional images on a two dimensional canvas (whatever the canvas might be) which forms the optical illusion. I remember receiving an email a few years ago called ‘chalk art.’ It was mind blowing. The artist was creating three dimensional images on the pavement. They were so real that people using the footpath would avoid what appeared to be a hole in the ground where tradesmen were working. Another email I received showed a picture of a Trompe l’oeil mural painted on a bathroom floor. The floor of the bathroom appeared to be nonexistent – you could see the ground beneath, as if looking from a plane. There was even a person falling to the ground. Would you use the bathroom if that is what you saw when you opened the door? I think a few profanities might escape my mouth before I set foot on the floor. So what does this have to do with gardening? Murals are often used in courtyard gardens to create the illusion of space. If done well, they can trick the eye into believing there is ‘something there’, when in fact it is probably a wall. The ‘something’ could be a water feature, a door or gate into another part of the garden or just more garden. I am fortunate enough to know a lovely lady who paints Trompe l’oeil for sale. She also holds classes on rare occasions. I look forward to participating in her next one.
Here is some of her work.
Murals by Rose Hill
Canna edulis, known in Australia as Arrowroot and elsewhere as Achira. The plant can be described as a soft wooded perennial or an herbaceous perennial, depending where it is grown. Growth is approximately 2.5 metres (around 8ft) high and the width depends on the spread of the underground rhizomes. The soft fleshy leaves arise from the somewhat soft, easily bent stems. The general appearance of the plant is that of the ornamental canna (Canna indica), to which it is related. The flowers of arrowroot are red to orange/gold and smaller than those of the decorative variety. The plant is thought to have originated in the Andean region because of archaeological remains from Peru. Commercially, plants are grown in Queensland Australia, Hawaii, Central and South America and the Pacific Islands. I have found Arrowroot to be exceptionally hardy in the garden and easy to grow in my climate. They will grow in most soil types as long as the drainage is good. Poor drainage will lead to rotting of the rhizomes. Most gardening books advise that the plants need full sun for growth and will not tolerate shade but in my garden they are happily growing in the shade of mature Eucalyptus trees. During the growing season make sure the plants have adequate moisture (don’t you love that term, ‘adequate’, what does it actually mean?). For me, I make sure the plants don’t get to the wilting stage. During winter, I do not water the plants at all. Give them a sheltered spot otherwise the leaves can be shredded by strong winds which looks unsightly but has no affect on the goodness of the root. (It’s an aesthetic thing). The leaves, root and seed are edible. The young shoots are cooked and eaten as a green vegetable and the immature seed are used in tortillas. The root is used raw or cooked and is the source of Arrowroot. It is rasped to a pulp then washed and strained to get rid of the fibres. The starch easily separates from the fibre of the root and is easily digested. In Peru the roots are baked for several hours until they become a translucent white colour and slimy or mucilaginous (sounds divine...) and sweet. In Vietnam Arrowroot is grown commercially to produce transparent noodles.
The dried root is high in starch, containing as much as 80%. It also contains 10% sugar and 1% to 3% protein. I have grown up with ‘Milk Arrowroot’ biscuits available from the supermarket, so I am loath to dig up my beautiful Arrowroot plants that are growing in the garden. Besides, it sounds like too much mucking about to get the actual starch, before you even think about baking biscuits.
Some friends came to visit me on the weekend and because it was an unexpected visit, I had not bought or baked any nice nibbles to enjoy over a cup of coffee. But I always make sure to have a packet of water crackers in the pantry and a can of organic chickpeas. It only took ten minutes to caramelise some garlic and add it to the drained chickpeas with a little lemon juice. Then place it all in a blender until it is well blended and presto – a lovely homemade dip to go with the water crackers and coffee. Of course we all had to have some because I had loaded it with garlic. As long as we all smelt the same, nobody could complain. So how do you grow chickpeas? In case you would like to make your own hummus or felafel. Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is also known as Garbanzo, Gram, Bengal gram, Egyptian pea, Dahl and Chana. It is an annual plant growing to around 30 cm (1 foot) tall with compound leaves and tiny white or blue tinged flowers. The fruit is a small pod containing one or two seeds, each with a structure or growth that looks like a beak. The plant prefers to grow in light (sandy), well drained soil that is fertile and enriched with organic matter, in full sun. Prepare the site by adding organic matter to the soil before planting and then rake the ground to create a fine tilth. Water the area well prior to sowing the seed. In areas where the climate is similar to the Mediterranean, the seed can be sown in autumn and winter. In warm temperate climates, sow the seed after frosts have passed. In a cool temperate climate, sow the seed in pots, in early spring and keep in a glasshouse until frosts have passed in late spring. If you live in the sub tropics, sow the seed after the wet season has passed. Broadcast the seed on to the prepared beds and lightly cover with soil. If you prefer to sow the seed in rows, plant them 25 cm apart with 50 cm between rows. Germination may be helped by soaking the seed for an hour before planting. Keep the growing area weed free while the young plants are establishing. Once established, the plants are not very demanding of water but do benefit from a good soak just before flowering and again when the peas begin to swell.
The pods should be ready to harvest after four to six months. You will know when the time is right because the leaves and pods will turn brown, but make sure you do not leave it too late because the pods will split and release the peas. Cut the stems at the base and tie a bundle together to hang upside down in warm, dry place. Once the seeds are dry, store them in air tight containers. Leave the roots of the plants in the ground after harvest, to supply nitrogen to the soil for the next crop that you intend to plant. Powdery mildew may be a problem for the plants near the end of their growing season, so treat as you would any other plant that is susceptible to powdery mildew. Nutritionally, chickpeas are high in protein and contain phosphorous, potassium, iron, calcium, zinc and most B vitamins. They are also low in fat and contain dietary fibre. The young shoots and leaves are also edible and can be boiled or steamed and added to curries and soups. Chickpeas are made in to stews and soups throughout Europe and in India, they are boiled, roasted, fried, sprouted, ground into flour (besan) and stewed into dhal. In Israel and Egypt, the chickpeas are made into flat cakes known as felafel. There are two main types of chickpea, white – which is really a tan colour and black – which is dark brown in colour. Dried chickpeas need to be soaked for eight hours or overnight in cold water before use. After soaking they will double in size and then they are ready for use in cooking which will take another hour and a half. I reckon it is easier just to open a can. To make a quick hummus add two garlic cloves, two teaspoons lemon juice, one table spoon olive oil, and a 400 gram can of drained chickpeas to a food processor or blender. Blend until you get a smooth paste (add some of the liquid from the can of chickpeas if the mix is too dry) and then decant in to a nice bowl. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil over the top and serve with pitta bread or water crackers. I would post a picture of the finished product but my visitors and I ate it all. Yummy
I was talking to a friend on the phone today, who happened to mention that he experienced some confusion when it came to differentiating between Bok Choy and Pak Choi. So - for my friend and any one else who experiences the same dilemma. Pak Choi also known as Chinese white cabbage in the West, but also called bok choy by Cantonese. Now this does make it confusing, so luckily we can count on botanical names. Pak choi, correctly known as Brassica rapa var.chinensis was originally from South China and has been cultivated there since the fifth century AD. It is a cool season crop preferring to grow at temperatures of 15-20 degrees Celsius (in the 60's in F) and is a biennial (growth over two years) with a shallow root system. The seeds are best sown in autumn with growth occurring over autumn and winter. If seeds are planted in spring with growth continuing into summer, the plant may 'bolt' to seed prematurely. The plant can also 'bolt' or run to seed in the first year of growth if there is insufficient water. Under good growing conditions the plant will mature in 35-55 days after sowing the seed. The whole plant is edible, that is, the leaves, leaf stalks and young flowering shoots. It does not store well and is best used fresh although the Chinese traditionally dried the leaves for use in winter. There are different forms and varieties, some having slightly different coloured leaves and/or stalks and growing anywhere from 8 cm (3") to 60 cm (24") in height. There are two main types available at the store, one has white leaf stalks and the other has green. The green stemmed types are more hardier, while the white stemmed varieties are juicier. Young plants are tender but can become stringy if grown in very hot weather. Pak choi has loose heads of about a dozen leaves with smooth margins and the leaf stalks are described as spoon shaped. There is a hint of mild mustard in the flavour and the leaves of pak choi are more nutritious than Chinese cabbage leaves (bok choy). Bok Choy also called wong bok and Chinese cabbage. Botanically its name is Brassica rapa var. pekinensis and it is believed to be a cross between pak choi and a turnip from northern China. Bok choy is from southern China and is a biennial but it is grown as an annual. It likes to grow in cool weather, similar to pak choi, and dislikes temperatures above 35 degrees C (95F). There are three main types. Hearted, loose-headed and cylindrical.
The hearted and loose-headed are also known as barrel types. The hearted type have large compact heads 20-25 cm (8-10") high and 15-23 cm (6-9") wide. They are quick to mature, taking about 55-70 days and are slow to bolt. The loose-headed type are also slow to bolt, mature in 55-70 days but are more cold tolerant and disease resistant. The cylindrical type is slow growing, taking 70-100 days to mature and is quick to bolt. It grows to 38-46 cm (15-18") tall and 10-15 cm (4-6") wide. Leaves vary from smooth and roundish to frilly and wavy. It has a general likeness to cos lettuce and needs similar growing and nutritional requirements. Bok choy likes plenty of water while it is growing. Bok choy stores well in the fridge and can be used as an iceberg lettuce substitute in sandwiches and hamburgers. Hope that helps
I was strolling around the vegetable patch today, checking the status of the plants (I was actually checking to see if the capsicums had decided to start growing yet, or not). Several of the vegetables/herbs are going to seed already so back I went into the house to grab some paper bags, scissors and marking pens. I had not harvested all of the Florence fennel (also known as finocchio), so what was left in the garden had flowered and set seed. While flowering, beneficial insects are attracted to the yellow umbels of flowers, a bonus for other plants nearby. I quite like harvesting fennel seed because they are large enough to see what you are doing. The seed, once dry, can be stored for planting next season or they can be used in cooking. Traditionally, fennel seed is used when cooking cabbage, cauliflower and onions. That's because it is believed to help aid digestion and prevent flatulence. (hmm.. must remember to give some to my friends). If you are growing Florence fennel near other types of fennel, like roadside fennel for example, keep in mind that they can cross pollinate, so if you want to keep your seed source pure for the fennel bulbs, then you will need to de-flower any other nearby plants. Once you have collected your ripe seed (not green ones), they will need to be dried before storage. If you don't do this then there is a good chance the seed will go mouldy. Spread the seed out on a flat surface, an old fly screen or fine mesh of some sort will do and let them dry at room temperature for a couple of weeks. [I love the term 'room temperature'. It could mean anything from 15 degrees Celsius to 28 degrees Celsius.] When you are certain the seed is dry, they can be stored in airtight containers for future use. If I am storing them for only a short period of time because I intend to re-plant some seed in autumn, then I keep them in a labelled brown paper bag - at room temperature!! For the longer term storage I sometimes use those little silicon sachets that you get when you buy new shoe's and I pop one in with the seed, just in case there is some moisture in the air. I am more inclined to do this with seed that is hard to get or in short supply. I don't want to lose them. If the seed have been dried and stored correctly they should last up to four years.
People are becoming more aware of health issues and are taking responsibility for their own health. As a result, there has been an increase in the consumption of salads. Growing your own leafy greens can create a sense of satisfaction and supply you with an array of fresh daily produce. When making your own salads, try mixing a few different varieties of salad greens and experiment with the combinations of flavours. Some easy greens to start you off are: lettuce, baby endive, baby rocket, mibuna, mizuna, baby tatsoi, sorrel, salad burnet and even dandelion. There are many different varieties of lettuce, some forming a heart and others with loose heads. The best known and most widely used lettuce in Australia is ‘Iceburg’ (called ‘crisphead’ in the US). It doesn’t really have a taste (As a child, I remember sprinkling sugar on the leaves and rolling them up, just to give them some flavour) but it is crunchy. It is known as a hearting lettuce and is dense and firm. It has good keeping qualities and is useful for shredding or cutting into wedges. Butter lettuce is a loose head variety with soft leaves that have a buttery feel and a mild taste. Mignonette is another variety of butter lettuce with tightly furled leaves, green or red-ish in colour and a slightly bitter flavour. Loose leafed varieties include coral, which is available in green and red, and has leaves with tight frilly edges and a sharp flavour, and oakleaf, whose leaves can be harvested individually as needed, also in green and red. Let’s not forget ‘cos’ lettuce, which is traditionally used in Caesar salad. It is also known as ‘romaine’ and has stiff, upright, elongated leaves, the inner ones being much sweeter than the outer leaves. Endive or curly endive (also called frisee) is a member of the chicory family. It is a loose headed variety with frizzy, curly leaves and a mild, bitter taste. Radicchio, also known as Italian chicory is available as both loose leafed and hearted. It has a bitter taste that ranges in intensity depending on season and maturity. Use sparingly.
Rocket, called arugula in the US, has a peppery flavour that intensifies as the plant matures. Baby rocket has a milder flavour and wild rocket has a nuttier taste than the flat leafed variety. Mizuna, also known as Japanese mustard, has long serrated leaves with a sweet earthy flavour. We grew so much of this at work a few years ago that one of our students took a truckload (mild exaggeration) home for her chef husband to be creative with. The result was, every student in the class received a jar full of mizuna pesto. It was scrumptious. Salad burnet is a favourite of mine, not just because it tastes nice but also because it is a perennial in my climate and I don’t have to replant it every year. The leaves are small and compound and taste like cucumber. This gives you the opportunity to have a cucumber taste in your sandwiches through winter when cucumbers are not normally grown. Dandelion is often overlooked because it is considered a weed, but it is a very useful plant. All parts of the plant are edible, so leaves and flowers can be used in a salad. Growing your own is as simple as preparing a bed or pot for your plants and putting in some seed. Remember not to sow the seed too deep or they will not germinate and keep them well watered for fast growth and continuous harvest. Some workable combinations are: Rocket, pear and parmesan Radicchio, pear and walnut Mustard cress and pine nut Experiment and let me know your results.
My Vegie Patch
The vegetables are growing nicely but the only ones that I have been able to harvest are the greens. The English spinach is healthy and producing wonderful tender young leaves, that taste great lightly tossed in oil until wilted and added to lightly cooked ginger and chilli, sprinkled with Garam Masala yummy. The lettuce is healthy enough but thinks that it is a miniature variety and refuses to grow any bigger. Good to use on small sandwiches and salad for one. The zucchini are playing hide and seek. The male flowers come out when the female flowers are closed and then the female flowers open after the male flowers have given up waiting. Does this sound familiar? It has been interesting watching the growth, or death, of the tomato plants this summer. I planted ten different varieties to see which ones would perform well in my climate. The three varieties that had not grown at all, died during the last hot spell. They were :Black Russian, Walter and Burke’s Backyard Italian. I now know not to plant them next year. The best performer by far is Roma, and I am pleased because it is so versatile. After harvest I will be drying, freezing and making sauce. The sweet potato is doing exceptionally well but I cannot say the same for the ‘ordinary’ potatoes. Chives, garlic chives, shallots, onions and leeks are all good performers. These will be joining the tomatoes on the stove.
The strawberries started off well but have now come to a grinding halt – or have they? I bet the slugs, snails and lizards are all feasting while I am snoozing, so when I check during the day, there is no fruit. The parsley has now gone to seed, as has the celeriac and Florence fennel. I will soon be able to harvest and store the seed. The chillies and capsicums are waiting for summer to arrive to start growing. They haven’t realized that we are half way through summer already. Perhaps, like the lettuce, they think that they are supposed to be miniature varieties. The good news is, the herbs are growing particularly well. Oregano, thyme, sage, lemon balm, St John’s wort, salad Burnett, just to name a few, are making the most of the sunshine and growing very well and I am continually harvesting them. The current weather forecast is for a week of hot days so I had best get off the computer and into the garden to erect temporary shade over the tomatoes.
The Potager, or kitchen garden uses plants – vegetables, herbs, fruit and flowers to create a geometric, formal, aesthetically pleasing functional garden. The name potager is a derivative of potage, a French term for soup. The plot can be small or grand, depending on your needs and requirements. You may be feeding a family of two or cooking for a local restaurant. The design can be a simple pattern, like a square or diamond, or a complex Parterre with circles within squares, or Celtic knots and intricate designs, creating a tapestry of shapes and colour. Try growing vegetables with coloured foliage (other than green), like purple oak leaf lettuce, kale or rainbow chard. The flowers grown in a potager garden do not necessarily have to be edible. They can be grown for colour, or for picking and using indoors. The formality and symmetry of the potager presents a functional vegetable plot as a decorative garden feature. The mixing of vegetables with herbs and flowers creates an area full of biodiversity, rather than the usual monoculture found in many vegetable gardens. Because of this ‘mixing’ of plants, there are usually less problems with insect pests and soil borne diseases. A plus for the gardener. Some of the plants could be considered as beneficial companions – companion planting. Some parts of the potager garden, may have perennial plants, like small fruit trees, berries or roses. These are usually planted in the centre of the beds as the tallest plants and the smaller perennials like strawberries, or annuals like lettuce, are planted closer to the paths. Small perennials like thyme can be used to hedge the beds. If you create a potager within a walled garden, the fruit trees can be espaliered against the wall. As the annual vegetables, like lettuce, are harvested the now vacant spot will need to be filled with something to maintain the pattern. To keep the visual appeal, replacement plants will need to be the same or similar. For example, a harvested cos lettuce could be replaced with another cos, or a different variety of lettuce.
The potager garden is certainly not low maintenance, but if you have the time and the creative flair, why not experiment with plant form, texture and colour to create an in-ground work of art. Of course this is relatively short lived. When the season changes and the annuals have been harvested or gone to seed, you will have to start again with another batch of plants.
Seed or Seedling – Which is Best?
Planting seed directly into a vegetable patch is the quickest, easiest and least expensive way to grow vegetables. But what are the downsides to direct sowing? Local climatic conditions will pay a big part in your decision to direct sow or not. If the soil is too cold or too hot, the seed will not germinate. If the seed is subject to cold and wet conditions, it may rot in the ground before it has a chance to germinate. Seeds planted too deep in the soil will not germinate, or if they do, they will be weak and spindly and probably won’t survive. Birds or ants may take off with the newly planted seed or simply scatter the seed onto the path or some other place where it is unlikely to germinate. This certainly doesn’t sound easy, does it? The vegetables to grow from seed are the ones that do not like to be transplanted and ones that will germinate and mature within the growing season you have at your location. Here are some suggestions for vegetables to direct sow in the garden (provided your climate is suitable): beans, beets, carrots, collards, corn, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, okra, peas, peanuts, pumpkins, spinach, squash, turnips and watermelons. Soil preparation is the key to success for direct sowing of vegetable seed. Prior to sowing, add organic matter to the soil. It enriches the soil and improves structure and water holding ability. The soil microbes will also appreciate it. If you plan well ahead, grow a green manure crop over late autumn and winter. Turn this in to the soil before spring planting begins. Not all seeds are planted at the same depth. As a rule of thumb, seeds are planted at a depth which is twice the diameter of the seed at their largest point. For very small seed, just press them in to the surface of the soil. Make sure the seeds do not dry out, it may affect germination. Try not to over-sow, or plant too many seeds. It will make more work for you later, when you have to thin out the seedlings.
Seedlings: Try not to over-sow, or plant too many seeds. It will make more work for you later, when you have to thin out the seedlings. This may sound ridiculous that I have used the same sentence for both methods of sowing seed, but it is applicable to both methods. I can recall seeing the amazed look on the face of some of my students when their small punnets of seedlings looked more like a forest of grass than a punnet of vegetable seedlings. And yes, I made them prick them all out, for not following the instructions given. They thought more was better. Seedlings can be started from seed, sown in punnets or pots, or they can be purchased from your local nursery. To grow vegetable seedlings yourself, you need to make sure that you have the time to nurture them and the space to store them until they are planted in the ground. If you are a family of one, you might like to consider buying a pot of mixed seedlings from the nursery. This will save you the hassle of buying many different seed packets, only to sow a few seed out of each packet. I mean, really, how many zucchini do you really want? One plant is enough for one person, otherwise you end up cooking, freezing and drying the zucchini, then when you check the plant again, there is another four or more fruit, so you start making zucchini cake, zucchini fritters, zucchini relish.....you get the idea. If you live in a climate where the growing season is too short for some vegetables to mature from seed, then seedlings are best. If you decide to grow your own from seed, make sure they can cope with transplanting from the container into the ground. Some suggestions are: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, silver beet, lettuce and tomatoes. Vegetable seedlings that require a little more care are: celery, eggplant, onion and capsicum (peppers). Seed which do not like root disturbance, but may need to be started early in the season, indoors, can be grown individually in containers like empty toilet rolls. Those seed are: beans, corn, cucumber, okra, peas, summer and winter squash and watermelon. So which is best, seed or seedling? The best method is the one that suits your gardening style and climate.
Tips for New Vegetable Gardeners
Are you new to vegetable growing? Not sure where to start, but want to save money and the planet? Grow your own vegetables. It can be nice to think big but when it comes to trying something new, baby steps are best.
Start small, either a small section of garden or purpose built vegetable patch, or even large pots or half wine barrels. You can expand the area for growing vegetables when you have gained some confidence. Start simple – grow vegetables that are super easy to grow. One of the easiest is radish. If you don’t like radish, still grow some. You will feel good at achieving success, and then feel even better when you can give away home grown produce. Expand the range of vegetables that you grow, when you gain more confidence. Ask for help, either on-line through forums or social media sites, or in person. Join a local garden club or volunteer your labour to a local community garden. You can definitely learn by getting involved and experiencing hands on activities, especially from keen gardeners. Look for, or offer yourself in a labour exchange. It is often more fun to garden with another or in a group, so find some friends and organise a working bee in each other’s gardens for a few hours a month. Watch the path of the sun across your yard throughout the seasons, and then choose an area which receives about six hours of sunlight per day. This will be acceptable for most vegetables. Make sure the site for your vegetable garden has easy access. The paths need to be wide enough for a wheelbarrow and flat enough for a wheelbarrow. Old blankets, carpet, hessian and sawdust can be used. Make the vegetable beds narrow. It is not good for your back, to reach too far into a garden bed for planting, weeding and harvesting. It is not good for the soil structure to step on to the vegetable beds. The best width is the distance you can comfortably reach with an outstretched arm, times two, because you can walk around to the other side of the vegetable bed and reach into the bed, opposite of where you just where. If that didn’t make sense, imagine gardening with a friend, both of you opposite each other with the vegetable bed in between. Now, both of you reach toward each other with an outstretched arm, like you are going to shake hands - that is the ideal width of your vegetable bed.
The size of your vegetable patch will be determined by the size of your family. Allow one square metre per person for leafy greens and another two square metres for seasonal vegetables. If you are a family of four, your vegetable patch would measure approximately 12 square metres. Plant spacing’s can be important. Follow directions on the back of seed packets or ask a friendly gardener at your local nursery or on-line. Planting in rows is not necessary but convenient. Mix flowers, vegetables and herbs together. It looks good and confuses insect pests. Good luck in your new venture. Stay tuned for information on crop rotation, companion planting and composting.
The Trouble with Tomatoes
Of all the vegetables grown in warm temperate climates, tomatoes seem to cause the most trouble with gardeners. Pests that may attack your plants include tomato russet mite, tomato fruit caterpillar, cutworm, whitefly, potato tuber moth, eggplant borer and root knot nematode. Then there are the diseases, fusarium and verticillium (wilt), botrytis, target spot, damping off, corky root, tobacco mosaic virus and bacterial speck. Oh, but wait, there’s more. What about blossom end rot, leaf rolling, hollow fruits, growth cracks and sunscald. Really, why do we bother? Because home grown tomatoes taste so much better than shop bought ones. What has your experience been, growing tomatoes? Do you grow them in pots or in the ground? Do you have a favourite variety? Let me know.
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