Thursday, 12 December 2019

Pumpkin growing roots in weird places

For a few years I have been growing a pumpkin called "kaempw melon rilon".  I quite like it.  It is productive, tastes good, and is usually very vigorous.

It has two down sides, firstly the pumpkins are a little big for my liking.  Secondly it has a thin skin.  Thin skin means it is easy to cut and the skin is soft enough to eat, but it doesn't store as long as thicker skin varieties of pumpkin.

Unfortunately the last few years have been very dry.  This means my plants don't get much water.  When not watered well the flesh tends to be thinner than it otherwise would.

After being dry for too long, when we do have any rain the skin tends to crack and the cracks fill with cork.  When the skin has cork like this is makes it more difficult to cut and while the flesh is still nice it renders the skin inedible.  The easiest way to remedy this is give the plant regular water.

Kaempw melon rilon has a lovely habit of setting down roots along its stem where a node touches the soil.  This means the plant gets more water and nutrients than it otherwise would.  I wish all my vegetables would do this.

Sometimes a pumpkin vine sprawls over onto the lawn, it throws down some roots and collects nutrients and water that otherwise were unobtainable.  What a great trait for a pumpkin to have.

Last time my pumpkins fruited something strange happened.  Can you see it in the photo below?

Have a closer look at this pumpkin.  At first I wondered why this pumpkin was so heavy, then I realised what was really happening.  It grew roots on the pumpkin stem! 

While this may never win a beauty contest I don't care.  I want productive plants that are simple to grow.  Having roots like this right next to the pumpkin meant that the pumpkin grew faster and had more flesh than other pumpkins produced that year.

If you are a seed saver you should grow this pumpkin.  I sell seed through my for sale page, but if anything happens to my stock then I worry that I can never get this variety back again.  I am running low on seed and this year my plants are not performing very well as I don't have enough water for them, this variety needs more seed savers taking care of it.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Growing string of pearls succulent in water

Back around August 2018 I started some string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) cuttings in water.  I removed the lower few leaves (pearls) and put the stem in water.  I normally grow cuttings in soil, but thought I would give water propagation a try to see what happens.  You can read about it in my previous blog post

Being a succulent I wasn't sure that growing them in water was a great idea.  As it turns out my sting of pearls cutting grew roots pretty fast.  That made me wonder how long it would survive like that.

I then left it in the water, it was just water, nothing else. I top up the water when it is low, and keep the cutting by the window, that is all.  I thought it is time for an update as it is December 2019 and the cutting has been growing for about 16 months.

As you can see below, it is still alive - who would have guessed?  It is growing far slower than the cuttings I grew in soil, but is is growing.  I assume the low growth rate is due to the lack of nutrients in water.  It has not rotted like I thought it would.  I am really surprised that it has survived this long in nothing but water.

The only thing that it seems to be struggling with is the lack of sunlight.  You will notice that the newer parts are decidedly less green than the older parts.  I also bruised the stem when I got it out of the water once to inspect the roots, but it seems to have survived that pretty well.

I am expecting this cutting to die at some point if it is constantly kept in water like this.  I think I will leave it in water at least a bit longer, once it starts to decline I will probably try to pot it up into soil and see if I can revive it.

I do sell string of pearls plants and cuttings through my for sale page.  Rest assured, none of them have been kept in water.  They have all been grown in pots of soil.
String of pearls cutting after 16 months of growing in just water

You can see where it started to grow roots on the left, everything to the right is new growth

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Venus Flytrap from seed

I haven't grown venus flytraps from seed in years.  Growing from seed takes more patience and time than just getting a mature plant, but the seedlings are so cute.  Each seedling is genetically unique so you can end up with some interesting looking plants.

Venus Flytrap not too long after germinating

Days to germinate Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula)
Seed planted             13/03/2019      Day 0
Germinated              08/05/2019       Day 56

I had one seed that was even slower!
Seed planted             13/03/2019      Day 0
Germinated              21/09/2019       Day 162 - over six months

From memory, it usually doesn't take this long for Venus flytrap seedlings to germinate, and it certainly doesn't usually take this long for it to produce carnivorous leaves.  Slow germination can be caused by a few things.  Older seeds take longer to germinate (or don't germinate at all), but I don't think that was the issues this time.

Colder weather slows the germination process considerably, I think it was just too cold for fast results.  I suspected it was too cold before I planted the seed, but I was too impatient.  I got some seeds and just couldn't wait to plant them.

WARNING: do NOT buy venus flytrap seeds from ebay.

Many ebay seed sellers are thieves.  They may be local, have 100% positive ratings, super low prices, large numbers of seed per packet, and incredibly fast postage, but it means nothing.  Almost all seeds for venus flytraps on ebay are not real, they will send you seeds from some packet of cheap flower seeds.

Never buy seeds for blue venus flytraps because they don't exist.  They will not send you blue venus flytrap seed, most will send cheap seeds for some type of garden flowers, by the time they have grown and you realise something is amiss it will be too ate to leave negative feedback or get your money back.  You will have lost your money and supported thieves.  Blue venus fly traps don't exist, the people selling seeds of them are thieves and liars. 

If you think blue venus flytraps are real (there is at least one very aggressive ebay thief who claims they do exist and says horrible things about buyers who claim they don't) then send me one, or send me seeds, or even send me a leaf pulling or a cutting from a flower stalk.  I will grow them, and photograph them, and link back to you, so thousands of people will see them and many will buy from you.  Seriously, thousands of people will see your amazing plants and I will link to you so you can make a fortune selling them.  None of these thieves will ever take me up on this offer because blue venus flytraps don't exist and they never will exist.

For a full list of vegetable days to maturity (I know that flytraps are not really vegetables) please click here.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Dahlia from seed

My daughter grew a dahlia (and a bunch of other flowers) from seed last year.  She was proud of herself, I was proud of her too.  We left it in the soil where it was overwinter and it started to grow again this Spring. 

Dahlias used to be a South American root vegetable with pretty flowers.  Somewhere along the way people stopped growing them for food and focused on flowers.  I have no idea how this one tastes, next winter when this plant is dormant, if my daughter is not looking, I may sneak a little taste.

I can hardly wait for it to flower again this year, such a lovely little plant.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Are Spider Plants Edible - Chlorophytum comosum

Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum) have a bunch of fun names including hen and chickens, airplane plant, ribbon plant, spider ivy, St Bernard's lily. In Puerto Rico they call this plant "malamadre” which roughly translates to “bad mother”, I love that name.

Spider plants are interesting, they send out flower stalks that sometimes have flowers but more often just have baby plants instead. These baby plants can be potted up and grow into more plants. The flowers are small and uninteresting and can set seed, but it is these baby plants that are the main reason people grow spider plants.

When I was a child our house had a spider plant in a hanging basket. It didn’t get any direct sunlight, it never got fertilised or repotted, it rarely got watered, and when it was watered it was over watered and left sitting in a saucer of stagnant water. That plant grew for many years and flowered and sent out flower stalks with baby plantlets at the tips. As far as I know it is still alive.

Not many plants are so well adapted to the harsh extremes of being a house plant.
My little variegated spider plant starting to develop roots

There are several varieties of spider plant, some of the better known ones are: variegated, which has green leaves with a white stripe down its center. Reverse variegated forms have a green center and white edges on each leaf. Full green forms have leaves that are entirely green and presumably grow faster than variegated forms. There is even a curly leaf variety which is variegated and has curly leaves.

Recently I got a tiny variegated spider plant baby. I put it in my pocket in the morning and forgot about it while I was at work for the day. When I got home I found this bruised thing in my pocket and remembered what it was, I didn’t have time to do anything so I put it in some water and forgot about it again.

A week later the leaves had picked up and it had started to grow roots, so I planted it in a pot of soil. It was winter so it didn’t do very much, then when spring hit it started to grow pretty fast.

Again, I can’t think of many plants that will survive that kind of abuse.

Spider plants apparently don’t like too much water or they will rot. I am told to let them dry out between waterings. From my experience they seem to grow ok if I just keeping them watered all the time.

I just grow mine in a pot of soil, I assume potting mix is far better. I protect mine from frost as I think frosts would kill it. Spider plants grow thick fleshy roots, at times they also develop larger storage roots that help them survive through times of little water.

I have heard that spider plant is edible, but there are a few plants with the common name of spider plant so I did some research in peer reviewed papers using its binomial name, Chlorophytum comosum, and found a few interesting results.
Spider plant potted up and ready to grow

Most of the papers I found were comparing the yield or chemical composition of different varieties, some were to do with animal fodder, but others were for human consumption.

Apparently the leaves of spider plant are edible, but few people eat them. What I found interesting is that in a few countries such as Iran and India the roots of spider plants were eaten by people. I am assuming that they were eaten cooked in stews or similar, but the papers were unclear.

Perhaps, much like many ornamental plants, the spider plant was once a vegetable? They are certainly simple to grow. I decided to eat one to see what I thought.
My little spider plant growing larger
I ate some leaves raw, they didn't really taste of anything much. It didn't taste unpleasant, it didn't taste of anything at all that I could notice.

They were crisp and took some chewing, perhaps younger leaves would be softer. The leaves were not fibrous, but they were firmer than most things I eat. As they don't really have a taste they could be put in a salad and whatever else is in there would be the star of the dish, but I think the texture would take some getting used to as it is unlike anything else that I eat. Then again, if it cut finely and mixed with other tastier leaves it may add interest to a salad's texture. When my plant is larger I will give it another try.

When it is time to repot I may try to eat a few of the plump storage roots. I will probably eat one raw, and I should try to cook one. If I remember I will try to write a blog post on how that goes.

Who knows, perhaps this is yet another easy to grow perennial vegetable, or perhaps they taste horrible, I will find out soon enough.

If you have a plant and decide to eat one please do some research first, and only try a little to see if it disagrees with you. If you begin to vomit uncontrollably I take no responsibility, that is on you.
Spider plant, growing larger every day!

I hope that my little plant flowers soon so I can try to grow them from seed as I think that would be interesting. Apparently short days and long nights induce flowering, so perhaps I could make it flower. If I can track down some of the more unusual varieties I would love to try crossing them and seeing what interesting new varieties I can create.

At some stage I will likely have extra spider plants, but it won't be for a while yet. When this happens I will try to list them on my for sale page.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Persian speedwell - my lawn is buzzing

My lawn is buzzing, but only in the morning.  Then it is silent.

Persian speedwell (Veronica persica) is one of the many flowering weeds that grows in my lawn.  It grows by itself and has lovely blue flowers in Spring.  Honey bees, hover flies, and other insects love the flowers.

Each morning the bees collect pollen and nectar from the flowers.
Persian speedwell has pretty blue flowers

There are so many bees on the Persian speedwell early each morning that my lawn hums.  You can hear the lawn from quite some distance because it is absolutely filled with foraging bees.  While honey bees dominate, there are also some hover flies and a few other little insects collecting nectar and pollen.

Once they have emptied all the flowers they leave and my lawn is silent again.  The following morning new flowers will open and the humming will begin again.

Honey bees and hover flies seem to like the flowers
The Persian speedwell started out as a few small plants in among the lawn a few years ago.  I allowed it to spread, and now it covers a considerable amount of the front lawn and is starting to pop up around the back.

It is usually only there for part of Spring, then it sets seed and dies. 

I took these photos a little while ago, most of my lawn is now brown and dead.  There are still a few patches of Persian speedwell about in sheltered positions.  It will die off soon, then the seeds will be ready in the soil for next spring.

Persian speedwell feeding bees and spreading slowly
I am not sure if Persian speedwell is edible or useful in any way.  I don't really care.  I don't water it, I don't plant it, I don't collect its seed, I don't tend it, it just grows when it is time and feeds bees and other beneficial insects. 

Persian speedwell and other weeds in my spring lawn
Persian speedwell is only low growing, so when I mow the lawn I often only take a little off the top and it is able to flower not too long afterwards.

The main down side to Persian speedwell is that it is only ephemeral and not there for much of the year.

I am glad that there are little flowering weeds like this around, and I am glad that I now live in an area where things like this are able to survive.  I wish I had more little flowering lawn weeds like this.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

How I Grow Saffron - it is easy

Saffron (Crocus sativus) has a beautiful flower and a lovely spice that is surprisingly easy to grow.

Saffron is expensive, both the spice as well as the corms are expensive. Saffron is really well suited to growing in the backyard and is really low maintenance. Saffron grows such a pretty flower, the flower smells nice, bees seem to like them, and the spice is lovely and so easy to collect on a small scale.

I am surprised at how few home gardeners grow saffron. More people should grow saffron at home.

I used to be told by home growers that saffron is simple to grow but difficult to get to flower. The high price and the reputation for difficulty getting a crop made me put off growing saffron for years. I eventually paid a lot of money for a handful of tiny corms and discovered that growing saffron was really easy.

I was given good advice by knowledgeable people and did lots of research when I started growing saffron. I find saffron easy to grow and it flowers well for me.
Saffron threads ready for harvesting
Saffron flowers are pretty, smell nice, and produce saffron threads

Saffron only flowers once per year, and each flower only produces 3 threads, so you want your corms to flower each year and you want multiple flowers per corm.

Although I say that each flower produces 3 threads you will notice that some smaller flowers will only produce 2 threads. From what I have seen they only do this when the plant is exhausted after they have already produced a number of flowers. It is like the plant is giving one last push to get out as many flowers as possible but it lacks the energy to make a full sized flower with 3 threads. This is nothing to worry about. An extra 2 threads is better than nothing.

Some of the biggest mistakes people make are not removing competition, and not allowing them to have enough sunlight or decent soil. Competition, either from being planted too close or from other plants nearby will deprive the plants of energy and they won’t flower.

Saffron also needs full sun to flower. If something is shading them they are in the wrong spot and may not flower for you. I grow some in pots and some in the soil, they all flower equally well. Once they have finished flowering you need to leave the plant alone, if you cut the leaves they will not capture enough sunlight to feed the corm and you won’t have flowers next year.

Saffron corms only flower when they are large enough and have enough stored energy, small corms will not flower no matter how well you look after them. Many growers measure the circumference of their corms and consider 7cm to be the minimum circumference they will reliably flower.

My 7cm corms always put out a few flowers, but I get more flowers out of my larger corms. Smaller corms can flower in future years, so look after them well and they should grow fatter and divide and you should have multiple plants flowering next year.

Some saffron grows the flower before the leaves, others grow leaves before the flowers

Saffron is as pretty as ornamental flowers - why isn't it grown more often?

I am told by people with a lot more experience in saffron than I have that in order to initiate flowering saffron needs a hot summer, a cold winter, and for the corms to be planted surprisingly deep.

The cold winter thing makes sense, a lot of flowering bulbs need cold winters in order to flower. The winter here is cold and my saffron always flowers well. I am told that unlike things like tulips that you should not put saffron corms in the fridge. Apparently they need heat while they are dormant. I am not sure if this is true as I have not experimented with it, I store them in the garage where it is hot, or I leave some in the soil over summer where it is also hot/dry, and they flower well for me.

The planting depth is really surprising to me. Normally you only plant corms and bulbs to a depth of two or three times their width, saffron corms need to go a lot deeper! Even though the corms are really small they are meant to flower best when planted 15 to 20 cm deep. I don’t know if this is true or not and I haven’t messed around with this, I plant mine at least 20 cm deep and they reliably flower well.

It seems odd to say that I have not experimented with any of this, but the people who gave me the advice really knew their stuff and through following their advice my saffron has flowered reliably. Most people I know with saffron don't have great success, while I have great success, so I keep doing what I was told would work. If it works then there is no reason for me to mess around with it.

As saffron completes its growing season it tends to divide into new corms. I am told that saffron corms can increase anywhere from 0 to about 15 new corms every year. Higher numbers sound great as it means you would have plenty of new plants, but if they divide into too many then most/all would be too small to flower. It is probably best for them to split into fewer corms and for most of them to flower the following year.

I am told that planting at 10cm results in many tiny corms and no flowers. I haven't played around with this, I plant deep and get a lot of flowers. Perhaps I should plant a couple really shallow next year to build up numbers.

Saffron - I removed the weeds before they grew too big

For some reason, maybe the depth I plant, maybe the cold winters, maybe something else entirely, mine tend to divide into 2 large corms and they both usually flower the following year. I am happy with this as I end up with two corms that are flowering size from each one that I originally planted.

Sometimes I get more and sometimes I get a few smaller ones, but for me they mostly divide into 2 flowering sized corms. This means I essentially double my saffron investment each year.

I don’t have huge amounts of space to grow things, or to be more accurate I grow huge amounts of things. For this reason I sometimes alternate growing saffron and vegetables in the same garden bed, when saffron is dormant I grow vegetables, when they die down I plant saffron.

Saffron is dormant over summer, and it likes to be dry when dormant. If you have wet summers then dig the corms up and put them somewhere safe. I just use a mesh bag in the garage away from direct sunlight. If the soil is pretty dry over summer you can leave them where they are. I dig some and I leave some, it depends if I need that space to grow something else. If you grow them in a pot of soil it is easy to keep them dry over the dormant season.

I am not sure if saffron suffers any pests or diseases, I haven’t had anything bother mine yet. While pests don’t appear to like them, beneficial insects such as honey bees appear to like saffron.

I am told that bees collect nectar as well as pollen from saffron, and I often see honey bees work the flowers early in the morning. I don’t grow much saffron so I am sure it makes very little difference to the bees, but if everyone in my street grew saffron it would make a difference to the local bees.

I grow saffron in several places in the garden, this year I also grew some saffron in a large pot. These corms grew foliage first, then flowered. Just like all the others, each corm produced multiple flowers.

The pot was filled with cheap potting mix in the top and guinea pig manure/straw underneath, these corms grew large, the largest was about 18cm circumference. I wonder how many flowers I will get from a corm this large!

Saffron starting to grow

Saffron flowers - I had already harvested the threads from the open flowers

Saffron plants gathering energy prior to going dormant - I planted 3 and you can see they have already divided
Saffron does not grow from seeds. If someone is selling saffron seeds they are a thief, keep well away from them and don't buy anything they have for sale.

Saffron is a sterile triploid that does not produce seed. Saffron does produce pollen and can (with difficulty) pollinate some of the wild ancestors, but that is a story for another time.

Saffron grows from corms, to get corms you must divide existing corms. Some varieties are evidently more potent or better than others. I am not sure how these varieties arose or what variety I have.

I am told that saffron corms with a circumference of 7cm or larger should flower. In my limited experience this appears to be true. Saffron corms are not perfectly round, they are odd shaped and have rounded parts and flat parts and various bumps, I guess this is why I am told to use circumference rather than diameter. To measure the circumference I wrap a piece of string around the corm and then measure the string.Very simple.

I sell saffron corms in Australia when they are dormant through my for sale page. I don't sell any that are less than 7cm circumference so they should flower for you. I don’t have large numbers and they reproduce slowly for me, so I never offer many for sale. If you are overseas and are sure your country will allow them in then I could also post to you. I can’t guarantee the corms that I sell will flower, but I only sell corms that are large enough to flower and in my garden would produce multiple flowers.