Tuesday, 16 January 2018

How to grow skirret from seed

Skirret plants will not cross pollinate with anything other than skirret, so saving seed is easy.  Skirret flowers in characteristic umbels that appear to be loved by all kinds of pollinators from beneficial wasps to flies to beetles to ants to native bees and even honey bees, so pollination is never problematic.  Seed grown skirret displays a surprising amount of diversity which is great for breeding improved plants with thicker roots.  I normally plant skirret seed in spring, this year I have sown some in summer and it also appears to be growing well.
Skirret: normal plants on left, offset grown plants on right
Planting skirret seed in spring will yield a small crop of edible sized roots, a few tiny offsets to plant out, as well as more seed before the end of autumn, even in shorter climates.  First year roots tend to be thin and delicious, if you can leave some they will be far thicker the following year.  Planting a tiny skirret offset gives a far larger plant with thicker roots than seed grown plants.  This winter I should take a comparison photo of seed grown skirret, offset grown skirret and older skirret plants. 
One year old skirret plants - each skirret plant produces several offsets
Skirret seeds are very tiny and germination is normally very simple.  I am told that skirret seed remains viable for anywhere from 3 to 10+ years.  While I normally get great germination I am told that germination rates can fall below 75% even with fresh seed.  To cover against this I only sell the freshest seed I have and I put extra seed in the packets so you will easily be able to grow 20 or more plants.  I have read that temperatures of 10 C to 22 C are best for germination but have never paid much attention to this.  
I plant skirret seed either in pots of soil or in an empty garden bed with no weeds.  I normally scatter the seed over the soil surface and water well.  I don’t cover the seed as it is so tiny and the seedling may not be able to grow to the surface.  I am also not sure if skirret needs light to improve germination.  From here I never let it dry out and in a week or two I normally see seedlings start to pop up.  If it rains the seedlings seem to germinate and grow faster, but that may be my imagination.  

Skirret offsets, they aren't big
The main pests I have seen with skirret are slugs and snails, the tiny seedlings may need a little protection until they get larger which is why I often grow skirret seedlings in a pot.  Much like any seedling things like earwigs and slaters may kill them when very small.  I am yet to see any pest bother a large skirret plant.  I assume rabbits, ducks, sheep etc would eat skirret plants to death due to the high sugar content.    

Once the skirret seedlings have a few true leaves and are large enough to handle you can transplant them where they are to grow.  Even if seeds were sown in the garden they will still likely need transplanting as watering tends to move seeds and clump them together rather than leave them to grow nicely spaced.  You don’t have to transplant them if you don’t want to as they will survive and still produce a crop.  

One dormant skirret offset, it doesn't have roots yet
Unlike many other root crops skirret does not appear to dislike being transplanted.  Skirret likes to be protected from the sun for a few days after transplanting, otherwise the leaves sometimes wilt.  I cram skirret in to any space I have and get good crops but the more space you can give them the better, most people plant about 30 cm apart or 9 per square meter.  

Skirret thrives in cool climates and loves water but it is a survivor that is remarkably adaptable.  I grew it in a hot arid climate where it could not survive in the garden by keeping it in a pot of soil in a bucket that I would fill with water each morning and afternoon.  Each year the skirret plants get larger, both taller and wider.  Each year the skirret plants produce more offsets, more seed, and fatter roots.    
organic skirret roots Australia
Skirret roots from two year old plants

When the skirret dies down it is time to harvest roots.  I have only grown skirret in frosty areas so don’t know if it dies down in areas of warm winters.  Skirret roots do not store well once dug so I dig them up as needed.  Any small ones that I leave behind or any that I miss will just be larger and fatter next year.
Few places sell skirret seed in Australia and even fewer sell skirret plants.  I sell skirret seed all year and skirret offsets over winter through my for sale page.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Days to maturity Thornless Youngberry

One of the berries I grew this year was a thornless youngberry.

Youngberries are one of the many hybrid berries that have raspberry and blackberry in their parentage.  These are not GM, the first ones were bred about 100 years ago.

These things taste amazing, much like a boysenberry, but are smaller and more productive.  They have absolutely no thorns (botanically they are known as prickles) and are strong vigorous growers. 

Days to maturity Thornless Youngberry (Rubus sp)

Seeds planted       N/A grown from divisions
Germinated           N/A
Flowered              25/10/2017       Day 0
Fruit Ripe              07/12/2017       Day 43

Thornless youngberry

Thornless youngberry

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Golden Raspberry plants in Australia

A while ago Diggers club advertised what they claimed to be an exclusive yellow fruited raspberry plant.  They looked and sounded amazing!

“Diggers gold” raspberry plants were listed on their web site, it was listed in their printed catalogues, at first they were only for Diggers members but eventually it was sold through their shops, and it was sold through other stores that carry their line of plants.  The stock photos of yellow raspberries they used looked amazing, and their embellished and fanciful description of the plant sounded great.  Diggers arrogantly renamed this variety to ‘Diggers gold’ even though they had not bred it and had never actually grown them, not even once.  I am not sure if they bought the naming rights or if they just decided to rename it to make it more marketable like they do with so many other plants and seeds that they sell.  This level of contempt and arrogance is typical of many of my experiences with Diggers Club.

Here is the irony, I love this part: the raspberry variety that Diggers actually had, the one that they renamed to be “Diggers Gold”, was actually a red fruited raspberry.

If you looked on Diggers club facebook page you either see comments from people who say they can’t wait for them to fruit, or comments complaining that they had red fruit.  Not a single comment on there said that they grew yellow fruit.  Not one.  It certainly appears that Diggers did not sell a single yellow fruited raspberry. 

Diggers facebook page ad for Diggers Gold Raspberries
Diggers club sold these ‘diggers gold’ raspberry plants to many, many home gardeners.  A year or so later when they had red fruit a reasonable number of these people complained because they did not get what they paid for.  Diggers sent replacement plants to most people who complained, and they grew the plants on for another year and a half, only to have red fruit again.  For some people, this happened more times and they never got what they paid for.  Some people were tricked to think that fruit colour was influenced by growing conditions (which it is not) or somehow they were to blame.  Others were offered credit on their next purchase.  I almost bought a Diggers membership just so I could get a golden raspberry, I am so glad that I didn't fall for their lies again.

I have heard people try to justify all of this and say that they still got raspberries - unfortunately that isn’t good enough.  If I wanted to buy an inferior and unnamed random variety of raspberry I would do that and not pay the high prices and inflated and unjustified postage cost that Diggers has.  People made space for these things when they could have grown something far better.  It is the time spent growing the wrong thing that is the biggest loss – you can’t get back time.

You would have thought that with such a large company and paying inflated prices for something they claim to be exclusive that you would have some assurance in actually getting what you paid for, apparently not with Diggers club.  With the Diggers club you don’t always get what you pay for.  Rest assured, Diggers doesn’t currently list ‘Diggers gold raspberries’.  Perhaps one day they will rename another variety of raspberry to be ‘Diggers gold’ and maybe it will be yellow fruited?  Perhaps one day Diggers club will have a yellow raspberry and rename it to be something else or add 'Clive' to the cultivar name?  I wouldn’t risk buying from them though.

Yellow raspberries in Australia
My golden raspberries look great

Yellow fruited raspberries do exist in Australia

Some people had such a bad experience with Diggers club and spent so much time growing diggers gold (red fruited) raspberries that they think yellow raspberries don’t actually exist.  I am happy to say that yellow fruiting raspberries do exist in Australia, I grow them.  I paid a small fortune to get a few plants from someone trustworthy (ie not Diggers club or ebay) and it was worth it.

My golden raspberries

My golden raspberries

My golden raspberry plants are an un-named variety, they looked very strong and healthy.  I planted the golden raspberries in two different positions to ensure that they would not die off.  Apparently they were well suited to both of these positions as they have all done well and spread nicely.
My golden raspberries starting to ripen
Like many other varieties of raspberry they have thorns (botanically these are 'prickles'), and it is a floricane variety, meaning that it will not flower or fruit on current year growth.  It needs previous year growth to flower and fruit.  This is why it often takes a while to get the first fruit but once they do fruit once they should fruit each year from then onwards.  My golden raspberries fruited around Christmas time and spread out the harvest for a few weeks.  I wrote another post on golden raspberry days to maturity.

This variety also has the habit of spreading roots under the soil and growing extra canes from the root tips.  This means that an investment in a few plants can quickly expand and fill in an entire patch.  I love how raspberries do this.

My golden raspberries taste much like red raspberries, except they are much sweeter.  They smell sweet and fruity, I really love the way they smell.  The fruit is super soft and delicate, this is perfect for home gardeners who will carry the raspberries to where they are to be eaten, but not great if you plan to transport it to supermarkets across the country, which is why you don't see many yellow raspberries in the shops.

The colour of golden raspberries is pretty remarkable, I am no photographer so my pictures don't do them justice.  They range from a bright golden yellow to a richer yellow on the same plant.  Birds seem to ignore the yellow fruit, then again birds seem to ignore red raspberries too.  Insects, slugs and children on the other hand do not ignore them and find them irresistible.  My kids comment on how they love the fruity smell of golden raspberries.

The plants seem reasonably productive and just as hardy as other varieties.  They don't appear to grow any taller or shorter than my other varieties.  In fact, when they are not fruiting I would not be able to tell them apart from many of the other varieties I grow.
Golden raspberry: something took a bite out of this one
The colour gets a tiny bit darker if left to ripen longer

Where to buy yellow fruited golden raspberry plants in Australia

Golden raspberry plants are difficult to find, please NEVER buy seeds from ebay as you will be sent seeds but not yellow fruited raspberry seed.  By the time you work it out, assuming that you get any to germinate, it will be too late to do anything.

Please don't buy from Diggers club if they ever claim to have golden raspberries again.  The utter contempt that they showed in their first botched attempt (and the many other times they have disappointed customers with similar disrespectful stunts) should be enough to warn you off buying from them. 

Over winter when my plants are dormant I will hopefully have a few extra that I can sell through my for sale page.  If all goes well I should be able to sell a few each winter.  Unfortunately I can't offer pre-purchasing as I would hate to have a crop failure or something and not be able to come through.

Golden raspberries starting to ripen

Monday, 8 January 2018

Oyster mushrooms on cardboard

I wrote another blog on how I grew oyster mushrooms on newspaper.

Another way I grew them was on torn up pieces of cardboard in an ice cream container.  This method was fast, but the mushrooms were small and it was difficult to keep the right amount of moisture in the cardboard.  It would have been better to use a larger container and have some holes in the sides of it.  I didn't think to take any pictures of this.

Days to Maturity Oyster mushrooms on cardboard

27/06/2017 damp cardboard inoculated with oyster mushroom stems  Day 0
01/07/2017 noticeable mycelium growth                                              Day 4
16/07/2017 cardboard fully colonised, more added                             Day 19
24/08/2017 fruiting (about 2 months)                                                   Day 58
28/09/2017 fruiting again                                                                     Day 93

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Days to maturity oyster mushrooms on newspaper logs

I wondered how difficult it would be to grow edible mushrooms.  Mushroom kits are expensive, and many people who sell mushroom spawn charge a lot of money and often bang on about how they are amazingly talented experts and you will surely fail unless you pay for their advice.

So I decided to work out how to grow some edible mushrooms just using common sense.  I have grown many different plants, I have raised many different animals, I have studied mycology at university, how hard could it really be?  Button mushrooms grow on compost, I don't have great access to this and steralising it sounds like a hassle so I looked for something that grows on wood. 

Paper and cardboard are made from wood and I have free access to these.  Oyster mushrooms (as well as a few others) grow on wood.  As it turns out, it is not overly difficult to grow edible oyster mushrooms at home.

I tried a few different methods to grow oyster mushrooms, all of which were free once I got the oyster mushroom mycelium to start with.  Some methods were easier than others, some produced larger mushrooms than others, some produced faster than others.  You can see in the pictures below that I had a few different things in the plastic bag.  I also tried a few different types of card board.  Turning a free waste product such as newspaper into something edible is always pretty cool.

One of the easiest methods I thought of was to make some fake logs out of newspaper.  Newspaper is often free and is easy to work with.  I made it damp, tied it together with string, inoculated this in one place with oyster mushroom, and then kept it in the wood shed in a plastic bag with the end open to allow in air and light. 

Oyster mushrooms need oxygen to survive and contrary to what people may tell you they benefit from sunlight.  Every now and again I would dunk this in a bucket of water as the mushrooms need moisture to survive.

From inoculation to harvest was only about 4 months, this time could have been far shorter if I inoculated more than one spot.

02/07/2017   newspaper log inoculated with oyster mushroom    Day 0
13/11/2017   large mushroom fruiting                                          Day 133

Oyster mushrooms growing on newspaper

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Maidenhair Fern

I wanted to get an office fern to make my day at work a little nicer, maidenhair ferns are always nice so I got one of them.

I have been told that this one is Adiantum raddianum but don't know for sure.  Many of the maidenhair ferns sold in Australia are A raddianum but there are a few other similar species as well as complex hybrids around.  After looking at NSW flora online I am pretty sure it is not one of the 8 native species of maidenhair fern.

My maidenhair fern was a tiny little fern when I got it, the fronds were only up to 6 cm long.  Over the past 12 or so months it has grown large, the fronds are now up to 38 cm long, and it has started to produce spores.  I plan to grow some more of these maidenhair ferns from spores when I find the time as growing ferns from spores is fun. 

The pictures from 2016 I put the pot in a small 2 Liter white ice cream container.  Not long after the pictures were taken I re-potted it into a far larger 'self-watering' pot that was about the same size as that ice cream container.  The tiny fern looked silly in such a large pot but it quickly grew and filled its new pot.

Maidenhair fern 2016

My little office fern

Maidenhair fern 2017
The same office fern, only older and in a larger pot

Friday, 29 December 2017

Comparison of Thyme varieties

I have grown a bunch of different varieties of edible thyme over the years.  I haven’t disliked any but some are better than others.

I have always wanted someone to do a comparison of the different varieties of thyme, but the best I can find are some general words or exaggerated hype about just one variety, but no comparisons.  So I decided to write a quick comparison of some varieties I have grown and take some pictures to compare them. 

Before you read this please note the leaf size will vary on each plant depending on growing conditions, the photos will only give you a general comparison of plants grown under similar conditions.  All of the below varieties have survived for me through many harsh frosts, snow, and hail.

Each year I tend to cut the plants down pretty hard in spring, this encourages new growth and the trimmings can be planted and will usually grow new plants if watered a little.  Like many other leaf herbs, frequent harvests encourage it to produce and if left unharvested they can get a bit woody and unproductive.
All were same sized cuttings planted on the same day: Variegated lemon thyme, Orange peel thyme, Tabor thyme, Jekka's thyme
Comparison of Thyme varieties:
Regular thyme (aka Garden Thyme Thymus vulgaris) is a good edible herb, not surprisingly it smells and tastes of thyme.  The leaves are tiny and green.  It is meant to be drought hardy and frost hardy.  For some strange reason I have trouble growing it.  Random things happen that can’t be the fault of the variety such as my kids pull it up or the pot gets knocked over and one of the kids kicks it under a shrub where I can't find it.  It just hasn’t had a chance to thrive for me.  It is not included in the comparison photo as it looks tiny in its pot.  It is simple to strip the tiny leaves from the twigs. 

Silvery posy thyme (Thymus sp) is a lovely edible thyme.  The leaves are the same size as regular thyme but are variegated and interesting.  We grew it for years, it smells and tastes and is used just like regular thyme but is far prettier.  Mine was vigorous and strong, unfortunately being variegated means it does not cope with hot dry weather as well as all green varieties can.  After growing it in an arid climate with one too many weeks in a row where day time temperatures exceeded 40 it died, and I didn’t replace it.  Now that we have moved near Canberra I should get another one as it grows well here and I miss it.  
Thyme leaves back and front, from left to right: Garden thyme, Lemon thyme, Variegated lemon thyme, orange peel thyme, Jekka's thyme, Tabor thyme
Thyme comparison from left to right: lemon thyme (this plant is older than the rest), variegated lemon thyme, orange peel thyme, Tabor thyme, Jekka's thyme
Lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) is another great edible herb.  I have been growing my plant for over 9 years, it takes strong frost and heat/drought and has survived for me through some rather extreme conditions.  It has tiny leaves of a similar size to regular garden thyme that are green and smell like thyme and lemon.  Stripping the tiny leaves from the twigs is simple.  This plant is usually very productive and very hardy in heat and cold.

Left to right: Tabor Thyme, Variegated Lemon Thyme, Jekka's Thyme
Left to right: Garden thyme, Lemon thyme, Variegated lemon thyme, orange peel thyme
Variegated lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus) tastes and smells the same as lemon thyme but the leaves are variegated.  Variegation varies from leaf to leaf and from branch to branch, some branches are whiter than others.  It probably does not take extreme heat as well as the green form, but it is a little prettier.  Stripping the tiny leaves form the stems is simple.  I will probably grow more of this as it is useful and pretty.

Left to right: Orange peel thyme, Jekka's thyme, Tabor thyme
Orange peel thyme (Thymus nitidus) is a low growing edible thyme that smells like a mix of thyme and spices.  Sometimes it smells a lot like orange peel, other times less orangey and more spicey.  The leaves are thinner than regular thyme, but still tiny and green.  Stripping the leaves from the stems is not as easy as regular thyme but not overly difficult.  This is not only edible but people also use it to create a fragrant thyme lawn.  It is a bit of a slow growing thyme until established.
Tabor thyme on left, Jekka's thyme in right
Jekka's thyme (Thymus sp) is a strong growing edible thyme with relatively long leaves that are green.  This has a strong thyme smell and taste.  Jekka's thyme is a vigorous grower that doesn’t take long to grow into a large plant.  I assume that it would not take extreme heat as well as smaller leaf forms.  When the stems are young and green it is difficult to strip leaves from the stems, as they get woodier this is no longer a problem.

Tabor thyme (Thymus sp) is another strong growing, vigorous edible herb.  It has the largest leaves I have seen on a thyme plant and is the fastest growing thyme I have grown.  It has a strong thyme smell and taste.  When young it is difficult to strip large leaves from soft stems, as the plant gets older the stems get stronger and this becomes simpler.  Tabor thyme is not well suited to hot arid climates and suffers a bit due to its larger soft leaves.

Where to buy culinary thyme plants
Most garden shops tend to sell thyme, sometimes they have different varieties.  I really should take some cuttings and sell some of the thyme varieties that I have through my for sale page as some of the thyme varieties I grow were difficult to come by but are really rather good.