Sunday, 24 June 2018

Horseradish seeds

I have been growing horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) on and off for many years now.  It is an interesting perennial vegetable that is worth growing.  The young leaves can be eaten but it is the pungent roots that are the real crop here.  Horseradish has been grown as food and medicine for centuries.
Perenial Vegetable Horseradish Australia
Horseradish Plant - flowering size plant
Being a brassica, horseradish can suffer from cabbage white butterfly.  Other than that it does not seem to suffer from many pests.  There are a few diseases that are said to bother horseradish, but I have never seen these diseases and am not sure if we have them in Australia.

Horseradish can flower.  Many people tell me that it can't, but mine does.  Mine doesn't flower each year though. 

In order for horseradish to flower it appears to need to be a large plant that was not disturbed the previous year.  If you grow horseradish from a root cutting it normally isn't large enough to flower the first year.
Horseradish grown from root cutting will be too little to flower this year
If the plant is large enough and has been undisturbed the previous year it also seems to need reasonably fertile soil.  Horseradish will survive in poor soils, but to flower it seems to need fertile and well drained soil.  After that water it well, and you are well on your way.

The first sign that a large plant will flower is that they send up normal leaves, then the plant sends up dissected leaves as seen in the first picture above. Then if you are lucky it will send up a flower stalk that looks like any other brassica flower stalk.  The flowers have the same shape as any other brassica flower.  Horseradish flowers are white and tiny.
Horseradish flower stalk
Horseradish flowers
I have been told that horseradish is sterile,  or that it is self infertile, or that for horseradish to set seed you need two different varieties flowering at the same time.  I am not sure if any of this is correct.

Brassicas are often said to be self infertile and need several plants in order to set seed, yet I have grown brassicas from a single seed.  Sure many flowers aborted, but some produced viable seed.  The resultant seedlings were vigorous and displayed enough genetic diversity that they could cross with one another and produce plenty of seed.  Admittedly this was not ideal, but I doubt that growing horseradish from seed is ideal in any way.

Most people recommend removing flowers from horseradish.  Many of these people have either never seen horseradish flowering or they don't have a reason why the flowers need to be removed, so I tend to ignore their advice.

Horseradish has been grown from seed in the past.  I have done some reading about horseradish that has been grown from seed, in general it has not been simple.  Some people have successfully planted and grown horseradish seeds with no problems, but most seed grown horseradish seems to be done through embryo rescue technique. 

Horseradish seed pods
Horseradish seed pods forming
I left my horseradish flowers to see what would happen.  Many of the early flowers aborted.  I started to consider ways to overcome self infertility with such tiny flowers.  Then I noticed tiny seed pods started to develop.  Once it started the plant produced quite a few seed pods.

I left the seed pods, they developed little bumps indicating that tiny seeds were inside.  Eventually the flower stalks started to dry off.  I figured this was much like any brassica and that the seed pods would shatter once dry so I bagged a few so I didn't lose them.

As expected the seed pods shattered when dry enough.  I collected the tiny seeds in the bags and have no idea what happened to any un-bagged seed.  The seeds were really tiny.  Some of the collected seeds didn't look viable, they were light in colour and shriveled.  Some other seeds were darky and plump.  These seeds looked viable.  Being so small I figured they would not be viable for long, so I planted them all.

I planted these seeds into a pot of moist soil that I had in an ice cream container.  Then it rained a whole lot and the pot was submerged for a fair while before I noticed.  Unfortunately nothing came of my horseradish seeds.  Perhaps they drowned, perhaps they floated away, or were eaten by something, or could not germinate, I don't know.

Horseradish flowers and seed pods
I am not sure if any of my tiny seeds ever would have germinated.  In hind sight even if they did germinate I had not protected them from snails and things so likely would have lost them all.

I wish I looked after the seeds better.  I like learning things.  If nothing else I would have learned a lot and I would have a reasonable idea if I was going to be able to grow horseradish from seed.

This past summer my plants were all too small to flower as I had disturbed them over the last winter and harvested roots.  This winter I have a plant that I am not going to disturb.  Perhaps next summer I will have more horseradish flowers.  If so I will give growing horseradish from seed another try. 

I could try to get another clone so I have two different varieties and see if that helps seed set.  Horseradish varieties are mostly unnamed in Australia so it would be difficult to know if I found another clone or just got another plant from the same clone.  I know there is a variegated form around, which would probably be a different clone to the one I am growing, but getting one of those is proving difficult.

I don't really have any reason to grow horseradish from seed other than to see if I can.  It is not a vitally important crop and I don't have any real breeding plans for it other than to see what will happen.  So if it turns out that the seeds can't germinate without help I have no intention of attempting embryo rescue technique.

Even though it is simple to grow, horseradish plants seem to be difficult to find in Australia for some reason.  I grow horseradish and I sell root cuttings over winter and small plants over summer along with a few other perennial vegetables.  If you are interested they are listed on my for sale page.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Guinea pigs communication

Guinea pigs are an amazing little animal.  We have had them on and off for many years.  Our first guinea pig died at about 8 years of age.  He used to belong to someone else but they couldn't look after him so we got him.  He was a great little pet and I was sad when he passed.

We currently have three large and fat females who used to be someone else pets but now live with us.  Hopefully they have long and happy lives with us.

Our guinea pigs are great at turning grass and weeds into rich fertiliser.  They are also fantastic at mowing grass in places that are difficult to get the mower or when I simply can't be bothered to mow.  They are also interesting to watch and nice to have around.

I move the guinea pig cage several times per day (morning and afternoon during the week, more often if I am home during the day and not too busy) and they eat out the lawn for me.  I also give them weeds that they like from the vegetable garden, and sometimes give them vegetable scraps and apple cores and things simply because they like to eat them. 

When the guinea pigs see me they oink loudly.  When guinea pigs want people to feed them they make this oinking noise (commonly referred to by cavy fanciers as 'wheeking').  Sometimes they have plenty of feed but they will see me and excitedly start to oink in the hope that I will give them something nicer to eat.  More often than not I do exactly what they want me to do.  It is hard to say no.
Two of our guinea pigs
Yesterday I learned something new about guinea pigs.  I love learning new things!  Yesterday someone told me that guinea pigs only use this oinking sound to communicate with people.  Apparently guinea pigs didn't used to make this sound until they were domesticated.  They said that no other animal have a specific sound purely to communicate with people like this.

I had never thought of that before, but it is true.  Our guinea pigs only make this oinking noise to call to people that they know who are likely to feed them something they like.  They don't ever make this noise to each other, they don't make this sound when they see my kids, they never make this sound when strangers such as the postman walk past them, or any other time when we are not in sight.  If they did I would hear them.

Sure your dog or cat may make a noise that is just for you, but all cats and dogs don't do it for their owners.  Guinea pigs are well known for all oinking for people anywhere in the world that they are kept.  This does not appear to be a learned behaviour, they all seem to do it.

It seems to be a behaviour that is written in their genes.  Considering that guinea pigs were domesticated about 7,000 years ago, and were raised exclusively in people's kitchens from that time until the 1500's, this makes sense.  When you consider that most of these animals would have been eaten and not lived very long that is a LOT of generations of guinea pigs that were raised in people's houses where people provided all of their food.  Having some way to tell people they want more food sounds like it would have been beneficial and would have been unknowingly selected for.

Guinea pigs are fascinating creatures, I love how they do things like this.  I wish I had more of them.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Does Azolla work for mosquito control

Many people have told me that azolla can be used to control mosquito populations.  This is somewhat true, and has been proven experimentally to be possible under certain situations, but not for the reasons that people often claim.  Strangely enough, the way that azolla works is better than the way that people often say that it works.

Azolla starting to cover the water surface
Mosquito larvae live in water, but they must come to the surface to breathe air.   Most species of Australian mosquitoes have a specialised breathing snorkel or tube at their tail end, they spend much of the day at the surface with this breathing tube sticking out of the water.   Quite often people speak of azolla’s ability to control mosquitoes by it forming a dense mat which reduced the ability of the larvae to reach the surface to breathe, theoretically suffocating them. 

I have read no evidence of azolla reducing the survival of immature mosquito larvae of any of the species of mosquitoes that are common in Australia. 

So how does azolla help to lower the numbers of mosquitoes? 

Friday, 1 June 2018

feeding duckweed and azolla to chickens

I have grown duckweed for many years.  Each time I move house I bring some with me.  I like the little plants floating happily on water.  I have heard how great it is as a poultry feed, but have never been able to get poultry to eat much of it.

I have tried floating duckweed on water in a container in their yard, they sometimes nibble a little but really don't eat much of it and not deliberately.  I have tried giving duck weed to them in a heap fresh, or dry, or fresh mixed with normal feed, or dry mixed with normal feed.  Usually they would peck around it and eat very little of it.

This was rather frustrating as everyone says how great duckweed is as a poultry feed.  Oh well, I keep growing it as I still like it.  Duckweed has other uses apart from poultry feed so this isn't a great loss.

This last summer I gave the chickens some azolla, and they ate it all quickly.  I gave it to them floating on water and they ate every last piece.  Every time I gave them more azolla they ate it all pretty fast.
Azolla in a container of water, it doubles each few days so I scoop it out to feed to chickens

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Strawberries - Ever Bearing, Day Neutral, June Bearing

Strawberry plants are often described on the internet as ‘June bearing’, ‘everbearing’ or ‘day neutral’. Even though we usually don’t use these terms in Australia we are starting to see them more often and people sometimes ask me about them so I thought I would write a post explaining the differences.

Before I start, try to keep in mind that this distinction is not absolute, not all varieties fit neatly into any one category, some varieties switch categories depending on the growing conditions, many can send up an occasional flower throughout the growing season, also being in Australia means that internet descriptions such as ‘June bearing’ may be confusing as they will more likely crop in December.

Strawberries will not flower or fruit if the temperature is too high or too low. If your climate is too hot or dry or cold you may not actually be able to tell the difference between any of these three as the possible fruiting window may be small. If you live up in the tropics or down south will also change fruiting time drastically.

Now that is out of the way, let me explain the differences between June bearing, everbearing, and day neutral strawberries.
Various Strawberries

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Four leaf clover, so much good luck

We have a lot of clover in our lawn from time to time.  I encourage it to grow in the lawn.  Clover sequesters nitrogen from the atmosphere and makes it available to other plants.  It increases the fertility of the soil plus when I mow them and compost them they increase the nitrogen level in the compost.  Clover is high in protein and my guinea pigs and chickens like to eat it (plus I could eat it if I wanted to).  Bees and other pollinators appreciate the flowers.  When it gets too dry it dies off, but it self seeds and readily pops up when the rains return.  I don't see anything that is not to like about clover.

The other day I saw a 'four leaf' clover.  These are pretty common, far more common than most people realise.  I quickly had a look around and picked fifteen 'four leaf' clovers and eight 'five leaf' clovers, the kids convinced me to take a photo of them.  There were plenty more in the patch, but I didn't bother to pick them.  We don't do anything with them so picking seems like a waste of time.

In the past I once got the kids to help and we picked 48 'four leaf' clovers before I mowed the lawn.  There were probably plenty more around, but we got a little bored of looking for and finding so many of them.

'Four leaf' clover
Four leaf clover

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Growing chilli the in Canberra region

I am constantly amazed at how little knowledge people have about growing food.  Ironically foodies appear to have the least knowledge about where food comes from.  I am writing this post to help clear up some of the most common misconceptions that I hear about chillies and capsicums. 

Let me explain how growing chillies in a cool climate such as Canberra is relatively simple. I grow everything organically and make compost to feed the soil.

Big and mild chilli - easy to grow