Monday, 23 April 2018

Purple sweet corn in Australia

I bred Immali corn a few years ago in Central West NSW.  It is a coloured sweet corn.  As you can see from the pictures it is purple/pink and white sweet corn.  If mostly dark seeds are planted the cobs are rather dark.  If a mix of white and dark seeds are planted the cobs will be lighter in colour.

Immali corn was bred to be high in anthocyanin (the same cancer fighting antioxidant that is found in blueberries), antioxidant rich, high yielding, sweet corn that is far more nutritious than yellow sweet corn.

Immali corn is a relatively short plant which is suitable for backyard gardeners.  I have only grown it organically since I started to breed it and never had pest issues.  This means it is well suited to organic gardeners and permaculture gardens. 

Immali corn is a stable variety and I sell seeds through my for sale page.  As Immali corn is stable you can save the seeds and grow this year after year.  I sell seeds that are a mix of purple and white sweet corn, most people plant all of them and get some amazing looking cobs.

Purple sweet corn Australia, Immali corn
Immali corn - coloured sweetcorn bred in Australia
Immali corn, when picked early and 50/50 white/purple seeds are planted it look s like this
Immali corn
Immali corn, I planted mostly dark seeds in this bed to get more coloured seeds in the cobs
Immali corn - purple white sweetcorn
Recently I was told that a certain university in Australia is almost ready to start taste testing on "the first coloured sweet corn bred in Australia".  Their purple sweet corn looks similar to Immali corn, but it does not have any white seeds, and is not yet stable.  It was created by "scientists working with horticulturalists to create corn for the health conscious".  The person who told me knew about my Immali corn and sent me a link to several articles.

You can understand my frustration as I bred and stabilised Immali corn a few years before they even started their breeding.  Admittedly Immali corn is bicolour, meaning white and purple/pink.  But it is still reasonably purple, and is certainly what I would consider to be "coloured sweet corn"!  As you can see the cobs can be rather dark when only dark seeds are planted. 

Immali corn is high in antioxidants and is great for the health conscious.  I have already achieved everything that they have set out to produce. 

I am certainly not the first in Australia to breed coloured sweet corn.  I am just a backyard breeder, and I have already produced something that the University is only now working towards and claiming that this is new. 

I have less money, less resources, less time, less access to germplasm, far less technology, and look what I have created.  It may surprise you to know that many of the best vegetables and berries for home gardeners were originally bred by people like me in their back yards.

I guess you can't fight marketing.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Days to maturity yin yang bean

I grew some Yin Yang beans this year, they are a dried bean that is one of the most beautiful beans ever. 

Days to maturity Yin Yang Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Seeds planted       27/10/2017       Day 0
Germinated           05/11/2017       Day 9
Flowered              13/12/2017       Day 47
Harvest start         03/02/2018       Day 99 - this is for dry beans, green beans would have been significantly earlier

Yin Yang beans days to maturity
Yin yang beans days to harvest
Yin Yang beans are a short bush bean that can be picked and eaten as a green bean but are more often grown as a dry bean.

Yin Yang beans are similar to but distinctly different from 'frost bean' which I have also grown in the past.  The 'frost bean' has a similar pattern but is maroon and white, the yin yang bean is black and white.  Far too many people sell frost beans and incorrectly name them yin yang beans, or they use both names for the same thing, even though they are different varieties.  Please never mix up the two as they are not the same.
Yin yang beans (NOT the same as 'Frost' beans)
For a long list of vegetable days to harvest please click here.

I sometimes sell seeds if I have extra, they are listed with the perennial vegetables I have for sale on my for sale page.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Strawberry Raspberry hybrids

Have you ever heard of a plant that is the hybrid of a strawberry and a raspberry?  Have you ever seen one?  Have you made that cross yourself?  I have.

I am not talking about a strassberry, which is just a variety of strawberry, I am not talking about a GMO or something produced through somatic protoplast fusion, I am not talking about Rubus illecebrosus (which is not a hybrid at all), I am not talking about a grafted plant.  I am talking about cross pollinating strawberry and raspberry, and growing out the hybrid seeds.  These are true intergeneric hybrids that I am referring to.

A few years ago I read a post on a blog called 'The Biologist is in' about some plant breeding work done by the late Luther Burbank.  I found this blog post to be inspiring, so I went on and read more about Luther Burbank and his strawberry raspberry hybrids in other places.

Luther Burbank was a remarkable plant breeder, he crossed a raspberry with a strawberry about one hundred years ago.  He didn't use crazy chemicals or GM technology, he also didn't know a lot about genetics.  At the time this kind of hybrid was thought to be impossible and many people mocked him.  We know a lot more about genetics because Luther kept doing things that were considered impossible.  I can't find any reference to anyone actually attempting to cross strawberry and raspberry since then.

Luther Burbank's raspberry strawberry hybrid. 
Picture from

This got me thinking: if a man one hundred years ago with very little understanding of genetics could cross strawberries and raspberries then there is no reason that I can't do it today.  So I tried to cross strawberries and raspberries, and I succeeded.

Luther Burbank's raspberry strawberry hybrid plant was completely thornless, apparently it was very vigorous and flowered like crazy - far more than either parent.  It set a few seedless drupelets but never really fruited.  As it was never going to be a commercial success eventually it was destroyed.  Unfortunately there is no surviving description of the taste of these seedless drupelets nor are there any of this plant still alive, Luther destroyed them all deliberately.   He did a lot of killing his experimental plants for fear of casting pearls to swine.  It is such a waste.  It meant that I had to start from scratch.

We can't be completely sure why Luther Burbank's strawberry raspberry hybrid did not set fruit, that being said there are two likely reasons.  One is simple to overcome by choosing the right parent stock, the other is a bit more difficult to overcome but I should eventually be able to fix it if this is the problem.  I was careful in choosing parent stock for my hybrid plants, so I should find out soon enough if that was the only reason that Luther Burbank did not have much success with his hybrid. 

Strangely, through all of my research, I did not find any example of anyone who has actually attempted to recreate this cross since Luther Burbank's attempt.  I found plenty of people saying not to try it as it is too difficult, and some saying that they intend to attempt this in the future, but no one who had actually attempted it and had any information to offer from their experience.  Even if someone tried and failed I would have learned from it, but I found no one who has said that they have tried.  If you or anyone you know of has ever attempted (successfully or otherwise) to cross strawberry with a raspberry let me know, I would love to talk to them.

Potentially I am growing the only strawberry raspberry hybrids in the world.  My tiny strawberry raspberry hybrid seedlings are slowly growing larger each day.  Hopefully they will flower next year and I will be able to see if they can set fruit.  I have high hopes that they will set fruit for me but even if they don't this will still be remarkable.

Many many things could go wrong from here.  If any of my strawberry raspberry hybrid seedlings survive winter I will take some pictures and write an update in spring.  If none survive I will plant more seed in spring as well as try more crosses next year.  I think it is all very exciting.

I do sell perennial vegetables and heirloom vegetable seed on my for sale page.  Even if all goes well it is unlikely that I will be able to offer strawberry raspberry hybrids any time soon.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Vegetable Petition - please read by 19 April

The following was written by Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener –  it is on my blog with permission.


The safety of our organic seed is at risk and we need YOUR help. We deserve the right to eat, grow and buy safe seeds, but our government is planning on mandatory chemical treatment of many organic varieties of imported seeds. Incredibly, 98% of Australia’s vegetable seed is from overseas and the variety of vegetable seed cultivars we have access to now, is at risk of significantly reducing.

First it was organic rockmelon seeds and now Brassica seeds are at risk. Soon, other plant families are to follow.

Please read and sign this petition. Every voice makes a difference. If you're not already, please start saving your seeds. Thanks for your help. Let's get the word out. We only have until 19 April. 

Petition link:

Biocontrol IS important and the last thing we want is to bring in high risk fungal diseases and pests that don’t exist in this country yet. However, the proposed chemical treatment of organic varieties of fruit, vegetable and herb seeds is the concern. The government is not making this proposed treatment public. It’s just quietly on their website. What we need to encourage is education so people know what is happening and raise their voice to request other organic solutions be implemented rather than just fungicide treatments of organic seeds. The fall out will be both in the short and long term that we won’t have any more organic seed varieties coming into the country. If they are tested and found to have a pest or disease risk, they will be treated.

This wouldn't even be an issue if we had enough gardeners seed saving here in Australia because we wouldn't need to import seeds. In a healthy ecosystem, there are biological predators and beneficial microbes that suppress and control such problems. i.e. maintain a healthy balance.

Based on the Dept of Ag Draft Review, the imported seed varieties listed do appear to carry a risk for sure. Frances Michaels, CEO of Green Harvest Organic Gardening Supplies who started the petition says the government should offer an organic alternative to mandatory fungicide treatment, such as seed testing. There could also be other ways to avoid pests being imported into the country such as treatment with diatomaceous earth which dessicates pest insects on contact. Whilst the government has an important job to do with biosecurity, they need to provide solutions for everyone who wants the right to eat, grow and sell certified organic seeds.

In the meantime, you may want to source the seed varieties they are looking to fumigate and start growing these to save yourself, so if they are chemically treated in the future, at least you have a supply to continue growing. It's actually going to affect many plant families, so our diversity is at threat.

There is a lot of information on the Dept of Ag site. What I've discovered though is that they are considering fumigating not just many of the brassica family seed varieties, but they have already done review papers which recommend doing the same to some of the other plant family groups.

These links should be a good place to start: 

This link shows they intend to allow methyl bromide as a suitable fumigant despite it being banned in many other countries. That’s really worrying. From my research, toxic fumigants used (including methyl bromide which is banned in many countries but not here - go figure), leaves residues on the seeds and some absorb more pesticides and chemicals than others. The withholding periods are a long time and research papers discuss safety concerns and tolerance levels for humans and animals.

If you read a bit more about the fumigation processes, it helps you understand this better and make an informed decision. Here are a couple of links to dig into: 
Many people think food will always be available but most food is grown from seed. What we don't have here in large quantities, small Aussie businesses import. Many support local growers and that's fantastic but it's a numbers game. I first started saving seeds as part of a seed saving group in 2009 and ran classes to help educate home gardeners on how easy it is to save seeds. We don't have enough home gardeners saving their own. If we each saved our own vegetable and herb seeds, there'd be no need to buy them. They'd also be more resilient because they adapt to our own soils and climate conditions. Anyone can buy or grow organic food, collect the seeds, dry and store them correctly and it's a start. 

One of the problems is that no one in reality can save every variety of seed unless they have a lot of space and are very dedicated and have all the seed stock to start with. There are all sorts of issues like cross-pollination, varieties that prefer different climates/soil temps etc. So, sustainability really starts in ALL our back yards not relying on others to save seeds for us, so we can buy the same packets every year.

Most farmers have their work cut out for them just growing the food and getting it to market/retail outlets. It's long hours and hard work. Few I know have time to seed save. They order trays of seedlings ready for planting from other growers mostly. Those growers order seeds from seed companies and the seed companies have to buy from seed savers!

Whilst we can't all grow every vegie in our own back yards, we CAN learn to seed save or propagate the organic and heirloom varieties we DO grow. Then swap with our neighbours, friends and local gardeners or via seed saver groups and networks. If we just choose 2-3 plants to save and then share seeds into a pool with others, swapping for what we need, then it's a win-win. This preserves the viability of locally adapted seeds and encourages resilient plants that grow well in each microclimate.

I also buy heirloom/organic seeds from interstate and after a couple of seasons of growing them in my garden, they begin to develop more resilient characteristics. I choose the best ones and save those so year after year, my garden improves. This is a BIG and fun topic and a skill every gardener should have!  

Article in the newspaper: 

This article has a list of a lot of the organic and heirloom seed companies around Australia if you're wondering where to source seeds from. Organised state by state. 

Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener –

Monday, 26 March 2018

Alpine Strawberries in Australia

I have been getting a few questions over alpine strawberries so thought I would write a short blog post to clear up some things.  Alpine strawberries are different from garden strawberries in a number of ways, if you intend to grow them you should probably be aware of these differences.  I grow them, and I think they are great, but I also know what to expect from them. 

Various alpine strawberries, small and delicious
Alpine strawberries are a wild type of strawberry that grows across Europe.  They tend to be smaller plants that garden strawberries, and the ones I have grown seem to be hardier and more resistant to pretty much everything than I would have expected from such dainty little plants.  

Alpine strawberries are diploid, grow easily from seed, and most varieties never produce runners (although there are some types that do produce runners).  People often comment that they want strawberry plants that do not produce runners as they behave well and do not attempt to take over the garden.  I think runnerless plants are great for commercial plantings, but not ideal for home gardens.  I prefer a lot of runners as it means I can grow them as an edible ground cover and produce extra plants with no real effort on my part.  Some improved varieties are not grown from seed, instead they are propagated through dividing existing plants (or through tissue culture).  
In Australia we have little access to these improved hybrid varieties of alpine strawberries so growing from seed tends to be fine as long as it is not crossed.  Crossed seed will still grow, but it will grow different from either parent.  If buying alpine strawberry seed you have to be careful that what you are buying actually exists (as there are so many thieves on ebay selling fake strawberry seed) and that the plants were isolated, these little guys cross readily and you don’t want to grow a mixed bag of crosses from them.  If you do want to grow a cray mix of them, then buying mixed alpine strawberry seeds is the better way to go as you will get more diversity.
Alpine strawberry seedlings are tiny and cute
Many alpine strawberries are unimproved varieties that were discovered growing somewhere and then named, some varieties have been deliberately and carefully bred.  Most varieties produce strawberries that are significantly smaller than the strawberries that you can buy from the markets.  I have heard of a few varieties that produce large strawberries, but am yet to actually see one.  If you have one of these I would love to buy some seed from you and try them.

As well as growing significantly smaller strawberries, most varieties of alpine strawberry are not terribly productive.  They seem to produce for longer than my garden strawberries, just not very many berries each day.  The strawberries must be picked just ripe, either under ripe or over ripe they are still ok but do not taste nearly as good.  Due to being rather soft I can’t imagine that alpine strawberries are good for cold storage or long distance transport.  If low numbers of small strawberries growing on plants that refuse to set runners sounds bad to you then perhaps reconsider if you actually want to grow alpine strawberries.  
Alpine strawberries
The alpine strawberry plants are small and neat, many people comment on how ornamental they are.  Most alpine strawberries don’t take overly long to go from planting a seed until picking the first ripe strawberry.  Some garden strawberries can take a year or a few years, but many alpine strawberries take about 5 months, much the same time it takes to grow a tomato from seed.  

There is also a great diversity between varieties in terms of the strawberry colour, shape, taste etc.  I have seen alpine strawberries ripen red, yellow, and white, there are probably some darker ones and some pink ones.  All of these things are nice, but I wouldn’t grow them unless they had something better going for them than just looks.
More alpine strawberry seedlings
The real value of alpine strawberries is the taste, and to a lesser extent the smell.  These little strawberries taste really amazing.  Some varieties taste how you imagine a perfect strawberry should taste, fragrant, meltingly sweet, complex, and amazing.  Others taste sour but with a lovely taste that is difficult to describe and works perfectly with a little sourness.  Some taste remarkably like pineapple.  As I am growing these to be eaten here I pick these strawberries when they are ripe and because they are so soft I can almost inhale them.  I don't care that they are no good for long distance transport or long term storage, we eat them within minutes of being picked.
I grow a few different types of alpine strawberries, some produces a few small runners, one produces many long runners, but most of my varieties don’t produce any runners at all.  I grow a few other types of garden strawberries and a few other things, it makes strawberry season rather exciting.  I am also messing around with various strawberry breeding projects and am contemplating some wide crosses.  I may or may not end up with something worth keeping, only time will tell.

Where to buy alpine strawberries in Australia
It is difficult to find alpine strawberries for sale in Australia.  I sell some alpine strawberry plants on my for sale page along with a bunch of organic perennial vegetables, heirloom vegetable seeds and herbs.  I don't have many types listed at the moment, but I am growing a bunch of other ones that I will also sell when I have increased their numbers if they prove to be good enough.  I should probably try to take comparison pictures of the ripe strawberries from each variety one day.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Orphan bees

We had a bee swarm visit us!

On Saturday 3 March a friendly swarm of honey bees decided to visit.  They flew in and created an impressive and frantic swarm, then they settled on one of our fruit trees.  At first there were plenty of bees flying here and there and getting caught in spider webs and things.  After a little while they calmed down and politely waited while the scout bees were looking for a more permanent home.

Being Autumn I was a little surprised to see them.  As you can see, they settled into a friendly little clump.  Over the next few hours I grew fond of them and decided to quickly pull together a hive in which to keep them, and planned on building something better later.

Unfortunately the swarm had other ideas, and they left. 

I miss my little bee swarm.

All that was left behind from the lovely bee swarm was a tennis ball sized clump of orphan bees who did not know where the swarm had gone.  I have worked with bees in the past a little, they normally follow some rigid rules and it is pretty easy to work out what they are likely to do next.  But without a queen I am not sure what the rules are, to be honest I am not sure if the orphan bees knew what the rules were either.  I felt sorry for the orphan bees.

With no queen to maintain order these orphan bees grew increasingly aggressive.  They  started to buzz me even when I was nowhere near them and cause all kinds of trouble.  It appears that orphan bees get sad and angry and confused when they don't have anywhere to call home.

Those poor little orphan bees, it couldn't have been easy being left behind.  They stayed in the last place that they knew the queen had been.  In a few days they would likely starve, or they would die from exposure, I doubt any would have found their way to their new hive or been welcome to return to their old hive.

The orphan bees stayed for the night, then the next day, and that night, and they got more and more agitated as time went on.  So I had to get rid of the orphan bees before someone got hurt.  I feel really sad, but it wasn't going to end well if I left them there

Bee swarm with a few bees still in the air

My nice little swarm of bees

Bee swarm, nice and calm by now

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

White fruited mulberries

Mulberries are delicious, they are one of the greatest tasting and easiest to grow temperate fruit trees.  The mulberry trees are fast growing, high yielding, and reasonably hardy.  As well as being great to eat, they are very simple to grow and the tree is nice enough to look at and is great for shade.

Mulberry trees have a few problems though, the fruit does not transport or store well, the fruit also will not ripen once picked, for these reasons you never see them for sale in the shops.  Unfortunately for some reason you also don't see things like mulberry pies in shops.

Another problem is the mess and stains from the fruit.  White mulberry (Morus alba) often have dark fruit that stain everything.  You get stains from dropped fruit and on fingers while eating them, smushing unripe fruit takes away the stain from fingers.  More annoyingly birds eat the mulberry fruit and deposit stains on washing etc.  Luckily there are a few strains of white mulberries that are white fruited which do not stain.

A few years ago I bought a mulberry tree from Rodney's nursery in Pialligo.  It was a white mulberry (Morus alba) and I paid extra for a white fruited one.  It had a tag that was the same as the pictures below (which are not my pictures, they were found on gumtree).
White fruited white mulberry - picture from gumtree
White fruited white mulberry - picture from gumtree
Notice that the tag clearly states that it is a "white fruited form".  It is quite clear that the fruit will be white when ripe.  This is why I paid extra, I didn't want a normal white mulberry with dark fruit.

Unfortunately the tags must have been mixed up, and my tree produced dark, highly staining fruit.  I complained to Rodney's nursery and they were not interested as I had lost the receipt.  I still had the tag, and the pot with the sticker on the side that said "Rodney's" and "mulberry" but without the receipt they were not willing to accept any responsibility or even discuss it with me.  Poor form Rodney's nursery, very poor form.

The fruit tasted amazing, like most mulberries do, but was no good for growing in town.  Then we were about to move house to live on acreage so I took a small 10cm cutting.  I took my cutting and left the tree behind and hoped that the new owners would enjoy it.

The cutting grew roots easily, as white mulberries do, and we moved mid summer in early January.  We had rain that first year and a comparatively mild summer.  I planted the rooted cutting in the vegetable garden and by the following January that cutting had grown to about 6 foot tall and started fruiting.  As I didn't want a tree in the vegetable bed I dug it up in winter and planted it in a spare spot in one of my orchards.

The following summer was hot and dry.  My little mulberry tree died.  I didn't buy another one as it was just too arid for mulberry to thrive there.  The previous owners planted a black mulberry behind the shed and even though it was well established before we moved in it struggled to survive each year even with additional watering.

Now we have moved to a cooler and less arid climate I wanted to get another mulberry tree.  We are in town so I probably shouldn't grow a dark fruited one here.  This time, instead of getting another white fruited white mulberry I have bought a white shahtoot mulberry (Morus macroura) from Daleys Fruit Tree nursery.  Daleys seem to have a reasonable reputation and as the tree is grafted there is a high chance of getting what I paid for.
White Shahtoot Mulberry
White shahtoot are either a different species of mulberry to the white mulberry, or are an inter-specific hybrid of several mulberry species.  They are grow very long mulberries, about 10cm long.

The first year I grew this in a large pot of soil.  Apparently shahtoot are less cold hardy than white mulberry, so having it in a pot while it is small means that I was able to protect it from the frost.  We had a few nights below -8C this winter, and it snowed a few times, which would likely have been too much for the little tree without a little protection.  By protection I mean that I grew it near a hedge where ti would get a little less frost, I certainly didn't coddle the tree.

Mulberry graft site
Towards the end of winter I planted it in the ground.  When taking it out of the pot I noticed that the soil was absolutely riddled with grubs happily eating the roots.  Not great.

Not long after planting it the tree started to bud.  Unfortunately many of the branches died off from the grubs, but the tree is pretty fast growing and seems to have since come good so I am hoping that the grubs have disappeared somewhat.

White Shahtoot buds

White shahtoot - each bud had 3 or more fruits

Look how long these are, even before they have flowered they are longer than regular mulberries
My white fruited shahtoot mulberries went on to grow a lot of fruit for such a small tree.  Every place that leaves were growing also had several long mulberries developing.  The minimum was three but some grew half a dozen mulberries.  Each mulberry was roughly 10 cm long, some longer and some shorter.

I was expecting white shahtoot mulberries to ripen white but they ripened more of a green colour, similar to white grapes.  The difference between unripe and ripe was obvious so it was simple to pick them.  Like any other variety of mulberry, the ripe fruit drops off in your hand when you touch them, so picking these took no effort.  Perhaps it is because my tree is small, or perhaps it is the colour, but birds did not touch any of these.  Kids and bugs on the other hand...

The taste of white shahtoot mulberries is pretty sweet.  They can be eaten slightly unripe and are still sweet.  Depending on how ripe they almost taste like apricot or honey, it is difficult to describe, but they were well liked by everyone who ate them.  When over ripe they weren't fantastic, but still not horrible, the kids still enjoyed these.

I can hardly wait until next spring when I get to eat more!

White shahtoot starting to ripen
White shahtoot - very productive
I am told that shahtoot mulberry will not grow from cuttings and do not set viable seed.  My tree is still not large enough for me to experiment with so I have not tried air layering or anything yet.  I am told that the only way to propagate more is to graft them onto white mulberry rootstock.  Luckily white mulberries grow easily from cuttings, so getting rootstock is easy, and grafting is pretty simple.

I have since obtained a cutting of another supposedly white fruited white mulberry.  I got it as a tiny cutting, since planting it into a pot it is growing rather well.  I had planned to use it as rootstock and graft shahtoot onto it and have a second beautiful shahtoot tree.  I may let it grow a bit larger before I try that, plus I am curious to see if it is actually white fruited.  If it is white fruited, growing two different varieties of mulberry sounds nice and may extend the harvest season.