Sunday, 28 December 2014

How to grow Babington's Leek

Babington's Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii) are amazing little plants, I wrote another post on them and thought I should describe how to grow them.  They are edible and perennial and a bit more interesting than a regular leek.  Unfortunately they are on the brink of extinction in Australia and many other parts of the world.  I am selling small bulbils of Babington's leeks in the hope that other people will grow and enjoy them and help them to become less rare.

Here are some notes on how to grow them, please note that I am no expert on Babington's leeks, if something I say does not work feel free to try something else.  If you find some other way to grow them that works better please let me know and I will gladly pass this information on to anyone who wishes to grow them.

This is only a brief description of how to grow Babington's leeks that has worked for me.  For information on how to grow any other perennial vegetables please go to my growing notes page.  To buy Babington's leeks or other perennial vegetables, herbs, heirloom vegetable seeds, water kefir grains or milk kefir grains etc please go to my for sale page.

Babington's Leek bulbs - should flower next year

Growing Babington's Leek from from Bulbs
At this stage I do not have enough plants to sell mature bulbs but figured I would mention it for when your plants are larger or if I ever have enough to sell them too.  This is simple, plant the bulb a few cm deep and give it 15cm to 20cm or so from its nearest neighbour.  Plant it about the depth of the bulb's width, if it is too shallow it will drag itself deeper with the use of contractile roots.  Give it plenty of water, sunlight and mulch.  You should be able to harvest the leek by cutting it near the soil and have it re-sprout, if you get the timing right and the bulb was large enough it should still send up a flower stalk.  Each year if all goes well the underground bulb should divide into 2 or 3 mature bulbs for you and they may grow a few other smaller bulbs too

Babington's Leek will die down to a bulb in summer, it may be possible to convince them to grow through but I have not tried that yet so can not comment.  If storing the bulbs be careful not to leave the bulbs out somewhere to dry out too much, also be careful not to leave them in soil that is too wet as they may rot.

Babington's Leek plant almost ready to flower
Growing Babington's Leek from Plants
If I have too many bulbils left over that sprout I plan to sell them as small plants.  Much like any other variety of leek, plant it reasonably deep to encourage a long white shank.  As above, plant 15cm to 20cm from its nearest neighbour, any closer than this will stunt the plant a little.  Plenty of sun, water and mulch will ensure the fastest growth rate.  During the first year they will be small and may not put on much growth above ground, this is normal.  They will mostly take 2 or 3 years until mature enough to flower.

Babington's leek bulbils - note the small size

Growing Babington's Leek from Bulbils
I mostly sell bulbils of the Babington's leek, these are tiny leek bulbs that have formed on top of the flower stalk.  For this reason I will go into a little more detail in this section.

Each bulbil will most likely be genetically identical to the parent (although slight mutations may occur from time to time).  The bulbils are tiny, probably around the size of a pea but sometimes even smaller.  Bulbils are produced in early Summer but will not grow or do anything until Autumn or Winter.  They are ready when they fall from the flower stalk, I sell them when they are ready and will store and grow anything that is not sold.  If you buy bulbils as soon as they are ready you have two options: you can plant straight away or you can store them for later.  Each method has its merits and dangers, I will try to do a little of each to work out what is best.
Babington's leek bulbils
Storing the bulbils gives you the peace of mind that they will not be eaten by anything or rot in the soil but runs the risk that they will dry out and die.  You also run the risk that they will not be in the soil when they are ready to grow or that they may not receive whatever signal they need in order to resume growth.  Some bulbils will look green, others will develop a brown outer skin.  I assume that the green ones will not cope with storage as well as the brown ones.  I also assume that the brown ones will be less likely to wake up when it is time to grow.

Planting the bulbils immediately runs the risk of rotting or being eaten by earwigs or whatever but also ensures that they will not dry too much and they are ready to grow when they need to grow.  I plant the bulbils a little under the soil surface or sometimes directly on top of the soil in the light.  I have heard that a grower overseas normally plants them 2 inches deep.  I urr on the side of caution, if they are not deep enough they will work it out or I could dig them and replant them when they are larger, if they are too deep they may not have enough energy to reach the sunlight.  It is best to plant them with the growing tip pointing up, quite often it is difficult to tell which way is up and in these instances it is best to plant them on their side.  Planted on their side they will work it out, planted upside down they may die.

No matter what you chose to do the bulbils will not do a great deal of anything until Autumn or even Winter/Spring.  Occasionally they may begin to grow in late Summer but only if the weather is cool.   Babington's leeks are often rather small looking plants in their first year and the next season are far larger.  The bulbils will often take 2 to 3 years to be mature enough to flower, that being said if they are very happy they can flower in their first year.
Babbington's leek, bulbils developing on the flower head

Growing Babington's leeks is simple
While it sounds like a lot of work it isn't, most people who grow Babington's leeks have a patch of them and pretty much ignore them other than to harvest them and to marvel at their amazing flower head.  Often overseas growers (I do not know any other Australian growers) tell me that Babington's leeks thrive on neglect.  I figured I would go into a bit of detail so that you have the best chances of harvesting leeks as soon as possible.  I also want to make sure that if someone buys Babington's leeks from me that they know what to expect and do not rip the plants out when they have not flowered in the first year from bulbils.  The pictures of the bulbils next to the measuring tape will help to ensure that if anyone buys bulbils from me that they know exactly what they are buying.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask, while I may not know the answer I will do my best to tell you what works and does not work for me.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Crimson Flowered Broad Beans

I wrote a post on Broad Beans (Vicia faba) last year.  This year I grew a different variety of broad bean which I have wanted to grow for some time.  At first things seemed promising, they grew well, produced heaps of flowers and started to form many pods.

Then the ducks flew over the fence and ate most of the pods, broke most of the plants, ate most of the leaves, trampled everything that their little ducky feet could trample and generally destroyed things.  I was not overly impressed but some of the damaged plants went on to produce a small number of pods and seeds.  I still ended up with a lot more seeds than I planted so I count that as a win.
Crimson flowered broadbean starting to flower

I grew this particular type because someone sent me some seeds of a broad bean called 'crimson flowered' broadbean.  I had wanted to grow this type of broadbean for a while and was trying to decide between growing it and another one so it worked out well.  They did not send many seeds and I was not sure if we would move before the seeds were ripe so I only planted three.  These three seeds germinated and the plants grew strong.

History of Crimson Flowered Broadbeans

Crimson flowered broad beans are a very old variety of broadbean.  They were widely grown in the 1700s (it is mentioned in books from 1778 but probably grown prior that that) then almost went extinct as some of the newer varieties with longer pods became available.  Apparently they were thought to be extinct until 1978 when a lady called Rhoda Cutbush donated three or four of her precious seeds to the Heritage Seed Library.

Apparently Rhoda's father had received the original heirloom seeds from a cottage garden in 1912.  Rhoda grew up growing and eating these broadbeans, probably not realising that she was one of the last people to grow them.  Then in 1978 a crop failure wiped out all of Rhoda's plants.  She could not find anywhere to get new seeds from so she searched through her shed until she found an old tin which contained 3 or 4 seeds (there are discrepancies over the number).  Instead of planting the seeds Rhoda realised how important they were and decided to donate them.

What an amazing story of survival!  From there this crimson flowered broad bean has been saved from extinction and has been sent to seed savers and breeders across the world.
Crimson Flowered Broad Beans

What are crimson flowered broad beans like

They are a short and compact plant which rarely reaches over a meter tall, as they age they send up multiple stalks all with many flowers.  They grow and look much like any other broad bead plant, until the flowers begin to open.  The flowers are what sets this variety apart from many others.  They range from deep red to red/purple and look great, but it is their scent that is amazing.  I don't know if their flowers have a stronger scent than regular broad beans or if it is because they grow so many flowers, but I could smell them from outside the vegetable garden.  Considering that I only had three plants that is pretty impressive.

The pods, of which I did not get many as the ducks sabotaged them, were slightly smaller than the Aquadulce ones we grow.  I assume had the plants been allowed to produce a crop unharmed would have produced many small pods.  The pods have less seeds in them than the Aquadulce variety, only about 3 seeds per pod.  The seeds are slightly smaller and more green than Aquadulce.

I am told that they taste better than regular broad beans but certainly didn't get a chance to try these, as I don't really eat broadbeans this is purely academic and I have to use other people's advice.  People who grow them as a food crop tell me that their taste and productivity more than makes up for the smaller size of the pods.

As a green manure all broad beans are great, these are no exception.  Even though they do not grow too large they do sequester nitrogen from the atmosphere and make it available in the soil.  As they get older they grow more stems and become bushier, this ads to their use as green manure, compost activator or mulch.

Due to the flowers on this plant they can fit into an ornamental garden rather well.  The flowers not only look great and smell amazing but they are flowering intensely at a time when little else is colourful in the garden.  The flowers attract bees and feed them when little else is flowering.  I consider broad beans to be a great all round permaculture crop because they have so many uses.  Even though we don't eat them I grow them for their other uses.

Young Broad Bean starting to flower

Saving Seeds

If you plan to grow this type of broadbean please keep in mind that broad beans readily cross pollinate with other varieties of broad bean.  Clearly they will not cross pollinate with any other variety of bean, pea or anything else.  If you plan to grow and preserve this variety care must be taken to prevent crossing as they can and will cross at a large distance.  If your neighbour or even someone in the next block grows broad beans then it may well cross pollinate your plants so bagging or caging plants is the only real way to keep seed pure.  You must save a few more more pods from this plant as they produce so few seeds, this is simple enough to do.  I plan to do a larger growout next year and only save seeds from the largest pods to try and select for more seeds per pod.

If you plan to create your own new variety of broadbean this plant carries a few genes which no other varieties carry.  If I liked broad beans more and had time/space I would cross them with a long pod broad bean  and/or a purple seeded type and create a longer podded red flowered purple seeded broadbean.

A few places in Australia sell crimson flowered broad bean seed.  When I have enough seeds they are offered on my for sale page with a few other heirloom vegetable seeds or perennial vegetables.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Kids and gardening

My kids love gardening, it is something that they are born with.  I don't know if it is just fun to get dirty, or if digging holes makes it fun or if they just enjoy being outside, but whatever it is they have always loved it.

My kids have helped me plant seeds, tubers, rhizomes etc, water plants, harvest vegetables, save seeds and all other parts of gardening since before they knew it.  They know where their food comes from and understand the work that goes into producing food.  I am coming to the realisation that they have a better idea of food and growing vegetables than many adults, they certainly seem to be more capable at seed saving than a lot of people I know.

I tend to get a bit caught up in growing food plants and often forget that I should make gardening a bit more fun for the kids.  The kids certainly enjoy growing/eating things like strawberries or yacon, but sometimes they want a bit more fun so we have a few more novel plants for them to grow with me.  Many of these are still edible or useful, but they are fun for the kids too.

Rampion (Campanula rapunculus)

Who hasn't heard of the fairy tale called Rapunzel?  My kids haven't, but that is beside the point.  Rampion is the vegetable that the mother stole from the witch's garden and caused all the trouble.  Apparently Rapunzel is another name for the vegetable Rampion.
Rampion beginning to flower
Rampion is a very ancient vegetable, the leaves and roots are eaten.  I have eaten some leaves and to be honest probably wouldn't sneak into anyone's garden for it, let alone the garden of a grudge harboring witch.  The roots are meant to be delicious but I have not eaten any yet as I only have a few plants.  Some of the rampion has started to flower, the flowers are beautiful but are difficult to take pictures as most of the plants are hidden among other plants.
Rampion growing in a tiny pot
Rampion seed is tiny, so tiny that when I bought seed I could hardly see it and wondered if I had actually been sold anything other than dust.  The seed seems to have a reasonably low germination rate, but that may be my climate or the way in which I have tried to grow it.  It seems to have a lot of seed so having low germination is not that big a problem.

Rampion tends to do better if it is not transplanted, for this reason I am letting my plants go to seed and hope to sprinkle the flower heads where I would like the plants to grow.  The flowers on rampion are beautiful.  It ends up with a handful of long spikes of little blue flowers on each plant.  It would easily look good in an ornamental garden or a little girl's fairy garden.

I should write another post on rampion some day.  Unfortunately I do not really have any pictures as it is mostly growing in amongst other plants and can not be seen.

World's hottest chilli

The kids tried some chilli a few months ago and thought that it would be fun to grow some.  I figured it would be fun to grow something that they could not get in the shops so I bought some Trinidad Scorpion Butch T (Capsicum chinese) seed and planted it with them.  These were the world's hottest chilli a few years ago (apparently some hybrid has recently surpassed them) so I figured it would be great.

We then surrounded the tiny seedlings with crushed egg shell to help protect against slugs and snails.  So far they are tiny but I have high hopes as they are growing new leaves.  I plan to keep them in pots so that when winter comes we can try to protect them and hopefully get a second year out of them.

Trinidad Scorpion Butch T seedlings starting to grow

Immali Corn (Zea Mays)

I am breeding this variety myself and know of no one else that has created anything even remotely similar.  I have been working on this for a few years now and it is almost a stable variety.  I am now working on intensifying the colour and making this variety a bit more stable.

Immali corn is completely non GM and has been bred using nature to do much of the work.  If all goes well the Immali corn will produce a blue and white bicoloured cob of super sweet corn.  Being blue means that Immali Corn is high in anthocyanins and other cancer fighting antioxidants. 

Immali corn seedlings
I don't like starting corn and transplanting it, but this year I had little choice for a number of reasons.  I prefer to plant the seeds where they are to grow.  The seedlings were planted out the day I took the above picture and are now almost a foot tall.

I have high hopes for this corn and hope that once it is a stable variety I can distribute it for people to enjoy.  Perhaps distributing it before it is stable as a diverse landrace would be good too, we will see what happens. 

Venus fly traps (Dionaea muscipula)

Venus fly traps are the most well known of all the carnivorous plants.  They are fun, other than that they are pretty useless.  I had them when I was a child and loved them.  I started with one and ended up dividing it and multiplying it into a couple of dozen.  I don't know if they can grow here as the humidity is so low and it gets so hot, but it is worth a try.  I kind of miss growing carnivorous plants, perhaps I will get back into it properly after we move.

Venus Fly Traps - notice the bee stealing water from the lower pot
We now have three venus fly traps for the kids, or are they for me and I am just using the kids as an excuse?  Either way it doesn't really matter.  They do not catch many insects so are not useful for insect control.  A venus flytrap may have up to a dozen leaves and each leaf will only hold one insect at a time, so that is only a dozen insects per plant.  Something like a Drosera or a Sarracenia can catch many more insects.  A large pitcher plant can hold several hundred insects per leaf, a large sundew can catch a few dozen.  These can be used to successfully control some types of insect in some situations, unfortunately venus fly traps can not.  Even though the venus flytraps are virtually useless they can be a lot of fun.

People often comment that venus fly traps do not flower, that is absolute garbage spread by people who desperately want to appear intelligent and knowledgeable.  What they probably mean is that the traps are made of leaf and not made of flower.  This is kind of obvious, I can not think of any carnivorous plant that traps food with their flowers.  Not one.  Some plants will kill insects in their flowers, but I don't know of any that obtain any nutrients in that way.

Other people insist that the flowers must be removed from venus fly traps or they will weaken and die.  When I was a kid mine flowered most years and it never harmed them.  Quite often after flowering they would divide into several new plants.  I often collected their seed and grew it into more plants, each one genetically different from the rest.  Growing venus fly traps from seed is heaps of fun, if you ever get a chance I say give it a go.

If they can grow here in this arid climate I don't think flowering or not flowering will have any noticeable effect on their health. The plants have already divided and have several distinct growing points.

Venus Fly Trap flowers


Nanuq has a little dinosaur garden, in it he has planted some flowers and herbs.  Strong growing herbs such as mint are great for kids.  Interesting looking herbs and odd smelling herbs seem to be enjoyed by kids.  Things which are sweet such as stevia are adored by kids.

Here are some pictures of the herbs that Nanuq has planted in his little dinosaur garden.  He has a lot of other plants in there too, some are ornamental and others like the tree onions are edible.
Chocolate mint
Variegated apple mint in with some variegated thyme

Stevia - very sweet