Friday, 27 January 2017

Vietnamese coriander

Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) is an excellent perennial herb which should be more widely grown at home but is not easy enough to find.  It has a bunch of different common names including Vietnamese mint, laksa herb, hot mint, Cambodian mint, praew leaf, and many more.  It is not related to coriander at all, it is not related to the mint family, but it is eaten in Vietnam and is often used in laksa.
Vietnamese Coriander - growing as an emergent plant
I first saw this herb at a training day (I swapped it for some perennial leeks), the lady tore off a small cutting for me, then said something about it not surviving until I got home as it was the middle of summer and the course still had a few hours to go.  I put the little cutting in my pocket and when I got home it was bruised, limp and looked dead, so I put it in a cup of water in the shade.  It looked very dead to begin with but it grew roots within a few days and I have had it ever since.
Vietnamese Coriander rooted cutting
How to grow Vietnamese Coriander
I thought Vietnamese coriander was always grown as an emergent plant with its roots and stems under water and its leaves always sticking out of the water.  I have grown it this way for a few years and it has done rather well for me.  Recently I have seen it for sale with other terrestrial herbs, not sitting in a tray of water, but having a tag that says to water it well and not allow it to dry out at all.  I guess it is more versatile and hardy than I realised.

Honestly, I think growing it as an emergent is far more simple than trying to keep it well watered.  I grow this herb in the same way that I grow Chinese water chestnuts or duck potatoes or water cress, sometimes I even grow them together in the same bucket.  A bucket or something similar with soil a few inches from the top, filled with water is easy to set up and maintain, as is submerging a pot of soil in a bucket of water.  Each day when watering the rest of the vegetables you simply top up the water in the bucket.  If the water does dry off, the soil remains damp enough for your plant.  If there are mosquito issues either put in some small fish (research which ones to use first and always stay clear of Gambusia) or simply let it dry out once a week.  The soil needs to remain moist for this plant to flourish, but if there is no free water on top of the soil the mosquito larvae die or are eaten by ants pretty fast.  Doing this weekly will ensure that the mosquito do not have time to hatch, pupate and metamorphose into adults.  Not watering once a week is simple enough to do, or to not do as the case may be.

When growing in a bucket of soil and water the waterlogged soil tends to prevent any serious weed growth as few weeds can handle long periods of submerged roots.  The presence of open water tends to encourage frogs, superb fairy wrens and other tiny insectivorous animals which are beneficial for your garden.

Other than never letting this plant get dry, don’t let it run out of space or nutrients.  It will grow very fast, but if it runs out of space to grow or uses all the available nutrients it will stop growing completely.  The plant will not die, but if it is not growing then it is not supplying you with leaves so there is no point having it.  I have taken cuttings of this and put it in a glass of water, the cutting grows roots very fast, but then growth stops and it does nothing, absolutely nothing, for months.  This is because it needs nutrients, plant it in the soil and let it do its thing.  A similar thing happens when grown in a small pot of soil, it rapidly grows to fill the space it has been given, then it stops growing completely.  Cutting it back hard does not encourage a new flush of growth, only feeding it seems to make a difference.  This is as simple as tipping a little poultry manure into the bucket.

Vietnamese coriander does not like frost and very cold weather will significantly slow its growth.  As long as you keep a little of this plant out of the frost it will survive to regrow for you when the weather warms.  It is even possible to keep a cutting alive in a glass of water over winter if needed.  Try to keep in mind that in a glass of water this cutting will quickly look bad, stop growing, and the leaves may turn red and the leaves may go bitter, or the leaves may even drop off if it is too cold.  I know someone in Orange NSW who put bubble wrap over her plant to keep it alive over winter.  Any part that gets hit by frost will die off, but if any of the plant is alive it will regrow fast enough in warmer weather.
Vietnamese Coriander cutting starting to grow in water
Vietnamese Coriander growing in soil and water in a milk bottle
How to propagate Vietnamese coriander
I am told that Vietnamese coriander will not flower outside of the tropics due to daylight sensitivity issues as well as strict temperature/humidity requirements.  This is not the case at all.  I have had Vietnamese coriander flower for me and I have never lived in or anywhere near the tropics.  The flowers are small, uninteresting and white.

I don’t know if it needs a second clone for pollination due to self-incompatibility issues, or if the seeds need special conditions or mycorrhizae in order to grow, or if it can even produce viable seeds.  All I know is that it sometimes flowers for me but I have never obtained any Vietnamese coriander seeds.

Vietnamese Coriander Flowers
Vietnamese coriander is very easy to propagate from cuttings, one of the easiest I have ever grown.  Roots will grow quickly from any node that is under water, as long as at least one node is under water then it will grow roots.  Roots will only grow from a node, unlike herbs such as basil the roots will not grow from the stem.

I normally cut a section off the plant, remove the leaves from the lower few nodes, and then place it in water with the remaining leaves in the air and the leafless nodes under the water.  I normally remove leaves from several nodes as I am using them in my dinner, the parent plant you cut pieces off should regrow as long as you leave it with at least one node that has leaves.  If you do not remove the leaves from your cutting it will still grow roots quickly, but you run the risk that the leaves may possibly rot.

I have even seen Vietnamese coriander grown underwater in an aquarium once.  Short term this will work well and the plant will grow roots from every node, but I think that longer term this plant needs its leaves out of the water.  I really should experiment with this and see what it is capable of.  I would be hesitant to grow it using aquaponics in fear that it would take over and clog things pretty quickly.

Vietnamese Coriander Flowering
What does Vietnamese coriander taste like
I don’t know how to describe how things taste but I am rather fond of this one.  Some people say it smells much like coriander, some think it smells nothing like coriander, I think it does smell a bit like coriander.  Some people claim it smells like mint, I don’t see how anyone could ever think it smells even slightly minty and the word ‘mint’ in one of its common names probably refers to the aggressive growth.  Some say it is warm and peppery, others say citrusy, others disagree completely.  The internet says Vietnamese coriander has a  “lovely coriander taste with a clear citrus note; refreshing with a hot, biting, peppery after taste” which I think is a reasonably accurate description.

Vietnamese coriander is used in many dishes, as one of the common names suggests it is rather popular in laksa.  I like to put some leaves in my bowl and then pour in hot chicken soup.  The heat from the soup is enough to cook this herb and make it soft.  I think overcooking would make it lose much of its taste.  It goes well with chicken and I am told that it combines well with lime, chillies, garlic, ginger and lemon grass.

I don’t eat this herb raw myself as I find it slightly bitter, but have been told that it works well raw chopped into salads.  I really should try this one day and see if I like it.

Unlike coriander which some people love and others have a broken gene which makes it smell soapy to them, Vietnamese coriander does not appear to elicit the same extreme response from people.  That being said, this herb is not for everyone.  I really like the taste and smell of Vietnamese coriander, my wife dislikes it, some of my kids like it and the others are indifferent to it.
Vietnamese Coriander - more sunlight makes the purple more pronounced
Where to buy Vietnamese coriander in Australia
Some online places sell Vietnamese coriander, and some nurseries ocasionally stock it, but prices vary quite a lot and it is usually far more expensive than it should be.  The best thing about this plant is that it is perennial so you plant once and harvest forever.  I sell Vietnamese coriander plants or rooted cuttings, if it is available it can be found on my for sale page.
Vietnamese Coriander Rooting Cuttings ready to plant

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Pineberries, Strasberries and Bubbleberries

I have grown plenty of different strawberries over the years.  I have grown some from seeds, others from runners, others from divisions.  Most strawberries available to home growers are complex hybrids of various species of strawberry, most are hybrids of species from different continents.  I grow a lot of these complex hybrids, I also have a few wild species that I am growing from seed, but they will have to wait for another blog post. Strawberries are perennial plants, if the right variety is grown under the right conditions they can be extremely productive.

This year, among other things, I grew pineberries, strasberries, bubbleberries and Sweetie (which was sold by the Nellie Kelly brand).  Strangely there is little information on the internet from anyone who has grown them, so I thought I should write a post about them.
Left to Right, Bubbleberry, Pineberry, Sweetie
Pineberry Strawberry
The pineberry is a white fruited strawberry, it will NOT grow true from seed so if you want them you must grown them from plants.  Many thieves on ebay have made a lot of money from selling pineberry seeds.  Please never buy pineberry seeds or anything from someone who has pineberry seeds for sale.
Pineberry is not GM, it is NOT terribly new, it is NOT a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple or  anything else.  Pineberries are NOT albino plants, if they were the leaves would be white or yellow and the plant would not survive very long as it could not photosynthesise.

The pineberry is said to be a hybrid of two species of strawberry, the South American Fragaria chiloensis, and the North American Fragaria virginiana but they may also have other species in their heritage or even back crossing.  From what I understand they have been around for a very long time but have only recently become more readily available to home gardeners.

My pineberry plants are all female, they require another variety of strawberry growing near by for proper pollination.  Being pollinated by another plant does not change the taste or shape or colour of the strawberry, but if you grow the seeds they will not be pineberries.  The pineberry flowers have white petals.

My pineberry plants happily grow runners so can easily be allowed to cover an area with new plants.  I like strawberries that produce runners as it means it is simple to increase my stock quickly with little effort from me.  I can use them as edible ground covers.  It also means that if a few die, then it is no great loss.

Our pineberries grew small strawberries, being so small I expected them to be super sweet, but they were not.  The pineberry strawberries were white when unripe and ripened a light pink with red achenes.  Pineberry is said to taste like a mix of pineapple and strawberry.  I can understand this, they did almost taste a bit pineapple like, I guess.  They were reasonably sweet, I guess, but we have other strawberries that are far sweeter.  I found them a bit sour but they do have a depth and complexity of taste.  I don't dislike them, they were a bit sour and they may taste slightly different later in the season.
Pineberry Strawberry
Strasberry Strawberry
Strasberry strawberries are another hybrid of various strawberry species, these were developed in 1925.  They, just like the pineberry, are not GM, they are not a cross between strawberries and raspberries or any other nonsense like this.

My strasberries also only produce female flowers so require a pollinator to set fruit.  My plants all had flowers with white petals.  The strawberries were very small and dark red with the achenes set deeply in each strawberry.  They were not overly productive, but the plants are young and the season is early so things may change as the plants mature.

My strasberry plants set runners, but less so than the pineberries.  Again, if the seeds are planted they will grow into a mix of strawberries none of which will be a strasberry.  I forgot to take any pictures of strasberries, we ate them before I thought about it and then they stopped floweringnext time they produce fruit I should try to remember to take some pictures.

Strasberries are said to taste like raspberries, I guess if I wish really hard while I am eating one I can kind of almost pretend to taste this.  They taste ok, far better than the garbage I can buy from a shop, but I prefer the taste of regular garden strawberries.
Left to Right: Bubbleberry, Pineberry, Sweetie, Sweetie, un-named red pollinator

Bubbleberry Strawberry 
Bubbleberry strawberries, like most garden strawberries are most likely another hybrid of various strawberries.  There is also a chance that they are a strain of the European Fragaria moschata.  I have seen different sources claim both.  To be honest, I don't know.

Bubbleberry strawberries, just like every other strawberry plant that the home gardener will have access to, is not GM.  The bubbleberry strawberry is another extremely old variety that has recently become more available (and gained a more marketable name).  The bubbleberry strawberry has been around since at least the 16th century.

Bubbleberry  strawberries grow runners, but mine have not produced many yet.  It has complete flowers so can be used as a pollinator for pineberry and strasberry.

Bubbleberry is said to taste a bit like bubblegum, and others say it tastes of mixed soft fruit. One internet site said bubbleberry "is the strawberry with the strongest flavour and most mouth-watering aroma in the world.".  Mine taste like a great tasting strawberry which has a good mix of sweet and sour.  They are not the strongest tasting and most amazing strawberry I have eaten, but they are pretty close.  Mine also taste nothing like bubblegum, and I am very glad about that.

Bubbleberry Strawberry

Nellie Kelly 'Sweetie' strawberries
Sweetie strawberries do not produce runners, which some people like.  As a backyard gardener I find the runnerless trait to be undesirable, I want plants that throw runners everywhere to increase my patch and out compete weeds and I can grow them in difficult places as edible ground covers.  Sweetie strawberries are a variety of common garden strawberry called Fragaria x ananassa.  Being runnerless they are likely to have alpine strawberry in their heritage.  Without genetic testing we will probably never know.

These 'sweetie' strawberries flower well and are very strong plants.  I should be able to take a spade and divide my plant into many plants when the weather is cooler.

Sweetie strawberries are a reasonable size berry and taste great.  Some of the sweetie strawberries are odd shaped, but most are pretty regular.  They are sweet, as per their name, and they have a nice strawberry taste to them.  They also seem to outproduce pineberry, strasberry and bubbleberry but that may be because all the plants are new and things could change as they become more established. I prefer the taste of Bubbleberry strawberries to sweetie strawberries.
'Sweetie' Strawberry second from left and second from right

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Albino corn, beautiful but useless

Albino Corn - beautiful but useless
Look how pretty my albino corn plants are!  They look amazing.  It is too bad that they have to die. 
Albino corn seedling, such a pretty little plant
I planted sweet corn seed this year from seed that I have saved, I had great germination rates.  Sweet corn seeds, according to the internet, generally has around 75% germination, super sweet generally has far lower than that.  Mine has always germinate well above that, even several year old seeds tend to germinate better than that.

This year, I have had some albino corn seedlings emerge.  If you take those out as they will not survive (and also do not include the several partly albino plants that possibly would survive but I have culled as they are weaker) I had over 87% germination this year.  Not too shabby.

Albino sweet corn seedling

Why albino plants die
It is possible to keep these albino plants alive for a while, it is even possible to grow them long enough for them to mature and produce seeds, but it is not worth the effort.

I could grow them in tissue culture, I could feed sugars through the leaves every other day, but without me they would die fast.  Albino plants can not produce chlorophyll, non-parasitic plants need chlorophyll to produce energy from the sun, without chlorophyll they die.  If they are not green (and are not grafted or parasitic) then they can not survive without a lot of effort from me.

On top of issues with not being able to photosynthesize, albino plants also tend to burn in the sun.  The chlorophyll in the leaves help to protect them from the sun.  Some variegated plants do not cope in full sunlight for this reason.  Variegated plants also tend to be weaker due to the reduced amount of photosynthesis that each leaf can perform.

Albino Corn
What causes albinism in plants
Albino plants can be caused by several things.  It can be environmental, various poisons can cause high rates of albinism in plants.  If this is the case you generally see a lot of albino plants germinate close together.  This is not the case here.  More commonly albinism is genetic, it can either be through a random mutation or the albino genes can be in high concentration in the population.  Often older seeds have a higher percentage of albino as the genetic material has degraded slightly.  Sometimes, if seed is stored incorrectly it can suffer genetic degradation.  Wide crosses, such as interspecific crosses tend to increase the number of albino seedlings as can anther culture and double haploids and a few other things.

I have seen albino corn in the past, but never from this variety, so I am hoping that the gene is not present in the population in high amounts.

I have heard various wild and unsubstantiated claims about one of the initial parents of this variety.  I never took much notice of them until now.  I had been told that one of the parents, a landrace corn, was often crossed with some of the wild teosinte (most likely Zea mexicanicana or possibly Zea parviglumis) to increase its vigor.  If that is true, there is a wide cross which may have caused albinism in this variety.

Albino corn seedlings, partly albino corn seedlings, and normal green corn seedlings
If this is not from random mutation is it possible to remove albino genes from this population?
I am wondering, if albinism is present in this variety, is it even possible to remove the gene?  Being a recessive gene, and considering how corn pollinates, unfortunately I don't think so.  People have been culling black sheep for centuries, yet they still turn up every now and again.

According to the University of Oregon's photosynthetic mutant library, one of over 600 genes could be broken, each with 3 to 4 mutant alleles.  Even if I knew which gene was broken I don't think I could remove it from the population.

Considering that I have grown this variety of corn for years and this is the first time I have seen albino corn seedlings I don't think I will have too many problems.  I had a few partly albino plants which could have survived, and removed them so their genes would not be passed on.  I cull pretty hard.  I have also asked a few people I sent seeds to if they had any albino corn and none of them did, so hopefully I won't see much of this in the future.

Where to get albino corn
Some laboratory supply places overseas sell albino corn seed, it is usually F2 cross with green corn to show basic dominant/recessive traits.  I am not sure if anywhere in Australia sells them and it is not possible to import corn seed.  To be honest, I don't see why anyone would really want albino corn seedlings, other non-lethal traits can be used just as easily to show inheritance patterns.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Growing Lime Balm

Lime balm (Melissa officinalis ''lime") is a deliciously limey smelling perennial herb.  It is related to (ie a lime smelling variety of) lemon balm and my understanding is that it is a spontaneous mutation that appeared in someones garden once and has been kept on ever since.  I really like this herb, I have only had it a short time and already it is one of my favourite herbs.

It is related to mint and I assume that much like lemon balm it can be invasive so is best grown in a container and not in the garden.

Lemon Balm
I have grown lemon balm since I was a child.  Each year it, along with variegated apple mint, would run rampant and take over the small vegetable garden near the house.  Each year I would spend weeks digging these plant out.  I have never been overly impressed with lemon balm.  It is good enough to have ensured that I continue to grow it rather than replacing it with something else, but it is far from amazing.

According to the internet, lemon balm is meant to have been used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic).  It is also meant to heal bee stings, but I tend not to get stung so have never tried it out.  

Lemon balm is meant to attract honey bees, but honestly I think that is based on superstition more than fact. I rarely see bees on the lemon balm flowers, honey bees much prefer cucurbits or basil or clover or dandelion or many other things which flower at the same time in my gardens.

Lemon balm smells much like lemon most of the time.  If it is allowed to flower the smell can change and become weak or soapy for a little while.  If it flowers it tends to drop tiny seeds, which germinate and attempt to take over the garden.  I suggest not allowing it to flower, that way it will not try to take over and the smell will not change.

I have used lemon balm in cooking, it tends to be overpowered by stronger smells and is degraded by heat so is best added towards the end of cooking.  Lemon balm can be stuffed into the cavity of a chicken while roasting, but I find that it is too delicate a smell and gets lost this way.

It is also meant to make a nice tea, strangely I have never tried to make lemon balm tea even though I have had it for so many years.

I do sell lemon balm plants on my for sale page.  As I am not overly impressed with it, and make no attempts to deceive people about  the plants I sell, not surprisingly it has never been one of my better sellers.  It certainly isn't a bad plant, otherwise I would not have moved it with me so many times and would not continue to grow it, but it is not my favourite herb.

Lime Balm
I have heard about lime balm for several years but never wanted to buy it without smelling it first.  Too many times herbs are named after something but they smell absolutely nothing like that.  I have smelled 'basil mint' several times and can smell nothing other than mint.

A few times I have seen lemon balm mis-labelled as lime balm, a quick smell revealed this to me, so didn't buy any.  Apparently lime balm seeds often revert to lemon balm.

Recently I was in a garden shop and found some lime balm, I brushed my hand over it and it was lime balm, it smelled like sweet limes!  I bought this little lime balm herb and took it home.  The smell of lime balm is amazing.  It truly does smell just like sweet limes!
Lime Balm starting to flower
 Apparently it is used in the same ways medicinally and in cooking as lemon balm, the difference is that it smells of lime instead of lemon.  I can imagine that it would add a lovely lime smell to food if used towards the end of cooking.

I have made a 'tea' with lime balm several times.  This is deliciously limey and sweet enough to my taste that I don't need to add any sugar.  It tastes a lot like warm lime cordial.  My kids have tried a little of this 'tea' and they all like it too.

I imagine that lime balm is potentially just as invasive as lemon balm, so I am attempting to prevent it from flowering.  I also don't know if the smell changes when the plant is flowering, I don't really want to find out and am cutting off anything with any signs of flower buds.

I am told that lemon balm and lime balm do not grow underground rhizomes like mint.  My lemon balm does grow underground rhizomes, they are shorter and less aggressive than mint so are not too much of a problem.  I am assuming that lime balm will be very similar in growth.

It is simple enough to grow lime balm from taking cuttings.  I now have several small plants and plan to increase this number shortly.
Lime Balm growing from a cutting
Lime Balm for sale in Australia
A few places appear to sell lime balm and it rarely turns up in garden shops.  I plan to sell small lime balm plants when I have enough, when I do they will be listed on my for sale page along with the other herbs, vegetable seeds and perennial vegetables I sell.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Chioggia Beetroot days to maturity

We planted some 'Chioggia' beetroot seeds, the following were the days to maturity for these beetroot.  Being in Australia, all dates are written in the format of Day/Month/Year.

Seed Planted        16/10/2016       Day 0
Seed germinated   24/10/2016       Day 8
First harvest          02/01/2017       Day 78

These dates are when we harvested the roots, I normally would have started harvesting the leaves long before this but didn't record these dates this year.

I could have harvested smaller beets earlier, or larger beets later, and these dates could change significantly if grown under different conditions.  They were simply what happened in my garden this year.  It gives a reasonable baseline for comparison against other plants grown in my garden this year.

For a full list of vegetable days to maturity please click here.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Parthenocarpic zucchini days to maturity

I am growing an heirloom Nordic variety of zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) which I know very little about.  Unfortunately the information I was given was written in Swedish or something and I was unable to translate it, based on its binomial name I guessed it was a zucchini, I knew its name, but that was about all.  Considering that spaghetti squash is also C pepo, as are several patty pan squash, and several other types of squash, I was far from certain that it was even a type of zucchini.  It made it kind of fun to grow, not really knowing what to expect.
Gron Busk 'Veribo'
 Zucchini: Gron Busk 'Veribo'

I am growing this heirloom Nordic zucchini.  I assume that "Gron Busk" means zucchini or summer squash or something along those lines and the variety name is "Veribo", but I really don't know.

It grows pretty fast, much like any other heirloom zucchini.  It grows green fruit which look similar to many other common varieties of zucchini.  It lacks any real taste and cooks well, much like any other zucchini.  It is highly productive (being an heirloom probably yields slightly less than most hybrid varieties but one plant still yields plenty of fruit over the season), which is much like any heirloom zucchini.  So far in my garden it is yet to experience any disease or pest other than Rutherglen bugs (Nysius vinitor), so I am not sure if it is resistant to anything.

One thing I love about this variety is that it produced female flowers first.  All of my Gron Busk 'Veribo' plants produced female flowers first this year.  This is very rare, normally zucchini produce male flowers for a while, and then eventually get around to producing female flowers, which means that it often takes longer to produce a crop.

Producing female flowers where there are no male flowers often means that the fruit will not grow and the flower will simply abort.  Yes, you can the eat zucchini flowers, but I don't want to, I want larger fruit.
Zucchini days to maturity
Parthenocarpic zucchini

This variety appears to have another trait which I love, it is parthenocarpic!  That means it will flower and if the female flower is not pollinated it does not abort and drop.  Instead it will naturally grow into a seedless fruit.  This increases the yield and makes the first crop much faster.  It also means that if you only grow one plant and it happens not to have male and female flowers at the same time then you will still get a crop.  This is very handy for home growers with limited space, this trait should not be as rare as it is.  Someone should breed this trait into more varieties of squash.

I am not completely certain that this variety is entirely parthenocarpic, or if it only displays this under certain conditions.  Some plants are only parthenocarpic under certain conditions, I grow some tomatoes that are only parthenocarpic when stressed, and if not stressed still require pollination to form fruit.  I have bagged a few female zucchini flowers before they opened, and each of them grew into a large zucchini, so I am assuming that it is pretty happy to grow parthenocarpic fruit.

Being an heirloom Nordic variety means it has likely been grown by families under harsh conditions and short seasons for generations.  Perhaps it copes with the cold better, perhaps it crops faster, I don't know, but I have recorded my results below.

Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) Gron Busk 'Veribo' Days to Maturity

Planted 16/10/2016                  day 0
Germinated 25/10/2016            day 9
Flowering 29/11/2016               day 43
First small fruit 03/12/2016        day 47
Large fruit ready 07/12/2016     day 51

What do Days to Maturity mean

Quite often I see seeds sold with 'days to maturity' or something similar on the packet.  Unfortunately that means absolutely nothing.  Depending on the company it may mean how many days from transplant until the first flower opens (male or female).  Others use days from transplant until the first flower bud is seen on the plant several weeks prior to it opening.  Others use days from transplant until the first harvest.  Others use days from transplant until the fruit is mature (we eat immature fruit from zucchini).  As you can see, days to maturity is poorly defined and rarely are you told what definition they are using, so it is meaningless.  Cucurbits tend to perform better if not transplanted, so days to maturity which is based on transplant date is all the more meaningless for home growers.

I planted the seeds directly in the garden and counted from there with the planting day being day zero.  In different climates or under different growing conditions this will vary, but it is the results of several plants in my garden this year.  Even so, 51 days from planting the seed until eating a large zucchini is pretty good.

For a full list of vegetable days to harvest please click here.

Where to buy parthenocarpic zucchini seeds in Australia

I have bagged a few zucchini flowers and hand pollinated to obtain pure seed of this variety.   If I have enough I plan to sell them through my for sale page.  Any number of things could go wrong before the seeds are ready, including the flower not being pollinating so the fruit is seedless, so I can not take orders before the seed is ready, but I should have them for sale sooner or later.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Snow Pea Days to maturity

My kids planted some "Oregon Dwarf" green podded snow peas this year.    The packet claimed that they would be ready to harvest in 14 weeks, my experience was not even close to this time frame.

Each of my children has their own little vegetable garden in which they can plant anything they want within reason.  They each chose a few vegetables to plant and were also allowed to grow a few flowers if they wished.  We grow everything from seeds, I don't see the point of buying seedlings. 

My kids all love snow peas, so this year I bought a packet of 'Oregon dwarf' snow peas and my kids planted some each. Normally we would have planted seeds that I have saved but this year after moving the seeds were still packed in a box somewhere so we bought some seeds.

These snow peas were green podded, white flowered, and reasonably productive over a short period.  They possibly could have been more productive over a longer period but were probably planted a bit late, but we could not plant them any earlier due to the kid's gardens not being ready to plant prior to this date.

The following were the days to maturity for snow peas my children planted in 2016.  Being in Australia all of the dates are written as Day/Month/Year

Oregon Dwarf Snow Pea Days to Maturity

Planted               25/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated                                  Day ?
Flowering                                     Day ?
Harvest began     06/12/2016       Day 42

As these were in the children's vegetable gardens I did not keep as many stats as I normally would.  The date planted may have possibly been the date germinated, I am not entirely certain.  Regardless, this is pretty fast, this is actually a lot faster than I would have expected.  It was only 6 weeks as opposed to the 14 weeks as claimed on the packet. Perhaps the days to harvest were less as I planted them in warmer weather than normal.

For a full list of vegetable days to maturity please click here.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

QLD arrowroot plants

Achira (Canna edulis) is also called 'Edible Canna' and is sometimes referred to as 'Queensland arrowroot' here in Australia.  Achira is an undemanding, versatile, easy to grow, high yielding perennial vegetable.  Like so many of the vegetables that we enjoy in Australia, achira originally comes from South America and was widely grown by the Incas.  It is sometimes referred to as one of the lost crops of the Incas.

It is a great looking plant that adds tropical looking, almost banana plant like leaves to the landscape.  It survives and produces well in cold areas with a short growing season, arid areas (if it is watered frequently or given shade), and I am told that it absolutely thrives in the tropics.
Achira plants growing under the shade of a tree
Achira is a variety of canna, and is very much related to the ornamental flowers that are in people’s gardens and planted in roundabouts all over the nation.  Being commonly planted in roundabouts means that they are very low maintenance plants.  

Many of the ornamental varieties are interspecific hybrids between various canna species, achira is likely also an interspecific hybrid but it has been given a binomial name to indicate that it is now considered to be a stable ‘species’ in itself.  All of the ornamental cannas are edible, but as they have been bred for showy flowers or pretty foliage they may not grow as fast or as large or taste as good as the so called ‘edible canna’.  

Achira was once grown commercially grown as a source of starch.  It boasts the largest starch grains of any plant, so large that they can be seen without the use of microscopes.  

I have had my plant for several years and grown it in two very different climates and it has never even attempted to flower for me.  I am not sure if it no longer has the ability to flower or if this is a day length sensitivity issue or if some other factor is at play here.  To propagate achira I wait until it has two growing points, then use a spade to chop the plant, separate them, and plant them somewhere.  

To be honest I have never treated this plant very well.  It has always been planted in marginal land or crammed into a small pot of soil, and never watered frequently.  This year is the first time I have planted achira into the vegetable garden bed.  Despite my mistreatment achira has always grown and reproduced rather well for me, it has produced large rhizomes and depending on the conditions it can grow rather tall with amazing looking leaves.  In years that had a lot of rain, or if I water it, it reproduces very fast.  One small plant tends to turn into a dozen large plants in a year, if it is in better soil and looked after this number can be a lot higher, if it is in poor dry soil it may only produce 3 or 4.  

Both the smaller rhizomes and the young leaves can be eaten, the older leaves and rhizomes are still edible but they tend to be a bit too fibrous to be enjoyable.  People use the leaves to wrap food they are cooking, similar to how people in the tropics use banana leaf to wrap food.  The leaves are high protein, reasonably palatable, and can be used as animal fodder.  My sheep, cattle, alpacas and guinea pig all ate achira leaves at times.  I am told that pigs love achira and while I have no experience with this myself it does look like the kind of thing that a pig would like to eat.  I have been told that the leaves can be dried and woven or used for other craft things, but have never actually seen anyone do this.  
Young QLD arrowroot plants in full sun
Some places sell achira plants to be grown as poultry food, but my chickens, ducks and guinea fowl were never fond of it and would only eat it as a last resort.  If your poultry is not free ranged and have absolutely no access to grass then achira is probably a great option to feed them, other than that I wouldn’t be surprised if they never actually touched it.  This is rather unfortunate as from all accounts achira would be very nutritious for them. 

Achira is often grown in orchards to be cut as a mulch.  It produces large amounts of leaves so I found it to be good for this purpose.  It is simple to cut and having no irritating hairs or thorns it is simple to carry arm loads of achira around the property to use as mulch or feed to stock.  Being so large and growing so fast means that it can be used to trap nutrients on a slope.  Given achira’s spreading nature it could potentially be used to stabilise eroding soil.  It grows happily in boggy soil and can even be grown in submerged soil as long as the leaves are not under water.  When grown like this it can be used to clean water and settle out solids.  Achira can be grown as a screen or a wind break, but this only works over warmer months as it tends to die down over winter.  I used to grow achira along the fence of the vegetable gardens to provide some late afternoon shade and slight wind protection. 

Achira seems to be reasonably flexible regarding how and where it grows, it is pretty determined to survive yet does not pose a weed threat.  When I grew achira in a cold temperate location it grew about 2 meters tall pretty fast and produced about a dozen large edible rhizomes.  When grown in full sun in extreme arid heat I struggled to get plants to grow over 2 feet tall and the leaves frequently got burned off by the heat.  These tiny plants still produced a decent size and number of rhizomes for me to eat though.  When I grew achira in the same garden but under dense shade of trees the plants reached about 3 meters tall and produced copious rhizomes.  I have also grown achira in a pot while I moved house several times in one year.  This plant shared the pot with Jerusalem artichoke, which is a very aggressive grower and supposedly rather allelopathic.  The pot was not watered anywhere near often enough, and was in shade sometimes and other times full sun on concrete, yet it survived and still divided into half a dozen plants which I have since divided and planted out. 

young Achira growing along a fence near asparagus
Achira does not really like frost, each year when winter comes along the leaves will be burned down.  You can dig up a part and store it in soil in a garage or something, or you can leave it in the soil as they normally survive hard frosts.  Sometimes a growing point is killed by frost, but as long as the plant has another growing point then it should spring back to life when the time is right.  I normally leave the dead leaves on to protect the plant and wait until spring before doing anything.  When the weather warms the plant starts to grow and that is when I either cut off the old leaves and divide the plant or leave them as they are and don’t worry about them.

As much as it will survive in soil that is relatively dry, achira performs much better with reasonable soil moisture.  In much the same way it produces a decent crop in marginal land that has low fertility, but it performs far better in fertile soil.  I have always thought that high amounts of nitrogen would help achira grow very large very fast but have never had the chance to test this theory.  

As well as being edible and useful for various things, achira also looks rather ornamental and most people in Australia would not even know it is edible.  It could quite happily be grown in an ornamental garden bed or even in the front yard with little chance of people either stealing or vandalising it as they tend to do with food plants.  Being ornamental and not commonly associated as a food plant means it would not attract attention of council if they have any ridiculous rules about not growing food plants in certain places.

Where to buy achira in Australia  
There are a few places that sell QLD arrowroot plants online, I sell it on my for sale page which can be found using the search button on the top right hand side of this page.  Everything I grow is completely organic, I don't even use any of the organic poisons.  I sell a section of rhizome with at least one growing point.  If the plants are not dormant the leaves must be removed prior to postage.  As they are a very hardy plant they cope well with postage and tend to regrow quickly and easily
It is too hot and dry for grass to grow, but achira is ok

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Lacy Lady Pea Days to Maturity

Lacy Lady pea (Pisum sativum) - semi leafless pea.

I wrote a blog post about this semi leafless pea in October 2013.  The following are the days to maturity that I got from Lacy Lady peas in my garden this year.  Being in Australia the dates are written Day/Month/Year.

Seeds Planted   29/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated       03/11/2016       Day 5
Flowered          12/12/2016       Day  44
Start Harvest     28/12/2016       Day 60

Lacy Lady Pea leaf
Clearly the days to maturity could be changed by warmer or colder weather, better or worse soil, more or less sunlight or a bunch of other factors.  These were simply the days to maturity in my garden this year.

For a full list of vegetable days to maturity please click here.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Freckles lettuce days to maturity

The "days to maturity" which is often quoted on packets of seed is usually little more than an arbitrary number.  I have seen Freckles lettuce listed anywhere from 50 to 90 days, which is rather unhelpful.  I used to find it very difficult to plan when to plant things, so I keep records myself.

Below are the dates of when I planted seed of freckles lettuce this year, when the seed germinated, and when we began harvest.  If I keep any of these plants to go to seed I may try to remember to include date of flowering and when the seed is ripe, but who knows what the future brings.

Being in Australia the dates are written in the format of Day/Month/Year.

Freckles Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Planted                       23/10/2016                  day 0
Germinated                 28/10/2016                  day 5
Started harvesting        03/12/2016                 day 41
Seeds ready                17/02/2017                 

I probably could have started harvesting smaller leaves a few weeks earlier or larger leaves a few weeks later if I wanted.  Had I planted the lettuce seeds in different weather, or in different soil, or with more or less sunlight, or closer to nodulating legumes, or a bunch of other things, these days to maturity would be slightly different, but this is an indication of how Freckles lettuce actually performed for me this year.

For some reason all of the lettuce in my garden went bitter pretty quickly this year.  I am growing 4 different varieties this year, all of which were planted on the same day, and none of them performed very well.  I think it may be due to heat or abrupt change in weather.  I planted them later than I would have liked.  Freckles is the only one which is not currently flowering, some individual plants are not bitter but most are. 

For a full list of vegetable days to maturity please click here.

Freckles Lettuce