Sunday, 24 June 2018

Horseradish seeds

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

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

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Guinea pigs communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Does Azolla control mosquitoes?

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

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

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

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

I have read a few experiments which have tested the suffocation theory using some of the species of mosquito that are common in Australia as well as one of the species of azolla that is common in Australia.  None of the studies I have read indicated that larvae respiration was hindered by azolla in any way.  All the studies I have read indicate that mosquito larvae either find a naturally occurring gap or simply push their breathing tube up between the azolla as if it wasn’t there.  Poking a snorkel up through azolla also protects them from being seen by predators!  Never listen to anyone who says that mosquitoes are suffocated by azolla, they have not done any research and are talking nonsense.

Having a few azolla plants floating here and there with mostly open water does nothing to control mosquitoes.

Now that the ways in which azolla does not control mosquitoes is out of the way let’s look at how azolla can and does help to control mosquito populations.

Friday, 1 June 2018

feeding duckweed and azolla to chickens

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

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

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

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