Sunday 9 June 2024

Vietnamese Fish Mint

I have been growing Vietnamese Fish Mint  (Houttuynia cordatafor years, yet for some reason I have never written a blog post on it before now.  

This plant has many common names, including dokudami, 'poison blocking plant',  lizard tail, heartleaf, fishwort, bishop's weed, and it has a heap of other common names too.  I usually just call it 'fish mint'.

Vietnamese Fishmint is a perennial vegetable that not at all related to mint.  It is edible and used as a vegetable or herb, it has a long history of medicinal use, as well as a long history as a remedy for poisoning.  

This is an essential vegetable in Vietnamese cooking, and appears to be eaten extensively in South East Asia.  This is very uncommon in Australia, yet extremely simple to grow and very productive.

Vietnamese fish mint in flower

Fish mint has a strong and rather distinctive smell.  Some people love the taste of fish mint, others not so much.  Some people liken its smell to oranges, others think it smells like fish, to others it smells like the gravel in the bottom of a fish tank.  

Vietnamese Fish Mint tends to be eaten raw, or only lightly cooked/wilted.  It does taste a lot like fish sauce, and can be used to make a vegetarian fish sauce.  When raw it tastes a bit too...I'm not sure how to explain it...perhaps too 'metallic' for my liking.  Once slightly cooked I prefer the taste.  Other people tell me they can't taste any of the metallic taste that I notice, so I guess it differs from person to person.  

Fish mint can be used to make a Vegan Fish Sauce.  Seriously!  How cool is that.  I found a recipe that I shared below, but if you have a better recipe and are willing to share it I would love to learn more.  

It is also used to make a medicinal "dokudami" herbal tea.  I have made this a few times, it tastes nice but I find the smell to be a little too strong for me.  My kids have tried the herbal tea, they like it.  I have made herbal tea using fish mint as well as other herbs such as lemon balm.  This was nicer, but I still found the fish mint to be overpowering.  

The rhizomes are used in a bunch of different herbal remedies, many of which have been proven to be effective.  Unfortunately I don't know how to make these medicines.  Presumably just eating the rhizome is enough to gain some benefit.  I find the rhizomes to be less overpowering than the leaves.  

Vietnamese Fish Mint 

Many animals, including chickens, quail, ducks, guinea pigs, sheep, and pigs gladly eat fish mint.  It has a lot of nutrients and some medicinal benefit.  Interestingly, fish mint has been demonstrated in many peer reviewed papers to protect chickens from bronchitis (, as well as treat coccidiosis in chickens and lambs as effectively as commercial coccidiosis medication.  I am tempted to grow this in a hanging pot in the chicken run so the hens can get the benefits of an organic coccidiosis treatment.  

There are several varieties of this plant.  I grow the most vigorous green version with single flowers.  There is a green one with double flowers, and there is also a multicoloured variegated one that looks really pretty and spreads less vigorously.  I am told the green one is not only more vigorous, but also more potent.  My chickens gladly eat the leaves, but I don't give them many, so I am glad I grow the most potent version.  

The leaves of the variety I grow are green, heart shaped, and they look very similar to buckwheat leaves.  The flowers are white and not overly interesting.  Bees and other insects visit the flowers, but never seem overly keen on them.  I am happy to say that the variety I grow never produces viable seed. 

Fish mint on left, buckwheat on right 

Fish mint grows extremely vigorously.  Let me stress, it is extremely vigorous.  One or two pots of this plant will be more than enough for the average household.  I am happy to say mine does not set any viable seed, ever, which makes it much easier to control.  Never grow this in the soil or it will take over your yard, and your neighbour's yards, and every time you walk in the yard or mow it will smell like fish.  Grow it in a pot, but never in the garden bed.  

I grow most of my fish mint in a container, and the container is on pavers.  My main one is in a plastic tub that we drilled holes in, it's not very deep but it is wide to allow the plant to spread, but any plant pot would do.  The rhizomes will try to escape through the drainage holes, but they can't cross the pavers.  

I have been growing this plant for seven or eight years and it has never escaped on me.  I also grow some in pots on wire shelves in my greenhouse, but these are being grown out to sell at markets and through the post.  

Fish mint escaping it's pot

Fish mint does not produce seed, or at least the one I grow has not produced any seed in the time I have grown it.  This is not a problem because it is easily divided to produce more plants.  If it did produce seed I am not sure that I would be willing to grow it because it spreads so vigorously.  

This plant is not related to mint (Mentha sp) and does not taste or smell even vaguely similar to mint.  I believe the word 'mint' in its common name is probably due to the way it spreads aggressively via underground rhizomes like mint.  

As well as being easy to divide, this plant grows readily from cuttings.  Planting cuttings in soil seems to result in 100% strike rate if the soil is kept damp.  I have only tried striking a cutting in water once, this grew well for me but not as fast as the ones planted in soil.  

I have never tried to restore fertility and grow from seed.  I prefer that it does not produce seed as it stops it from escaping into my yard.  I have considered getting the prettier variegated form, but don't know if a second clone would increase the possibility of viable seed, so for that reason have resisted the urge to get the variegated form.

When grown in a pot, some rhizomes will try to escape through the drainage holes.  Any rhizomes that try to escape the drainage holes can be roughly torn off, planted in a pot of damp soil, and will produce more plants.  They grow very quickly from rhizomes and produce large healthy plants very fast.  

Fishmint rhizomes potted up and ready to grow

Fish mint grows well in part shade, and survives in full sun.  It seems to prefer damp areas, but does not need to be waterlogged to grow well.  I have heard it can be grown as an emergent water plant, but haven't grown it like that myself.

Mine gets pretty dry at times over summer, if it looks like it is burning off I give it some water and it bounces back quickly.  I imagine if the soil got too dry for an extended period it would die.  This plant has a strong will to live, and tends to recover easily from all kinds of poor treatment.  

I have seen fish mint growing in floating pots on a pond.  I love the looks of this, and think it would do well in cleaning the pond water when grown like this.  Care would need to be taken that the pot did not get too near the edge and allow the plant to set root into the mud on the bank, as it would be difficult to remove once it became established.  

Fishmint goes mostly dormant over the winters here.  I say 'mostly dormant', because some years all the above ground parts die back, and other years it just looks scraggly and keeps a few leaves here and there.  The underground rhizomes survive very cold temperatures, and it grows vigorously once the warmer weather returns.  

I am told that people (often in the US) grow the weaker variegated version of fish mint under trees or near ponds where it looks lovely.  They soon regret this as it takes over the yard, and it smells like fish every time they mow.  This is where my hesitation to grow it in a floating pot on a pond comes from.

Spraying does not kill this plant, herbicides easily kill the above ground parts, and it quickly resprouts from many underground rhizomes.  This is a plant that does not want to die.  I have heard that it can survive under weed mat for years, and pop up once their is a rip in the weed fabric.  

The simple way to deal with this is don't grow it in the garden bed.  Grow it in a pot, and have the pot on pavers.  As I mentioned, mine has never escaped and I have grown it for seven or eight years.  

Vegan Fish Sauce Recipe 

I found a recipe for vegan fish sauce here, it is so simple.

Ingredients: 1 cup packed fish mint leaves; 3 Thai chili peppers; 2 cloves garlic; 1/3 cup sesame oil; 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar 

Instructions: Puree all ingredients in a food processor. Transfer to a bowl and serve.

Other Fish Mint Recipes 

I also found a recipe for Fish mint that uses rhizomes as well as leaves.  It also is very simple.

Ingredients: 1/4 cup shredded young fish mint leaves, 1/4 cup chopped fishmint rhizomes, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon fried chili crisp or chilli oil, 1 tablespoon chopped coriander cilantro, 1 tablespoon chopped scallions.

Instructions: Combine all the ingredients and toss shredded fishmint leaves and rhizomes. Chill for 10 minutes before serving.

As well as another recipe that includes tofu.

Ingredients: 200 g fish mint stems, broken into 4 cm lengths (or lotus stems), 8 fried tofu cubes, 1 handful of chopped mint leaves, 1/2 cup coriander, roughly sliced, 1/2 cup garlic chives, roughly sliced, 1/2 cup red peppers, finely sliced 

Dressing: 3 tbsp light soy, 2 tbsp black vinegar, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 spring onions, sliced, 1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes, 3 garlic cloves, diced, 4 cm piece of ginger, finely sliced.

Instructions: To make the dressing, in a bowl, combine the light soy sauce, black vinegar, brown sugar, spring onion, chilli flakes, garlic and ginger. Stir well and set aside for a few minutes to infuse.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the fish mint stems, tofu, mint, coriander, garlic chives and red peppers. Add the dressing and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving platter.

I have only shared a few recipes above.  There seem to be a host of similar recipes around, plus many families have their own family recipes.  If you have a good recipe and are willing to share it let me know and I can add it.  

Vietnamese fish mint

I mentioned earlier that this plant is vigorous, and I find the smell to be overpowering.  Some people adore fish mint, so much so that they will drive an hour each way to pick up a plant from me.  

I don't want to detract from the many benefits of this plant, so please read my opinion of its smell while keeping in mind that different people like different things, and that some people adore fish mint.  Fish mint is also incredibly healthy to eat, both people and animals benefit from eating it, so please don't take my comments to mean that you should not grow and eat this.  

I really can't cope with the smell of fish mint.  It is too strong for me.  Even repotting this can be too much for me at times.  

Other people comment how they adore fish mint, and most people I sell it to rave about it.  I had a few people drive out to buy fish mint plants from me cry tears of joy.  They told me they cried because it is a taste of home, a very dear memory, and they were fearing that they would never be able to eat this again after moving to Australia.  

While I don't think anyone should ever grow this in the garden do to how rampantly it spreads, I think this is well worth growing to see if you like it.  If you like the taste it is increadbly healthy to eat.  I also know that this plant makes a cherished gift to Vietnamese or Chinese friends.  

This plant is very useful for making Vietnamese spring rolls, Pho, and dokudami herbal tea.  People who buy this from me often say that they are thankful that they will never be without it again.

I have been selling organically grown Fish Mint plants for years through my for sale page along with other perennial vegetables I have for sale in Australia.  If you are interested go and have a look.  I either sell small fish mint plants, or well rooted cuttings, depending on the time of year.  Over winter they are mostly dormant, and look very shabby, but they grow like mad once the weather warms.  

Saturday 25 May 2024

Perennial buckwheat leaf vegetable

I find myself fascinated with the concept of perennial grains.  While many appear to be inappropriate for large scale cropping, perhaps they could be useful for small scale or backyard production.  Or maybe they are not suited to small scale growing and will never be a decent crop.  I wish one of the permaculture institutes would put some decent effort into researching this.  

I grow a perennial corn, it is unsuited to my climate and frustratingly unproductive here, but I am told it is fast growing and very productive in warmer climates.  I know of a few other perennial grains, some sound promising, but I have no access to germplasm. 

I also grow a perennial buckwheat (Fagopyrum cymosum complex, sometimes called Fagopyrum dibotrys), this also goes by the common names "Golden Buckwheat" or "Tall Buckwheat".  I read that in the Himalayas it is referred to as Kathu (काठू).  I believe this plant is mostly used as a perennial leaf vegetable but it is also said to produce edible seed.  

Perennial buckwheat growing strong

Buckwheat seeds, either Fagopyrum esculentum or Fagopyrum tataricum, are commonly eaten in various dishes.  In various countries the leaves and flowers are also consumed as vegetables.  I have eaten leaves from common buckwheat, they tasted nice enough raw and pretty good when cooked.  When in flower they could be a little bitter raw, before flowering they weren’t bitter.  The bitterness they have when flowering seems to go away after being cooked. 

After some research it appears that leaves of common buckwheat, and tartary buckwheat, are eaten as vegetables, but it is far more common for leaves of perennial buckwheat to be eaten.  Presumably this is due, at least in part, to the rampant spreading of this perennial vegetable.  Perennial vegetables are great as you plant once and harvest forever.  

Golden buckwheat is simple to grow, it seems to prefer full sun, and copes reasonably well with partial shade.  

My plant has divided impressively in the time I have grown it.  Over winter it will die back and be dormant, and it should resume growth in spring.  These grow and divide fast, so I am expecting to have a lot of plants by this time next year.  

Roots developing at a node

Even though perennial buckwheat divides so readily in my climate, I tried to grow one by a cutting.  It worked well.  

I cut the top off one plant, removed the lower leaves, and put the stem in water.  It wilted badly the first day, then regained turgidity, then grew some roots from one of the nodes.  This seems like a good way to increase numbs if I don't want to wait for it to send out underground rhizomes. 

It is cold now and will likely not do a lot of anything above ground until spring.  I am guessing that it should grow roots and perhaps even send out rhizomes, but all of this will happen under ground.  Once the warm weather hits this should cause this plant to spread and grow into many plants.

Now I know I can grow them from stem cuttings if I want to.  This is good to know.  

Perennial buckwheat cutting growing roots

Frost is not an issue for perennial buckwheat as the top part mostly dies back and the underground rhizome is largely dormant while it waits for warmer weather before growing again.  I say 'mostly dormant' because the rhizome does spread a little over winter, but nowhere near as much as when the weather is warmer.

When going dormant in Autumn, the leaves change colour before they fall off, they are really quite pretty.  I didn't think to take photos when the plants were looking their best.  

Perhaps this is why it's called 'golden buckwheat'

I don't know how dry this can survive or how boggy it can survive.  So far I have treated it much like any vegetable and given it some water when the soil is dry, and it has done really well.  Next year when I have more plants to play with I may try to see what it can tolerate.  

I am not sure if it needs frosts and a dormant period to perform at its best.  If I were to guess I would say it would not need a dormant period, and in the subtropics it would actively grow and produce abundant vegetable greens all year.  

Perennial buckwheat

Perennial buckwheat looks similar to fish mint from a distance.  The flowers are very different and can be used to distinguish between them even at a distance.  Perennial buckwheat grows taller than fish mint.  When they are not in flower, I would want to smell them to reliably tell them apart.  

They both grow well and are very productive over the warmer months, and both are dormant over my winter.  

The autumn colours of perennial buckwheat are really impressive.  The leaves go a vibrant golden yellow, and they often have red veins, stems, and edges.  I believe the leaves are still edible by people even at this stage, and the leaves are gladly eaten by our chickens and guinea pigs when green or golden.  

Perennial buckwheat changing colour for autumn

I am told that perennial buckwheat aggressively spreads by underground rhizomes, and that it will take over the garden unless planted in pots.  

I don't think I would be too bothered if perennial buckwheat spread through my lawn because, unlike fish mint, the yard will not smell like fish every time I mow.  

Even so, I am keeping my perennial buckwheat contained for now.  Perhaps in the future I will let this thing out to see what it does.  

Perennial buckwheat leaf
Perennial buckwheat - heart shaped leaf

The leaf of common buckwheat reputedly contains 24% protein, I assume that percentage is of dry weight as the fresh leaf would contain a lot of water.  As well as being high in high quality protein and amino acids, buckwheat leaves contain many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids (eg rutin, quercetin, orientin, isoorientin, vitexin, and isovitexin), fatty acids, polysaccharides, iminosugars, dietary fiber, fagopyrins, resistant starch, vitamins, and minerals.  I have read various papers on this that all state the nutrient profile of perennial buckwheat is rather impressive, and other papers that conclude that it may have several medicinal properties.  

Given how nutritious buckwheat leaves are, and how fast it spreads, I am tempted to grow it in the chicken run under some wire so the chickens can eat the leaves without killing the plants.  I have a feeling it may be well suited to producing abundant and nutritious greens for my hens over the warmer months.  I read a paper that stated replacing 10% bought feed with perennial buckwheat leaf in layer diets did not reduce the number of eggs laid.  

My chickens seem to like eating the leaves of perennial buckwheat.  I have also given some leaves to our guinea pigs, who greedily ate every last part of them even though they were on the lawn with free access to grasses and lawn weeds.  I have read about the leaves being fed to pigs, sheep, cattle, and rabbits, all of which gladly ate it. 

I have read that perennial buckwheat is used as silage or hay in some countries.  I would not use this as the only feed for any animal, but using it for a percentage of feed works well.  Perennial buckwheat seems to be one a crop that holds a lot of potential and could be improved with a little breeding effort.  

Perennial buckwheat, much like every other type of buckwheat, is excellent bee forage.  These plants produce a lot of nectar, ample pollen, and the bees and many other beneficial insects seem to adore the flowers.  

Perennial buckwheat in a pot

I have heard varying reports about the ability of F cymosum complex to set seed.  Some sources say it does not set seed, others say it sets abundant seed.  This may be partly due to genetic differences of different clones, or they may need a second clone in order to set seed, or it may also be weather dependent.  When I grow common buckwheat in hot weather I get zero seed set, when grown under cooler conditions I get plenty of seed set, perhaps perennial buckwheat is similar.  

Apparently the seed of perennial buckwheat is extremely high in protein, slightly above 16%.  I read another report that the seed contains 24% protein, but am not certain how reliable that site was.  Presumably there is some reason its seed is not seen for sale as often as common buckwheat or Tartary buckwheat.  Perhaps it is too small or difficult to dehull, perhaps it drops its seed in the field and is difficult to harvest, or perhaps it does not set seed reliably.  

I haven't grown this long enough to see if mine produces seed.  If it can't produce seed, I have a few ideas to try that may restore fertility.  If I can't restore its fertility then I will still grow it as a leaf vegetable, poultry forage, bee/pollinator forage, and ornamental cut flower.  

Potted up after breaking dormancy

Many vegetables contain at least some level of antinutrients, some are deactivated by heat, others less so.  Buckwheat seed appears to contain negligible amounts of a chemical known as fagopyrin, while buckwheat hulls, leaves, stems, and flowers all contain differing amounts of this chemical.  The amount changes depending if the plant is young or if it is flowering.  Eating too much fagopyrin can cause some sensitivity to sunlight.  

I wrote another blog post on buckwheat and fagopyrin, so I won’t cover that information here.  There has been little research into safe levels for human consumption, and seemingly contradictory advice surrounding if it is deactivated by heat.  

Consuming 150 grams of perennial buckwheat leaf raw every single day falls well within the safe limit, given the research into fagopyrin and steamed sprouts it is likely that triple this amount would be safe if cooked.  The data is limited so it may be that considerably more than this is safe.  

Given how many people consume significant amounts of buckwheat daily, and how few reports there are of adverse effects (most of which have been due to consuming sprouts in juiced form), it is likely safe to eat cooked leaves every day with no ill effects.  

I don't have any extra plants at the moment, but will eventually sell these plants through my for sale page.  For now I am building up numbers, and seeing what this plant can and can't do.  I almost find it difficult to believe just how easily this plant produces food for people and animals, yet how uncommonly it is grown outside of developing nations. 

I really like my perennial buckwheat.  This is a perennial vegetable that is seemingly forgotten or unknown outside of developing nations, and it is well suited to growing in backyards.  It has potential to increase household food security in a number of ways, as well as being very healthy and potentially having medicinal benefits.  If I were a 'prepper' or had to become more self sufficient, this perennial vegetable would be very high on my list of survival vegetables to grow. 

Friday 17 May 2024

Small Flowered Willow Herb

For a few years I have been growing willowherb (Epilobium parviflorum).  Some of its common names include 'small flowered willow herb', 'hoary willowherb' and 'small flowered hairy willow herb'.   

There are a bunch of different plants that have the common name of willow herb, so it is important to pay attention to the binomial name.  

I believe this is named willowherb because its leaves grow long and slender, like willow.  It also likes to live in damp places, much like willow.  This plant is not remotely related to willow, and (while I am not certain of this) from what I have read it does not produce any aspirin/salicylic acid.  

Small flowered willowherb

Willowherb is edible, it doesn't really have much of a taste on its own, it isn't bitter or unpleasant in any way.  The leaves can be added to a salad and eaten raw, dried and used in herbal teas, and it can be eaten cooked.  Every part is said to be edible, but I have only tried the leaves. 

The texture of the leaves is not remarkable in any way.  They are not unpleasant, or hairy, or slimy.  Certainly not bad in any way, it's also not overly memorable or impressive.  If using raw in  salad I would probably tear or cut the leaves somewhat.  

This herb has been used as medicine to treat prostate and kidney issues, there are a few studies indicating it could be effective in treating these ailments.  

This plant handles frosts well.  It grows tall and flowers over summer, and goes back to a short plant in winter.  Over winter here it does not go completely dormant, but it does die back considerably.  

The heat of summer doesn't seem to be an issue as long as it is well watered. 

Willow herb has small pink flowers

I grow willow herb in a few different ways, it always does well, it does particularly well if given a lot of water and fertile soil.  

I grow some in a pot of soil, and it does fine.  I grow some in a pot with no drainage holes that always has wet boggy soil, it does very well.  I have some in my goldfish barrelponics, and it thrives there.  

Full sun and part shade both work well.  It doesn't like to dry out, and seems to prefer lots of moisture.  That being said, it copes drying out better than I had expected.  For a week my barrelponics pump didn't work and my pot of plants dried out completely.  The Vietnamese coriander and other plants died off quiet badly, while the willowherb looked fine.  

Willowherb in barrelponics 

Growing small flowered willowherb from stem cuttings is simple.  It puts up a tall stem for flowering, cut it into sections, plant each section vertically in moist soil or put the base of each cutting in water and they produce roots quickly.  

Sometimes I plant the cuttings directly into moist soil and I get similar results.  

Small flowered willowherb also divides itself.  Plants slowly produce several growing points.  If I snap one off and plant it in damp soil they usually produce a new plant.  These growing points usually have a few roots if I snap them low enough.  While this is very reliable, it is also a very slow way to propagate them.  I find it a lot faster to take cuttings once they send up a flower stalk.

Goldfish barrelponics - willowherb and Vietnamese corainder

Growing willowherb from seed is surprisingly simple for a perennial herb with such tiny seeds.

The plants send up tall stems in summer, these grow small pink flowers on long stems.  The flowers are at the end of long pods.   

Small pink flowers on tall stems

After the flowers die the seed pods grow longer.  When the stem dries, it splits open and releases dozens of tiny seeds.  Once the pod begins to split, all the seeds are ripe.  

These seeds look like dandelion seeds, except tiny.  Each has a little parachute, and is gladly carried off by the wind. 

To sow seeds I open a dry pod, tip the seeds onto moist soil, water it in, and in a few days every seed germinates.  It is that simple.  

I don't remove their parachute, I don't bury the seeds, I just put them on soil and water them.  

Fresh seed seems to yield close to 100% germination.  They produce tremendous numbers of seeds, so you probably wouldn't need to even plant an entire pod's worth of seed to be more than enough.  I have no idea how long willowherb seed remains viable.  So far I have not had any volunteer seedlings pop up anywhere other than in pots.  

Seed pod opening

Tiny seeds with parachutes

Each pod makes a lot of seed

The seedlings are tiny, and very slow growing.  It seems to take may months before they grow true leaves.  This may be because the soil I am growing them in is low in nutrients or they are not getting enough sunlight, perhaps they would grow a lot faster under better conditions.

So far I have not had issues with slugs or snails, but I think that's just luck.  I am guessing snails would eat out the tiny seedlings before they get established.  Once established they don't seem to have any pest issues.

If you had a damp area in the garden I think these would do very well.  They produce nice looking flowers on tall stalks, the leaves can be long and slender.  Other than making sure they are not too dry, and cutting off flower stalks once per year after they are sent, they take no work to look after.  You would then be able to harvest handfulls of leaves most of the year from a nice looking perennial herb. 

If you are interested in growing willowherb, I sell some plants from time to time and may sell fresh seed next time I collect it.  I can post plants bare rooted throughout much of Australia.  Willowherb will look a but sad after being posted, but it tends to pick up very quickly after being planted and watered. 

Friday 10 May 2024

Woolly micro tomato update

It is time for an update on my micro woolly tomato breeding project.  

For a bit of background, I crossed a micro tomato which only grows to about 10cm tall, with a woolly leaf tomato which reaches about 6 feet tall.  I used a micro tomato as the seed parent so it was simple to see if the cross worked really early. 

I grew the F1 in the year 2021, the F1 plant reached about 5 feet tall, was very productive, and the fruit looked intermediate between both parents.  

Micro woolly tomato breeding

I culled the F2, only keeping the smaller woolly leaf plants.  Then culled subsequent generations based largely on plant size, and to a lesser extent based on fruit colour and taste.  Last year I had a mishap and lost many of my seeds from this project, sadly things like that sometimes happen in breeding projects. 

This summer (2023-2024) I culled and was left with four candidates, I put the four candidates in one pot for ease of handling.  

While it is far better to have them in separate pots, or even in the soil, that was not an option this year.  

Woolly foliage tomatoes

The four remaining plants are between 5cm tall and 15cm tall, they all set flowers at their terminal bud, all are woolly, and all appear to be expressing anthocyanin in their leaves and stems.  

At this stage I don't know what base colour the fruit will be, or how they will taste. 

Unripe woolly tomato 

While several of the plants are larger than Micro Tom (pictured below), up to 15cm tall, or about 6 inches, is still probably considered to be a micro dwarf tomato.  These were partly shaded in the greenhouse and are likely taller than they would have been if grown under direct light.  There are a few generations until they will be stabilised, so even if they are not micro dwarf tomatoes that is ok at this stage.  

The smallest candidate is producing flower buds, and is only around 5cm, or about 2 inches, tall.  This may be a genetically tiny plant, or it may be stunted by growing so close to the pother plants.  I won't know until I grow out its seeds.  

Micro tomato plants are tiny

One of the things I like about micro tomatoes is they are so quick to mature that they can produce several generations each year.  My winters can be a bit long, so I sometimes lose a generation to frosts, but in a mild year I can grow a few generations and make some decent progress.

I was growing these plants in my greenhouse as I didn't start them until late in the season and they needed protection from the heat.  I have recently moved the pot outside into full sun.  Hopefully there is enough heat left in the season for them to set fruit and for me to collect seed.  
Woolly foliage, high anthocyanin 

Even if all goes well, this project is still a few generations away from completion.  Hopefully one or several of these four are what I am hoping for, then I can work on stabilising the lines.  

Fingers crossed in another few years I have a few stable lines of new micro tomatoes that taste good.  If not, I can do a little back crossing to lock in the traits I want, or I could start again.  

Saturday 4 May 2024

Variegated string of pearls tiny cutting

I have been growing string of pearls succulents (Curio rowleyanus also called Senecio rowleyanus) since late 2016 or early 2017.  They are a lovely looking trailing plant with spherical leaves with little windows. 

I wrote an earlier blog post on seeds of fake string of pearls, sadly they don't come in blue or red or purple or with multicolours.  I mentioned in that post how string of pearls com in green, green with larger pearls, or variegated.  

Late in 2023 I got a lovely variegated string of pearls plant.  It was small, and I took a few cuttings.  As well as this, a tiny part broke off.  It had one variegated leaf and a tiny part of stem.  

I planted this to see if it would grow.  Even though it only had one leaf and a tiny section of stem it did start to grow.  

Variegated string of pearls cutting

The single pearl and tiny piece of stem grew some leaves.  At the start none of them had any chlorophyll.  They were all white.  

There was a high chance that the tissue that gave rise to the baby plant was derived of all white, and may not have had any green.  If this was the case it would survive off the mother leaf for a time, and die when the leaf got too old.  They need some green to be able to produce food.  

After growing a number of leaves, it then produced a variegated leaf!  

This variegated leaf has some green, which means it is able to photosynthesize and feed the plant.  As it has produced one variegated leaf, there is a high chance that it will produce more.  If this is the case, in time this tiny plant should be able to grow into a large trailing variegated plant.  

Variegated mother plant

Sometimes variegated plants revert to all green.  Once they are all green, they don't become variegated again.  

If you grow a variegated string of pears succulent and notice a strand that is entirely green, remove it.  Being all green will be more vigorous than the variegated parts.  Plant the green strand in a different pot as a cutting and let it develop into a green plant - don't leave it attached to the mother plant or it will eventually take over and you will no longer have a variegated string of pearls plant.  

If you notice a strand that is all white, feel free to just leave it.  It will eventually die, until then it will look pretty.  Unless the mother plant is very weak it should be able to have a white strand without ill effects.  

Each leaf has some white and some green

I find string of pearls succulents to be surprisingly easy to grow.  They don't love full sun, and can't survive in heavy shade.  The variegated form is less vigorous than the green form, but they are both lovely.  

Even though they are a succulent, they tend to perform better when given decent amounts of water.  I keep hearing about people planting them in special succulent mixes, while this is probably best for them I find they perform well in equal amounts of potting mix and garden soil.

I sell string of pearls plants and cuttings through my for sale page.  At this stage I only have green ones for sale, I hope to have a few variegated ones large enough to sell in Spring.  If you are interested, you should have a look.  

Friday 26 April 2024

Vegetable fern Diplazium esculentum

For a few years I have wanted to grow vegetable fern (Diplazium esculentum).  This is a beautiful and ornamental looking fern that is commonly eaten as a vegetable though the warmer and wetter parts of Asia.  

Small vegetable fern - Diplazium esculentum

There are a few ferns that are commonly eaten, some are meant to be easier to grow than others.  I am told that vegetable fern spreads rapidly and is easy to grow.  It prefers some shade, it likes heat, and like most ferns it needs decent moisture to thrive.  

I am told the fronds of this species are highly nutritious, and has a host of medicinal properties.  All of the research into vegetable fern indicates that it is highly nutritious.  

One study demonstrated  that its fronds were high in protein (52.3%), carbohydrates (28.2%), Vitamin C, antioxidants, minerals (including calcium and iron), and dietary fibre (17.44%).  That study also stated it contains 324 Kcal 100 grams.  

Vegetable fern thrives in part shade

There are a few edible ferns should only be eaten in smaller amounts due to mild toxins.  Vegetable fern is unique in that it has not been recorded to have any negative effects when eaten.  

Some edible ferns (such as bracken) contain a substance called Ptaquiloside.  This compound is water-soluble and rather unstable, I have read that scientists were able to isolate this and test it on rats and ferrets who went on to develop tumors.  From everything I have read, vegetable fern does not contain this compound and is completely safe to eat.  

Not only is vegetable fern meant to be completely safe to consume, and highly nutritious, it is also highly ornamental.  It is a good looking fern.  Some fronds almost shimmer silver in the right light, I haven't seen a fern do this before.  

Most vegetables will be unproductive in shade, whereas this plant needs shade to be productive.  It also is rarely eaten in Australia, meaning if hard times hit people would not think to steal this if they raid gardens for food.  

I can't capture the silver shimmery fronds

While it doesn't matter to anyone unless they are intending to do any breeding with this plant (ferns are difficult to breed with and not something I have been able to achieve), the vegetable fern is diploid with 2n= 82.  

Vegetable fern spreads quickly through rhizomes, and I am told that it produces readily from spores.  Growing ferns from spores can be fun, the ease that this fern reputedly grows from spores means it could pop up in damp places by itself.  

I like plants that do this.  It is killed by frosts, and does not love full sun and dry areas, so I can't imagine it posing a weed issue where I live.

Vegetable fern stating to divide

My vegetable fern has grown since these photos, and has divided a little.  We have had a few cooler nights and it is showing that it does not cope with frosts.  I now have it in a sheltered spot where I think it will survive the winter.  

Hopefully in spring it will be large enough and healthy enough to grow and divide and maybe even produce some spore.  If all goes well I should be able to start eating this in spring/summer and hopefully have enough plants to be able to share them around a little.

Saturday 20 April 2024

Grechnevaya kasha - our food

Grechka = buckwheat
Kasha = porridge
Grechnevaya kasha = buckwheat kasha (buckwheat porridge) 

There is an old saying along the lines of "Shchi da Kasha, Pisha Nasha", which roughly translates to "Cabbage soup and buckwheat porridge are our food".  

There is an old Russian proverb that I not overly familiar with but am told goes along the lines of "Kasha - matushka nasha, a khlebets rzhanoy otets nash rodnoy", which roughly translates to "Kasha is our mother, rye bread is our dear father".  

There seems to be solid logic behind this saying and this proverb that goes beyond the fact that these were among the few foods that were almost always available in the old days.  

Raw buckwheat 

For some time my body weight was too low (I know, right), even though I am thin my cholesterol levels were too high, and I had too much fat around my organs.  This is not a great combination for health.  People's advice that I need to 'fatten up' strangely wouldn't help my situation health wise.  

Over the past few years there have been supply chain issues and supermarkets had been unable to get staple foods.  Since I was a child I had eaten Wheatbix for breakfast every morning.  Then for several months the shops were unable to get wheatbix.  You know the theme song, 'Aussie kids are wheatbix kids' - not any more.  

My son would only ear wheatbix for breakfast, so I decided not to eat wheatbix again, and I would let my son eat what we had left in the hopes that we could buy wheatbix again before he ran out.  

While this worked well for my son, it posed a problem for me as I wasn't sure what to eat for breakfast without wheatbix.  I don't know what other people eat, this isn't a thing I have ever had to think about before.  

Other breakfast cereals are too sugary for me, and they leave me feeling hungry early in the day.  I would need to eat an awful lot of toast to not be hungry by the time I get to work.  Eggs or oily foods on an empty stomach make me feel bad all day.  Half a dozen muesli bars each morning would fill me up and become expensive quickly.  

I started making kasha from steel cut oats.  This was ok, but left me feeling hungry pretty early in the day and my stomach felt weird.  I started to seriously consider skipping breakfast but wasn't sure how to cope with the blood sugar issues that would cause.  Even though I am thin, my blood sugars tend to be a little erratic. 

Then I made kasha using buckwheat.  This left me feeling full for a lot longer, and I like the taste.  After a little research, it appears that buckwheat kasha is extremely nutritious and healthy to eat.  That link is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to buckwheat nutrition, it contains a lot of minerals, flavonoids, rutin, fiber, and other things that are good for your body.  

For over a year I ate grechnevaya kasha for breakfast each day.  During that time I also recorded my weight, and my Body Mass Index, by chance I also had blood tests before and after.  I weighed in at the same day each week, roughly the same time, and wearing the same thing (ie before getting in the shower).  

Over that year my fat visually reduced and my weight increased (meaning I was gaining muscle).  During that time my cholesterol levels dropped, and my HDL:LDL cholesterol ratio went into the ideal range.  During this time I also stopped having blood sugar issues.  I gained strength, and I started to feel almost younger.  The only thing that changed during this time was that I stopped eating wheatbix and started eating buckwheat.  

You should eat grechnevaya kasha every morning for a month or so and see if you become stronger and healthier too.  Eating for a few days will do nothing, this is not magic.  Eating it a few times per week probably won't do a lot either.  You need to give it at least a month of eating it every day to see if it makes a difference to your health.  

If it doesn't work for you, then go back to eating...whatever it is people eat for breakfast (I can't work it out).  

Buckwheat after being soaked overnight in milk

There are a lot of ways to make kasha, and many people make kasha differently to me.  Below is how I make it.  I am not suggesting that this is the right way to make it, or even the best way to make it, but is is fast and simple and it works for me.  

  1. I scoop 1/3 cup (50g) raw buckwheat into a bowl.  
  2. I add a little under 1/3 cup of milk or water (some days I have milk, others I have water)
  3. I leave it in the fridge overnight if possible 
  4. In the morning I put the bowl in the microwave for 50 seconds
  5. Sometimes I put honey on after microwaving, sometimes I don't
  6. That's all, it's good to go.  

You can toast the buckwheat first, which changes the taste.  While I prefer toasted buckwheat to raw, I have only done this a few times.  It is faster/easier/cheaper to just use raw buckwheat.  Overseas they sell toasted buckwheat, here in Australia it is easiest to buy raw buckwheat that has the hull removed.  

Sometimes I soak buckwheat for two nights instead of one night.  I have only done this using milk, and I have it soaking in the fridge.  The extra night of soaking changes things, and it tastes creamier.  

Sometimes I forget to soak it.  That's ok, it still tastes good even without being soaked.

Many people add butter and salt, or egg, or onion, or fat.  All of this is good, but I think more suited to dinner meals.  For breakfast I eat a simple kasha made from buckwheat and either water or milk.  You could also add yogurt or fruit to your kasha, this is also very good.  Sometimes I add yoghurt on weekends when I have more time.

Some people cook kasha in a rice cooker, or boil on the stove top, this is also good and it needs slightly different ratios of buckwheat to water.  I don't have heaps of time in the mornings before work, plus I am sometimes half asleep, so I just put it in the microwave for 50 seconds.  It is so simple and so fast.  

Image from:

Easily avoided problems

Some people complain about their kasha.  Most, if not all, of the problems people complain about are easily avoided.  

Gluggly or disgusting kasha is something people complain about.  The reason behind this is most people suggest using far too much water/milk, which makes it gluggy and gross.  I have seen people suggest ratios of 2:1, 3:1, or even 4:1 with more water than buckwheat.  Not surprisingly too much liquid makes it gluggy.  

I originally used a 1:1 ratio, then realised if I used less liquid it would all be absorbed and I much prefer the texture.  I now add liquid in a ratio of 1 buckwheat to about 0.8 liquid, and this works well for me.  If you prefer more liquid, then add more liquid, it won't hurt you, I just prefer the texture when there is far less liquid.  

Some people complain about a mysterious bitter taste.  Buckwheat reacts to the oxygen in the air, and the taste changes after a while unless it has been stored in an air tight container.  This is easily remedied by storing buckwheat in an air tight container.  We have issues with pantry moth if it is not in an airtight container, so I prefer to always store it in something reasonably air tight.  

Somehow, soaking overnight in too much water results in slightly bitter kasha.  I never taste any bitterness when I make kasha using milk, when I make it using water (and older buckwheat) I can sometimes taste bitter.  This is easily fixed by using slightly less water or adding a little honey.  

Other people complain that their kasha has too much liquid.  Easy fix - use less liquid.  Seriously, I don't see why this is a problem for so many people.  It seems like common sense to add less liquid if your kasha has too much liquid for your liking.  While it may not be the traditional way to use less liquid, if too much liquid bothers you then add less liquid and the problem is solved.

As I said before, eat buckwheat every day for a month and see if you notice a difference to your health.  If you become healthier and stronger then keep eating it.  If you don't like it, or you don't notice any improvement, then eat something else.  Just make sure you eat it consistently every day for a month or more if you hope to notice any difference. 

Friday 12 April 2024

African Violets double and single

I have always liked African violets, for some reason I didn't get one until the year 2021.  

The first African violet I got was a small weak plant that was not flowering when I got it, it had no variety name and was labelled as 'light blue'.  It was in a self-watering pot, which made it very simple to look after.  The plant grew larger and stronger, eventually it flowered, and flowered, and kept on flowering.  

African violets really are remarkable with how long they can flower.  

After a few years it eventually stopped flowering, and stopped growing.  I meant to repot it, but didn't.  I fertilised it with leachate from my worm farm.  It then grew leaves far larger than it ever has before, and started flowering again.  

I also have another African violet that I grew from a leaf cutting from a different variety.  This is growing in a normal pot with soil that I mixed myself because I am too cheap to buy African violet potting mix.  The leaf babies were growing well, I am not sure how many were in there.  I then fertilised them with worm farm leachate, not long after that they also started flowering.  

Perhaps it is a coincidence, or perhaps African violets like worm farm leachate.  I don't know, and as long as they are healthy and flowering I don't really care.  

My African Violets

Below are the plants I am currently propagating.  I hope to have a few baby plants of each large that are enough to be flowering and ready for sale by spring.  

Light Blue, has very large double flowers, frilly petals, and I am not sure of the variety name.  To the best of my knowledge there are no true blue African violets, most are some type of purple like this one, in the right light it kind of almost looks blue.  I don't care what the colour name is, I really like it.

African Violet

Purple or Magenta (I am not great with colour names), single pansy type flowers, small compact and highly vigorous plant.  The colour of the flowers is a little darker than in my photos, it is an amazing colour.  I was told the cultivar name is 'New Hampshire'.  The baby plants only have a few flowers per stem, I assume this is because they are still very young as the mother plant I got the leaf from had a lot of flowers per stem.  

African Violet

I like the larger frilly double flowered types of African violets.  There are also a few colours that I am considering trying to get.  I wouldn't mind doing some breeding with African violets to see what I can produce.  

I saw the picture below on a social media page, I would love to grow one that looks like this some day.  If you have a plant like that and are interested in a leaf swap, or would be willing to sell me a leaf, let me know and we will see if we can work out something.  

African Violet - not my picture

Hopefully in spring I will have a few flowering plants of my magenta/purple and the double blue African Violets for sale, and there is a slight chance I may have another few varieties.  If I have a few flowering plants for sale the details might be found on this blog's for sale page.