Passionfruit – hand pollination

Passionfruit vines rely on bees to pollinate their flowers because they have a large gap between the pollen-bearing male parts of the flower and the female part. Only when the female part of each flower receives passionfruit pollen can the flower form a fruit. If you don’t have a lot of bees around your passionfruit vine, or if you have a young vine with few flowers, you can pollinate the flowers by hand.

All you need is a small, soft watercolour paintbrush for the job, and this short video by “woodyfriendron” demonstrates the practice beautifully:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eicamZk1qis

Greenpatch Organic Seeds

With some women it’s shoes or handbags, but with me it’s seeds, so I have to practice restraint when I go to Greenpatch Organic Seeds, as I did recently. Greenpatch supply a wide range of open-pollinated, organic seeds for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and grains, grasses and sprouts. You may have seen their seeds for sale at nurseries. Organic, open-pollinated seeds are not hybrids or GM seeds, and that means you will be able to save seeds from your crop for next season. Open-pollinated vegetable seed varieties are grown for flavour and vigour rather than shelf life.

Many of the seeds are produced at Greenpatch, but where cross-pollination can be a problem, other varieties are produced by local growers. I like buying organic seed that is produced in Australia because the seed comes from plants that have adapted to Australian soils and seasons. Previously, I had found that imported seed did not perform particularly well, and I achieved better results from seed I saved from those plants. We do save seeds from some of our crops but saving seed from all our vegetables and herbs can tie up garden beds for long periods while the seed matures, and being able to buy locally-produced seed makes life much easier.

Greenpatch also has a huge selection of fruiting plants, herbs, cottage garden and aquatic plants. Neville and Sophia have been producing seeds and plants on their farm for 20 years, and you can order seeds and plants by mail but, as Greenpatch is just off the freeway at Taree and only a short drive from our farm, I enjoy paying a visit and browsing through their stock for plants to add to our collection. You can see their catalogue at Greenpatch Organic Seeds.

Pumpkin problems

Karen has had disappointing results from her Queensland Blue pumpkin vine which produced pumpkins with very little flesh and she wants to know how to avoid problems in future.

Karen, if the seeds are soft and immature, you may have picked the pumpkins before the ‘fruit’ has fully developed, and pumpkins are fruits although we call them vegetables. However, if the seeds are mature, a common cause of this problem is hunger, and this can occur in several different ways even though you may have thought that the plant was well fertilised.

If soil is not damp, nutrients can’t be absorbed by the roots. If soil pH is too acidic or alkaline plants will go hungry because the soil pH controls which nutrients are available to plants, and pumpkins need a soil pH of 5.5-7 for good growth. Pumpkins vines can produce an enormous amount of foliage – and it is a huge task for the roots at the base of the vine to provide moisture and nutrients through the whole plant. When pumpkin vines are allowed to wander over soft earth, they will usually put down extra roots along the vines to assist with water and nutrient absorption.

You can encourage the formation of extra roots, see Assisting root growth.

Pumpkin flowers are pollinated by bees and occasionally a flower or flowers can be pollinated by pollen from a cattle pumpkin, which usually results in fruits that are tough and pretty tasteless. (If your neighbours are growing cattle pumpkins, you may have to hand-pollinate pumpkin flowers).

I’d advise you not to save any seeds from pumpkins that have little flesh or tough flesh as any vines grown from these seeds will probably produce poor quality crops. Only use seed from your best home produce or purchase seeds from a reputable supplier.

Pumpkins thrive on compost, so make compost through the winter ready for next season’s vines. Turning the heap a couple of times a week will keep you warm, keep the heap aerated, and speed up the composting process. If you live in a cool climate, put some black plastic over the top of the heap to help absorb heat. Use the compost to get your pumpkin vine off to a flying start in a different spot in your garden when soil warms in spring.

Growing potatoes update

A reader has asked if potatoes can be grown in the plastic tubs that are sold by Bunnings, Big W, etc., and I will answer it here as the links may be helpful to other readers.
Yes, Rebecca, they would be suitable if you add plenty of drainage holes and put several centimetres of gravel in the base of the tubs so that the potting mix does not block the drainage holes.
Opaque tubs provide similar conditions to small or medium drums (in that the young plants will be more shaded) and you should use those instructions for the tubs in this post. Basically the seed potatoes need at least 15-20 cm of potting mix underneath them and 15 cm of mix above them. Seed potatoes should be sown/planted 30 cm apart and, if they are the tubs I’m thinking of, you would probably only get one plant per tub as there is not really enough room for tubers of 2 plants to form.
The how and why of ‘hilling-up’ potato plants can be found in this post: Growing potatoes.

Advice on suitable soil conditions for the best results from potatoes can be found in Potato beds.
Also see: Other ways to grow potatoes.

Spinach

English spinach is an annual that loves cold weather. It is a fast growing, small plant that forms a rosette of green leaves and stems with a flavour more delicate than that of silverbeet.
It is a versatile vegetable that can be steamed or used in pies, quiches and soups, and is rich in folate, vitamins A, B6, C and E, as well as magnesium, iron and fibre.
In well-drained soil containing plenty of compost and a scattering of organic complete fertiliser, spinach plants are ready to harvest in 8 weeks. Sow seeds in pairs, 1 cm deep and 25 cm apart, directly where they are to grow, and seedlings should appear in 7 days. About a dozen plants are enough for the average family. Keep seedlings well-watered and give them a drink of half strength manure tea or organic liquid fertiliser about a fortnight apart until plants are well established.
When seedlings are about 5 cm tall, remove the weakest seedling of each pair, and use the well-washed thinnings in salads or soups. Where winters are long, progressive sowings can be made each month through winter. Don’t worry about sowing too many plants as English spinach freezes well. Blanch the washed leaves, pack them into ice cube trays with a little water, and freeze. Then transfer frozen cubes into a ziplock plastic bag for storage in the freezer.

This spinach is ‘Galilee’, a variant developed in the Middle East that is a lighter green and more tolerant of warmer winter temperatures – seeds available from Green Harvest.

New seed catalogue

Greenpatch Organic Seeds have released their mail order catalogue for 2001-12. They have added many new Heritage vegetable, flowering annual and herb varieties to their range. They also have 230 varieties of potted plants, tubers and bulbs that can be delivered to you in all states except Tasmania and Western Australia. As Greenpatch is in our neighbourhood, I had a lovely time last week at Greenpatch browsing through their seeds, plants and books for things to add to my collection. Like us, Greenpatch is certified-organic with the Organic Growers of Australia. All their seeds are non-GM, non-hybrid and open-pollinated, so that you can save seed of your favourite varieties from your own crop.
You can ask for a catalogue by e-mailing: enquiries@greenpatchseeds.com.au or download a catalogue from their secure website.

Gardening gloves

Just a reminder for parents and teachers involved in school gardening programs that Esidirect have children’s gardening gloves made from all natural materials, and at an excellent price. The leather provides good protection for children’s hands without making hands ‘sweaty’. Gloves made from synthetic materials can leach chemicals onto skin when the gloves get hot. Esidirect gloves can be ordered here.
Esidirect also have a great range of adult gardening and riggers gloves. We use Esidirect’s riggers gloves on the farm because they are hard-wearing, provide a good grip, and are comfortable enough to wear all day.

New concrete near trees

I have received an e-mail from a reader who is concerned about her neighbour’s plan to put a screen fence about 35 cm from the base of her beautiful frangipani tree, because the fence posts must be set in concrete and doesn’t know the size of the tree’s root ball or if it will damage the tree.
As new concrete near gardens is a common problem for gardeners, I am posting my answer on my blog rather than merely giving a private reply.

Generally, the feeder roots of shrubs and trees are located under the outer edge of the plant’s foliage in what is called the drip-line. Nature designed plants this way so that rain (and bird droppings, mineral dust etc.) running off the foliage falls where water and nutrients can be taken up quickly by the feeder roots (see diagram).

There are some exceptions to this rule as roots of umbrella trees, figs, crepe myrtles and liquidambers, for example, can wander all over the place in search of water. Usually, when trees or shrubs are severely pruned back, they will produce new feeder roots below the new drip-line and this can be helpful in preparing to move large shrubs and small trees.
New concrete contains lime that makes it alkaline, and hydrated lime (brickie’s lime) that is used in concrete will burn plant roots and should not be used on gardens that contain plants. If you are unable to avoid using concrete for walls or footings near established trees or shrubs, you can ask the builder to line the hole with strong plastic sheeting to prevent the new concrete coming into contact with plant roots. Plastic degrades in light but not in soil.

Adding plenty of mature compost to topsoil before planting trees and shrubs will help protect plants from the adverse effects of new concrete as one of the functions of compost is to buffer plant roots from unsuitable pH levels in surrounding soil. Where plants are established before concrete is used, adding a 5 cm layer of mature compost to the drip-line area, and covering it with 5 cm of organic mulch will help your plants. Remember to keep compost and mulch well clear of the trunk.
A more serious concern is where the concrete is to support a wall or fence close to established plants and the trees and shrubs need to be pruned on the side closest to the wall, as timing is important. Some plants, including frangipani, bleed a lot of sap if pruned when they are not dormant. The very best time for this type of pruning to reduce “bleeding” sap, is to prune during Last Quarter phase of the moon. For these plants, the wall or fence should be constructed during winter when the affected trees and shrubs are completely dormant. However, if a shrub or small tree requires a lot of sunlight or warmth for good growth, and the proposed structure will prevent this (i.e. the plant will be on the south side of the structure), it may be best to move the plant during winter for deciduous plants, or in autumn for evergreens, to a more suitable spot or into a large tub, if space is limited.
In the case of frangipanis, these lovely trees are often seen growing against north-facing walls of houses. Once concrete has seasoned, it does not seem to bother them, and they love the warmth that is stored in the wall during the day and slowly released at night.

Growing figs

This summer our area received a lot less rain than many other parts of Australia and, in March, dam levels were still low. However, a bonus of these drier than usual conditions was an excellent crop of figs. Ficus carica is a deciduous tree (usually about 6 metres high) that loves hot, dry summers as too much rain can cause the fig fruit to split, or develop fungal rot. Trees are frost tender in spring but mature trees are quite cold tolerant in winter.
The common figs (also called Adriatic figs) do not need pollination to produce fruit. Our tree is a ‘Brown Turkey’, which is one of the hardiest varieties with striped brown skin and deep pink flesh cropping from February to May. ‘Black Genoa’ has purple skin and red flesh not suitable for drying. It is a large tree cropping December to February. ‘White Cape’ has green skin and cream flesh that is excellent for jam. It is a compact tree that crops in January.
For gardeners in cooler areas of Australia, ‘White Adriatic’ (brown/green skin, pink flesh) that crops in February, and ‘White Genoa’ (green/yellow skin/ golden flesh) cropping December and February–March are recommended varieties.
Smyna figs need cross pollination with a caprifig to produce a crop and San Pedro figs only produce a small early crop without pollination.
Figs tend to be spreading trees, so choose a spot where they have room to stretch their limbs while providing you with lovely summer shade, but they respond well to a winter pruning to keep them to a manageable size. They are quite drought-tolerant when established and must have good drainage – a raised bed can assist this. They also love soil with a pH above 6.0 that contains a moderate amount of compost but don’t add a lot of other fertiliser as this can result in excess foliage growth and few fruit. If you do not have a lot of compost, an annual application 2 kg of poultry-based complete fertiliser and a drink of liquid seaweed fertiliser is usually enough. You will need to put netting over the tree as fruit begins to ripen – birds love figs.

It’s garlic sowing time

April is a good time to plant garlic in most areas. Garlic needs a soil that is rich in humus but doesn’t require a lot of nitrogen so avoid adding manures to the bed. Uncomposted manures can cause garlic bulbs to rot, although processed poultry fertiliser is quite suitable for garlic. Garlic needs a full range of plant nutrients and trace elements for healthy growth. A drink of seaweed extract tea over the whole planting area will supply a full range of trace elements. Garlic also needs a soil pH of that is close to neutral. Working a 5 cm layer of well-made aerobic compost into the topsoil will help to buffer the cloves from an unsuitable pH in surrounding soil.
We always sow garlic (and other bulbs) during Full Moon phase. That is from the 19th to the 24th of this month. Gardeners in areas with very mild winters can put the cloves (in a plastic bag) into the vege crisper of the fridge until then – because garlic likes a bit of a chill before starting to grow. As garlic needs dry conditions at harvest time, sowing in April usually allows the bulbs to mature before wet weather in late spring–summer.
Sow each clove (pointy end up) in a 5 cm deep hole, and water thoroughly. If sowing large quantities, place them 15 cm apart. Don’t forget to mulch the bed afterwards because garlic plants don’t like competing with weeds.