Planting spring bulbs

The autumn equinox (when day and night are of equal length) occurred on Tuesday, March 20th, this year. Days are becoming shorter than nights now, and it is time to prepare soil for planting spring-flowering bulbs. These plants thrive in a compost-rich soil with some complete organic complete fertiliser added. Gardeners in Cool climates and New Zealand can plant bulbs now. However, as these bulbs grow better after a period of chilling, gardeners in warmer areas can put bulbs into the vegetable crisper of the fridge for about a month before planting.
Bulbs are normally planted at a depth twice the width of the bulb. In Warm climates, plant suitable bulbs up to twice as deep as indicated on the packet. After planting, mulch the area in early morning when the soil is cooler and keep the planted area just damp until growth appears. For moon planters, Full Moon phase is the best time to plant bulbs.

Open-pollinated seed suppliers

Organic gardeners use untreated open-pollinated seed. Open-pollinated seed varieties are selected for consistent vigour, nutrient levels and flavour. You can save mature seeds from these varieties because they reproduce true to type. The benefit of saving seed from your own crops is that the seed will have come from plants that have adapted to your local growing conditions.

Sometimes you will see ‘F1’ after the name of a seed variety. This is hybrid seed where two parent plants have been self-pollinated under controlled conditions for up to 10 generations before the parents are cross-pollinated to produce their first filial (offspring) seed – known as F1 seed. So-called hybrid vigour only exists for one generation, as seed collected from plants grown from hybrid seed is either sterile or reverts to the characteristics of one parent. Consequently, it is not worthwhile trying to save seed from hybrid plants.

You can find more about different types of seed, including GM seed, in my book Easy organic Gardening and Moon Planting, pp 138–140.

Open-pollinated vegetable, herb, flowering annual and green manure seeds are available from a range of suppliers, including those listed below. Seed packets are approximately $3.00-$3.80 each. Seeds from some suppliers can be purchased at retail outlets and some have on-line catalogues for easy browsing. The eastern mainland states of Australia can order seed by mail from other states if there are no local suppliers, but Tasmania and Western Australia have restrictions on some species of seed. Suppliers for Tasmania and Western Australia are listed separately.

Greenpatch Organic Seeds (NSW) – www.greenpatchseeds.com.au
A wide range including bulk seed and a green manure mix. Seed is also available from some retail nurseries.
Ph: (02) 6551 4240 email: enquiries@greenpatchseeds.com.au

Green Harvest Organic Gardening Supplies (Qld) – www.greenharvest.com.au
A wide range including green manure mixes (inoculants included), and organic gardening products.
Ph: (07) 5435 2699 email: inquiries@greenharvest.com.au

Eden Seeds (Qld) – www.edenseeds.com.au
A wide range including bulk seed and green manure mixes (inoculants included if available). Seed is also available from some retail nurseries.
Eden Seeds also have a certified organic range of seed (some imported) at – www.selectorganic.com.au
Eden Seeds and Select Organic Ph/Fax: (07) 5533 1108

Heirloom Harvest (SA) www.heirloomharvest.com.au
A good range of traditional, heirloom, open-pollinated vegetable and herb seeds.
E-mail: info@heirloomharvest.com.au

Fair Dinkum Seeds (QLD) http://fairdinkumseeds.com/
An interesting range of open-pollinated vegetable, herb and ornamental seeds, including some unusual varieties.
Email form on website.

Seedmart (QLD) https://seedmart.com.au
Brisbane seed supplier who offers a range of bulk seeds including micro-greens, vegetables and herbs. Seeds are open-pollinated, mostly heirloom, and untreated. Phone: (07) 3349 4113

Mr Fothergills Seeds (NSW) – www.mrfothergills.com.au/
A limited range of certified organic seed, but mostly hybrid seed.
Available from some retail nurseries.
Ph: (02) 45775457 e-mail: sales@fothergills.com.au.

Diggers Seeds (Vic) – www.diggers.com.au
A limited range of certified organic seed, but mostly open-pollinated seed and some hybrid seed. Seeds are cheaper for members of Diggers Club.
Ph: 03 5987 1877 email: info@diggers.com.au

The Seed Savers Network www.seedsavers.net
This network saves and shares open-pollinated seeds. Phone/fax: 02 66856624

Cornucopia Seeds (Vic) www.cornucopiaseeds.com.au
Open-pollinated and heirloom seed, and organic gardening supplies.
Ph: (03) 5457 1230 Send email from web site.

Tasmania

Phoenix Seeds
Open-pollinated vegetable, herb and flower seed, and some hybrid seed.
Voice mail: (03) 6267 9663 email: phnxseed@ozemail.com.au

Four Seasons Herbswww.fourseasonherbs.com.au/shop/
Organically grown open-pollinated vegetable and herb seed.
Ph: 0412 721 268 email: sales@fourseasonsherbs.com.au

Western Australia

Bay Seed Garden
Organic seed producers of non-hybrid and heritage vegetable, herb and flower seed. List available – send 1x55c stamp.
Ph: (08) 9752 2513 Mail: PO Box 1164 Busselton WA 6280

The Greenhousewww.thegreenhouseorganic.com
Organic vegetable and herb seed. Seed is also available from some retail outlets.
Ph: 0400 239 258 email: sales@thegreenhouseorganic.com

Eden Seeds (Qld) – www.edenseeds.com.au
Has green manure mixes (inoculants included if available) that can be shipped to WA.
Eden Seeds Ph/Fax: (07) 5533 1108

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.

Luscious strawberries

strwbclsup1 A recent article published in BFA’s electronic newsletter, The Organic Advantage, quoted recent US research comparing organically-grown strawberries with those grown by conventional methods. Not surprisingly, the organic strawberries came out best for flavour, nutritional value, health-protecting antioxidant levels and colour, and stayed fresh for longer. The research was conducted across 26 farms and concluded that, not only was the organic fruit better, but the soil on the organic farms was higher in carbon and microbial activity, and had higher concentrations of trace elements. Soils on organic farms were also 30% higher in nitrogen than soils on conventional farms where synthetic nitrogen fertilisers were used.
There is nothing like the taste of organic strawberries. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that organic strawberries do not contain residues of the systemic pesticides and fungicides that are used on conventionally-grown strawberries.
I remember reading that strawberries were first discovered growing at the edges of pine forests in the northern hemisphere. This fact indicates three things, – that they will appreciate some shade from Australia’s intense summer sun; that they prefer a soil that is on the acidic side, and that they are dependent on mycorrhiza fungi in soil to assist them to absorb nutrients and moisture. Mycorrhiza-dependent plants absolutely thrive in organic cultivation because the humus in organic soils provides a habitat for beneficial mycorrhiza fungi.

When your strawberry plants start to flower, give them a drink of seaweed extract diluted to weak black tea strength. Kelp provides a good supply of potassium and a range of trace elements that are important in the formation of sweet fruit. The potassium also strengthens plant cells to improve disease resistance. Eco-cweed, Acadian, and Natrakelp are all products registered for use on organic gardens.
Water plants early in the day, too. Wet leaves at nightfall provide more suitable conditions for fungal diseases to establish.

Asparagus in autumn

As soon as asparagus foliage has dried off, cut off stems to a few centimetres above soil level. The yellowish-brown colour of asparagus stems means that the plants have withdrawn nutrients and carbon compounds into their crowns to provide energy for new spring growth. Cutting back the stems while they are still green will gradually weaken the plants, and reduce the number of asparagus spears in coming seasons.
After cutting back the stems, remove any weeds from the bed, apply a generous drink of seaweed extract tea to the bed, and add a dusting of dolomite or agricultural lime. Asparagus are heavy feeders with a high nitrogen requirement. Give the bed a 3-5 cm layer of mature compost, or a 2 cm layer of worm castings, or a generous application of poultry-based organic complete fertiliser and a 3 cm layer of aged manure. Then cover the bed with a 5 cm layer of fluffed-up organic mulch. Fluffing the mulch allows rain and irrigation to trickle through to the soil. That done, apart from an occasional watering in during dry spells, you can leave nature to do its thing until spears start to poke their heads above ground in spring.

Germination tips …

Last Saturday’s ‘Gardening Australia’ program made the claim that you won’t find the tip to use Epsom Salts to assist germination in any gardening books. That’s not true!
You will find that tip and lots of other tips for getting the best germination and growth from young seedlings in ‘Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting’ pages 132-136.
Epsom Salts is a fast source of magnesium for plants. Magnesium, as well as being an essential part of chlorophyll – the green colouring in plants, performs a range of tasks in plants including dissolving the germination inhibitor that coats seeds. Use a half-teaspoon of Epsom Salts dissolved in 2 litres of water to dampen seeds after sowing.

Saving seed

Annie recently e-mailed me her mother’s method of selecting fruits and pods for saving seed, and I thought it might be of interest to other readers.
“My mother grew upon a farm in the south of Italy and she has always told me little gardening tips which I don’t always see written about. This summer that just went by for various reasons she left it too late to grow her own tomato seedlings, so she purchased them at great expense from a nursery. The plants looked healthy and grew vigorously until they were quite tall and we expected a bumper crop but the plants only produced flowers – near the very tops of the plants. She had some nice tomatoes but not many and they were all at the top of the plants. She then realised that these plants were grown from seeds from tomatoes that must have grown at the very top of the plant. Because her father always told her that the seeds should only be saved from the best tomatoes near the bottom of the plant. My grandfather said that if you keep the seeds from the tomatoes near the top of the plant the genes in those seeds only produce other plants that will grow tomatoes at the tops of the plants. This is the same for beans and other climbers.”

That is a good point, Annie. However, many gardeners remove the side (axillary) shoots on tomatoes until the plant gets close to the top of the stake, and the fruit forms on the side shoots – so they won’t have fruit forming low on the plant. Another point to remember is that warm night air has an effect on the amount of fruit set on tomatoes – have you noticed that they set little, if any, fruit as nights become cooler. In many parts of this country, warm nights only start to occur when the plants have reached a good size.
It is, though, long-standing gardening advice to try to save seed from the first fruits or seed pods to form, particularly corn, beans, broad beans, peas and tomatoes, so you will have to remember to leave some side shoots on your tomato plants if you want to save seed. Seed Savers recommend saving seed from the lower three hands of fruit, but add that you can save seed from anywhere on the bush. This relates to another important seed-saving adage: “Save the best and eat the rest“.
Consequently, when saving legume seed, I only select lower pods if they are well formed and full of seed. If lower pods are small, or have gaps between the seeds, we eat those; because seed from these pods could carry the characteristic of partly-filled pods. With corn, I only save the lowest cobs if they are a good size. Your corn and legume plants will probably need netting if you want to save seed because birds are very fond of seed left to mature on plants. Keep the netting well clear of the pods or cobs you want to save, as some birds are quite clever as hooking seed through netting.
Saving pea seed Click here
Saving tomato seed Click here

Assisting root growth

We all know that an adequate supply of phosphorus is essential for healthy root growth but, during hot, dry months, we can further assist some of our vegetables to produce extra roots.
Pumpkins produce a huge amount of foliage – too much for the original root system to supply adequate water to the entire vine. Consequently, these plants and some other members of the squash family have evolved to produce roots at nodes (stem joints) along their runners. (See photo below.)
We can assist this auxiliary root formation by carefully lifting the runner and scratching the surface of the soil beneath where roots buds appear. Then cover this with a shovelful of compost and settle the runner back onto the compost. Encouraging extra roots to form will increase your crop.
These sections may be hidden by foliage but it will help to identify them if you place a soft drink bottle or large juice bottle (with the base removed) neck down beside this area. When watering, water not only around the base of the plant, but also into the bottles to supply water directly to the extra roots without wetting the foliage.

Tomatoes in their natural state, grow along the ground and will also form auxiliary roots along their stems, but our method of growing tomatoes tied to stakes prevents this. However, you can give them a helping hand to produce extra roots before planting out by lying potted seedlings on their side when they are 10-12 cm tall. Leave them like this for a week or so, depending on the growth rate, and remember to stand them upright for watering. As you can see in the photo, the main stem with make a 90-degree turn, and root buds will form on the horizontal part of the stem. Plant them out with the growth tip vertical and the horizontal stem just below the soil surface.
You can also hill up soil around tomato plants (a little at a time), and sweet corn plants to encourage extra roots to grow on the lower parts of the main stem.

pmpknrootstmtroots

Saving pea seed

peabed

Garden peas that we sowed in early May have performed very well again this year and we have been able to freeze quite a lot. We have to net our peas to protect them from birds. We use arches of polypipe supported by garden stakes to hold the netting well clear of the plants, as King Parrots are clever at hooking the pods and pulling them through the netting. Pea flowers are self-pollinating, so netting won’t affect the size of your crop.

We grow our peas in soil with a pH of around 6.5, and we prepare the bed with compost and poultry–based complete fertiliser because peas won’t fix nitrogen unless the suitable rhizobium bacterium has been introduced to the soil. Once the seedlings had poked their heads above ground, we watered regularly.

peasseed However, cropping is almost over. We have left some well-filled pods about half way up the plants to set seed. They produce better seed than those saved at the end of harvest when the plants have exhausted most of their fertiliser supply. We have been saving seed from our peas since 2006, and get good germination without treating our seeds with any fungicide. Pea seeds are easy to save. Select only full sized pods that are full of seeds and allow them to mature on netted plants until the pods are brown and dry as in the photo. Ideally, they should be left of the plants until the seeds rattle in the pods but, sometimes, we have to harvest after pods brown, if rain is forecast. Don’t harvest pods for seed when they are wet, or the seed is likely to go mouldy.

The pods are spread on a fly screen frame, indoors, until completely dry and a fingernail will not make an indentation on the seed. The peas are then shelled and any blemished ones discarded. Seed is hung in an open paper bag for another week before storing in envelopes in an airtight container in a cool place. The benefit of saving your own seed is that it comes from plants that have grown well in your local microclimate.