One of my favourite vegetables is winter spinach, also known as English spinach. Spinach is rich in vitamins A, C, and E, folic acid, magnesium, iron, fibre, and contains some vitamin B6. It has a more delicate flavour than silver beet and, unlike silver beet, it can be frozen for use during warmer months. Winter spinach loves cold weather and a well-fertilised soil containing plenty of compost. It has a short growing period at our place because warm weather can extend into late autumn, winters are fairly short and mild, and temperatures rise quickly in spring, causing the plants to run to seed. Sow as soon as weather cools in autumn.
Fortunately, this vegetable grows very quickly, and harvesting can begin 8 weeks after sowing seed. From then on, leaves of all varieties of spinach must be harvested every day or two, or the plants will bolt to seed.
This year, Green Harvest sent to me seeds of their new open-pollinated variety – ‘Galilee’, and it has performed very well in our conditions. ‘Galilee’ was developed in the Middle East and is more tolerant of warm conditions than other varieties of winter spinach. It has produced a lot more foliage than the other variety we grow (‘Winter Giant’) and its mid green leaves have the same flavour as other spinach varieties. It is a great variety for gardeners who have struggled to grow winter spinach.
To freeze winter spinach: I wash the spinach thoroughly, roughly chop the leaves and stems, then put it in a steamer and blanch it with boiling water, before plunging the steamer into icy water. Then drain, and pack into ice cube trays or zip lock bags for freezing. Spinach in zip lock bags is pressed out to a flat sheet on a baking tray for freezing. This makes it easier to break off sections for adding to recipes.
I love warm, still spring days when the air is heavy with the sweet fragrance of citrus and Jasmine flowers, and the lethargic buzzing of bees that seem intoxicated by the perfume.
Citrus trees produce many more flowers than the tree could support if they developed to full maturity as fruit, and a reader has asked if she should remove some of the flowers.
This is not necessary, as most species of citrus will shed the excess flowers at the end of the flowering period when the developing fruit is no larger than a pea. A further shedding of tiny fruit often occurs when they are about 2 cm across. However, there are other causes of fruit drop beyond what the tree intends. Water stress and sap sucking by Bronze-orange or Spined-citrus bugs are common causes. A deficiency of copper (which is only needed in tiny amounts) will cause citrus trees to drop small fruit, and flowering stage is a good time to give your trees a drink of seaweed extract tea, especially if your soil is low in organic matter.
Make a note of when your citrus trees flower because 3 months after flowering the final amount of fruit the tree will produce that season is established. At this time you can remove excess fruit, particularly on young trees.
On some species of citrus, flowers are well spaced as in the photo above. On other varieties flowers form in clusters and, even if only a third of the flowers in this photo developed into fruit, the weight of the fruit will cause new wood to bend downwards, resulting in a poorly shaped tree in years to come. The weight of excess fruit can also split young trees. It is worthwhile being patient with young citrus trees, and foregoing fruit until they have established a sturdy framework.
On older trees, simply pinch out any young fruit that will form a compacted cluster when mature to avoid putting too much weight on new wood at the end of branches.
Some gardeners are concerned because their peas are producing pods while their broad beans are not, although the plants are producing lots of flowers.
There is a difference in pollination methods between these two legumes. Garden peas are self-pollinating, and pollination occurs before the flowers open, so failure of pods to form is due either to cold or light frost damaging the blossoms, or the weather being too warm.
According to the Seed Savers’ Handbook, broad beans are partly self-pollinated and partly cross-pollinated, but we have noticed that our broad beans don’t form pods until bees are around. If it is too cold or too windy for bees to be out and about, the flowers die off without forming pods. Broad beans are also reluctant to set pods when the weather is too warm, but if it is still cool enough for peas to form pods, the problem is more likely to be a lack of insect activity. Keep the soil damp and give them a drink of seaweed extract tea. The potassium in that does help fruit/seed production. Oh, and make sure the bed is mulched – apply it early in the morning to keep the soil cooler for them.
There is a theory that removing the growing tips when they start to flower helps pod set. I have tried removing the growing tips on half of the plants and leaving the rest to grow naturally. It didn’t make any noticeable difference to pod setting.
If your broad bean plants haven’t been setting pods, get a medium-sized (about No 5) artist’s paint brush with soft bristles, and use it dry to ‘tickle’ the inside of the flowers to spread some pollen. If that doesn’t produce results, Have a chat with your seed supplier.
Autumn is a good time to check your citrus trees for magnesium deficiency. Citrus have a high magnesium requirement and magnesium is essential for the formation of chlorophyll (green colour) in leaves. Without enough magnesium plants will not be able to make sugars and starches, and growth will be poor.
Magnesium deficiency often shows up in citrus in autumn because magnesium is also required for developing fruit and many citrus species produce fruit over the cooler months.
Because magnesium is very mobile in plants, a shortage of this essential element results in magnesium being drawn from the older leaves to new growth. Deficiency shows as pale leaves, beginning with inter-vein yellowing of the outer edges of the oldest leaves, so that a green V remains with the point of the V at the leaf tip, and widest part of the V closest to the stem. In extreme cases, entire leaves may yellow.
Magnesium deficiency can occur in several ways. If soil is too dry roots can’t absorb magnesium, so regular watering of citrus is necessary. It is more common where soil is quite acidic and this can be remedied by watering in some dolomite, which will supply magnesium, plus calcium to raise the pH. If soil pH is in a suitable range for citrus, magnesium deficiency can also occur where heavy rain has leached it from soil, or where excess potassium has been added to soil – this includes use of wood ash, or overuse of seaweed fertilisers, which can cause a build up of potassium.
In these situations, a quick remedy to save this year’s crop is to dissolve some Epsom salts in a small amount of warm water, then dilute it in a full watering can of cold water, and water it into the soil under the outer part of the foliage canopy. You will need about 250 g of Epsom salts for a very young tree, and up to 2 kg for a fully-grown tree.
Magnesium is also important for sweetness of fruit. If your citrus fruits are not as sweet as you would like, it could be due to magnesium deficiency. However, a general yellowing or paleness of all leaves (chlorosis), while only the veins remain green, could be the result of iron deficiency. Iron deficiency begins in the youngest leaves. This can occur where soil is too alkaline for the tree to absorb iron. If the alkalinity occurred through an accidental overdose of lime or dolomite, the pH can be lowered by adding elemental sulphur to the soil around the tree. If soils are generally alkaline, including some well-rotted cow or horse manure that has NOT had lime added (under mulch, but not dug in) as part of your fertiliser will help reduce the pH by replacing some of the calcium ions in soil with hydrogen ions as it decomposes. To prevent crop losses, it is worthwhile checking soil pH around citrus trees each spring, and correcting it, if necessary.
See also: Feeding citrus