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.

Frangipani trees from seed

I often receive e-mails with questions about growing frangipani trees, and some readers may like to try growing them from seed. Paula Pugh Schipp of the Frangipani Society of Australia says that frangipani trees grown from seed grow much faster than those grown from cuttings because the root system starts to form when the seed germinates. Another advantage of propagating these lovely (Plumeria) trees from seed is that trees grown from cuttings will always be the same as the parent tree, but trees grown from seed are, like children, not usually exact duplicates of their parents. You may grow a tree with flowers with an entirely different colour combination if you have a variety of frangipani trees in your area.

Frangipani flowers do not always produce seed as the self-pollinating flowers do not always release their pollen. You can try hand-pollinating flowers with a piece of thick fishing line. Place the end of the line deep into the flower and wriggle it very gently to release the pollen. You have to be gentle as it is easy to knock the flower from its stem.

Seeds develop within a pod, often a double pod in a ‘T ‘ shape, which looks rather like two thin 17 cm zucchini in the early stages – changing over time to brown/black when mature (see photo, lower left). Pods can take up to 8 months to mature depending on the local microclimate.

When the seeds are mature, the pods become brittle and begin to split open revealing up to 60 seeds in each pod. Collecting the seed takes a bit of good timing because each of the seeds has a small ‘wing’ attached and, when the pod completely opens, the seeds can be spread far and wide on the breeze (see photo, below right). If the pod is in a position where you can easily observe its development, when the pod is just beginning to split, place a large basin under the pod structure and carefully cut the adjoining stem from the tree. If the pod is high in the tree and hidden by foliage, then when the pod starts to change colour, make a bag from nylon netting large enough to hold the pod structure with some room to spare. The will prevent the seeds from blowing away when the pod opens.

 

 

 

 

If you would like to try growing frangipani from seed, for best results sow them soon after they are collected.

This excellent Frangipani website provides a detailed guide to propagating frangipani, including an interesting method of germinating seed in paper towels: Frangipani Society of Australia

One of our readers, Sam, has shared some photos of his very successful efforts.
img_9674 img_9673

Frogs like bromeliads, too.

Bromeliads are an interesting group of plants with over 800 varieties. Some bromeliads are epiphytic (grow on trees or other objects for support) while some require soil for their roots – including the most well-known member of the family – the pineapple plant (Ananas comosus). Bromeliads are very easy to grow in warm and temperate climates, and have an amazing range of foliage and flower shapes and colours. Most bromeliads grow in a rosette form with a central well, and their unusual flowers grow from the central well.

The blade leaves of bromeliads funnel a lot of water into the central well, providing moisture for insects and other small creatures in times of drought, and the insects provide organic matter to fertilise the plants. This regular supply of food and water also attracts frogs.

If you like having frogs in your garden, try growing some bromeliad genera with soft, leathery, broad leaves – for example Aechmea, Neoregalia, Vriesea or Bilbergia, which grow best in part shade around the base of trees. These bromeliads rely mostly on their central well for water and food, and use soil mainly for support. The rosette of leaves also provides a hiding place for frogs.
Plant in autumn in warmer areas or spring where winters are cold. Grey-leaved bromeliads absorb moisture from the atmosphere and do not need soil, and bromeliads with heavily barbed leaves do best in acidic soil in full sun.

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

Soil pH is so important

I’ve had several e-mails recently from gardeners who have used purchased soil or organic fertilisers and found that their plants were sickly or not growing because they were growing in soil that is too alkaline.
Soil pH (acidity or alkalinity of soil) is extremely important because determines which nutrients are available to plants. All the major nutrients are only freely available to plants within a narrow soil pH range of 6.5 to 7.5, where essential trace elements are also available, and aluminium is locked out.
See What’s soil pH?

Lime should only be added to soil where testing of soil pH shows a need for it. Mushroom compost and poultry manure (including dynamic lifter) can be quite alkaline, and some suppliers are now adding lime to bagged cow manure and horse manure because some customers objected to the smell, (usually caused by nurseries leaving bags sitting in hot sun). And, only agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) should be used when liming is necessary as hydrated lime can burn plant roots and reduces nitrogen levels through conversion to ammonia.
When purchasing soil, always check the pH before adding fertilisers or lime to it, and always test the pH of your compost before adding it to the garden (well-made compost has a pH of around 6.0-6.5). If soil pH is not higher than 8, you can reduce the pH using elemental sulphur (according to the instructions on the pH kit) and dig into topsoil a 5cm layer of well-made compost, which will buffer plant roots from the unsuitable pH. Or, grow a legume as a green manure while waiting for the pH to reduce. Slash the legumes as they start to flower and dig them into the top 10 cm of soil. See Soil pH too high? , also Changing soil pH.

If the pH is higher than 8, it is not easy to reduce it with sulphur alone. As organic matter breaks down in soil it releases hydrogen ions that will replace the calcium ions in the soil, and gradually reduce the pH. Cow, horse or sheep manure (but not poultry manure) under mulch will also reduce the soil pH gradually as it breaks down. However, be very cautious where you source manures and mulch as more farmers are using herbicides that remain active in manures and mulch materials (except lucerne and pea straw) until they are broken down by soil bacteria. Test soil every 6 weeks after digging in the green manure, and you can use it for general vege growing when it gets below 7.5.

Frangipani stem rot


A New Zealand gardener is having trouble with her potted frangipani. I am posting my reply separately as other gardeners may have had a similar problem:

I live in Auckland NZ. I have white frangipani over 1.5m tall in a large pot. It last flowered about 4 years ago which was it’s first year in the pot. Now we are getting good leaf growth and new stems in the summer but the new stems rot in the winter and we have to cut them off.

There are several reasons why new growth on frangipanis can rot in winter – (1) water-logging of the mixture while the tree is dormant. (2) Lack of nutrients, such as potassium, which strengthens cell walls as well as promoting flowering. Have you given the tree any fertiliser? (3) Its position in winter is too cold for a tropical tree.

Remedies for (1) and (2): If your tree has been in the pot for 4 years, it is quite possible the roots have blocked the drainage hole/s, and that is causing the softer, new growth to rot when the tree is not using the moisture in the pot. Or, perhaps the holes have become blocked if the pot is in direct contact with the ground. Frangipanis form lots of roots and they must have good drainage.

As their roots are rather brittle, if you can’t remove the root ball from the pot easily, lie the pot on its side and hose out the potting mixture. Then carefully re-pot it into a larger pot with fresh potting mix that contains some complete fertiliser, and gently water it to settle the mix around the roots. If you can’t find a larger pot for the tree, trim the longest roots (so that they will have to grow about 5 cm to fill the pot) and re-pot in fresh mix in the same pot. Sit the pot on some pieces of tile so that the drainage holes remain clear of the soil.

Remedy for (3): Even the white frangipani (which is the hardiest) will not do well if temperatures are too low or they are in windy positions. When growing frangipanis in temperate zones, on the north side of a wall is a good position for them. A brick or concrete wall is best because the wall absorbs heat during the day and releases it slowly at night, keeping the air around the tree slightly warmer.

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.

Soil for Magnolias

Recently, Anthea wrote to me about the problem of growing her Chinese Magnolia where soil is alkaline.
I was just reading your article on changing soil ph and was hoping you could give me an idea on how to fix a problem I have with my magnolia x soulangeana.
I bought the tree approx 4 years ago and, although it has grown well and has good leaf coverage, it has never flowered. My thoughts at first was that it was still too immature to do so, but I have since discovered that the ph level of our soil is very alkaline (we live on the side of an extinct volcano towards the coast). Over the last year, I have been trying to reduce the alkalinity of the soil with a general garden sulphur, but this does not seem to have worked. Once again, no flowers/sepals this year. I have checked the soil ph again, and it is still as alkaline as it was a year ago. I do not want to be as drastic as to uproot the tree and replant in an acidic base soil as I am aware that magnolias don’t take kindly to transplants but I am at a loss as to what else I could do. Do you have any suggestions as to how to rectify this problem? I live in Mount Gambier in the south east of SA. Any help/advice would be greatly appreciated.

It is a long job to reduce very alkaline soil with sulphur alone Anthea, and when soil is very alkaline plants can’t absorb the nutrients they need to produce flowers (or fruit, in suitable species).

I would try putting some aged cow or horse manure on the soil surface around the tree (keeping it well clear of the trunk) after a thorough watering, and covering the manure with about 5 cm of organic mulch to keep it damp. As the manure (and mulch) break down they will release hydrogen into the soil. The electrically charged hydrogen ions will replace the calcium ions in the soil and the pH will drop. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. One of the problems on dairy farms is that the soil becomes quite acidic due to the constant manure deposits.

Then, when the tree is in leaf, spray the foliage with organic seaweed extract diluted to weak black tea colour. Seaweed is high in potassium that plants require for good flower formation, and it also contains a range of trace elements that plants need but can’t absorb from alkaline soils. This may be enough to assist flowering next season. I would spray as soon as leaves form and again in early summer.

By the way, volcanic soils are usually rich in nutrients and Plants usually grow well in them when pH is adjusted. As the pH problem is likely to affect your entire garden, it might be worth your while to invest in a pH test kit and and make annual adjustments to your soil where necessary.