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

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.

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.

Organic school gardens

gloves As some readers know, I have been kept very busy this year writing the Organic School Gardens program for the Biological Farmers of Australia to teach children how to garden for a sustainable future.

This program is unique, as it is provided free to all schools across Australia – it is non-commercial – it features practical and easy-to-use online resources and lesson plans suitable for Australian schools, plus a separate set of lesson notes for teachers, and
it is the only Australian school garden program written in line with organic standards.
BFA’s program is designed to be adaptable to all schools, including children with special needs and schools with very limited resources, and it is designed to integrate with other subjects in the curriculum, making learning fun and more meaningful for students.
Gardening expertise is not necessary to conduct this program. In going through the lessons and supervisor notes, teachers and volunteers will learn how to garden organically themselves.

BFA’s Organic School Gardens Program can be accessed and downloaded simply by going to:
www.organicschools.com.au

The last three lessons in the program will be available to schools at the beginning of October in time for the next school term, and from later this month I will be able to spend more time writing posts for my blog. I’d like to thank all of you for your patience while I have been working on this project.