Snake beans

Snake bean vine Snake beans are a good value crop for the vege patch where summers are hot, and French beans may struggle or be attacked by birds. They are prolific croppers over a long period and 4 plants are probably sufficient to supply a family of 4. Ours were still cropping at the beginning of June this year. A popular ingredient in Asian dishes, they can be substituted for French beans in many recipes, and blanched, young beans can be added to salads.

Snake bean pods Snake beans can grow up to half a metre or longer but tend to become a little tough if allowed to grow to this length (i.e. the beans at the bottom of the photo). They are best eaten when 30 cm or so in length while seeds are small, and they are young and tender. Pods grow fast and should be picked every day, or every second day at least, to ensure that they are harvested at their best, and to keep the vines forming new pods.
Snake beans take up very little space in the garden as they are grown on a trellis in soil that has plenty of compost and some organic complete fertiliser added, which should keep the soil pH at an ideal level (6.5–7). In late spring, when soil temperature is at least 15 degrees Celsius, sow seeds in damp soil 1 cm deep and 30 cm apart. Water to settle soil after sowing. Do not water the soil again until seed leaves appear, then water regularly to ensure healthy growth. In tropical areas where summer rainfall is heavy, sow seeds in hills to improve drainage. Seeds germinate quickly, and vines can produce pods in 60 days in very hot weather.
Snake bean ripening Greenpatch Organic Seeds has two varieties of snake bean; one with black seeds that produces pods up to 45 cm and one with brown seeds than produces thin pods to 60 cm.
Allow a couple of pods to mature until they have yellowed and lost their ‘puffiness’ (see photo). Then continue the drying process indoors. De-pod seeds when pods are crisp.

Time to plant spring bulbs

Just a reminder that April is a good time for planting spring-flowering bulbs in most areas. Gardeners in warmer climates can put bulbs into the vegetable crisper of the fridge for a month’s chilling before planting in May.
Add plenty of compost and some complete organic complete fertiliser to the planting area. Nutrients will be absorbed by the plants during the growing season and withdrawn into the bulbs as the foliage dies back to ensure good flowering the following season, so remember not to remove foliage before it becomes brown. 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, then water regularly. For moon planters, Full Moon phase is the best time to plant bulbs. This year (2014) the Full Moon occurs on 15th of April and May.

Scallions or Spring onions

True scallions (Allium fistulosum) that originated in the Far East do not form a bulb. Also known in Australia as spring onions or green onions, these onions are a versatile herb that are used as raw or cooked vegetables In some areas they are sold as shallots, however, true shallots (Allium aggregatum) form a light brown bulb. Scallions are harvested as required as they cannot be stored for long periods. Their pencil-thick stems and hollow green leaves provide a mild flavour used raw in salads, or cooked in many Asian dishes. Chinese herbalists value them for various medicinal properties.
Scallions are easy to grow in all climate zones in Australia, and can be ready to harvest in 8 – 10 weeks. Young seedlings respond well in a compost-rich soil and an application of weak, fermented manure tea watered in several days after transplanting.
Seed of green onions does not keep for long and seed collected for sowing next season will produce a vigorous crop as this seed will have come from plants that have adapted to your local soil and climate conditions. Leave several of your green onion plants to produce seed from their globular flower heads (umbrels).
To save seeds from your spring onions, see Spring onions – saving seed

Strawberries – starting new plants

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Vigorous, young strawberry plants produce the best berries. As strawberry cropping slows, plants produce long horizontal stems (runners). Along each runner a small plantlet begins to form and tiny white roots will appear at the base – see photos below. Vigorous runners can produce two or three plantlets along each runner. If you remove mulch from the area under each new plantlet and anchor plantlets to the soil surface by placing a stone on the runner on the parent side of each plantlet, you can produce many new plants for your strawberry patch. Anchoring plantlets in this way allows the crown of the plantlet to sit on the soil surface. (Strawberry crowns will rot if buried.) If your strawberry bed contains plenty of organic matter, all you need to do is give the bed a drink of seaweed extract tea to stimulate root growth and build disease resistance, and keep the soil damp. Otherwise, add a handful of mature compost to the soil surface under each plantlet. Each parent plant will provide nourishment to the new plants until they develop enough roots to grow independently.

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When plantlets are well established in autumn, the runners connecting them to the parent plant can be cut, and the new plants can be left where they are or transplanted to a new spot.
Tip: While strawberries are still cropping, place a marker beside the plants that produce the best berries and only use the runners from these plants to improve the quality of produce in your strawberry patch.

Seeds that need light

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost seeds germinate in dark, damp conditions and need to be covered with a suitable depth of topsoil. However, some seeds need light for successful germination.
In the vegetable patch, only varieties of lettuce, Cape Gooseberry, Tomatillo and the Asian greens Seakale and Shiso are ‘light responsive’, but a number of herb and flower species also require light for germination. These include: Angelica, Anise, Arnica, Ashwaganda, Caraway, Catnip, Chamomile, Chervil, Dill, Echinacea, Elecampagne, Evening primrose, Feverfew, Gazania, Lady’s Mantle, Lemon Balm, Mignonette, Rosemary, Summer and Winter Savory, Valerian, Watercress, Wormwood and Yarrow.
Sowing seed for these plants can cause difficulties as the seed is merely pressed into the soil surface and require close attention to prevent them drying, resulting in germination failure. Or, they are scattered on the surface of a punnet where they can be easily washed into clumps at the edge of the punnet despite careful watering.

A way to avoid problems with these seeds is to fill a punnet with damp seedling mix and then cover the surface of the punnet with a single layer of gravel or small pebbles. Then sprinkle the seeds sparingly over the gravel and water very gently, being careful not to flood the surface. The gravel provides crevices for the seed to settle while still allowing them to receive light, and also helps to keep the growing mix damp for germinating 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.

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.
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