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

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.

Different time zones

The times for Moon phase changes on the right hand panel of this blog are Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), which only applies to the east coast of Australia, and the phase will change at a different time in central or western Australia, or in other southern hemisphere countries.
As converting AEST to local time zones can be confusing for gardeners, I have added a link to a Time Converter to the Moon Planting widget to make it easier. Just follow the instructions in the Moon Planting widget.

Try it out here: Time Converter

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.

Spring equinox 2010

What is an equinox? It is a time when day and night are of equal length, and tomorrow (23rd of September) is the Spring Equinox in the southern hemisphere. Our equinoxes are the opposite of those in the northern hemisphere.
There are two equinoxes each year – one around the 23rd or 24th of September and the other on 21st of March – our Fall Equinox. After the Spring Equinox the days get longer until around our Summer Solstice on, or around the 22nd of December, then days become gradually shorter.
Some cultures think that the Spring Equinox has a special significance for planting. However, at least a third of the time the spring equinox occurs when the Moon is in a ‘barren sign’, or at New or Full Moon, which are not good times for sowing seeds.
Tomorrow’s equinox occurs on a Full Moon, so wait until after 7:20 am AEST on 24th before you sow root crops or plant perennials.

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.

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.

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