Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Growing Lime Balm

Lime balm (Melissa officinalis ''lime") is a deliciously limey smelling perennial herb.  It is related to (ie a lime smelling variety of) lemon balm and my understanding is that it is a spontaneous mutation that appeared in someones garden once and has been kept on ever since.  I really like this herb, I have only had it a short time and already it is one of my favourite herbs.

It is related to mint and I assume that much like lemon balm it can be invasive so is best grown in a container and not in the garden.

Lemon Balm
I have grown lemon balm since I was a child.  Each year it, along with variegated apple mint, would run rampant and take over the small vegetable garden near the house.  Each year I would spend weeks digging these plant out.  I have never been overly impressed with lemon balm.  It is good enough to have ensured that I continue to grow it rather than replacing it with something else, but it is far from amazing.

According to the internet, lemon balm is meant to have been used as far back as the Middle Ages to reduce stress and anxiety, promote sleep, improve appetite, and ease pain and discomfort from indigestion (including gas and bloating, as well as colic).  It is also meant to heal bee stings, but I tend not to get stung so have never tried it out.  

Lemon balm is meant to attract honey bees, but honestly I think that is based on superstition more than fact. I rarely see bees on the lemon balm flowers, honey bees much prefer cucurbits or basil or clover or dandelion or many other things which flower at the same time in my gardens.

Lemon balm smells much like lemon most of the time.  If it is allowed to flower the smell can change and become weak or soapy for a little while.  If it flowers it tends to drop tiny seeds, which germinate and attempt to take over the garden.  I suggest not allowing it to flower, that way it will not try to take over and the smell will not change.

I have used lemon balm in cooking, it tends to be overpowered by stronger smells and is degraded by heat so is best added towards the end of cooking.  Lemon balm can be stuffed into the cavity of a chicken while roasting, but I find that it is too delicate a smell and gets lost this way.

It is also meant to make a nice tea, strangely I have never tried to make lemon balm tea even though I have had it for so many years.

I do sell lemon balm plants on my for sale page.  As I am not overly impressed with it, and make no attempts to deceive people about  the plants I sell, not surprisingly it has never been one of my better sellers.  It certainly isn't a bad plant, otherwise I would not have moved it with me so many times and would not continue to grow it, but it is not my favourite herb.

Lime Balm
I have heard about lime balm for several years but never wanted to buy it without smelling it first.  Too many times herbs are named after something but they smell absolutely nothing like that.  I have smelled 'basil mint' several times and can smell nothing other than mint.

A few times I have seen lemon balm mis-labelled as lime balm, a quick smell revealed this to me, so didn't buy any.  Apparently lime balm seeds often revert to lemon balm.

Recently I was in a garden shop and found some lime balm, I brushed my hand over it and it was lime balm, it smelled like sweet limes!  I bought this little lime balm herb and took it home.  The smell of lime balm is amazing.  It truly does smell just like sweet limes!
Lime Balm starting to flower
 Apparently it is used in the same ways medicinally and in cooking as lemon balm, the difference is that it smells of lime instead of lemon.  I can imagine that it would add a lovely lime smell to food if used towards the end of cooking.

I have made a 'tea' with lime balm several times.  This is deliciously limey and sweet enough to my taste that I don't need to add any sugar.  It tastes a lot like warm lime cordial.  My kids have tried a little of this 'tea' and they all like it too.

I imagine that lime balm is potentially just as invasive as lemon balm, so I am attempting to prevent it from flowering.  I also don't know if the smell changes when the plant is flowering, I don't really want to find out and am cutting off anything with any signs of flower buds.

I am told that lemon balm and lime balm do not grow underground rhizomes like mint.  My lemon balm does grow underground rhizomes, they are shorter and less aggressive than mint so are not too much of a problem.  I am assuming that lime balm will be very similar in growth.

It is simple enough to grow lime balm from taking cuttings.  I now have several small plants and plan to increase this number shortly.
Lime Balm growing from a cutting
Lime Balm for sale in Australia
A few places appear to sell lime balm and it rarely turns up in garden shops.  I plan to sell small lime balm plants when I have enough, when I do they will be listed on my for sale page along with the other herbs, vegetable seeds and perennial vegetables I sell.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Chioggia Beetroot days to maturity

We planted some 'Chioggia' beetroot seeds, the following were the days to maturity for these beetroot.  Being in Australia, all dates are written in the format of Day/Month/Year.

Seed Planted        16/10/2016       Day 0
Seed germinated   24/10/2016       Day 8
First harvest          02/01/2017       Day 78

These dates are when we harvested the roots, I normally would have started harvesting the leaves long before this but didn't record these dates this year.

I could have harvested smaller beets earlier, or larger beets later, and these dates could change significantly if grown under different conditions.  They were simply what happened in my garden this year.  It gives a reasonable baseline for comparison against other plants grown in my garden this year.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Parthenocarpic zucchini days to maturity

I am growing an heirloom Nordic variety of zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) which I know very little about.  Unfortunately the information I was given was written in Swedish or something and I was unable to translate it, based on its binomial name I guessed it was a zucchini, I knew its name, but that was about all.  Considering that spaghetti squash is also C pepo, as are several patty pan squash, and several other types of squash, I was far from certain that it was even a type of zucchini.  It made it kind of fun to grow, not really knowing what to expect.
Gron Busk 'Veribo'
 Zucchini: Gron Busk 'Veribo'

I am growing this heirloom Nordic zucchini.  I assume that "Gron Busk" means zucchini or summer squash or something along those lines and the variety name is "Veribo", but I really don't know.

It grows pretty fast, much like any other heirloom zucchini.  It grows green fruit which look similar to many other common varieties of zucchini.  It lacks any real taste and cooks well, much like any other zucchini.  It is highly productive (being an heirloom probably yields slightly less than most hybrid varieties but one plant still yields plenty of fruit over the season), which is much like any heirloom zucchini.  So far in my garden it is yet to experience any disease or pest other than Rutherglen bugs (Nysius vinitor), so I am not sure if it is resistant to anything.

One thing I love about this variety is that it produced female flowers first.  All of my Gron Busk 'Veribo' plants produced female flowers first this year.  This is very rare, normally zucchini produce male flowers for a while, and then eventually get around to producing female flowers, which means that it often takes longer to produce a crop.

Producing female flowers where there are no male flowers often means that the fruit will not grow and the flower will simply abort.  Yes, you can the eat zucchini flowers, but I don't want to, I want larger fruit.
Zucchini days to maturity
Parthenocarpic zucchini

This variety appears to have another trait which I love, it is parthenocarpic!  That means it will flower and if the female flower is not pollinated it does not abort and drop.  Instead it will naturally grow into a seedless fruit.  This increases the yield and makes the first crop much faster.  It also means that if you only grow one plant and it happens not to have male and female flowers at the same time then you will still get a crop.  This is very handy for home growers with limited space, this trait should not be as rare as it is.  Someone should breed this trait into more varieties of squash.

I am not completely certain that this variety is entirely parthenocarpic, or if it only displays this under certain conditions.  Some plants are only parthenocarpic under certain conditions, I grow some tomatoes that are only parthenocarpic when stressed, and if not stressed still require pollination to form fruit.  I have bagged a few female zucchini flowers before they opened, and each of them grew into a large zucchini, so I am assuming that it is pretty happy to grow parthenocarpic fruit.

Being an heirloom Nordic variety means it has likely been grown by families under harsh conditions and short seasons for generations.  Perhaps it copes with the cold better, perhaps it crops faster, I don't know, but I have recorded my results below.

Zucchini (Cucurbita pepo) Gron Busk 'Veribo' Days to Maturity

Planted 16/10/2016                  day 0
Germinated 25/10/2016            day 9
Flowering 29/11/2016               day 43
First small fruit 03/12/2016        day 47
Large fruit ready 07/12/2016     day 51

What do Days to Maturity mean

Quite often I see seeds sold with 'days to maturity' or something similar on the packet.  Unfortunately that means absolutely nothing.  Depending on the company it may mean how many days from transplant until the first flower opens (male or female).  Others use days from transplant until the first flower bud is seen on the plant several weeks prior to it opening.  Others use days from transplant until the first harvest.  Others use days from transplant until the fruit is mature (we eat immature fruit from zucchini).  As you can see, days to maturity is poorly defined and rarely are you told what definition they are using, so it is meaningless.  Cucurbits tend to perform better if not transplanted, so days to maturity which is based on transplant date is all the more meaningless for home growers.

I planted the seeds directly in the garden and counted from there with the planting day being day zero.  In different climates or under different growing conditions this will vary, but it is the results of several plants in my garden this year.  Even so, 51 days from planting the seed until eating a large zucchini is pretty good.

Where to buy parthenocarpic zucchini seeds in Australia

I have bagged a few zucchini flowers and hand pollinated to obtain pure seed of this variety.   If I have enough I plan to sell them through my for sale page.  Any number of things could go wrong before the seeds are ready, including the flower not being pollinating so the fruit is seedless, so I can not take orders before the seed is ready, but I should have them for sale sooner or later.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Snow Pea Days to maturity

My kids planted some "Oregon Dwarf" green podded snow peas this year.    The packet claimed that they would be ready to harvest in 14 weeks, my experience was not even close to this time frame.

Each of my children has their own little vegetable garden in which they can plant anything they want within reason.  They each chose a few vegetables to plant and were also allowed to grow a few flowers if they wished.  We grow everything from seeds, I don't see the point of buying seedlings. 

My kids all love snow peas, so this year I bought a packet of 'Oregon dwarf' snow peas and my kids planted some each. Normally we would have planted seeds that I have saved but this year after moving the seeds were still packed in a box somewhere so we bought some seeds.

These snow peas were green podded, white flowered, and reasonably productive over a short period.  They possibly could have been more productive over a longer period but were probably planted a bit late, but we could not plant them any earlier due to the kid's gardens not being ready to plant prior to this date.

The following were the days to maturity for snow peas my children planted in 2016.  Being in Australia all of the dates are written as Day/Month/Year

Oregon Dwarf Snow Pea Days to Maturity

Planted               25/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated                                  Day ?
Flowering                                     Day ?
Harvest began     06/12/2016       Day 42

As these were in the children's vegetable gardens I did not keep as many stats as I normally would.  The date planted may have possibly been the date germinated, I am not entirely certain.  Regardless, this is pretty fast, this is actually a lot faster than I would have expected.  It was only 6 weeks as opposed to the 14 weeks as claimed on the packet. Perhaps the days to harvest were less as I planted them in warmer weather than normal.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

QLD arrowroot plants

Achira (Canna edulis) is also called 'Edible Canna' and is sometimes referred to as 'Queensland arrowroot' here in Australia.  Achira is an undemanding, versatile, easy to grow, high yielding perennial vegetable.  Like so many of the vegetables that we enjoy in Australia, achira originally comes from South America and was widely grown by the Incas.  It is sometimes referred to as one of the lost crops of the Incas.

It is a great looking plant that adds tropical looking, almost banana plant like leaves to the landscape.  It survives and produces well in cold areas with a short growing season, arid areas (if it is watered frequently or given shade), and I am told that it absolutely thrives in the tropics.
Achira plants growing under the shade of a tree
Achira is a variety of canna, and is very much related to the ornamental flowers that are in people’s gardens and planted in roundabouts all over the nation.  Being commonly planted in roundabouts means that they are very low maintenance plants.  

Many of the ornamental varieties are interspecific hybrids between various canna species, achira is likely also an interspecific hybrid but it has been given a binomial name to indicate that it is now considered to be a stable ‘species’ in itself.  All of the ornamental cannas are edible, but as they have been bred for showy flowers or pretty foliage they may not grow as fast or as large or taste as good as the so called ‘edible canna’.  

Achira was once grown commercially grown as a source of starch.  It boasts the largest starch grains of any plant, so large that they can be seen without the use of microscopes.  

I have had my plant for several years and grown it in two very different climates and it has never even attempted to flower for me.  I am not sure if it no longer has the ability to flower or if this is a day length sensitivity issue or if some other factor is at play here.  To propagate achira I wait until it has two growing points, then use a spade to chop the plant, separate them, and plant them somewhere.  

To be honest I have never treated this plant very well.  It has always been planted in marginal land or crammed into a small pot of soil, and never watered frequently.  This year is the first time I have planted achira into the vegetable garden bed.  Despite my mistreatment achira has always grown and reproduced rather well for me, it has produced large rhizomes and depending on the conditions it can grow rather tall with amazing looking leaves.  In years that had a lot of rain, or if I water it, it reproduces very fast.  One small plant tends to turn into a dozen large plants in a year, if it is in better soil and looked after this number can be a lot higher, if it is in poor dry soil it may only produce 3 or 4.  

Both the smaller rhizomes and the young leaves can be eaten, the older leaves and rhizomes are still edible but they tend to be a bit too fibrous to be enjoyable.  People use the leaves to wrap food they are cooking, similar to how people in the tropics use banana leaf to wrap food.  The leaves are high protein, reasonably palatable, and can be used as animal fodder.  My sheep, cattle, alpacas and guinea pig all ate achira leaves at times.  I am told that pigs love achira and while I have no experience with this myself it does look like the kind of thing that a pig would like to eat.  I have been told that the leaves can be dried and woven or used for other craft things, but have never actually seen anyone do this.  
Young QLD arrowroot plants in full sun
Some places sell achira plants to be grown as poultry food, but my chickens, ducks and guinea fowl were never fond of it and would only eat it as a last resort.  If your poultry is not free ranged and have absolutely no access to grass then achira is probably a great option to feed them, other than that I wouldn’t be surprised if they never actually touched it.  This is rather unfortunate as from all accounts achira would be very nutritious for them. 

Achira is often grown in orchards to be cut as a mulch.  It produces large amounts of leaves so I found it to be good for this purpose.  It is simple to cut and having no irritating hairs or thorns it is simple to carry arm loads of achira around the property to use as mulch or feed to stock.  Being so large and growing so fast means that it can be used to trap nutrients on a slope.  Given achira’s spreading nature it could potentially be used to stabilise eroding soil.  It grows happily in boggy soil and can even be grown in submerged soil as long as the leaves are not under water.  When grown like this it can be used to clean water and settle out solids.  Achira can be grown as a screen or a wind break, but this only works over warmer months as it tends to die down over winter.  I used to grow achira along the fence of the vegetable gardens to provide some late afternoon shade and slight wind protection. 

Achira seems to be reasonably flexible regarding how and where it grows, it is pretty determined to survive yet does not pose a weed threat.  When I grew achira in a cold temperate location it grew about 2 meters tall pretty fast and produced about a dozen large edible rhizomes.  When grown in full sun in extreme arid heat I struggled to get plants to grow over 2 feet tall and the leaves frequently got burned off by the heat.  These tiny plants still produced a decent size and number of rhizomes for me to eat though.  When I grew achira in the same garden but under dense shade of trees the plants reached about 3 meters tall and produced copious rhizomes.  I have also grown achira in a pot while I moved house several times in one year.  This plant shared the pot with Jerusalem artichoke, which is a very aggressive grower and supposedly rather allelopathic.  The pot was not watered anywhere near often enough, and was in shade sometimes and other times full sun on concrete, yet it survived and still divided into half a dozen plants which I have since divided and planted out. 

young Achira growing along a fence near asparagus
Achira does not really like frost, each year when winter comes along the leaves will be burned down.  You can dig up a part and store it in soil in a garage or something, or you can leave it in the soil as they normally survive hard frosts.  Sometimes a growing point is killed by frost, but as long as the plant has another growing point then it should spring back to life when the time is right.  I normally leave the dead leaves on to protect the plant and wait until spring before doing anything.  When the weather warms the plant starts to grow and that is when I either cut off the old leaves and divide the plant or leave them as they are and don’t worry about them.

As much as it will survive in soil that is relatively dry, achira performs much better with reasonable soil moisture.  In much the same way it produces a decent crop in marginal land that has low fertility, but it performs far better in fertile soil.  I have always thought that high amounts of nitrogen would help achira grow very large very fast but have never had the chance to test this theory.  

As well as being edible and useful for various things, achira also looks rather ornamental and most people in Australia would not even know it is edible.  It could quite happily be grown in an ornamental garden bed or even in the front yard with little chance of people either stealing or vandalising it as they tend to do with food plants.  Being ornamental and not commonly associated as a food plant means it would not attract attention of council if they have any ridiculous rules about not growing food plants in certain places.

Where to buy achira in Australia  
There are a few places that sell QLD arrowroot plants online, I sell it on my for sale page which can be found using the search button on the top right hand side of this page.  Everything I grow is completely organic, I don't even use any of the organic poisons.  I sell a section of rhizome with at least one growing point.  If the plants are not dormant the leaves must be removed prior to postage.  As they are a very hardy plant they cope well with postage and tend to regrow quickly and easily
It is too hot and dry for grass to grow, but achira is ok

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Lacy Lady Pea Days to Maturity

Lacy Lady pea (Pisum sativum) - semi leafless pea.

I wrote a blog post about this semi leafless pea in October 2013.  The following are the days to maturity that I got from Lacy Lady peas in my garden this year.  Being in Australia the dates are written Day/Month/Year.

Seeds Planted   29/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated       03/11/2016       Day 5
Flowered          12/12/2016       Day  44
Start Harvest     28/12/2016       Day 60

Lacy Lady Pea leaf
Clearly the days to maturity could be changed by warmer or colder weather, better or worse soil, more or less sunlight or a bunch of other factors.  These were simply the days to maturity in my garden this year.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Freckles lettuce days to maturity

The "days to maturity" which is often quoted on packets of seed is usually little more than an arbitrary number.  I have seen Freckles lettuce listed anywhere from 50 to 90 days, which is rather unhelpful.  I used to find it very difficult to plan when to plant things, so I keep records myself.

Below are the dates of when I planted seed of freckles lettuce this year, when the seed germinated, and when we began harvest.  If I keep any of these plants to go to seed I may try to remember to include date of flowering and when the seed is ripe, but who knows what the future brings.

Being in Australia the dates are written in the format of Day/Month/Year.

Freckles Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Planted                       23/10/2016                  day 0
Germinated                 28/10/2016                  day 5
Started harvesting        03/12/2016                 day 41

I probably could have started harvesting smaller leaves a few weeks earlier or larger leaves a few weeks later if I wanted.  Had I planted the lettuce seeds in different weather, or in different soil, or with more or less sunlight, or closer to nodulating legumes, or a bunch of other things, these days to maturity would be slightly different, but this is an indication of how Freckles lettuce actually performed for me this year.

For some reason all of the lettuce in my garden went bitter pretty quickly this year.  I am growing 4 different varieties this year, all of which were planted on the same day, and none of them performed very well.  I think it may be due to heat or abrupt change in weather.  I planted them later than I would have liked.  Freckles is the only one which is not currently flowering, some individual plants are not bitter but most are. 

Freckles Lettuce