Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Water Celery

Water Celery Oenanthe javanica (flamingo)
Like many rare vegetables this plant has many common names including: water parsley, Java waterdropwort, Japanese parsley, Chinese celery, rainbow water parsley, and a bunch of other names.

Water celery is a perennial vegetable that is under utilised and strangely uncommon considering how prolific and simple to grow it is.

I don't really remember how I first got the variegated form of water celery, I do remember that I had hoped to get the pure green one and was a little disappointed to get this prettier version as the green one is meant to grow in a very aggressive way and the variegated one is said to be more tame.

The variegated form of water celery sometimes known as 'flamingo' or 'rainbow water parsley', the edges of the leaves are white and sometimes pink. Like a lot of other plants the colour becomes a lot more vibrant and intense in cooler weather.

It grows extremely fast when the weather is warm, it is often used to clean water, is sometimes used to extract gold from water, and most importantly it is edible.  It can be grown in a floating raft to clean water in an aquaponics type arrangement.
Water celery growing in a bucket
 How to grow water celery
Water celery prefers a lot of moisture to grow, I usually grow it submerged in a bucket of soil with a few cm of water on top.  This plant should always have the leaves emerging from the water or it will rot as it is not an aquatic plant.  Most people seem to grow it in depths of 10cm to 15cm of water.  That being said some of my plant's runners have made their way into other pots of soil not even near water and are growing happily enough if they get reasonable water.
I didn't plant water celery here, it found its own way in using runners
Water celery found its way into this pot has survived here
I am told that it can survive temperatures as low as -30C but find that very difficult to believe.  It seems to die back a little when the frosts hit and there is ice on top of the water, but as soon as the weather warms up it takes off and grows well.  This plant can become invasive so take care if you plant at the edge of a pond.

Water celery, even the variegated flamingo form, is a productive and aggressive grower.  It grows long runners in an attempt to colonise as much suitable ground as possible.  I have read several studies which state that when grown on a floating raft type system it can be used to remove phosphates, nitrates and various other forms of pollution (apparently including gold) from water. 

Considering that water celery loves moisture, and it is reasonably simple to remove, even if it does become a weed it should not stray too far from damp ground and should be reasonably simple to pull or dig out.  Guinea pigs and chickens seem to like it so if you ever had a patch that got out of control if you move animals onto that ground they should eat it out pretty fast.

This plant can and does flower and will set viable seed.  I lost all of my seeds so do not know if they will be variegated or if a percentage will be green. I am told that it will grow to 60cm tall but mine never reach half of that.
Water Celery and Vietnamese Coriander growing in buckets
Water Celery Flowering
What does water celery taste like
Not surprisingly, water celery tastes very similar to celery, and a bit like parsley.  We don't tend to eat much of it as I am not too fond of celery.  When fresh the celery taste and smell is strong, this decreases with cooking time.

Water celery can be eaten raw or cooked.  If you plant to eat it raw please be careful that it does not have any water snails on it.  Water snails can carry a host of different parasites which are bad for people.  Cooking, even briefly, can kill the parasites and make this plant completely safe.
Water Celery sending out runners
Where to buy water celery in Australia
Variegated water celery is sometimes seen in nurseries and for sale by specialist water nurseries and pond supply companies.  It is difficult to find and is normally very expensive for some reason.  I sell water celery, it is listed on my for sale page along with some other perennial vegetables.
Water celery plants ready for sale
Water celery is pretty in the right light

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Cape Gooseberry Days to Maturity


Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) is also known as Incaberry, goldenberry and Pichuberry and a few other common names. 

I find germination to be a bit hit and miss, I planted seeds that didn't germinate, then a few weeks later I replanted seed from the same packet and they all germinated.  They grew very slowly at the start and felt like they would never flower.  Once they started to produce fruit it was very productive over a long period of time.

Cape Gooseberry (Physalis peruviana)
Planted             20/08/2016       Day 0  No germination, seeds rotted so I needed to re-plant.
Replanted         10/09/2016       Day 0 again
Germinated       26/09/2016       Day 16
Flowered          09/12/2016       Day 60
Harvest began  14/01/2017        Day 86

Cape Gooseberry seedling
Cape gooseberry flowers and fruit

Sunday, 5 February 2017

'Space Master' Cucumber days to maturity


We planted some green 'space master' cucumber seeds, they grew into a small shrub instead of a long vine.  The cucumbers tasted good, and the plants were reasonably productive over a long season, but I am sure I can find a better variety.

The following were the days to maturity for these cucumbers.  Being in Australia, all dates are written in the format of Day/Month/Year.

Seed Planted        16/10/2016       Day 0
Seed germinated   25/10/2016       Day 9
Flowers                06/12/2016       Day 51
First harvest          28/12/2016       Day 73

Obviously these dates could change significantly if grown differently.  They were simply what happened in my garden this season.  Even though, it gives a reasonable baseline for comparison against other plants grown in my garden this year.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

White Wonder Cucumber days to maturity

I planted some heirloom 'White Wonder' cucumber seeds.  They are an old heirloom variety of cucumber that is rather good looking.  The plants grow long vines and were very productive over a long period of time.  These cucumbers need to be picked young, if left to grow the skin becomes tough and woody and they become too bitter for my liking.

The following were the days to maturity for these cucumbers.  Being in Australia, all dates are written in the format of Day/Month/Year.

White Wonder Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)
Seed Planted        16/10/2016       Day 0
Seed germinated   26/10/2016       Day10
Flowers                06/12/2016       Day 51
First harvest          01/01/2017       Day 77

Obviously these dates could change significantly if grown differently.  They were simply what happened in my garden this year.  Even though, it gives a reasonable baseline for comparison against other plants, such as the green 'space master' cucumber, which were also grown in my garden this year.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Vietnamese coriander

Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) is an excellent perennial herb which should be more widely grown at home but is not easy enough to find.  It has a bunch of different common names including Vietnamese mint, laksa herb, hot mint, Cambodian mint, praew leaf, and many more.  It is not related to coriander at all, it is not related to the mint family, but it is eaten in Vietnam and is often used in laksa.
Vietnamese Coriander - growing as an emergent plant
I first saw this herb at a training day (I swapped it for some perennial leeks), the lady tore off a small cutting for me, then said something about it not surviving until I got home as it was the middle of summer and the course still had a few hours to go.  I put the little cutting in my pocket and when I got home it was bruised, limp and looked dead, so I put it in a cup of water in the shade.  It looked very dead to begin with but it grew roots within a few days and I have had it ever since.
Vietnamese Coriander rooted cutting
How to grow Vietnamese Coriander
I thought Vietnamese coriander was always grown as an emergent plant with its roots and stems under water and its leaves always sticking out of the water.  I have grown it this way for a few years and it has done rather well for me.  Recently I have seen it for sale with other terrestrial herbs, not sitting in a tray of water, but having a tag that says to water it well and not allow it to dry out at all.  I guess it is more versatile and hardy than I realised.

Honestly, I think growing it as an emergent is far more simple than trying to keep it well watered.  I grow this herb in the same way that I grow Chinese water chestnuts or duck potatoes or water cress, sometimes I even grow them together in the same bucket.  A bucket or something similar with soil a few inches from the top, filled with water is easy to set up and maintain, as is submerging a pot of soil in a bucket of water.  Each day when watering the rest of the vegetables you simply top up the water in the bucket.  If the water does dry off, the soil remains damp enough for your plant.  If there are mosquito issues either put in some small fish (research which ones to use first and always stay clear of Gambusia) or simply let it dry out once a week.  The soil needs to remain moist for this plant to flourish, but if there is no free water on top of the soil the mosquito larvae die or are eaten by ants pretty fast.  Doing this weekly will ensure that the mosquito do not have time to hatch, pupate and metamorphose into adults.  Not watering once a week is simple enough to do, or to not do as the case may be.

When growing in a bucket of soil and water the waterlogged soil tends to prevent any serious weed growth as few weeds can handle long periods of submerged roots.  The presence of open water tends to encourage frogs, superb fairy wrens and other tiny insectivorous animals which are beneficial for your garden.

Other than never letting this plant get dry, don’t let it run out of space or nutrients.  It will grow very fast, but if it runs out of space to grow or uses all the available nutrients it will stop growing completely.  The plant will not die, but if it is not growing then it is not supplying you with leaves so there is no point having it.  I have taken cuttings of this and put it in a glass of water, the cutting grows roots very fast, but then growth stops and it does nothing, absolutely nothing, for months.  This is because it needs nutrients, plant it in the soil and let it do its thing.  A similar thing happens when grown in a small pot of soil, it rapidly grows to fill the space it has been given, then it stops growing completely.  Cutting it back hard does not encourage a new flush of growth, only feeding it seems to make a difference.  This is as simple as tipping a little poultry manure into the bucket.

Vietnamese coriander does not like frost and very cold weather will significantly slow its growth.  As long as you keep a little of this plant out of the frost it will survive to regrow for you when the weather warms.  It is even possible to keep a cutting alive in a glass of water over winter if needed.  Try to keep in mind that in a glass of water this cutting will quickly look bad, stop growing, and the leaves may turn red and the leaves may go bitter, or the leaves may even drop off if it is too cold.  I know someone in Orange NSW who put bubble wrap over her plant to keep it alive over winter.  Any part that gets hit by frost will die off, but if any of the plant is alive it will regrow fast enough in warmer weather.
Vietnamese Coriander cutting starting to grow in water
Vietnamese Coriander growing in soil and water in a milk bottle
How to propagate Vietnamese coriander
I am told that Vietnamese coriander will not flower outside of the tropics due to daylight sensitivity issues as well as strict temperature/humidity requirements.  This is not the case at all.  I have had Vietnamese coriander flower for me and I have never lived in or anywhere near the tropics.  The flowers are small, uninteresting and white.

I don’t know if it needs a second clone for pollination due to self-incompatibility issues, or if the seeds need special conditions or mycorrhizae in order to grow, or if it can even produce viable seeds.  All I know is that it sometimes flowers for me but I have never obtained any Vietnamese coriander seeds.

Vietnamese Coriander Flowers
Vietnamese coriander is very easy to propagate from cuttings, one of the easiest I have ever grown.  Roots will grow quickly from any node that is under water, as long as at least one node is under water then it will grow roots.  Roots will only grow from a node, unlike herbs such as basil the roots will not grow from the stem.

I normally cut a section off the plant, remove the leaves from the lower few nodes, and then place it in water with the remaining leaves in the air and the leafless nodes under the water.  I normally remove leaves from several nodes as I am using them in my dinner, the parent plant you cut pieces off should regrow as long as you leave it with at least one node that has leaves.  If you do not remove the leaves from your cutting it will still grow roots quickly, but you run the risk that the leaves may possibly rot.

I have even seen Vietnamese coriander grown underwater in an aquarium once.  Short term this will work well and the plant will grow roots from every node, but I think that longer term this plant needs its leaves out of the water.  I really should experiment with this and see what it is capable of.  I would be hesitant to grow it using aquaponics in fear that it would take over and clog things pretty quickly.

Vietnamese Coriander Flowering
What does Vietnamese coriander taste like
I don’t know how to describe how things taste but I am rather fond of this one.  Some people say it smells much like coriander, some think it smells nothing like coriander, I think it does smell a bit like coriander.  Some people claim it smells like mint, I don’t see how anyone could ever think it smells even slightly minty and the word ‘mint’ in one of its common names probably refers to the aggressive growth.  Some say it is warm and peppery, others say citrusy, others disagree completely.  The internet says Vietnamese coriander has a  “lovely coriander taste with a clear citrus note; refreshing with a hot, biting, peppery after taste” which I think is a reasonably accurate description.

Vietnamese coriander is used in many dishes, as one of the common names suggests it is rather popular in laksa.  I like to put some leaves in my bowl and then pour in hot chicken soup.  The heat from the soup is enough to cook this herb and make it soft.  I think overcooking would make it lose much of its taste.  It goes well with chicken and I am told that it combines well with lime, chillies, garlic, ginger and lemon grass.

I don’t eat this herb raw myself as I find it slightly bitter, but have been told that it works well raw chopped into salads.  I really should try this one day and see if I like it.

Unlike coriander which some people love and others have a broken gene which makes it smell soapy to them, Vietnamese coriander does not appear to elicit the same extreme response from people.  That being said, this herb is not for everyone.  I really like the taste and smell of Vietnamese coriander, my wife dislikes it, some of my kids like it and the others are indifferent to it.
Vietnamese Coriander - more sunlight makes the purple more pronounced
Where to buy Vietnamese coriander in Australia
Some online places sell Vietnamese coriander, and some nurseries ocasionally stock it, but prices vary quite a lot and it is usually far more expensive than it should be.  The best thing about this plant is that it is perennial so you plant once and harvest forever.  I sell Vietnamese coriander plants or rooted cuttings, if it is available it can be found on my for sale page.
Vietnamese Coriander Rooting Cuttings ready to plant

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Pineberries, Strasberries and Bubbleberries

I have grown plenty of different strawberries over the years.  I have grown some from seeds, others from runners, others from divisions.  Most strawberries available to home growers are complex hybrids of various species of strawberry, most are hybrids of species from different continents.  I grow a lot of these complex hybrids, I also have a few wild species that I am growing from seed, but they will have to wait for another blog post. Strawberries are perennial plants, if the right variety is grown under the right conditions they can be extremely productive.

This year, among other things, I grew pineberries, strasberries, bubbleberries and Sweetie (which was sold by the Nellie Kelly brand).  Strangely there is little information on the internet from anyone who has grown them, so I thought I should write a post about them.
Left to Right, Bubbleberry, Pineberry, Sweetie
Pineberry Strawberry
The pineberry is a white fruited strawberry, it will NOT grow true from seed so if you want them you must grown them from plants.  Many thieves on ebay have made a lot of money from selling pineberry seeds.  Please never buy pineberry seeds or anything from someone who has pineberry seeds for sale.
 
Pineberry is not GM, it is NOT terribly new, it is NOT a cross between a strawberry and a pineapple or  anything else.  Pineberries are NOT albino plants, if they were the leaves would be white or yellow and the plant would not survive very long as it could not photosynthesise.

The pineberry is said to be a hybrid of two species of strawberry, the South American Fragaria chiloensis, and the North American Fragaria virginiana but they may also have other species in their heritage or even back crossing.  From what I understand they have been around for a very long time but have only recently become more readily available to home gardeners.

My pineberry plants are all female, they require another variety of strawberry growing near by for proper pollination.  Being pollinated by another plant does not change the taste or shape or colour of the strawberry, but if you grow the seeds they will not be pineberries.  The pineberry flowers have white petals.

My pineberry plants happily grow runners so can easily be allowed to cover an area with new plants.  I like strawberries that produce runners as it means it is simple to increase my stock quickly with little effort from me.  I can use them as edible ground covers.  It also means that if a few die, then it is no great loss.

Our pineberries grew small strawberries, being so small I expected them to be super sweet, but they were not.  The pineberry strawberries were white when unripe and ripened a light pink with red achenes.  Pineberry is said to taste like a mix of pineapple and strawberry.  I can understand this, they did almost taste a bit pineapple like, I guess.  They were reasonably sweet, I guess, but we have other strawberries that are far sweeter.  I found them a bit sour but they do have a depth and complexity of taste.  I don't dislike them, they were a bit sour and they may taste slightly different later in the season.
Pineberry Strawberry
Strasberry Strawberry
Strasberry strawberries are another hybrid of various strawberry species, these were developed in 1925.  They, just like the pineberry, are not GM, they are not a cross between strawberries and raspberries or any other nonsense like this.

My strasberries also only produce female flowers so require a pollinator to set fruit.  My plants all had flowers with white petals.  The strawberries were very small and dark red with the achenes set deeply in each strawberry.  They were not overly productive, but the plants are young and the season is early so things may change as the plants mature.

My strasberry plants set runners, but less so than the pineberries.  Again, if the seeds are planted they will grow into a mix of strawberries none of which will be a strasberry.  I forgot to take any pictures of strasberries, we ate them before I thought about it and then they stopped floweringnext time they produce fruit I should try to remember to take some pictures.

Strasberries are said to taste like raspberries, I guess if I wish really hard while I am eating one I can kind of almost pretend to taste this.  They taste ok, far better than the garbage I can buy from a shop, but I prefer the taste of regular garden strawberries.
Left to Right: Bubbleberry, Pineberry, Sweetie, Sweetie, un-named red pollinator

Bubbleberry Strawberry 
Bubbleberry strawberries, like most garden strawberries are most likely another hybrid of various strawberries.  There is also a chance that they are a strain of the European Fragaria moschata.  I have seen different sources claim both.  To be honest, I don't know.

Bubbleberry strawberries, just like every other strawberry plant that the home gardener will have access to, is not GM.  The bubbleberry strawberry is another extremely old variety that has recently become more available (and gained a more marketable name).  The bubbleberry strawberry has been around since at least the 16th century.

Bubbleberry  strawberries grow runners, but mine have not produced many yet.  It has complete flowers so can be used as a pollinator for pineberry and strasberry.

Bubbleberry is said to taste a bit like bubblegum, and others say it tastes of mixed soft fruit. One internet site said bubbleberry "is the strawberry with the strongest flavour and most mouth-watering aroma in the world.".  Mine taste like a great tasting strawberry which has a good mix of sweet and sour.  They are not the strongest tasting and most amazing strawberry I have eaten, but they are pretty close.  Mine also taste nothing like bubblegum, and I am very glad about that.

Bubbleberry Strawberry

Nellie Kelly 'Sweetie' strawberries
Sweetie strawberries do not produce runners, which some people like.  As a backyard gardener I find the runnerless trait to be undesirable, I want plants that throw runners everywhere to increase my patch and out compete weeds and I can grow them in difficult places as edible ground covers.  Sweetie strawberries are a variety of common garden strawberry called Fragaria x ananassa.  Being runnerless they are likely to have alpine strawberry in their heritage.  Without genetic testing we will probably never know.

These 'sweetie' strawberries flower well and are very strong plants.  I should be able to take a spade and divide my plant into many plants when the weather is cooler.

Sweetie strawberries are a reasonable size berry and taste great.  Some of the sweetie strawberries are odd shaped, but most are pretty regular.  They are sweet, as per their name, and they have a nice strawberry taste to them.  They also seem to outproduce pineberry, strasberry and bubbleberry but that may be because all the plants are new and things could change as they become more established. I prefer the taste of Bubbleberry strawberries to sweetie strawberries.
'Sweetie' Strawberry second from left and second from right

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Albino corn, beautiful but useless

Albino Corn - beautiful but useless
Look how pretty my albino corn plants are!  They look amazing.  It is too bad that they have to die. 
Albino corn seedling, such a pretty little plant
I planted sweet corn seed this year from seed that I have saved, I had great germination rates.  Sweet corn seeds, according to the internet, generally has around 75% germination, super sweet generally has far lower than that.  Mine has always germinate well above that, even several year old seeds tend to germinate better than that.

This year, I have had some albino corn seedlings emerge.  If you take those out as they will not survive (and also do not include the several partly albino plants that possibly would survive but I have culled as they are weaker) I had over 87% germination this year.  Not too shabby.

Albino sweet corn seedling

Why albino plants die
It is possible to keep these albino plants alive for a while, it is even possible to grow them long enough for them to mature and produce seeds, but it is not worth the effort.

I could grow them in tissue culture, I could feed sugars through the leaves every other day, but without me they would die fast.  Albino plants can not produce chlorophyll, non-parasitic plants need chlorophyll to produce energy from the sun, without chlorophyll they die.  If they are not green (and are not grafted or parasitic) then they can not survive without a lot of effort from me.

On top of issues with not being able to photosynthesize, albino plants also tend to burn in the sun.  The chlorophyll in the leaves help to protect them from the sun.  Some variegated plants do not cope in full sunlight for this reason.  Variegated plants also tend to be weaker due to the reduced amount of photosynthesis that each leaf can perform.

Albino Corn
What causes albinism in plants
Albino plants can be caused by several things.  It can be environmental, various poisons can cause high rates of albinism in plants.  If this is the case you generally see a lot of albino plants germinate close together.  This is not the case here.  More commonly albinism is genetic, it can either be through a random mutation or the albino genes can be in high concentration in the population.  Often older seeds have a higher percentage of albino as the genetic material has degraded slightly.  Sometimes, if seed is stored incorrectly it can suffer genetic degradation.  Wide crosses, such as interspecific crosses tend to increase the number of albino seedlings as can anther culture and double haploids and a few other things.

I have seen albino corn in the past, but never from this variety, so I am hoping that the gene is not present in the population in high amounts.

I have heard various wild and unsubstantiated claims about one of the initial parents of this variety.  I never took much notice of them until now.  I had been told that one of the parents, a landrace corn, was often crossed with some of the wild teosinte (most likely Zea mexicanicana or possibly Zea parviglumis) to increase its vigor.  If that is true, there is a wide cross which may have caused albinism in this variety.

Albino corn seedlings, partly albino corn seedlings, and normal green corn seedlings
If this is not from random mutation is it possible to remove albino genes from this population?
I am wondering, if albinism is present in this variety, is it even possible to remove the gene?  Being a recessive gene, and considering how corn pollinates, unfortunately I don't think so.  People have been culling black sheep for centuries, yet they still turn up every now and again.

According to the University of Oregon's photosynthetic mutant library, one of over 600 genes could be broken, each with 3 to 4 mutant alleles.  Even if I knew which gene was broken I don't think I could remove it from the population.

Considering that I have grown this variety of corn for years and this is the first time I have seen albino corn seedlings I don't think I will have too many problems.  I had a few partly albino plants which could have survived, and removed them so their genes would not be passed on.  I cull pretty hard.  I have also asked a few people I sent seeds to if they had any albino corn and none of them did, so hopefully I won't see much of this in the future.

Where to get albino corn
Some laboratory supply places overseas sell albino corn seed, it is usually F2 cross with green corn to show basic dominant/recessive traits.  I am not sure if anywhere in Australia sells them and it is not possible to import corn seed.  To be honest, I don't see why anyone would really want albino corn seedlings, other non-lethal traits can be used just as easily to show inheritance patterns.