Saturday, 3 December 2016

Comfrey - the "Emperor's New Clothes" of plants


Remember the story by Hans Christian Anderson about the two weavers who promise to make the Emperor a set of clothes that is exquisite to intelligent people but invisible to anyone who is stupid or ignorant.  The Emperor and pretty much everyone claimed that they could see this amazing garment, all the while the Emperor paraded around in nothing but his under garments.  Well, comfrey is to farmers what these invisible clothes were to the Emperor.

I know I am going to get frowned upon by many permaculturists, but it has to be said, comfrey just isn't all that great.  There is a lot of hype about comfrey, I have heard glowing reports of it my entire life.  I have grown comfrey on and off in many different situations for many different reasons for most of my life.  I have spoken to a bunch of other people who have grown it and they have all experienced similar things to myself.  I have also done some research on comfrey to see how well it actually stacks up.  

Lets begin by looking at some of the claims about the benefits of this plant to a permaculture or biodynamic garden and I will try to briefly explain my experiences.
Comfrey struggling in the heat and about to be over run by grass
11 amazing reasons why people grow comfrey, but probably shouldn't

Wonderful mulch material – while it is true that comfrey makes an acceptable mulch there are many better alternatives for mulch than comfrey.  Many plants produce more mulch material which is just as high if not higher in nutrients, but is easier to handle.  Some break down faster, others slower, but none of them have the irritating hairs that comfrey has on its leaves.  I dislike those hairs, they are the main reason I decided to try and see if any other plants could be used instead of comfrey.

Compost activator and general ingredient – again, far better alternatives exist both in terms of bulk as well as the ‘compost activator’ status.  Where I used to live comfrey does not produce much bulk at all even when watered, it was simply too dry and hot for comfrey to cope.  I have seen comfrey grow on the south coast where the climate is mild and lovely, again it did not produce very much bulk.  As far as compost activation goes I am hard pressed to find anything that works as well as dandelions.

Mineral and micro nutrient accumulator and fertilizer – very little research has been done on this unfortunately and the research that has been done indicates that comfrey is actually terribly bad at this task.  I have a feeling that dandelion is better at this than comfrey as it has higher levels of most nutrients.  Plants such as horseradish, sorrel and turnip all have me wondering if they are better at this than comfrey as they all have deep roots and grow so fast but I have found no unbiased data to confirm or deny this hunch.

Deep roots help break up compacted soil – comfrey has deep roots, but from a lot of experience I can honestly say that these roots have never broken up compacted soil effectively or efficiently in any of the gardens in which I have grown it.  Other plants such as horseradish, dandelion, sorrel, daikon, turnip all can have extremely long roots and lack the irritating hairs of comfrey.  I think this whole “breaks compacted soil” thing can be better attributed to improving the soil biota than deep roots.  All of the other plants listed increase soil biota and appear to decrease soil compaction in my garden far better than comfrey.

Comfrey tea as a foliar fertilizer – I do honestly wonder if sorrel would be better at this, but I have never heard of anyone doing a trial of the two to see which is better.  Sorrel, dandelion, horseradish and turnip all contain high levels of nutrients, have deep tap roots, accumulate minerals from subsoil, produce copious amounts of green material etc so could potentially be used for this purpose.  It would be nice if one of those permaculture research places put some effort into confirming or denying some of this.  Unfortunately they appear to be too taken with confrey's hype to look further into it.

Livestock feed – in my experience very few animals will eat comfrey unless it has been wilted and none of them will touch it if it has been over wilted.  I don’t want a plant like this where I have such a fine line to walk, I have to do extra work to wilt it but if I wilt too much the animals may not even touch the stuff.  Our chickens, guineafowl, sheep, alpacas, cattle, and guinea pigs were all extremely reluctant to ever eat comfrey unless they had nothing else green to eat.  That's right, I have tried to feed it to many different animals many times.  Occasionally muscovy ducks would eat the comfrey plants to the ground, then they will not touch it again for months.  People often go on and on about how great an animal feed comfrey is, and on paper it sounds remarkable, but if I can not convince the animals to actually ingest it then it is pretty useless for this purpose.  If I was making pelleted feed I assume that comfrey would be a good ingredient, but I don't make pellets, I feed plants as they are.

Slug trap – surely there are better ways to control slugs than attracting them to live under leaves with irritating hairs.  I have only tried to collect the slugs under comfrey once, after getting covered by these hairs I decided to run the ducks in the yard instead.

Water cleanser (when growing in standing water) – comfrey is poorly suited to this as far as I can tell.  I have tried it twice and it has failed miserably both times as the plants rotted and died fast.  Many other plants are far better suited to this purpose.  Duck weed, azolla, QLD arrowroot, water chestnuts, duck potato, water cress, water celery, Vietnamese coriander and many others seem to out perform comfrey in this task.

Poultices and other medicinal uses – assuming that it works (which I think it does) and assuming it is safe then comfrey is reputedly great for these purposes, I am yet to find any substitutable plant.  This is actually the only reason why I would consider to grow comfrey again.

Nutrient trap at the bottom of a slope – comfrey is probably good for this if it is not too dry or too wet, but then I have to cut and carry the leaves which irritate my skin.  Many other plants are far better suited to this, QLD arrowroot is rather tall and is often used for this purpose, I can cut it easily, carry it easily, use it as mulch or compost and my animals actually ate it.  Sorrel out grew comfrey on my old property, lacks the irritating hairs, tastes nice, is hardier with heat/cold/dry/wet, and is actively growing all year, so I much prefer sorrel.

Grass barrier – I am yet to see this actually work with any plant, anywhere, ever.  Many people love to make this claim with comfrey and a few other plants but I will believe it when I see it.  I have seen running grasses such as kikuyu easily cross a large established comfrey barrier on a few different properties, they didn’t appear to even slow down at all.  Most of the time I try to weed comfrey to give it an advantage, yet it still fails at this task.  That being said I do not know any other plant that achieves this purpose better, perhaps the concept of a plant used as a grass barrier is a pipe dream?

Comfrey patch not really thriving despite being watered each day
After growing several varieties of comfrey (including the famous and well hyped Bocking 14) and have it never live up to its reputation so many times over so many years in several different climates, and seeing that there are better alternatives for almost every use, I have started to wonder why people grow the stuff.  The only reasons I can come up with are they grow it due to wishful thinking (similar to a placebo effect) or for some nostalgic reason.  I used to grow it for the medicinal qualities but did not bring any with us when we moved to town and don't plan to get any more now that I have moved again and settled.

I find that comfrey dies off completely during dry years if not watered, not just dies down but needs to be replaced as it does not return the following years.  Perhaps in climates less dry this is not the case, but I have lost most of my clumps the last two years of living at our property due to not watering them enough.  That's right, I watered them, just not enough water to keep them alive.  I also find that if it is too wet for too long it tends to rot and again die off completely and need replacement.  
Sorrel surviving the heat better than comfrey
In my property there were several established clumps of comfrey which I divided when we moved there.  Most of those died off completely in the few years we lived there and I tried to plant comfrey in places where they were more sheltered and easier to water.  I also had a small clump which appeared to be a slightly different type that a friend gave us, I had to nurture this each year otherwise I fear it would also die off completely just like the established clumps that were already there did.

Comfrey research
As well as the anecdotal evidence above (ie years of personal experience in several different climates) I have also done a little research on comfrey to compare it to turnip.  As you can see, turnips were much more consistent than comfrey.  While better results for comfrey were obtained in ideal conditions, worse results were obtained for comfrey in less than perfect conditions.  I have to note that my property does not have ideal conditions.  I need plants that perform well for me consistently under harsh conditions.


Use as a dietary supplements for people 
According to the research 85g of dried turnip leaves, in comparison to 567g of dried comfrey, supply adults with the total daily requirement of all essential amino acids, except for methionine.  That is a huge difference!  Eating half a kilogram of dried comfrey is possibly going to be bad for you due to the amount of pyrrolizidine alkaloids you would also be consuming.

Protein
Turnip - above-ground parts normally contain 20 to 25% crude protein, 65 to 80% in vitro digestible dry matter, about 20% neutral detergent fiber and about 23% acid detergent fiber . The roots contain 10 to 14% crude protein and 80 to 85%
in vitro digestible dry matter.
 
Comfrey – above ground parts contain 13 to 31% protein.  Comfrey was found in one study to be high in crude protein (21 to 31%), which increased from the first to last harvest. Research trials conducted by USDA scientists found crude protein contents only ranged from 13 to 17% for comfrey.
 

As far as protein goes I would choose turnips as they have consistently high protein.  Comfrey may have higher protein at some stages, but how am I as a home gardener *without access to a food lab) to determine when that is?

Yield
Turnip - 3 to 4 tons of dry matter/acre when harvested or grazed about 90 days after planting. Up to 1,000 grazing days/acre for 900 lb steers and 2,300 grazing days/acre for 90 lb lambs.  These are pretty decent statistics.

Comfrey – extremely variable 1.7 to 10.7 tons of dry matter/acre depending on the country tested.


As far as yield goes I would again choose turnips.  Comfrey can out perform turnips in specific situations but it performs poorly here.  I want to grow something that provides reasonable yields even under adverse conditions in bad years, not just when it is pampered or if I happen to grow it in its perfect climate.


Negatives of each plant
 
Turnip - The high levels of glucosinolates (which can cause thyroid enlargement in young growing sheep and cattle) can be a problem if turnip forage is fed for long enough.  Glucosinolates are higher in older forage compared to younger forage.  Slashing it seems to bring on a flush of new growth which makes it simple to avoid this problem.
 

Livestock should not feed on turnip during the breeding season or after the plants have begun to flower. Nitrate nitrogen toxicity can be a problem, especially if ruminants are allowed to graze on immature crops or if soil nitrogen levels are high.  The risk may remain for a longer period of time in autumn than in summer. Dairy cows should not be fed more than 50 lb turnip/head/day and should not be milked immediately after feeding on turnip to avoid milk tainting.  Cattle have reportedly choked on large turnips when fed the whole plant.


Turnip is also not perennial, so there is the added hassle of growing from seed time and time again.

Comfrey Extremely low palatability, irritating hairs which I hate, potential health risks due to pyrrolizidine alkaloids if consumed in large quantity or over a long period of time (although I think that the actual risk of this is very low).  The leaves die off over winter, wet soil seems to rot and kill the plant, and the plant does NOT like hot dry weather.


Should you grow comfrey
Sure, go for it, you have little to lose by trying.  You may be in its perfect climate and it may produce well for you.  Just don't be surprised if it happens to fall short of the hype.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Trinidad Scorpion Butch T Chilli

This year I am growing a few different varieties of chilli, ranging from sweet and mild to extremely and pointlessly hot, I am growing a mix of both remarkably rare and the extremely common.

I plan to isolate them all with bags and save seed.  I have some super rare varieties that were collected in remote villages and the like, very exciting.  The hottest variety of chilli that I am growing is Trinidad Scorpion Butch T (Capsicum chinese). This is a remarkable variety that I thought was worthy of a blog post, I will have to find the pictures of its fruit and add them to this post later.

A few years ago I heard of Trinidad Scorpion Butch T chilli.  At the time they were the world record hottest chilli with 1,463,700 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).  To put that in perspective, capsicum are 0 SHU, jalapeno chilli are under 10,000 SHU, tobasco chilli are under 50,000 SHU and a very hot habanero or a birds eye chilli are under 350,000 SHU.

At just shy of 1.5 million SHU the Trinidad Scorpion Butch T sounded like fun to grow with the kids!

At the time the seeds were ridiculously expensive, I bought a few from a reputable seller.  There are so many dodgy thieves on ebay and the like and I was scared to pay so much and not get the real deal.  I didn't want to waste a year growing something else so spent more than I would have liked to be sure of getting the real thing.

They were not particularly difficult to germinate but, like any other chilli, they grew very slowly.  The plants were nothing spectacular to look at but had no issues with pests or diseases.  I grew them in a pot that was far too small and it was late in the season so I did not repot them or plant them in the soil as I was hoping to overwinter the plants.

That first year, even being planted late in the season, the plants flowered and produced one pod.  There were a few more but the cold weather made them abort.  That single lonely fruit was ripening slowly due to cool weather, I was very excited to try it, then one day it was gone!  I found parts of it ripped up and put in pots of other plants.  As far as we can gather one of the kids took this chilli, bit it, decided that it was not good to eat so tore it up, and then hid the evidence.

I wanted to eat it but didn't want to risk it as I didn't know where it had been or what had happened to it.  I tried dabbing a bit on my tongue and it was massively hot, hotter than anything I had ever eaten.  Considering that I only dabbed it on my tongue and did not actually eat any, that was a bit amazing.  I rubbed a little on my arm and felt the heat through my skin.

I was a bit disappointed that I did not get to eat any that year.  I have heard that they taste great, to quote the internet, Trinidad scorpion Butch t chilli tastes "refreshingly unique and stands out whereas most super hot chilli’s lack considerable flavor".  They sound delightful.  As I missed out on trying them I really wanted to overwinter and give them a try the following year.
Trinidad Scorpion Butch T after being overwintered

Overwintering Trinidad Scorpion Butch T chilli plants

That winter I over wintered my plants and had plans of repotting them in warmer weather.  Chilli are perennial vegetables and often produce poorly in their first year and a lot more in subsequent years.  Even highly productive varieties tend to produce even better in their second year.  People keep telling me that it is not possible to over winter chilli plants in frosty areas, fortunately they are wrong and it is simple to do.

If protected from frost chilli plants generally over winter well.  In my limited experience they do not suffer from chill injury, only freezing injury, so if you can keep the frost off they should be ok.  They will lose their leaves and look dreadful, but they generally survive if you keep the temperatures above freezing.  I have heard that they don't always survive no matter what you do, but the percentage is pretty high as I am yet to lose any.

My Trinidad Scorpion Butch T chilli plants overwintered nicely and grew like crazy in spring.  They flowered while my seed grown chilli were only an inch tall.  Much like overwintered tomato plants, overwintering chillli plants gets a crop a lot sooner than seed grown plants.

Due to health issues we sold our property and moved to town bringing the Trinidad scorpion butch t plants in their little pot.  As luck would have it I was offered a job somewhere else and had to move again, leaving my poor chilli plants overcrowded in that original pot but bringing them with us.

The plants flowered well, but in the move etc lost most of the fruit.  I ended up with about 3 good looking pods all ripening at different times.  The first one may not have been fully ripe when I picked it.
Trinidad Scorpion Butch T mid winter

What do I think Trinidad Scorpion Butch T taste like?

The Trinidad scorpion Butch T pods smell amazing!  Extremely fruity, if they had no heat they would do well in a salad.  I have heard of Trinidad Perfume which is meant to be similar with low heat.  Perhaps one year I should grow one of them.

I have heard that Trinidad scorpion Butch T chilli are agonisingly hot, I have heard that they are so hot that at first you fear you will die, then you fear that you won't.

A warning here: if you ever cut up and eat a Trinidad scorpion Butch t chilli make sure you are careful to wash your hands afterwards.  You don't want to rub your eye or go to the toilet with any residual capsaicin on your hands.

I am a bit of a chilli wuss, I am not terribly resistant to their heat, so their effect on me may not be normal.

At first the sweet and delicious taste hit me, it tasted a lot like it smelled, truly amazing.  It tasted, in those brief seconds prior to the heat coming through, like nothing I have ever tasted before.  If they had no heat I would gladly snack on these amazing delicious beauties.  Then the heat hit.

I have never eaten anything so hot in my life.  It hurt more than I have ever been hurt and burned more than I have ever been burned.  It was extreme, it was paradigm shifting, it was an emotional life experience that is difficult to describe.  It was so incredibly hot that at one stage I think I may have been able to see through time.

The heat stuck around for what felt like a long time, then it gradually eased.  After that I wanted more so I ate a little more and the process started again.  It was a nasty cycle that was difficult to stop.

They are so hot that I can't imagine really using them in food.  I have added tiny parts to food to add heat, which it did very well, but being so dilute much of the smell and taste was lost.  Why would anyone have ever thought it wise to breed such an extremely hot chilli?  Probably for the same reason that I plan to grow them again and eat them again.  I wish I could buy these stupid things, now I have tried one I want more!

I overwintered the plants again.  They have survived a few nights with temperatures of -5 but protected from the worst of the frost so have survived.  They have since been planted into the garden and have small flower buds on them.  I dare say that this will be their final year as I may not remember to dig them up in Autumn before they are killed by frost.  If I remember I will try to overwinter them again.


Other people's reactions to Trinidad scorpion Butch t chilli

I decided to ask some people if they wanted to try Trinidad scorpion Butch t chilli explaining that recently they were (but no longer are) the world record holder for heat.  I had a few takers and they all had similar and interesting reactions.

One young bloke was a self professed chilli head so I asked if he wanted to try some.  No chilli is too hot for him, he will eat any chilli and has never broken a sweat, he is so brave etc etc etc.  Perfect!  He had been warned, everything was disclosed, and he decided to try this anyway.

At first he smelled the chilli and commented on how fruity and delightfully floral it was.  They really do smell amazing.

He then cut off the tiniest piece imaginable, smaller than a match head, and tried it.  I tried a larger piece and I am a chilli wuss.  At first he commented on how this could not be the world record holder and that he had tried far hotter.  He was part way through another smug sentence when the heat hit him...  He was silent...  The heat hit him so hard, at the most perfect time, just when he was at the start of an arrogant rant.  He then left the room.

After he returned to the room, with sweat on his forehead and read teary eyes, he asked how long the heat would last.  I couldn't help but say I was surprised he felt any heat after eating such a tiny piece (sorry for being a jerk, I couldn't help myself).  I suggested he drink milk to take away the burn and he said he was drinking it.  Extremely funny!  Just like myself, the heat eventually subsided.  Unlike myself he refused to eat any more.

I offered some to a friend who was another self professed chilli head.  He had much the same reaction.  At first he loved the taste and the smell, then the heat hit.  Again the heat eventually went away, he was also not willing to try any more.


Where to get Trinidad scorpion Butch T chilli seeds

They seem to be reasonably common and available at most chilli seller websites, they tend to be very expensive and sell ridiculously small numbers of seed, but you will get what you paid for.  I would keep clear of ebay as they could sell you any chilli seed and you would not know until it is too late to do anything about it.  There are probably a few other places to buy them too.

I may save seeds this summer and sell them through my for sale page, but I did not isolate plants last summer so can not sell seeds yet as I am not sure if they have crossed or not.  If you are into pointlessly hot chilli, then this one is for you.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Skirret and leek companion planting

Skirret (Sium sisarum) is a rare perennial vegetable that has been grown and eaten by people for many hundreds of years.  Skirret is very simple to grow but is very rare as the roots tend to be a bit thin and it is in no way appropriate for mechanical harvest.  Strangely there is very little information on skirret and even less information on how it interacts with other plants.

I have grown skirret plants in pots for far too long, it should be growing in the soil.  Skirret grows ok in pots, but the lack of space is rather limiting, it needs more soil than I can give it.  This year I have planted it into the garden to see what it can really do.  I have high hopes that the skirret will return a larger crop in soil.

Earlier this year, around January 2016, one Babingtom leek bulbil fell into a pot that was growing skirret.  I decided to leave it there as I did not have time to get it out and then I kind of forgot about it.  The skirret was over crowded badly so I had low expectations for the leek, I kind of expected it to be choked out and die.  As I was moving house I did not have time to worry about it.

Now we have moved and I have garden space again so I planted all of my skirret in the garden.  As I removed it from the pot I noticed the Babington leek plant was still growing in that pot among the skirret plants.  Not only this, but this Babington leek is far larger, healthier and stronger than the others of the same age.

The stem is about 5 times as thick as the same aged Babington leeks that were grown in their own pot and were far less crowded.  The plant was a lot taller than the other Babington leeks of the same age, while the others are all about 10cm tall and thinking of going dormant for summer, this one from the skirret pot is about 25cm tall and was sending up a flower stalk.  Babington's leek rarely flowers in its first year when grown from bulbils.  Unfortunately I broke the flower stem when I was removing the skirret from the pot so can not see how many bulbils it would have produced.  This one Babington leek also had produced three tiny bulbs from its roots which again normally does not happen until the second year.  So even without flowering it has reproduced for me.

All in all this one plant was very impressive, it is far larger than any other of the first year plants but a bit smaller than most of the two year old plants.

In theory each Babington leek bulbil will be a genetic clone of the parent and exactly the same as each of its siblings.  So they should all grow more or less the same if they have the same growing conditions.  The only difference is that this one plant grew in a crowded pot filled with skirret.

I think perhaps the skirret exudes sugars or something from the roots that help leeks to grow.  I have planted a leek among the skirret bed to see if it grows larger and faster in there.  Maybe I have stumbled onto something good here?  Or maybe it was just good luck?  I will keep an eye on this and see what happens.

I sell both Babington leeks and Skirret, if you are interested please search for my for sale page in the 'Search This Blog' button on the top right hand corner of the blog.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Blue watermelon seeds do NOT exist


Blue fleshed watermelons look delicious and amazing and are for sale all over ebay for very little money with free postage.  Many of these listing have sold thousands of these seeds, are located locally in Australia, and have 100% positive reviews.  It is unfortunate that blue watermelons do NOT exist.

I wrote a post on blue and black strawberries and how ebay sellers get positive reviews, you can search for that post using the search function at the top right of this page.

Selling things that do not exist is illegal.  Ebay has reporting facilities, I know people who report these fraudulent seed listings to ebay every time they see them, but nothing ever happens.  Hopefully this post will help someone not get taken advantage of by criminals.

Watermelons come in a handful of different flesh colours including red, yellow, orange and white, some taste better than others.  Unfortunately there are a bunch of thieves out there who have decided to steal from people with photoshop images of red watermelons.

Blue Watermelon Seeds
Blue watermelons do NOT exist.  They look amazing in these pictures, but unfortunately it is a picture of a red watermelon that has been photo shopped.  There was even a well known hoax about 'Japanese Moon Watermelons'.  Don't be fooled by criminals, they do not exist.  Watermelons have never looked like this and unless there are massive leaps forward in GM technology watermelons will never look like this.  Do NOT buy seeds of blue watermelons.
Blue watermelons do NOT exist
Blue watermelon looks delicious but do NOT exist

Purple Watermelon Seeds
They look great don't they, it is too bad that they do NOT exist.  There are no varieties of purple fleshed watermelons.  Yellow, orange, white and red all exist, but not purple.  If you look closely you may notice that the purple wedge is the exact same photo (with a different colour) to the blue watermelon wedge.  Do NOT buy seeds for purple watermelons.
Purple watermelons look great, but do NOT exist
Purple watermelons do NOT exist, I dare say they are selling all red watermelon seeds

Green Watermelon Weeds
Green fleshed watermelon do NOT exist.  It seems reasonably that they may exist as we have other green fleshed melons such as honey dew.  Unfortunately there are no green when ripe watermelons.  Do NOT buy seeds of green watermelons.

Green fleshed watermelon does NOT exist


Mixed coloured watermelon seeds
Any time you see pictures like this where they have a mix of different seeds and they include anything that does not exist, do NOT buy from them.  While white watermelons and the orange/yellow ones do exist why would you think they will send them to you?  If the seller is happy to lie about the others existing to get a sale why would they not simply just send you seed of red watermelons from a supermarket?  Do NOT buy seeds from someone if anything they list does not exist.
Blue and Green do not exist

Square Watermelon Seeds
Wow, where do I even begin... Square watermelons do kind of exist, if you go to Japan you will see them for sale in the markets.  But watermelons don't grow square without intervention.  Let me explain briefly.

As the tiny fruit grows you can place a special box around it, as it grows the fruit will mold to that shape.  You can even buy molds that are heart shaped or shaped like faces or mice etc.  Feel free to buy watermelon seeds from someone who is not a thief and use these molds to create square watermelons, but do NOT fund these ebay thieves as it encourages them to steal from other people.  If you want seeds of an unknown variety of watermelon why not just buy a watermelon from the market and use its seeds?

Some thieves are outright claiming that they are selling "square watermelon" seeds.  Others, like the one below, are implying that you will grow square watermelons but are not explicitly saying it in the ad.  Nowhere in their ad do they say that the watermelon will grow round unless molded properly.  At no point in the ad do they mention molds or where to buy them.  It is still theft as they are intentionally misleading people, it is still just as immoral and just as illegal.

If you are the criminal responsible for this ad, feel free to write a comment below and try to justify your deception.

They may have free postage and be based in Australia but that doesn't mean they are not thieves.  Let's face it, even people in Australia lock their door when they leave the house.  Who would have thought, we have thieves in Australia too!  Do NOT buy seeds of square watermelons.
Our friendly Australian thieves are implying their seeds will grow square fruit
Watermelon molds, pretty cool

Tiny Watermelons
This is another half truth designed to trick people and steal their money.  The picture in the hand is not of a watermelon but instead is Melothria scabra.  It is commonly called 'Mexican Sour Gherkin' or 'mouse melon' or 'cucamelon'.  They are green inside and taste nothing like a watermelon.

The picture inset on the lower right is of a large watermelon cut open.  They are implying that if you cut open the Melothria scabra that it will look like a watermelon.  Who knows what seeds you will get sent if you were to send money to these ebay thieves.

While you can buy seeds of Melothria scabra please only do so from a genuine seller and not from someone dodgy like this and try to avoid buying seeds from ebay ever.  Do NOT buy seeds of mini watermelons.
The fruit in the hand is a Melothria scabra, they are NOT red inside

These mini melons are no more real than these kiwifruit kiwi birds (no you can NOT buy seeds of them)
Multi coloured watermelons
Multi coloured watermelons do NOT exist.  Please don't waste your money by buying anything from anyone who tries to sell you such things.


Buyer Beware
Do NOT fund these criminals and encourage them to steal from other people.  Do NOT buy from them and hope to get something good with the ridiculous notion that you will at least get watermelon seeds.  These ebay thieves will send you watermelon seed, and they will likely grow,  but they will all be red fleshed.  This kind of thing is legally known as theft by deception.

If you want un-named watermelon seeds for cheap go to the market, buy a watermelon, and sow those seeds.  That way you will get cheap seeds and be able to eat the watermelon.

There are other fake watermelon seeds for sale on ebay.  Just because I have not listed the fake colour does not mean I am implying that it does exist.  Please research anything you buy BEFORE you give anyone your money.

The picture below shows a decent representation of the different colours that watermelons come in.  Feel free to buy these colours, but please try not to buy them from Ebay if you can find them somewhere else.  If people can sell things on ebay that don't exist, they can also sell things that do exist that they don't actually have.
Watermelons, all of these colours DO exist
Stock images on ebay
If you see seeds for sale on ebay that uses stock images, do NOT buy from them.

Perhaps, like the above examples, the thing that they are selling does not even exist.  There are literally dozens of different fake seeds for sale on ebay, many use stock images, very few bother to manipulate the image themselves.  I heard a story of one person who bought fake seed in bulk and were on-selling it.  They probably meant no harm, but the fact that they used a stock image should have warned buyers to keep clear.

If they are using a stock image there is a chance they have bought actual seeds in bulk of something they have never grown and are on-selling that.  You should not be funding these people either.  Even if they are selling real seeds, the fact that they have not grown them means that you do not want to be funding them.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

First Tomato variety


When I was a child I started to grow vegetables and save their seeds.  I had no one to teach me, or at least everything I was told back then was wrong, I had no resource books, and as far as I knew the internet did not exist.  Saving seeds was far cheaper than buying seedlings which is why I started to do it.  Saving seed is also very simple, if a child with no help can work out how to save seeds it can't be that tricky.

Many vegetables that I had access to were not suited to my climate.  Some such as the 'Apollo' tomato were utter garbage and I am yet to grow a worse tomato.  For some reason back then apollo was one of the very few tomato seedlings that was available to buy.  I don't believe that anywhere sells it anymore, they now have 'apollo improved' which I have no intention of ever growing.

I always applied selective pressure on any seeds I saved, when I was about 10 or 11 I began to dabble in vegetable breeding as I needed shorter season, higher yielding plants.  I could not afford to buy plants and have them killed by frost before providing a good crop.  Let's face it, I could not do any worse than apollo. 

I only had a rudimentary grasp on genetics and I did not know of anyone who had ever done such a thing as breed vegetables.  Even though I had limited access to a very small and largely unknown gene pool I found it all very interesting. 

As I had never heard of anyone breeding new varieties of vegetables I assumed that I had either invented the entire concept or it was something the ancestors did but the knowledge of such was long since gone.  This was my gift to the world.  You may thank me for it.  

I took notes in a small note book which I kept for a few years, as I thought that this was cutting edge stuff I tried to keep good records but being a child and not knowing a great deal about genetics they were most likely garbage. That book also had notes I took on grafting various plants as well as different types of cuttings I was taking from carnivorous plants.  I was self taught and wanted notes to be able to share this knowledge with others.  Due to rats or water damage or whatever that book is long gone, it is no great loss.

In those early years I made an F1 tomato cross (from parent plants that I don't remember and may or may not have been un-named) that resulted in a reasonably small productive plant.  I can't remember if it was a dwarf or full sized plant but I do remember it being comparatively compact.  The plant gave an amazingly high yield of small sized tomatoes.  The plant cropped like crazy and I distinctly remember that I picked its last fruit the afternoon before our first frost.  The timing was a coincidence, but I thought the plant had timed this deliberately, and I was very grateful.  I had an extremely short season back then and this was the first to fruit and it fruited all season.  I saved its seeds as a way to thank that plant for feeding us so well. 

The next year I planted out the F2 seeds and some were great and others less so.  I didn't understand back then that the genes were segregating but it made sense that they were different from each other.  Back then, aged 11 or so, I did not know much about genetics but had the common sense to only save seed from the best plant.  I only saved seed from one plant to thank it for feeding us.  From memory it was the first to fruit and was much like the parent tomato plant, but I may be thinking of a later year in this little breeding project. 

For a few years, I can't remember how many, I saved seed from the best tomato plant to thank it for feeding us.  In doing so I developed and stabilised my very first tomato variety. 

As the summer was so short I was focused on early crops.  I started several different lines, I can't remember if they were originally from different crosses or not as it has been too long.  I don't think many kids back then would have created their own variety of anything by themselves. 

As the years went on I sometimes watched a tv show called Gardening Australia and the old bloke on the show explained about fermenting tomato seeds.  He seemed to know his stuff, and it was the closest thing I had to advice, so that is what I started to do with my tomato seeds from then on.

When I was finishing my year 12 exams I remember saving seeds from the tomatoes that I had created for the very last time.  I fermented the seeds, as I had learned to do from watching Gardening Australia, and when they were dry I carefully wrapped them in a small plastic sandwich/freezer bag and placed them in a jar with the rest of my seeds.  I then went to University and left all the seeds behind.

Recently I wanted to experiment with germinating old seeds so asked my mother if she still had any old seeds.  She posted me what remained of my little seed collection plus a few other old packets of seed.  There are seeds in there aged from about 20 to 35 years old which is perfect for the experiments I want to do.  When I opened the package and looked through the old and super-old seeds I was happy to see that there are quite a lot of seeds for me to experiment with.  Most of which are from reasonably common varieties which means I can experiment and not worry too much if any method is not successful. Some were incredibly rare but I have managed to germinate them and hope to grow them out and save their seeds.

As I rummaged through the seeds I found little plastic sandwich/freezer bags with some tomato seeds.  They each had a little note that Past Damo wrote.  They are the seeds of the first ever tomato varieties that I bred.  I thought that they were gone forever.

The seeds are 20 or so years old now and have been stored in less than ideal conditions, many seeds would be dead, but some are amazingly still alive.  I have planted some of the seeds and a few of them have germinated! Some are weak and die early but some are strong enough to be growing their first true leaves.

I find it very exciting.  I also find it nerve wracking as I don't want to kill them.  Perhaps these old varieties will be garbage, perhaps they will be great, regardless it will be fun to grow them at least one more time.  If any of them are any good I plan to name them after my children and save their seeds. If I do this I may sell them on my for sale page.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Thieves tried to steal my blog!!!


I am not happy, I have found that a certain aquaponics company (whose name I am not going to mention) stole my blog pages and posted them on no less than eight different spam blogs!  There may even be more that I am yet to find.

I have reported all of them to blogger and hope that they are removed soon.  I have also posted comments on some of the other people's blogs that had pages stolen and have requested that they also report these criminals to blogger.

Spam Blogs (with my stolen blog content) that I have found and reported so far.  Do NOT click on them:
conaquaponics.blogspot.com
diyaquaponicsrelax.blogspot.com
aquaponicssyst.blogspot.com
popuaquaponics.blogspot.com
susoftwr.blogspot.com
aquaponicshoust.blogspot.com
aquaponicsndiy.blogspot.com
diyaquaponicsblueprint.blogspot.com
aquaponicssyst.blogspot.com
aquaponicshoust.blogspot.com
aquaponicsndiy.blogspot.com
conaquaponics.blogspot.com
diyaquaponicsrelax.blogspot.com
diyaquaponicsblueprint.blogspot.com
popuaquaponics.blogspot.com
susoftwr.blogspot.com
and apparently even one from Russia:  е-импорт.рф/4-foto/tree-onion.php
conaquaponics.blogspot.com
diyaquaponicsrelax.blogspot.com
aquaponicssyst.blogspot.com
popuaquaponics.blogspot.com
susoftwr.blogspot.com
aquaponicshoust.blogspot.com
aquaponicsndiy.blogspot.com
diyaquaponicsblueprint.blogspot.co

What happened
They cut and paste every word and picture from several pages from my blog, as well as several pages from other people's blogs.  They even put in the pages about the birth of my first daughter!!!

Why would they bother
They do this so that the blog appears legitimate, then they put an ad to their company on each of the pages.  After people read through the blog for a while and feel connected to the blogger they are more likely to click on the link.

This does several things, first it may create some sales for their low quality products.  Secondly it raises their profile on google so they come out at the top of a google search.

They remove links, but that is about all
They seem to remove all of the internal links, which is not overly difficult.  Yet they have not even read the posts that they steal.  They have made these spam blogs this year (2016) yet some of the post headings are about other years.  They even stole some blog posts from people which are month specific and posted them on a different month.  Very poor effort.  I have a post called "skirret harvest 2015", that post has a comment in the first sentence saying that it was written during Winter in Australia.  These thieves stole that post and re-posted it in March 2016 and again in May 2016.  Not terribly bright.

They write their own reviews
I think this heading is pretty self explanatory.  They write reviews of their own company on different web pages they make and then spam them until they are at the top of a google search.  They have written dozens of these ridiculous reviews, strangely they are all word for word exactly the same.

If you want a second opinion of any aquaponics company go onto any aquaponics forum and search for them there.  No one who knows anything about aquaponics will deal with these criminals.

I have decided not to post the name of these criminals
It is not terribly difficult to find out who they are, but posting there name here may result in legal consequences (or more likely these criminals doing something horrible to my blog) that I don't want to deal with.  If you can't work out who they are send me a message and I can tell you privately.  If  these criminals had quality products they would not feel tempted to stoop this low.  If someone is willing to create at least EIGHT different spam blogs and steal content from other people's blogs you can NOT trust them.

What have I done
First I reported the spam blogs to Blogger on 16 September 2016.  I have been told that even though I have reported all of these spam blogs that Blogger will do nothing.  I will keep an eye on these spam blogs and see when/if they do anything.

Second I went onto one of the spam blogs and clicked on a few of the other stolen pages, then I tracked down the blogs they came from and sent them a message asking for them to also report these spam blogs.  I personally would be wary of a message like this so I included the URL of the spam blog page that has their content, this way even if they do not want to click on the link they can google it.

Other than that I don't know what to do.  My opinion of humanity is slipping all the time.

Update 22 October 2016 
All eight of those spam blogs are still active.  They have enev stolen more pages from my blog over the past week.  Clearly this is contravening blogger policy which is meant to result in the blogs being deactivated and deleted.  Even thoughh these spam blogs have been reported nothing has been done.


John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Amazing Black or Blue Strawberries Do NOT Exist

Recently I looked on Ebay for strawberry seeds.  It was amazing how many different colours were listed for little money and free postage.  It is too bad that none of them actually exist.

After reaching page five and only finding three listing for seeds that actually exist I decided to write a quick post to help buyers protect themselves.

While you will be sold strawberry seeds, they will not grow into anything like you have been told they will.  The legal term for this is "theft by deception", it is illegal, it is immoral, and the people involved should be ashamed of themselves.

I have not bothered to complain to ebay.  I know of some people who have been reporting every listing of multi-coloured blue roses (which do not exist) to ebay for years and nothing is ever done.  The same sellers keep selling seed of white roses while stealing thousands of dollars from people.  Ebay should be held accountable for knowingly allowing laws to be broken like this, but they aren't and they likely never will.  Ebay makes a lot of money from this kind of thing, and there are no consequences for them, so it is in their best interest to allow it to continue.

Please do NOT buy any of the following seeds from anyone ever.  If anyone is selling any seeds of these do not buy anything from them at all as they are thieves and liars!

The following seeds do NOT exist, by the time you have worked it out you have already left glowing reviews and these fraudsters have stolen your money!  You will most likely be sold seed from red strawberries, if you want that please go buy a punnet from the market and save seeds from there rather than fund these thieves.  Do not give money to thieves, it will only make things worse!

Black Strawberries
How amazing do these black strawberries look, it seems almost reasonable for these to be real as we have blackberries etc.  Black Strawberries like in this picture do NOT exist.  There are a few dark red varieties but nothing that looks remotely black.  This picture, and many more like it, have been altered.  Do NOT buy seeds for black strawberries.

Black Strawberries like this do not exist

Blue Strawberries
These look amazing and the sellers often claim that they are rare which is why you have never seen them in real life.  Blue strawberries like in the pictures do NOT exist!  Strawberries never have and they never will look like this (unless there are massive leaps in genetic modification technology in the future).  Even the GM blue strawberries which you will not have access to do not look anything like this, they are more of a red/mauve colour as we simply do not have the technology to produce these yet and the seeds are never released to home growers.  Do NOT buy seeds for blue strawberries.
Looks delicious, too bad it is photoshopped
Blue Strawberries like this do not exist
Green Strawberries
Green when ripe strawberries do not exist.  There are no varieties of strawberry that look anything like in this picture.  Even unripe strawberries do not look like this, the seller has gone out of their way to alter the colour of the picture in order to deceive you and steal your money.  They have photoshopped a picture of red strawberries.  They didn't even bother to use white strawberries and shine a green light on them.  Do NOT buy seeds for green strawberries

Green Strawberries like this do not exist

Pineberry Strawberry
Pineberry Strawberries actually DO exist, I have a few plants myself, but they will not grow from seeds.

Unfortunately pineberry are a complex hybrid of various strawberries that can only be grown by division, runners or tissue culture and not by seed.  Even if the flowers are self pollinated, any seeds that are grown will NOT result in a pineberry plant and you will get a mix of different strawberries.  If you want a pineberry strawberry (they are pretty cool) buy a plant from a reputable seller.

If you want the weird mix of seed with which to do some breeding work do NOT encourage these ebay thieves, please buy a pineberry plant and save the seed yourself.  Feel free to buy plants but do NOT buy SEEDS of pineberry strawberries.

Pineberry Strawberries do exist but can not be grown from seed

Pink Strawberries
Pink strawberries do exist, kind of, but they look nothing like in this picture.  The colour in the picture has been deliberately modified and the description embellished to try and steal your money.  Do NOT buy seeds of these.
Pink strawberries like this do not exist

Purple Strawberries
Purple strawberries like below do NOT exist.  Nothing like this picture has ever existed or will ever exist.  The seller is trying to steal from you.  Do NOT buy seeds of purple strawberries.

Strawberries do not exist in this colour
Real 'purple' strawberries are more of a dark red as per the picture below.  These ones do exist but are only sold as plants and not seeds.  Similar to pineberry these seeds will not produce true to type and they can only be purchased as plants.
Purple strawberries on the left exist but do no grow by seeds


Multi coloured Rainbow Strawberries
How amazing do these strawberries look!  There are heaps of amazing colours here, imagine all of the nutrients that they must have.  They even advertise that they are being sold by an Australian seller to seem more credible.  They have a lot of positive ebay reviews and have sold many hundreds of packet of seeds so appear to be legitimate.

We have thieves in Australia too, that is why you lock your car or your house when you are not there.  The positive reviews are left after the seeds arrive quickly and possibly after they germinate, several months before the plants have even flowered, let alone set fruit.  Once they all set red fruit it is far too late for the buyer to do anything.  Some buyers complain and are fooled into buying more seeds as they think perhaps they happened to just get the red ones in their mix.  It makes me mad.

The colours in this picture, other than the red, do NOT exist.  I hate these thieves and everyone like them.  Do NOT buy seeds of multi coloured strawberries.


White Strawberries
White strawberries do exist.  I have eaten several different varieties, some alpine strawberries and others larger garden strawberries.  Some are very bland, others are lovely and sweet.  It is important to research any variety of white strawberry before you buy it.

Unfortunately that makes it simple for thieves to change the colours in a photo and try to steal money from people.  These particular ebay thieves (which call themselves AussieTown) sell a variety of different seeds, some exist but many do NOT exist.  If they are happily selling some things that don't exist there is a high chance that everything they sell is not what they say it is.  The picture is from an ebay listing claiming to sell "white cloud" strawberry seeds, unfortunately white cloud strawberries do not exist.  Do NOT buy seeds from anyone who sells anything that does not exist.

White strawberries exist, but this photo is NOT real and 'white cloud' strawberries do NOT exist

Giant Strawberries
Strawberries do not have the genetic potential to ever reach this size.  Even with GM technology we will never see strawberries this big.  Seriously, these thieves will try to sell anything, no matter how unlikely it is.  Luckily it would be simple to tell that they gave you the wrong this when the 'seeds' arrive.  Do NOT buy giant strawberry seeds (or trade your family cow for magic bean seeds).
Giant strawberries do NOT exist


Buyer beware!
Please NEVER buy ANYTHING from any of these ebay thieves.  If someone lists any of these seeds for sale do not buy anything from them.

Some people buy these seeds from them with the view that at worst they will at least get strawberry seeds.  While true, it is wrong to fund thieves, especially when you could buy strawberry seeds from an honest person or even buy a punnet of strawberries and plant those seeds.  You can get several hundred or even a few thousand strawberry seeds from a punnet of strawberries, plus you get to eat the strawberries.  That is far better than giving your money to these liars and encouraging them to steal from more people.

There is an old saying that if something sounds too good to be true then it probably isn't.  In the plant world, especially with fruit and vegetables, this saying doesn't help.  Almost everything that I grow and eat sounds too good to be true.  I sell vegetable plants and seeds through the internet but am yet to use ebay.  I do the right thing as I am not trying to make fast money and want people to grow my plants.  That is why these thieves annoy me so much.


NOTE: this is not an exclusinve list, there are plenty of other fake strawberry pictures and colours that I haven't shown here but may try to add later.  Pictures used in this post were copied from actual ebay seed listings.  Sometimes the same pictures were used by several different sellers in different countries (grumble grumble).