Saturday, 17 June 2017

Vegetable Days to Maturity

I have written a few posts recording the days to maturity for some of the vegetable crops that I planted for the Australian Summer of 2016 and 2017.  I decided to list the days to maturity of some vegetables in one post here to make it easier for me to find them in the future to enable me to plan better.

This is not a complete list, I plan to add to it a bit more.  I also grew a lot of things that I did not record the days to maturity that will not be listed here.

Days to maturity has many different meanings, for tomatoes it is usually the number of days from an 8 week old transplant until breaker stage where it is picked mostly still green.  This is not useful to me and it makes commercial seed companies look as if they carry wonderfully early plants, when in fact they often take a dreadfully long time to ripen.  I have counted days to maturity from the day I plant the seed until the first fruit was perfectly ripe and ready to be picked and eaten.


Beans

Days to maturity Jade Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)

Seeds planted       03/12/2016       Day 0
Germinated           11/12/2016       Day 8
Flowered              14/01/2017       Day 42
Harvest start         05/02/2017       Day 64


Days to maturity Muffet Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris)
Seeds planted       23/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated           31/10/2016       Day 8
Flowered              12/12/2016       Day 50
Harvest start         28/12/2016       Day 66


Days to maturity Snake Beans (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis)

Seeds planted       03/12/2016       Day 0
Germinated           07/12/2016       Day 4
Flowered              ??/??/2016        Day??  I didn't notice them until I already had some beans!
Harvest start         03/02/2017       Day 62


Beetroot

Days to maturity Chioggia Beetroot (Beta vulgaris)

Seed Planted        16/10/2016       Day 0
Seed germinated   24/10/2016       Day 8
First harvest          02/01/2017       Day 78 - they grew at different rates so harvest went for many months


Corn

Days to maturity Immali Corn (Zea mays)

Seeds planted       16/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated           24/10/2016       Day 8
Flowered              21/12/2016       Day 66
Harvest ready       30/01/2017       Day 106
Cobs dry ready to save seed 05/03/2017   Day  140


Carrot

Days to maturity Purple Haze Carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus)

Seeds planted       23/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated           03/11/2016       Day 11
Harvest start         04/03/2017       Day 132


Cucumber

Days to maturity Space Master Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

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


Days to maturity White Wonder Cucumber (Cucumis sativus)

Seed Planted        16/10/2016       Day 0
Seed germinated   26/10/2016       Day10
Flowering              06/12/2016      Day 51
First harvest          01/01/2017       Day 77


Days to maturity Mexican Sour Gherkin (Melothria scabra)

Planted                       11/10/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 03/11/2016                  Day 23
Flowered                   28/02/2017                   Day 140 
First fruit ripe              06/04/2017                  Day 177 - lots of fruit aborted


Cape Gooseberry

Days to maturity 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


Lettuce

Days to Maturity Australian Yellow Leaf Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Planted                       24/09/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 29/09/2016                  Day 5
Started harvesting        04/11/2016                  Day 42


Days to Maturity Freckles Lettuce  (Lactuca sativa)

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


Days to Maturity Red Salad Bowl Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

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


Melons

Days to Maturity 'Billeberga' melons (Cucumis melo).

Seeds planted       16/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated           30/10/2016       Day 14
Flowered              30/12/2016       Day 75
Harvest start         14/04/2016       Day 179 - lots of flowers aborted for some reason


Pea

Days to Maturity Lacy Lady Pea (Pisum sativum)

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


Days to Maturity Oregon Dwarf Snow Pea (Pisum sativum)

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


Pumpkin

Days to maturity Kaempw Melon Rilon Pumpkin (most likely Cucurbita maxima)

Planted                       16/10/2016                 Day 0
Germinated                 26/10/2016                 Day 10
Started flowering         01/12/2016                 Day 46
Harvest                       05/03/2017                 Day 180 (possibly Day 70 if picked at Christmas)


Strawberry

Days to maturity Attila alpine strawberry (Frageria vesca)

Seeds planted             08/10/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 21/10/2016                  Day 13
First Runners              21/12/2016                  Day 73 (more runners every few days, like a spider web)
Flowered                   03/03/2017                   Day 145 (5 months)
First fruit ripe              09/04/2017                  Day 182


Days to maturity Regina Alpine Strawberry (Frageria vesca)

Planted                        08/10/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 19/10/2016                   Day 11
Flowered                    13/02/2017                   Day 125
First fruit ripe              13/03.2017                   Day 153 (about 5 months)


Days to maturity Yellow Wonder Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Planted                       08/10/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 22/10/2016                  Day 14
Flowered                   17/02/2017                   Day 129
First fruit ripe              28/03/2017                  Day168


Tomato

Days to maturity heirloom and rare tomatoes
I grow many different varieties of tomatoes so instead of writing one massively long post I broke it up a bit.  Previous year pages can be found here and here while the 2016/2017 season can be found here.


Days to maturity Micro Tom Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum)

Seeds planted       02/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated           11/10/2016       Day 9
Flowered              22/12/2016       Day 81
Harvest start         07/01/2017       Day 97


Zucchini

Days to maturity Zucchini: Gron Busk 'Veribo' (Cucurbita pepo)

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


I sell seeds of some of these vegetables through my for sale page.


Ecclesiastes 11:6 "Sow your seed in the morning and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well."

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Micro Tom history

I have been growing Micro Tom tomatoes for a short time now, over that time I have grown several generations of them, saved pure seed, and crossed them with various other tomatoes to try and create new micro tomatoes.  Micro Tom tomatoes are a delightful little plant, the more I grow them the more I like them.

I have read a few different things about Micro Tom on the internet, unfortunately much of it is very different from my observations.  I thought I would write a blog post to clear up some confusion about Micro Tom tomatoes.
Micro Tom tomatoes
Where did Micro Tom come from
Micro Tom has been declared as the world's smallest tomato variety.  It was released from the University of Florida in 1989 where it was developed by Dr. J.W. Scott and Dr. B.K. Harbaugh.

I have read various people on the internet claiming that because Micro Tom was bred at a university that it must be a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO), others that say it is not, some that say it is a hybrid, some that say F1, others that say Micro Tom is open pollinated.  So I did some research on Micro Tom tomatoes.

The truth is that Micro Tom is a stable tomato variety which is as stable as any other tomato variety, it can be grown open pollinated and seeds will grow true to type unless it is crossed with another variety.  Micro Tom is NOT a GMO and was bred conventionally in the same way as almost everything else that you have ever eaten.  The reason Micro Tom grows so small is due to at least three different genes that were bred into it conventionally, the same way that red colour was bred into tomatoes.  These three genes were all spontaneous mutations so nothing untoward has gone on here.


How is Micro Tom so small
Micro Tom has a combination of three different genes which make it grow tiny.

One gene is for dwarf growth that is common in dwarf tomatoes, it is most likely d.  Strangely this dwarf gene also has a mutation in Micro Tom, but that is a rather complicated story for another time.

Micro Tom has the self pruning gene which is responsible for creating determinate tomato plants, it is most likely sp.

Micro Tom also has the sun dwarf gene which creates extremely short internodes under high light intensities, it is most likely sd.  I assume that if grown in low light then Micro Tom would be a bit taller, but even when grown in winter my plants are always under 10cm tall.

All three of these genes are recessive, which makes breeding new micro tomatoes using Micro Tom as the female parent a reasonably straight forward process.


How productive is Micro Tom
I have read a lot of differing views on the productivity of Micro Tom tomatoes.  Various seed sellers have the following listed on their web sites:
  • "produces a crop of around 40-plus cherry tomatoes per plant"
  • "bear 1-3" good flavored tomatoes in heavy quantities"
  • "The plants are suprisingly productive, a 6" plant can produce up to a couple dozen fruits."
  • "is loaded with tasty fruit"
  • "bearing loads of flavorful, 1 oz., deep red fruits"
  • "Plant produces good yields of tiny pea size red tomatoes"
  • "I am able to harvest about 20 - 30 tomatoes from this plant growing in a 6in pot"
My growing conditions are a lot more harsh than most, so perhaps I get less fruit per plant than I could.  I dare say that your growing conditions are also not perfect.  Keeping that in mind, I would not consider any of the above reviews of crop size to be accurate.

I normally get around 10 tomatoes per tiny Micro Tom plant.  Sometimes a few more, sometimes a few less.  If I used fertilisers and coddled the plant I think I could get around 20, but I am happy with it producing 10.  I certainly would not say that it is 'loaded' with fruit or produces 'heavy quantities' or produces '40 plus' tomatoes.

I also found a Japanese research company that sells Micro Tom seeds to scientific organisations for the purpose of genetic research, they said "It yields about 20-30 seeds per fruit. One plant yields about 200-300 seeds"  in other words, about 10 fruit per plant, much the same as I am getting.


How tall does Micro Tom get
The internet seems to have a large range here.I have found reference on the internet to the following:
4-7 inches, 4-6 inches, 5-8 inches, 6-8 inches, under 12 inches, 8 foot (I hope that this one is a typo and they meant inches).

My Micro Tom plants are all descendants of one old seed, so the genetic pool with which I work is rather narrow and may not be indicative of overseas strains.  Personally I am yet to have a Micro Tom plant reach 10cm (about 4 inches).  Mine have all grown between 4cm and 9cm tall.  Growing in a cup of soil or in the garden has not changed the height noticeably.


What size is Micro Tom fruit
This is one of the claims on the internet that makes me think that many seed sellers have never actually grown the plant themselves, and don't care enough about the buyer to bother putting accurate information.  Many have gotten confused when they read about micro dwarf and think it is talking about fruit size, when it is talking about the height of the plant.  I have found reference on the internet to the following:
  • "pea size"
  • "cherry tomatoes"
  • "1-3 inch"
  • "1 oz deep red fruit"
  • "1 inch fruit"
"Pea size" being the most common fruit size that I saw, but probably the furthest from the truth, although I can not even begin to imagine a 3 inch (7.5cm)  tomato fruit on a 4 inch (10cm) plant!!!

My fruit are reasonably consistent in size, around 2cm, this photo shows how large they are for me.  I have given seeds to a few other growers, they all report Micro Tom tomatoes mostly being about 2cm.
Micro Tom fruit size
How many days to maturity for Micro Tom
This is another weird one when you look up what the internet says.  I have found the following listed on various seed company's web pages:
Days to maturity: 50, 60, 120  
Days from seed germination to ripe fruit: 50, 60, 70 
Days from transplant when grown under lights in winter/early spring, 39, 75-85, 70-90, 88.

As you can see, that makes no sense at all when you try to compare the same information on different web sites.

The first time I grew Micro Tom I recorded around 113 days from planting the seed until harvesting the fruit. Then I grew it a few times without recording the dates.  This last time I recorded 97 days from planting the seed until harvesting the first ripe fruit.


What does Micro Tom tomato taste like
They are ok, Micro Tom lack any real depth of taste and will not be anyone's favourite tasting tomato variety.  They taste much nicer when ripened in warmer weather than they do in cooler weather, and at some times of the year they taste a bit nicer than cherry tomatoes that I can get from the shops.  While Micro Tom is certainly not the best tomato you will eat they are far from the worst.  I have never seen someone who ate one and disliked it. 


More people should grow Micro Tom tomatoes
I really like Micro Tom tomatoes, the plants are tiny and the fruit tastes ok.  I don't see the point in exaggerating when describing plants.  If people want to grow them, then they will grow them even if they do not produce millions of fruit on a tiny plant.  I have shared seeds with several seed savers and a few dedicated growers.  I also list seeds for sale on my for sale page when I have enough to spare.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Days to maturity Australia Yellow Leaf Lettuce

I was given some seeds of a lettuce variety named either 'Australian Yellow Leaf' or 'Australian Yellow'.  I am not sure why it is called that, they all looked light green to me.  It was another leaf lettuce as I don't see the point in home gardeners growing head lettuce.

Days to Maturity Australian Yellow Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

Planted                       24/09/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 29/09/2016                  Day 5
Started harvesting        04/11/2016                  Day 42

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Which are hotter, ripe or unripe chillies?

The question of "which are hotter, green or red chillies" makes no sense, as different varieties of chillies ripen different colours.  So the actual question should be: "which is hotter, ripe or unripe chillies?"

The answer is: ripe chillies are hotter than unripe chillies.  I am yet to hear of any exceptions to this.  If you know of a variety that is an exception to this please let me know as I would love to grow it.

Ripe chillies tend to have higher sugar content, so sometimes in mild varieties it may be easy to overlook the heat, but ripe chillies are still hotter even if they are sweeter.

I have some varieties of chilli that I can happily eat raw when unripe and feel absolutely no heat, but when they are ripe I feel like I have been stung in the mouth by a bee.

I also did a little searching on the internet and found proof to back up what I have experienced.  Below is something I found on a chilli forum, hopefully the person who owns this picture does not mind me using it.  I have linked to their thread so I figure that should be ok.  With Scoville Heat Units, the higher the number the hotter.

Apparently 25 unripe chillies and 25 ripe chillies were picked from the same plant and analysed.  The ripe chillies came out about twice as hot as the unripe ones.  I think that it is pretty conclusive.


SHU comparison from http://thehotpepper.com/topic/62026-whats-hotterripe-or-unripe/?hl=%2Bheat+%2Bripe+%2Bunripe


Friday, 26 May 2017

Red Salad Bowl Lettuce Days to Maturity

One of the lettuce varieties I grew this past summer was called red salad bowl.  It is a leaf lettuce instead of a head lettuce so ensures that it crops a lot of lettuce over a long period of time.

Below are the days to maturity for red salad bowl lettuce.  Being in Australia they are written in the format of Day/Month/Year.

Days to Maturity Red Salad Bowl Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)

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


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Grow fruit trees from seed

There is an old saying that says "the best time to plant an orchard was twenty years ago, the second best time is now".

But how long does it take for fruit trees to bear fruit when grown from a seed?  Not just how long do books say (often written by people with no personal experience who have just done some brief internet research), but how long does it really take?

I have seen people ask on forums about growing various fruit trees from seed.  Generally, helpful people pipe up and say not to bother as it takes far too long or it is too difficult, or the results are bad tasting.  Not surprisingly very few of these people have ever attempted to grow a fruit tree from a seed and are going off what they have read somewhere that was written by someone who also has no experience.  I have grown various fruit trees from seeds, most didn't take overly long to bear fruit, most were very simple, most tasted great.

I have grown a bunch of fruit trees from seeds over the years, it is far easier than you think.  The results are mostly not the same as the parent plant, sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes it is bad, and sometimes they are near enough not to matter.  Many fruit trees for sale are unnamed or the name tags have been mixed up, so creating your own variety from growing from seed is not necessarily a bad thing.  If you plant seed from improved stock the chances are high that any resultant fruit will be decent.

So how long does it really take for fruit trees to bear fruit from seed?  From my experience I can say that it is not as long as you probably think and certainly nowhere near as long as everyone says.

How long the internet says it will take for fruit trees to bear fruit
I did a google search and found a company overseas who gives indicative time frames for fruit trees to bear fruit.  They are not counting from planting a seed, but are counting from planting a one to two year old tree which has been grown from a cutting or grafted.  I have cut and paste the following table from their website and removed their company name.

This company's trees are 1-2 years old when shipped. “Years to Fruit” begins counting after the trees are transplanted into your growing space.
Fruit Tree Type Years to Fruit
Apple Trees 2-5 years
Apricot Trees 2-5 years
Banana Plants 2-3 years
Cherry Trees (sour) 3-5 years
Cherry Trees (sweet) 4-7 years
Citrus Trees 1-2 years
Fig Trees 1-2 years
Mulberry Trees 2-3 years
Nectarine Trees 2-4 years
Olive Trees 2-3 years
Pawpaw Trees 5-7 years
Peach Trees 2-4 years
Pear Trees 4-6 years
Persimmon Trees 3-4 years
Plum Trees 3-6 years

These crazy time frames make no sense if they are from planting a two year old tree, they are far too long.  Please ignore the times listed in the above list.  Let me give you some examples of how long it takes to grow a fruit tree from a seed from my personal experience.

Time for fruit tree to mature when grown from seed

Growing Apricot from seed
My son planted an apricot seed, it has flowered and had some fruit (until it was taken by birds) when it was only in its third year.  If I bought a dormant apricot tree and it did not flower and fruit that same year I would be disappointed!  Three years from planting the seed to seeing the first fruit for an apricot is not unusual, it can be faster, and it can certainly be a lot sower if not looked after, but three years is pretty average for apricots to fruit from seed.
Flowers on Igloo's three year old apricot tree
Growing Peach and Nectarine from seed
I have grown both peach and nectarine from seed many times.  As far as I am concerned peach and nectarine are different varieties of the same tree.  Some of the nectarines were white fleshed, others were yellow fleshed, they were all seeds from un-named seed grown trees and I had no way of knowing where the pollen came from.  For me most flowered and fruited in their third year, some never flowered and some even flowered in their second year!  Due to the good genetics of peach and nectarines in Australia, all of the seed grown fruit tastes good.  From talking to a few other people who have grown them from seed I think three years from seed to fruiting is the average.

Growing Cherries from seed
I have grown many many cherry trees from seed, they all flowered in their second or third year.  Unfortunately the fruit was all dreadful.  Small, sour, lacking any depth of flavour.  The trees never got overly large and were besotted with cherry slug.  I have a feeling the poor quality fruit was not genetic but rather was caused from growing conditions as they had no additional water and not enough sunlight.  Had I bought a named variety the fruit would likely have been just as bad as my conditions were not ideal.

Growing Plums from seed
I have grown many plums from seed, they varied somewhat but generally flowered in year three.  The results were diverse in terms of size and colour of fruit and thorniness of the plants, but the parent stock was all diverse to begin with.  None of them were ever bad to eat.  I have also had plums and cherries growing too close that have naturally grafted to one another with no human intervention, but that is a topic for another blog post.

Growing Citrus from seed
At work I once found a tiny seedling in the garden with cotyledon leaves.  I took a liking to it and put a cage over it to protect it.  It grew into a citrus tree presumably from a seed that someone had dropped.  It was rather thorny and only took 3 years to flower, I have no idea if this is a representative time frame or if this volunteer seedling was just exceptional.  I have had people tell me that they had fruit in the first year and others who claim ten years is normal.  Unfortunately I left the job and moved before I got to see the fruit ripen.  I assume it was either an orange or a lemon.  I am told that key limes (Citrus × aurantiifolia) generally only take 2 years from seed and are always very similar to the parent plant.

Figs from seeds
I have never tried to grow a fig from seeds.  I am told by fig collectors that it usually only takes 2 or 3 years for a fig to fruit from seed.  They also tell me that fig seeds produce 50% inedible caprifigs and 50% edible figs.  Figs from seeds are complex, I don't have enough room here to experiment with them.  If you like figs then I say give it a try, they appear to yield very fast when grown from seed!

Mulberries from cuttings
Just to discount the above table even more, at one of my previous houses I planted a nice mulberry tree.  I wanted to bring it with me when I moved so took a small 10cm cutting.  We moved in January (mid summer here in Australia) with this tiny rooted cutting.  The following January the tiny cutting had grown to about 5 feet tall and had some fruit.

Unfortunately I have not grow mulberries from seed yet.  I have heard that 10+ years is normal but have a feeling I could get it down to about 3 or 4.  I have also heard all kinds of stories about it being difficult and doing odd things such as changing gender several times.  If you have any mulberry seed and are willing to send it to me I would love to try and grow it!


Some frequently asked questions about growing fruit tree from seed and my responses to them:

If I grow a seed from a certain variety of fruit tree will it grow into the same variety of tree?  No.  Many, if not all fruit trees exist in the heterozygous state and most fruit trees are complex hybrids (bred by  crossing hybrids with hybrids of hybrids) which carry genes from several related species.  This is often more evident in older heritage varieties as they have been grown from seed for less generations.  While it sometimes may be possible for a seed grown tree to be similar to its parent it is unlikely.

If I grow a seed and the fruit tree self pollinated will it grow into the same variety.  No, of course not.  As mentioned above many fruit trees carry a wide range of genes, some dominant that you will see, some you can not see as they are recessive, some co-dominant so their expression will only be noticed if you have both genes, etc.  Self pollinating a heterozygous plant simply means that some of these genes that the parent had will be lost in the seed grown tree.  Losing some genes never results in the plant being the same as its parent so while it is possible that the tree may be similar to the parent it will most likely not be the same.
 
If I grow a seed from an old heritage variety of fruit tree will it grow into that same variety?  No, this seems to be one of those illogical myths spread by people who have no experience in growing from seed, no understanding of basic genetics, and a weak grasp of general horticulture.  Being an older variety makes it far less likely for the seed grown plant to resemble its parents.  Older varieties of fruit tree have been grown from seed less times than the newer varieties, as such they often contain a far more diverse gene pool and are often considered to be unimproved stock.  In colonial America they used to say that one in ten apple seeds would grow for fresh eating, the other nine would grow into "spitters" which were great for cider.  Modern varieties have been bred to reduce undesirable genetic traits, as such they tend to have a lower percentage of seeds grow into undesirable plants and a higher chance of getting something nice.
 
If I grow a fruit tree from a seed will it be better or worse than the parent?  It could be superior, it could be similar, or it could be far worse and utterly unpleasant to eat.  Professional fruit breeders and research facilities grow out many thousands of seeds before they find one that they think is right, however, their breeding goals are vastly different from yours.  They want a long shelf life, bruise resistant hard fruit, short harvest period, high resistance to spray drift, relatively low productivity (to reduce the need for thinning), uniform fruit size/shape/colour, good response to long term cold storage and subsequent ethylene ripening, and so on.  You want great tasting fruit, long harvest period, soft fruit, and so forth.  Your goals are pretty much the opposite goals of commercial breeders.  
 
Don’t professional breeders know a great deal more about plant breeding than I do?  Probably, but it doesn’t help much in this situation.  In the end they are usually crossing improved varieties and hoping for the best, just like you.  They may have the resources to grow out many thousands of plants, which is a huge bonus, but as I said previously they are hoping to achieve something very different than you want to grow.  As I said earlier, professional breeders have very different goals to home growers.  It is too bad one of those permaculture research places does not invest in breeding fruit tree varieties designed for the needs and wants of the backyard home grower (hint hint).
 
Isn’t it difficult to grow fruit trees from seed and will I need special equipment?  No, growing many varieties of fruit tree from seed is simple and requires little equipment.  Some types are difficult (I have no experience with anything tropical) but most temperate fruit trees are simple to grow from seed.  The main things you will need are space, soil, time and water.  If you have a pot of soil and have time to water it then you are well on your way.  Some seeds may need cold stratification, but this is simple to do if you have a fridge or live where it gets frosty.
 
Should I bother growing a fruit tree from a seed?  I don’t know, it depends on your circumstances.  To be honest it doesn’t affect me greatly either way.  I sell neither fruit trees nor their seeds so I have nothing to gain or lose unless you happen to grow something amazing and share it with the world.  I honestly think if you have space, then growing one fruit tree from a seed in your life is a great thing to do.
 
Can I reduce the time frame from planting until it bears fruit?  Sure, treat the tree well and it will flower in the minimum of time that it genetically can.  You can also graft a seedling scion onto a branch of a mature tree and then forget about it until it bears fruit.  If doing so the seedling will have the advantage of a mature root system and you won’t have to worry about your seedling potentially not being resistant to soil pests.  Most fruit trees you buy are grafted for this reason.  It will likely still take a few years though.
 
If I grow a fruit tree from seed and it takes longer to fruit than you said can I complain to you?  No!  Grow the seedling under sub-optimal conditions and it will take many years longer to fruit.  It is possible to grow a fruit tree and never have it flower if its growing needs are not met.  It is also possible to have a mature fruiting tree stop producing fruit if the conditions are wrong.  Growing in too much shade, too much competition from near by plants and/or soil not being fertile enough, not enough water, wrong temperatures (ie growing tropical trees in temperate areas), and restricting root growth by growing in too small a pot are common reasons for your fruit tree not fruiting.  I am in no way responsible for this as I have no control over it.
 
Where do I get fruit tree seeds?  Chances are you don’t want to select parent varieties with desirable traits and cross pollinate them yourself – you could do this but it is a lot more effort and you need access to parent stock in flower.  You could buy fruit tree seeds from various places online, but why would anyone bother unless it is a fruit that you can not buy from the shops?  It is far more simple, and a lot cheaper, to buy fruit, eat it, and plant the seeds from there that you otherwise would have thrown away.  The chances of growing something spectacular out of that is just as high (if not higher) than buying fruit tree seed from any nursery.

What about polyembryony?  I conveniently ignored the topic.  I have not had enough experience dealing with this to be able to comment properly.  It is common in citrus and mangoes but can be seen in other plants as well.  It can make seed grown plants turn out much like the parent, some people say they are clones.  If you are concerned then do some research.

What about Genetically Modified (GM) varieties?  In Australia you won't have access to these so there is no chance that they will contaminate your new strain.  In other countries you may come across them, but it is pretty unlikely.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Mint Varieties

There are many different varieties of mint, I have grown some over the years and currently grow a few.  I plan to increase the varieties I grow as I find nice varieties.  There are also a few herbs that are related to mint (or are completely unrelated to mint but have mint in the common name) that I grow. 
Unless you are attempting to breed a new variety, mint is best grown from cuttings or division as seed grown mint tends to grow variable plants.  When grown from seed some plants will have a strong scent, others weak, and a whole lot of substandard plant in between.  All mint varieties enjoy moisture, they grow best in cool damp climates but still perform ok in hot and dry climates if watered often and given some shade. 
All mint varieties have a tendency to become invasive and spread by underground rhizomes.  Some are far more aggressive than others.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you manage it.  I have heard people advise to dig a hole and plant a pot of soil in which to grow mint.  I have seen mint escape from this and take over gardens so I grow mint in pots and keep the pots on pavers or concrete.  For me, mint’s aggressive growth is a good thing.  I am mindful not to allow it to escape, and it is incredibly forgiving and productive even in a small space.
People grow mint to attract pollinating insects, but I don’t recommend doing this at all.  Some varieties of mint will drop viable seed, sometimes thousands of tiny viable seeds, and seed grown mint is often inferior to the parent.  The seeds are tiny and difficult to find.  Mint also tends to change smell and taste when it flowers.  For these reasons I always try to remove the flowers.  Sure the bees like it, but they also like a lot of other things that flower at the same time that won't cause me any problems. 
Some varieties of mint will die down over winter, others will forge through unharmed.  Mints are perennial and so far they all survive winter here and happily grow for me as the weather warms. 
I have heard of people who grow several varieties of mint in the same garden bed, this is a very bad idea.  Normally one variety is stronger and takes over eventually leaving you with only one type of mint growing.  People often get confused and think that the different varieties alter each other by growing close by and they are left with strange smelling plants, which is not the case.  Sometimes the mints flower, they cross pollinate with one another, and drop seed.  Most of these seeds will grow odd smelling plants.  One of these seedlings will eventually take over and all the other mint plants will eventually die off.  Quite often this seed grown plant does not smell great, which is where the confusion comes from.  Either way I grow mint in pots and try to prevent flowering so as to avoid this type of problem.  
Below are some of the mint varieties that I am currently growing and am happy with.  I am still trialing some others, some are looking pretty good so far, others will be composted if they are not nice enough or productive enough or useful enough.
Native River Mint
 Native river mint (Mentha australis) has a bunch of different common names.  It used to grow along much of NSW and VIC and other parts of the country along river banks and flood plains but has become pretty rare in the wild.  I have spent my life living in the natural range of this plant, and spent huge amounts of time in the outdoors for work and uni and fun, but am yet to come across this in its natural habitat.  Like any variety of mint it prefers damp places but can tolerate drier soil.  This plant smells much like regular peppermint and is edible.  I have heard stories that the first Europeans in Australia used this plant in their Sunday roast as well as to ease colds.  Being an unimproved, undomesticated species, seeds grown from this plant will be very similar to the parent but could also be used to breed a superior variety.  Native River mint is not overly invasive and will not try too hard to take over the garden.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) was once the most commonly grown garden mint, it used to be in every garden.  The spearmint lollies that used to be in shops were based on the smell and taste of this plant.  Spearmint is edible and it smells sweet and minty.  This is the mint that people often used to make mint jelly, or to use with a roast, or to have with peas, or in various summer drinks.  It is also used to treat colds and headaches and similar things, I am not sure how effective it actually is in any of its medicinal purposes.  Spearmint is invasive and care must be taken to prevent it taking over the garden.
Peppermint (Mentha X piperita) has a much stronger smell than spearmint.  It is edible and can be used in all the same ways as spearmint plus it tends to be used more often medicinally as it is stronger and contains more essential oils than spearmint.  Peppermint essential oils certainly clear the nose and can be used in a calming tea, but I am not certain of how effective it is in its other medicinal properties.  It is also used to treat wounds as it has anti-microbial properties.  I have heard that mice dislike it, but have a feeling that this is superstition may not work to effectively repel them.  Peppermint is a hybrid between two different species of mint (spearmint Mentha spicata and watermint Mentha aquatica), as such seed will produce a mix of a range of mints and none of them will be peppermint.  Please never buy seeds from any company that sells peppermint seeds as they either know little about the seeds they are selling, or they know they are selling you rubbish and are happy to deceive you.  Peppermint is very invasive and care must be taken to prevent it taking over the garden. 
Chocolate Mint Plant
Chocolate mint (Mentha X piperita f. citrata 'Chocolate') is a chocolate smelling variant of peppermint.  It is edible and used in all the ways, culinary and medicinal, that regular peppermint is used.  As it smells like chocolate it is often used is drinks and deserts.  This plant changes how it smells throughout the growing season, sometimes it smells very much like chocolate, others it smells much like peppermint, sometimes when flowering I think it smells bad.  Seed grown chocolate mint are extremely variable and I think that many of them being dreadful.  To this end I do not allow it to flower and cut it to the ground when the first flower buds appear.  This plant is extremely invasive and care must be taken to prevent it taking over the garden.  
Variegated Apple Mint Plant
Variegated apple mint (Mentha suaveolens variegata) my plant actually died during my recent multiple moves as it was growing in a tiny pot that did not get watered for far too long, but I have another one now.  I guess that they smell a bit like mint and a bit like apple.  It is used in herbal tea and refreshing drinks and in similar ways to spearmint.  Sometimes this plant will grow a branch with all green leaves, this should be removed as it will out compete the variegated parts and pretty soon you will no longer have a variegated plant.  Sometimes it will grow an all white branch, this can not photosynthesise and weakens the plant.  I don’t often remove the white branches as I like the look of them and they die off by themselves soon enough.  Having some white on the leaves means it is less aggressive than if it was all green.  This plant is invasive and care must be taken to prevent it taking over the garden.
Chinese artichoke flowering
Chinese Artichoke tuber sprouting
Chinese artichokes (Stachys affinis) are a rare perennial vegetable that is referred to as a ‘tuberous mint’.  They are not grown for their leaves but are grown for the white edible tubers underground.  This plant looks much like mint but the leaves do not really smell like anything.  It prefers cool climates and can have erratic yields in warmer gardens.  They sometimes flower but are very reluctant to set seed so I don’t bother to remove them.  This plant would benefit from breeding or ploidy manipulation to increase tuber size.  The tubers are crunchy, slightly sweet and look like little grubs so kids enjoy eating them.  It is difficult to find this plant anywhere, but it is highly invasive so care must be taken to prevent it taking over the garden.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is not a mint, but is related to mint.  It smells like lemon, is edible and used medicinally for a range of things.  We have used it in cooking and I am told it makes a nice herbal tea.  Normally it smells like lemon but when flowering it is not all that nice.  This will happily seed and grow all over your garden if allowed.  I am told it does not grow underground runners, but mine do.  The runners are not as long or as aggressive as mint, but it still grows them.  This plant is invasive and care must be taken to prevent it taking over the garden.  
Lime Balm
Lime balm (Melissa officinalis 'lime') is a lime smelling variant of lemon balm.  It is edible and can be used in all the same ways as lemon balm.  I have made a herbal tea from lime balm which is delicious.  Seed grown plants are highly variable and many revert to lemon smelling or even soapy smelling variants.  I have not grown this long but it appears to be slightly less invasive than lemon balm, even so, care must be taken to prevent it taking over the garden. 

Vietnamese Hot Mint
Vietnamese hot mint (Persicaria odorata) is also known as Vietnamese coriander and a heap of other names and is not related to mint in any way whatsoever.  This herb smells delicious and is often used in laksa.  I grow it as an emergent water plant but am told it grows well in the garden if well watered.  It flowers but is reluctant to set seed so I don’t bother to remove them.  This is frost tender and must be protected from extreme cold.  I really like this herb and find it hard to believe how difficult it is to come by and how few people grow it in Australia.  While this plant is super easy to grow and very productive I can’t imagine it being invasive unless you live somewhere tropical in a swamp or a house boat.  I take no care to control it and have had no problems with it being invasive whatsoever. 
Vietnamese Fish mint (Houttuynia cordata) is reasonably new to me and is not at all related to mint.  It is edible and has a long history of medicinal use and as a remedy for poisoning.  It has a rather distinctive smell and can be used in place of fish sauce and is also used in a medicinal "dokudami" herbal tea.  Mine has white single flowers and I am told that it does not set seed.  I grow the highly productive and edible green form, there is also a variegated form that is prettier and less invasive that I may try to get one day.  Growing fish mint in a pot will contain it nicely due to its inability/reluctance to produce viable seed.  One or two small pots of this herb is meant to supply more than enough for a household and it should never be planted directly in the garden, only ever plant fish mint in potsIf planted in a pot this will not be invasive.  This is meant to be one of the most invasive herbs and great care should be taken to prevent it from taking over the entire garden (ie grow it in a pot of soil, not in the garden).

Where to buy organic mint plants in Australia
As I mentioned, please do not buy any mint seeds.  Please never buy anything from anyone who sells peppermint seeds.  Various garden centers and online places sell different varieties of mint.  I have never seen any of them sell organically grown mint.  I also sell small organically grown mint plants, and the rest of the plants mentioned above, on my for sale page.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Days to Maturity Melon Billeberga

The following were the days to maturity for 'Billeberga' melons (Cucumis melo). 

Billeberga melons were a small and highly fragrant melon with very thin skin.  I had high hopes that they would do well in a short season but it appears that they are better suited to longer summers.  The plants got covered by rampant pumpkin vines so perhaps could have produced a lot earlier if they had more sunlight.

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

Seeds planted       16/10/2016       Day 0
Germinated           30/10/2016       Day 14
Flowered              30/12/2016       Day 75
Harvest start         14/04/2016       Day 179

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Days to Maturity Mexican Sour Gherkin

Mexican Sour Gherkin (Melothria scabra) is also called mouse melon, cucamelon and has a few other common names.

It is a lovely perennial fruiting vegetable that I have not grown for a few years.  I planted it in less than ideal soil, being shaded by plants that grew over it, so they did not crop nearly as well as they should have.  Below are the days to maturity for this plant in my garden this year.

Days to maturity Mexican Sour Gherkin (Melothria scabra)

Planted                       11/10/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 03/11/2016                  Day 23
Flowered                   28/02/2017                   Day 140 
First fruit ripe              06/04/2017                  Day 177

The flowers kept aborting so it could have set fruit much earlier.  I assume they were aborting due to poor growing conditions, there were plenty of different types of pollinators in the garden this year.  Hopefully they survive over winter and produce a lot earlier next summer.


Sunday, 23 April 2017

Growing Pumpkin Kaempw Melon Rilon

I was given seeds of an heirloom vegetable that had a hand written description of "C pepo Kaempw Melon Rilon".  I don't know how to pronounce it.  The a and e were joined together, and it looked like there was a dot or two above them, I don't know if that changes how it is pronounced.

From the word 'Melon' I assumed it was a pumpkin of some kind rather than a zucchini or a squash, as there are several different C pepo pumpkins, but other than that I did not know what to expect.  Once the leaves started to grow, and the flowers appeared, I had a look and am almost certain that it is C maxima.
Pumpkin "Kaempw Melon Rilon"

These were large sized pumpkin seeds, they took 10 days to germinate and the cotyledons were huge!  The plants then started to grow true leaves and the plants began to turn into regular looking pumpkin vines.

Then something happened.  At each node where the plants were growing a leaf they started to sprout roots.  I have grown many different varieties of pumpkin over the years, but for some reason I have never looked closely at a pumpkin plant before.  I normally put them in, water them while thinking of other things, and then frost kills the plant and I harvest the fruit to store somewhere until we are ready to eat it.

As I normally do not look too closely at the pumpkin vines I do not know how common this trait is.  After looking on the internet it appears that it is more common in C maxima than in the other cucurbit species.  It is a very useful trait to have.
Pumpkin growing roots at each node
Pumpkin roots growing at each node
Pumpkin rooting at each node
This trait of the pumpkin plant rooting at each node is fantastic.  It means that each plant is far stronger, more resilient and potentially more productive than it otherwise would have been.

Pumpkin leaves normally wilt away to nothing on hot days, only to return after watered in the evening.  Rooting at each node meant that it stands up the the heat slightly better than it other wise would.  They still can not be used as an effective ground cover as when it gets hot they still wilt to nothing, but the leaves are big for another hour each morning which slightly reduces the amount of moisture lost through evaporation.

Growing roots at each node also means that I can easily take a rooted cutting and plant it somewhere else in the garden to expand my crop.

Each vine produced several rounds of pumpkins.  The first round of pumpkins weighed about 8 kg each, if they weren't picked the second round weighted about 5 kg each, and the third and subsequent rounds weighed about 3 kg each.  Normally I don't pick pumpkins until after frost has killed off the vines, but if I picked the pumpkins when they looked about ripe each subsequent round of fruit was much closer in weight to the first round.  As this variety kept producing more lots of pumpkins I pick them when they look ripe instead of waiting until frost kills the vine.
Kaempw Melon Rilon

Kaempw Melon Rilon pumpkins are great to eat!
Normally the skin on larger fruiting pumpkins can be thick and difficult to cut through.  The skin on these pumpkins is remarkably thin, making it very simple to cut up and also probably limiting its storage ability.  I haven't tried to store them yet as we eat them pretty fast.

These Kaempw Melon Rilon pumpkins also taste pretty amazing.  The flesh is orange and sweet, this is either my favourite or second favourite tasting pumpkin variety.  Considering how many varieties of pumpkin I have tasted over the years this is a rather impressive claim.

The flesh seems to fall apart easily if cooked in the right way, making these pumpkins simple to turn into pumpkin soup or pumpkin scones or pumpkin slice (which is absolutely delicious) or many meals where we want to include pumpkin but not have the kids notice large pieces of pumpkin.  This pumpkin also roasts rather well making delicious roast pumpkin.

We tried to make pumpkin lasagne using them instead of pasta, and they did not work all that well for this as they were a bit soft.  We also tried to make pumpkin chips, again this is not the greatest variety for that purpose, again they were a bit soft and fell apart a bit too much.

At first when I saw the size of the large pumpkins I decided not to grow this variety again.  I figured we could not get through pumpkins that large and would end up wasting some of it.  After tasting them I wanted to find a way to make it work, but still thought we probably would not get through them as not only are the pumpkins large, but each vine produced multiple fruits.  I also recorded the pumpkin days to maturity, considering how large the pumpkins are they ripen remarkably fast.

So far we have not wasted any pumpkin at all, in fact I wish we had more of them.  We only have three left as we have been eating them so fast.  Now that we have used them in several different types of meals, and seen how productive, tasty, and versatile they are I am pretty sure that I will grow them again.


Kaempw Melon Rilon pumpkin seeds for sale in Australia
I don't know if anyone else in Australia has Kaempw Melon Rilon pumpkins, but I wish they did.  If anything happens to my stock I have no way of getting them back again.  More seed savers are needed for this amazing heirloom pumpkin.

Even though I don't know how to pronounce it, and can't spell it without looking it up, I am also taking care not to change the name.  It was called Kaempw Melon Rilon when I got it and it will keep its name.  If someone can translate this to English for me I may consider using its English name.  Until then, it has a fun and unpronounceable swedish name.

I have taken great care to save pure seed from these pumpkins and will offer it on my for sale page along with the other heirloom vegetable seeds and perennial vegetables that I have for sale.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

What is the gas inside a capsicum comprised of

Have you ever wondered what the gas inside a capsicum is comprised of?  Or the composition of the gas inside a pumpkin?  Or the composition of the gas inside any hollow fruits?  I have.  

When I was a child every time we would cut open a capsicum or pumpkin I would try to breathe in the gas.  I thought (because school teachers with a limited understanding of biology told me that "plants breathe out oxygen") that it would be almost pure oxygen.  I always wished I had some way to work out the composition of the gas inside a capsicum or pumpkin and be able to know for sure.

When I was in high school I thought if the gas was largely oxygen then I should be able to use the glowing splint test to prove it.  I tried several times, but never had any luck.  I was not sure if this was because the gas was not largely oxygen, or if the gasses mixed with the atmospheric air too much after cutting the fruit open rendering the test useless.  I always wanted to cut open a capsicum under water and capture the gas in an upturned test tube to try the glowing splint test, but I never did.

Now that I am older I still have no way of accurately measuring the components of the gas inside hollow fruits.  I could try to the glowing splint test, but the internet now exists which means that I have access to all kinds of information.  It is like having the world's greatest library.

So I did some research and found the answer.  There were a few forums and things where people made up the answer but mostly got it wrong, I even found a few books of 'facts' where they made up the answer and got it wrong.  None of this impressed me because I wanted to find someone who had measured the composition of the gas inside hollow fruit, not just guess the answer.

I eventually found a few places that actually measured the composition of the gasses inside hollow fruits.  It was strangely difficult to find the answer, so I thought I would share it here.
Hollow tomato fruit
Hollow pumpkin fruit

The gas inside a capsicum and pumpkin
The average concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere
20.95% O2    0.4% CO2

The average concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside a capsicum
19% O2    3% CO2 
Oxygen ranged from 18% to 20% and Carbon Dioxide ranged from 0.5% to 3% depending on the stage of growth that the gas was measured.

The average concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide inside pumpkins
Oxygen ranged from 4% to 16%   Carbon Dioxide ranged from 6% to 8%depending on the stage of growth that the gas was measured.


The results
The gas inside a capsicum or a pumpkin is not high in oxygen or low in carbon dioxide.   Who would have thought!

The oxygen content of the gas inside hollow fruits varies a bit but is always lower than in the surrounding air.  There are some theories that this is due to the seeds requiring oxygen for growth or to reduce the amount of internal fruit spoilage due to oxidation.  It appears that we don't know why it happens at this stage.

The carbon dioxide content of the gas inside hollow fruits varies, but it is significantly higher than in the surrounding air.  There appear to be a few theories about this, again it appears that we do not know for certain.


Further reading

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Days to Maturity Attila Strawberry

People often go on about how long it takes for alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) to germinate, and how long it takes to get strawberries from seed, so I decided to record how long it took for me this year. 

Obviously these times could be shorter or longer if conditions were changed, but it is what happened for me this year.

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

Days to maturity Attila Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Seeds planted             08/10/2016                  Day 0
Germinated                 21/10/2016                  Day 13
First Runners              21/12/2016                  Day 73 (more runners every few days, like a spider web)
Flowered                   03/03/2017                   Day 145 (5 months)
First fruit ripe              09/04/2017                  Day 182

Attila is one of the very few alpine strawberries that grows runners.  They have been named after Attila the Hun due to their propensity to take new ground.  In my opinion they are an excellent edible ground cover that should be part of every permaculture garden.

The seeds were very easy to germinate, the plants were simple to grow, and the strawberries are delicious.
Attila Strawberry Days to Maturity
Attila Strawberry, notice the first tiny runners
Days to maturity Atilla strawberry
Attila Strawberry runner grown plant top right of the picture