Sunday, 25 May 2014

Gumballs, Savories and Red Brows on Finches




Red Browed Finch
The Red-browed Finch Neochmia temporalis - a little bird that’s  found along the entire east coast of Australia from Buchans Point, north of Cairns continuing south as far as Adelaide and Kangaroo Island.
They’re also the most commonly seen finch around Canberra.
During the winter months, you’re more likely to see them feeding on lawns where the grass is seeding, probably because they’ve moved in to forested areas for breeding during summer.
Listen to this…..with ecologist Sue Stevens
Such a shame that some people keep this little finch in captivity but only by dedicated finch breeders who tend to put the effort into breeding them.
Unfortunately, these birds are easily acquired by illegal trapping so they remain a relatively cheap species.
I don’t advocate feeding wildlife but did you know that the Red-browed Finch is one of only a very few small Australian birds that can be attracted to bird feeders?

If you have any questions about the red browed finch or have a photo, send it, or drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


THIS WEEK-I’m growing winter SAVORY
Savory, The Herb of Love!
How many times have you heard the phrase "a savory stew?"

Or, it’s got a savoury flavour or taste?
Now you know that savory is actuallyherb, in fact an annual or perennial herb, Satureja hortenis, for Summer Savory, or Saturejo montana being for Winter Savory
Did you know that Savory is used in herb combinations, such as Herbes de Provence, a French combination of herbs used for seasoning.
If you’ve heard of Savory before, you might already know that it’s best known for its use in dishes made with beans.

So where does savory come from?
All Savory’s belong to the mint or Lamiaceae family.

They have dark-green, very narrow little leaves for winter savory and light green narrow leaves for summer savory.
The savories can be used fresh or  dried and crushed.
I can’t say that it’s a well know herb but the history of savory goes back about 2000 years and it’s one of the oldest culinary herbs.

Interestingly, the botanical name Satureja was named by the Roman scholar Pliny and is derived from the word satyr, the half-man, half-goat creature in mythology who owned the savories.

Would you’ve guessed it was used in a love potion? Of course.
Weren’t they all back then? Sure seems like it.
Apparently it’s been associated with love potions for centuries.
Romans also used savory as a medicinal (for example for treating bee stings) and culinary herb long before they discovered pepper.
When the Romans brought savory to England, it was used there as an herb for chicken stuffing instead of a medicinal.
There are two distinct varieties of savory - summer and winter. Summer savory is most often used for healing.
There is a myth or old wives tale that Summer savory increases your sex drive, while winter savory decreases it.
Make sure you get your savories right.

 Savory has active ingredients called  carvacrol, p-cymene and tannins.
Because it’s an astringent and mild antiseptic if you made a tea from summer savory,  it was said to control diarrhea, stomach-ache and mild sore throat.
Rubbing a sprig of savory on an insect bite will bring instant relief.
How To Grow Savory
What does winter Savory like?
It’s an evergreen perennial plant, with dark green narrow leaves that are aromatic.
The tiny 5mm flowers are white and pink and appear in the middle of summer on terminal spikes. The plant itself only grows 30cm high with a small spread of 20cm.
If you do manage to get savory seeds, they’re very tiny, so it’s probably best to start them in punnets –and they need light to germinate.
usually but it’s a bit like Coriander, these tiny plants resent being transplanted.
The better method of getting new plants is either by cuttings in spring or by root division, also in spring time.
If you know of someone with this plant, put a note in your dairy to ask them for cuttings later on in the year-the cuttings should be soft-stem cuttings of about 2-3 cm long.
Put them in some seed raising or propagating mix.
You probably don’t even need to cover it, because, just like the herb Thyme, it strikes very easily.

  As for growing you winter savory, well, it’s no different than growing Thyme, it likes full sun with well-drained soil.
Savory prefers to be planted in soil that's slightly alkaline.
Give it a side-dressing of compost or worm castings whenever possible.
All savories are a bit bushy and low-growing so it makes an excellent edging plant for a kitchen garden, herb bed, or vegetable garden.
Trim your savory plant from time to time, to promote new growth and keep it looking good.
Savory doesn’t like wet feet or clay soils, or cold wet winters.
If some of those conditions sound like something you have, you need to put your savour in a pot in a sheltered position.
 I have some growing in a strawberry pot so that it cascades out of one of the holes. It seems to like that spot better than the strawberries.
As far as the soil in my container goes, well it’s just potting mix with soil wetter crystals added to it. So you see it's well-suited to container gardening, as well.

Harvesting and Storage
You can begin to take the leaves from your savory plant as soon as it reaches 13cm or about 6 inches in height. Keeping the plant pruned means you’ll always have some. When they insist on flowering, cut the whole plant and put on a some paper in a warm shady place. When dry, strip the leaves and store in airtight jars or tins. When the seed begins to turn brown, harvest them for next years planting. My plant dies down a bit in winter, but always regrows, so that’s a good reason to get some summer savory for your herb garden.
Tips For The Chef
Winter savory, Satureja montana, is a nice herb to use when you are cutting back on salt-it's flavour is mild, a little bit similar to thyme, but with it's own unique flavour.
Both summer and winter savory are used in cooking. Summer savory has a peppery taste much like thyme, while winter savory has a more piney taste. To me, it has a slightly peppery flavour, but a piney fragrance when you crush it in your hand.
Savory blends well with other herbs such as basil, bay leaf, marjoram, thyme and rosemary. It is said that the taste of savory brings all these herbs together in a unique taste.
Savory is popular in teas, herbed butters, and flavoured vinegars. It complements beef soup and stews, chicken soup, eggs, green beans, peas, rutabagas, asparagus, onions, cabbage, and lentils. Use savory when cooking liver, fish and game. Winter savory, which has a stronger presence, works well with game that has a strong flavor.
You can chop up winter savory finely and combine it with bread crumbs for coating fish or add some leaves to vegetables such as squash before sautéing or steaming.
Of course there’s that famous bean, garlic and savory dish.
Why is it good for you?
The Savory herb has many minerals and vitamins which make it an excellent herb to use for medicinal purposes.
The shoots and leaves of this herb are a rich source of zinc, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, and selenium. The vitamins that this herb contains include Vitamin A, Vitamin B-complex group vitamins, Vitamin C, pyridoxine, niacin and thiamine. You would need to eat about 100g of savory leaves which is a bit too much, but making a tea of the leaves would have health benefits as well.

Rocky outcrop in garden

with Landscape Designer Louise McDaid

Do you have a rocky outcrop in your garden?
Or do you have a patch where the soil’s quite shallow or you don’t have any soil at all.
Maybe you’ve got lots of rocks that need to be sifted out before you plant anything.
So what do you do? Over the next four weeks, this new series on design elements, is dealing with gardening on rocky, shallow, or now soil.
We’ll be covering plants that can cope with very little soil, and there’ll be advice on raised garden beds and even no dig gardening.
Let’s find out what this is all about.

Remember the top tips: work out your soil depth in different areas of the garden.
Hestercombe UK.

Remove as many rocks as you can and stockpile them for use later on.
Add compost and manure to what soil you do have. Use any exposed rock as a feature with plantings in pockets of soil and around in and build up your soil level.


How well do you know your trees?
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve mentioned some trees for great autumn colour, perhaps not so much for temperate areas, but more for inland and southern states where overcast skies and cool nights contribute to the best autumn colour.
This next tree has great autumn colour bit is more known for its huge size and the woody balls that hold onto the branches into winter.


Liquidamber styraciflua is a deciduous tree to 20m tall, broadly conical in outline, with rather glossy, maple-like, 5 to 7-lobed leaves which turn to shades of orange, crimson and purple in autumn
Other common names-American red gum, American sweet gum,bilsted, copalm balsam, red gum, satin walnut.
Where it grows:Full sun or part shade. Green foliage in spring and summer. Orange purple and red foliage in Autumn. Grows to more than 12 metres and spreads to 8 metres.

All liquidambers are slow growing, long lived to more than 50 years.
Liquidamber is hardy and tolerant of frost when mature. Young plants need to be protected from frost.
Liquidambers are adaptable to loam, clay or sandy soil. Although they need soil to be lime free, moist but well drained soil.
But there’s other varieties that are more backyard friendly.

Liquidamber sytraciflua "Gumball." This smaller version only grows to 5 metres and doesn't have the fruits of the larger version.
see for details.


Leaves change colour because of certain pigments in them and as the tree approaches dormancy in cooler weather, the masking effect of the green part-or the chlorophyll starts to fade and the real colours come through.
Carotenoid pigments give leaves a more yellow or orange colour, glucose gives it more red as you might see in a Maple leaf, and anthocyanins give leaves a more purple-red colour.
That smaller version was L. styraciflua ‘Gumball,’ –grows only 5 metres high has no fruits and the leaves colour mainly to yellow-gold with some shades of burgundy red in late autumn.

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