Monday, 17 November 2014

Ground Pears and Walking Iris

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.Steaming live on the net at


with Margaret Mossakowska from
Ever though about keeping chickens-there’s small ones you know-those feisty bantams.
If you do have chickens are you keeping them happy?
O.K. although they have been domesticated for about a gazillion years, and do OK inside small areas, they were once wild critters that roamed the forests or jungles looking for food,  keeping their young safe, protecting their flock, etcetera. 

Three chickens in a row photo M Cannon
Watching them over their life-cycles is fascinating and informative, and we come to realize that even the little-bitty chick you raised by hand has those innate wild survival skills. They just want to break out all the time and you can’t keep building the fence higher and higher.
Let’s find out more about the space they need….

At the Royal Easter Show
photo M Cannon
Make sure they have access to some dry soil for their dust baths. If they only stay in a chicken run, you can make a sand pit for them to bathe in. They do this to suffocate any mites they may have.
Chickens also love greens-whether pecking at some grass or maybe of box of weeds especially grown for them. They love chickweed, dandelions etc.
If you do have a chicken run and find that a couple of ring leaders are flying the coop once too often you’ll have to trim their flight feathers on one of the wings.
Clipping these feathers is no different or hurts no more than you cutting your fingernails.You do need to cut the right ones. Check out the internet or a good book about keeping chickens if you’re not sure which ones and how much to cut.If you have any questions about chickens, or have an anecdote about their behaviour, even, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Today it’s Yacon or scientifically speaking : Smallanthus sonchifolius (syn Polymnia sonchifolia)

photo M Cannon
Yacon is sometimes called, Peruvian ground apple, strawberry jicama, Bolivian sunroot, groundpear, pear of the earth.
We’ll stick to Yacon-which is the name this vegetable mostly goes by
Yacon is in the Daisy or Asteraceae family.
Yacon is native to the Andes- Colombia and Ecuador but did you know that until as recently as the early 2000s, yacón was hardly known outside of South America?
You probably won’t see it any time soon in your veggie shop but you can buy Yacon tea or Yacon syrup.
Yacon is a hardy, attractive herbaceous perennial from which you get quite a few tubers.
The plant grows to 1.5 to 2 m tall with light green angular leaves that look a bit like a milk thistle’s leaves or even a Jerusalem artichoke.
When it flowers, you’ll have male and female daisy-like yellow to orange flowers that are pollinated by insects.
Each plant forms a underground clump of 4 to 20 fleshy large tuberous roots.
The plant itself is extremely hardy tolerating hot summers, drought and poor soils.

Yacon tubers look a bit like sweet potatoes, but they have a much sweeter taste and crunchy flesh.
The tubers are sweet, juicy and almost calorie free but more on that later.
The tubers taste like a cross between apple and watermelon, but with more sweetness.
Generally it’s a bit tricky describing the taste of a new food, but everyone agrees on the crunchiness.
If you can grow Jerusalem artichokes or Parsnips, you can grow Yacon.


Where and How  to Grow.
Yacon has a long growing season-up to 7 months so generally suits temperate to tropical areas.
But you can grow it in cooler districts.
Yacon can be planted all year round in frost-free areas as it is day-length neutral.
In tropical areas grow Yacon during the dry season before the wet sets in.
It appears to be drought tolerant compared to other vegetable crops and so far, pest-free.
For cold areas of Australia the rhizomes can be started in styrofoam boxes in a greenhouse or on a warm verandah, usually in spring, and planted out when frost is past.
Split the tubers into individual shoots with their tubers attached and plant into smaller pots.
Yacon plants are quite sensitive to temperature, so plant them out when you would tomatoes.
Normally you plant the large tubers into large pots and wait for shoots to start growing from each smaller tuber.
Yacon actually produces two types of underground tubers, reddish rhizomes directly at the base of the stem that can be eaten but are a bit stringy and tough so they’re mainly used for propagation.
Then there’s the larger brown or purple tubers-these are the ones you eat.
Prepare the soil by loosening well with a fork and working in compost.
To plant, cover a large rhizome/tuber which has several sprouts, with soil to a depth of 3 cm.  Space them 0.5m apart.
But you might just want to start with one plant which you can buy online or some garden centres.
Mulch well because yacon will grow up through the mulch, just like potatoes.
The stems of this plant are brittle so if you haven’t got a wind break tip prune the stems to make the plant lower and more bush.
Because this plant creates dense shade when it grows you probably won’t have to do any weeding. Bonus!
Yacon grows fast even in poor soils but gives you much bigger tubers in rich, friable, well-drained soil.
So when do you pick this strange vegetable?

The plant takes 6 - 7 months to reach maturity.
You know when it’s ready when the top growth withers and dies back.
This is when you dig up the tuber.
The tubers look a bit like dahlia or sweet potato tubers, and on average should weigh about 300 g but can weigh up to 2 kg.

The tubers continue to sweeten as the plant dies back so the main harvest should only take place once all the top growth is dead.
If you planted your tubers in November they’ll be usually be ready by the end of May.
Don't leave it too long though, especially in areas that have mild winters, as the plant will start to shoot again as the weather warms up and the days get longer.
When digging them up, separate the reddish rhizomes from the tubers and wash off any soil, taking care not to break the skin.
The reddish rhizomes are kept out of the sun and covered with slightly damp sand, sawdust or cocopeat to stop them drying out and put aside for replanting in a dark, dry place.
These offsets are then replanted for the next season.
The plant needs to be dug carefully to avoid damage to the crisp tubers. After separation from the central stem undamaged tubers can be stored in a cool, dark and dry place with good air circulation for some months.
If your plant flowers don’t bother with any seeds you might bet because they’re mostly un-viable.
Yacon is almost always propagated from cuttings or tubers.
Why the tubers keep sweetening during storage is because of starch conversion.
You can put them in the sun for a couple of weeks to speed up the sweetening process.
The tubers can be eaten raw as a refreshing treat on their own, finely sliced and mixed into salads, boiled or baked, fried as chips or prepared as a pickle.
There’s plenty of eating tips, too many to mention, but I’ll post them on the website. For those without a computer, write in to me and I’ll send you a fact sheet.


First remove the outer brown skin and inner white skin by peeling with a knife as the skin has a resinous taste.
Inside is amber coloured sweet crunchy flesh.
Like all tubers there are no seeds to remove, so it is quick and easy to prepare.
Chop the tuber into chunks and add it to green salads where they impart a great flavour and texture. I
When cut into long strips, they make an interesting addition to a plate of raw vegetable crudites for dipping into your favourite guacamole or cream cheese dip.
It can also be boiled, steamed or baked with other vegies. In cooking they stay sweet and slightly crisp.
If boiled 'in the jacket' the skin separates from the flesh and can be peeled off like a boiled egg.
Yacon can also be used in a dessert crumble or pie with apples, pears or choko.
In the Andes, they are grated and squeezed through a cloth to yield a sweet refreshing drink. The juice can also be boiled down to produce a syrup. In South America the juice is concentrated to form dark brown blocks of sugar called chancaca. The young stem can be used as a cooked vegetable.
Why is it good for you?
Nutritionally yacon is low in calories but it is said to be high in potassium.
Yacon tubers store carbohydrate in the form of inulin, a type of fructose, which is a suitable food for type II diabetics.

photo M Cannon

with Louise McDaid, landscape designer.
Nearly every primary school girl or boy will tell you that trees give us oxygen. But exactly how much?
Well science to the rescue and a 30 metre tree can pump out 2,721 kilograms of oxygen in a year, which is enough to support at least two people.
That same tree can absorb as much as 22.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide in a year, which over it’s lifetime is approximately the same amount as would be produced by an average car being driven 41,500 kilometres.
But don’t panic, this week’s episode is about smaller trees and they have their role too.
Let’s continue with part 2 of the series on trees.

According to the University of Melbourne, because trees grow faster the older they get, their capacity for photosynthesis and carbon sequestration increases as they age.

photo M Cannon

Don't just plant any tree in a small garden but a tree that's under 10 metres maximum, or which is the classification of a small tree.
In a small garden, trees are much closer so features like the bark can be considered to enhance your garden.
For cool temperate districts a silver birch would look lovely. Otherwise for a similar silvery bark, try Eucalyptus caesia " Silver Princess."
Of course cooler districts are spoilt for choice in the Japanese Maple range.
Another great tree for a bark feature is Crepe Myrtle, especially the Indian Summer Range which is more resistant to powdery mildew.


with Karen Smith from
Neomarica sp. Walking Iris.
Fantastic strap leaf plant to use in the garden as a filler, with beautiful, iris-like flower
Plants are what’s called Heterophs because they make their own food.
They need to of course because they can’t walk to the next meal.
Except for this unusual plant that seems to walk.

Let’s find out about this plant. 
Technically you could say that the walking iris doesn’t actually walk.
Walking iris really only seems to move because the small plantlets that form at the ends of the flower stalk, grow and weigh down the stalk, bringing it to the ground where it will root.
It also grows and spreads from underground stems or rhizomes.



The Blue Walking Iris is a vigorous growing tropical but surprisingly cold hardy.
Walking iris is clump-forming and its leaves are broad, sword-shaped and pointed at the ends. They grow in flat, fan-like arrangements, as do most members of the Iris family.
The brilliant purple-blue iris flowers are marked with white and burgundy-brown spots and appear in clusters on leafy stems held above the leaves. This species tends to bloom in succession from summer to spring

It does best in filtered light to part shade. The flowers are short lived but replaced with new flowers throughout late Spring. Be careful not to over water.


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