Sunday, 30 November 2014

Wise Owls and Champion Trees

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at 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. The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website


with ecologist Sue Stevens

Other names for  Australia's Barn Owl are Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Screech Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl and Delicate Owl.

The last one is the sub-species occurring in Australia-Tyto alba deliculata.
The heart-shaped structure of the facial disc is unique to these types of owls (Tyto species).

If you think all owls sound out hoo hoo, hoo hoo, then you would be amongst the general concensus but incorrect.
Barn Owls are generally quiet, the common call being a  rough, hissing screech.
I think they should add another name-Farmer’s friend because these owls breed up quickly when there’s a mouse plague.

Let’s find out more about this particular owl….

Barn owls specialise in hunting small ground mammals, and the vast majority of their food consists of small rodents.
In wooded areas, the Barn Owl's is a stealthy hunter, lying in wait for an unwary animal to pass underneath, then diving down to strike.  
Barn Owls also quarter over open grassy paddocks at low altitude, flying without making a sound, to snatch mice from the grass. 
Since European settlement, the Barn Owl's favourite prey has been the common house mouse and introduced rat species. 
Sadly, many barn owls die in Australia every year due to secondary poisoning as a direct result of human pest control methods.


Summer Button Squash is the yellow or green saucer shaped members of the Cucurbit family that includes pumpkins, melons and zucchinis. Cucurbita pepo.
If you don’t like the taste and texture of Button Squash, some even call them patty pan squash, maybe you need to buy a different variety to zhooszh up your taste buds.
Did you know that squash comes from a native American word which means eaten raw or uncooked?
No surprises that archaeologists have traced squash origins to Mexico, dating back from 5,500 BC.
 Squash was a part of the ancient diet which also included maize and beans.
In terms of nutrients, button squash give bananas a run for their money. More on the later.
Button squash are small veggies that look a bit like space ships with scalloped edges. 
They grow to between 3 and 5cm in diameter and although they are come in other colours, the most common are the pale green and the bright yellow ones. 
The inside of the squash is pale white and the whole squash is eaten cooked, including the skin and seeds.

Button summer squash, particularly the yellow button squash, is a warm weather squash preferring temperate climates with a well drained soil.
Yellow squash is Cucurbita pepo, just as zucchini squash, cucumbers, and melons are.
This means it must be planted from one another or it will cross pollinate. Only a problem if you collect the seeds though.
You can get some weird looking, and tasting, squash that way.
Squash can be grown all year round in hot, subtropical climates, from spring onwards in temperate zones and only in early summer in cool temperate regions.
As for arid zones, from Spring until early Autumn.
For tropical areas, summer squash is a bit of a misnomer because for you, growing squash is only during the dry season.
So squash can be grown somewhere in all parts of Australia right now.
In fact,  did you know that Squash is grown in all horticultural production
areas including Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia,
Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
Squash like to spread out, but will follow a trellis if the vines are tied to one. 
Seeds are can be planted individually into small holes or planted on small mounds, three to five to a mound. 
If you’re doing the mound method, when the seeds sprout, pinch off the weakest vines until only the strongest one is left. 
It’s better to pinch off the weak vines, as pulling them will disturb the roots of the strong one.
Using the mound method, they should be 30-45cms apart and the rows 2 metres apart from each other.
You could start up a market at this rate if you have the room.
This can take up a lot of space, but one squash plant can produce a lot of squash.  Unless you’re feeding an army only plant one or two mounds of squash then.
Squash have male and female flowers that bees, flies, wasp or other creatures must pollinate it.
Did they fall down on the job for you last year?
Plant plenty of flowers alongside your squash otherwise you’ll end up having to hand pollinate using an artist’s paintbrush.
Squash are, like most vegetables, heavy feeders and need lots of fertilizer and water.
Don’t over fertilize with chook poo pellets or you’ll have big plants and no squash.
The vining types of squash need the extra space and will invade even more
space if allowed, so plan and plant accordingly.
Water requirements are high and you really need to be on top of keeping up the watering for your button squash during hot weather and when fruit is filling out.
If you don’t you’re very likely get shedding of flowers and partly formed fruit.
Button squash grows very quickly and will start producing us in about 8 weeks.
It’s a twining vine with large, broad, spiny, lobed leaves and an angled, prickly green stem.
Its yellow flowers are either male or female and the female flowers, after fertilisation, those little buttons.
Pick your button squash carefully by cutting them from the vine through their stem.
Did you know that button squash need to be harvested often even commercially  because of their very soft skin and so they’re very labour intensive to grow?
Picking should be done regularly, at least every day as the fruit develops.
When the squash start appearing more and more, you’ll have to go out more often to the veggie patch to pick them.
If you leave your squash on the plants too long they’ll stop growing new ones altogether.
Picking your Summer squash at about 2 ½- 3 cms in size is when they’re at their most tasty.
If you plant an open pollinated type, (doesn’t have hybrid in its name) you can let one or two squash grow out until they are completely ripe and save the seeds from them at the end of the season.
Some varieties from various online seed suppliers.
There’s a French heirloom variety Squash Jaune Et Verte especially for those of you who are not convinced about the benefits of growing squash. 

Picked young, the flesh is sweet and buttery and the skin cooks to lime green.
This is a compact variety producing scallop shaped fruit over a long period. Takes 7 weeks from seed to harvest.
New Gippsland Seeds-Golden Ruffles Hybrid is a Yellow Button Squash- High quality button squash capable of tremendous yields. Fruit gold, often with a green end spot. Tasty and popular.
Greenish-white skin, with lots of round flat fruit on a bushy plant. Best when picked young. 46-60 days.
Scalloped patty pan squash, pale green, harvest 7.5cm—10cm, fine texture, medium sized bush, very productive over a long period, popular traditional variety for home gardens. 47-56 days.
Why are they good for you?
Summer squash is very low in calories and high in fibre.
Button squash is rich in beta-carotene an excellent source of vitamin C, folic acid and calcium.
Amazing fact:One cup of summer squash has nearly as much potassium as a banana!

Did I say they were low in calories?
100g of squash has just between 85 and 105kJ.



with landscape designer Louise McDaid
Trees part 4-Large Trees

Large trees are very long lived-quite often up to hundreds and even thousands of years.
Did you know that in china, tourists flock to see a 2,000 year old Osmanthus?
And in England, the old trees in some gardens like Stourhead, are called Champion trees because of their age, being around 600 years old.
photo M Cannon
Large trees really need a lot of space to give them room for their root spread as well as canopy – a park like area, rural or country, or very large town block – these are the sorts of trees you usually see in estate gardens, botanic gardens, town parks and gardens
If you have a spacious garden, then trees of this size are needed to fill it, to make it look ‘not empty’ – and you might need quite a few – but like I said, not too close to the home. Their spreading canopies are great for shade, and their size balances built forms.
There are ways to use large trees in large gardens but if you’ve got a small garden don’t tune  to this segment on large trees because it’s good to know what trees to avoid when you’re planting out in your garden.
Let’s continue with part42 of the series on trees.

Haven’t we all driven around looking for that shady spot to park on a hot summer day!
Trees and other plantings can reduce asphalt temperatures of carparks by as much as 13°C, and cabin temperatures by 17°C.
But apart from all the health, social, environmental and economic benefit of trees,  it’s sad to note that tree canopy on private land is declining at a rate of 5% per year.
We need to plant more trees not cut them down.

photo M Cannon


with Editor Karen Smith
Bottlebrushes make excellent garden plants.
They vary in size from 0.5 m to 4 m tall. The flowers can be spectacular and are irresistible to nectar-feeding birds and insects and most species are frost tolerant.
Did you know that the popularity of bottlebrushes as garden plants stared soon after European settlement and that the Crimson Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus ) was introduced to Britain by Joseph Banks in 1789?
Some of these are very good garden plants. -
let’s find out about this plant.

The ones mentioned in the radio segment are Callistemon 'Little John',
Callistemon "Better John "and Callistemon "Pink Champagne."
Callistemon Pink Champagne
Callistemon Better John
 Karen hard prunes her Callistemon Pink Champagne and finds that the plant flowers more profusely than if left unpruned.

Many types of bottlebrush or Callistemon species can cope with (or thrive in) damp conditions, yet most are very hardy and will tolerate drought and limited maintenance.
They grow well in a wide variety of soils, except those which are very alkaline. Plants grown in full sun produce the best flowers.
Plants can be lightly pruned after flowering to keep them in shape or you can give them a hard prune and they’ll come back bushy and as good as new.
 A low-phosphorous fertiliser should be applied in spring and autumn. Mulching will help retain soil moisture and reduce weed growth.
Many cultivars have been selected from natural variants and hybrids between species.

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