Sunday, 30 August 2015

From New York to Candy Kisses.


Q and A with Horticultural Scientist Penny Smith
Probably most gardeners agree that compost is good for the garden.
Making your own compost is cheap and you get a bit of exercise doing it.
But, is there a right way or wrong way to compost?
Can it get too hot or too cold?
Is there a right temperature that compost should get to?
Yes, there is, because the bacteria that breaks down compost and makes the nutrients available for your plants, dies off if the compost heap is too hot.
If your heap is too cold, the bacteria also dies off because the bacteria need a little bit of temperature.
All these questions are answered, and more, so let’s get started on  composting.
Listen to the podcast audio to hear all the tips.

If you’re not convinced about composting, then think on this.
Healthy plants with healthy soil
Compost is free plant food it increases soil health and soil structure, improves drainage and helps the water holding capacity of your soil.
That means your soil won’t dry out so easily because it’s holding the moisture longer.
But you can't be in a hurry because improve your soil structure using compost will take a couple of years not a couple of weeks.
You do have to aerate your compost about once a week in the warmer months because you don't want your compost to spoil and become anaerobic. The compost is then not that good for your plants.
Finally, most things can go in compost, except fat or oil, and bones and meats because they attract vermin.
Also non bio degradable materials like plastics.
These take a few thousand years to decompose.
If you have any questions about composting, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Celtuce or Lactuca sativa var. asparagine or var anustana.
Are you a fan of lettuce or celery or do they go mouldy in the crisper before you use them?
All types of lettuce, helps you sleep at night if you include lettuce in your evening meal.
But we don’t feel like lettuce in the cooler months so what do we do then?
Lettuce soup is nice but not every night.
What is Celtuce exactly? I’ve heard it called Asparagus lettuce, Celery lettuce and stem lettuce.
Sounds like people just can’t make up their minds what it actually tastes like.
Did you know that China produces about half of the world’s lettuce?
So it’s no surprise that Celtuce, or this mixed up vegetable cross, originates in China.
Lettuce has been grown in China since about the 7th century, and that includes this strange lettuce mutant.
Did you also know that Chinese traditionally don’t use lettuce in salads but in stir fries?
When Celtuce is growing, it looks a bit like Cos lettuce, and it’s at this stage that your pick the leaves and eat them as you would lettuce.
The leaves of Celtuce are more coarse than most lettuce so steaming them or using them in stir-fries might be a good option.
The stem actually does look like a bit like a fat Asparagus stem.
In China, where it’s grown in commercial quantities, the fleshy stem is cut into sections and cooked by steaming or stewing.
Why grow Celtuce?
Because you can use all parts of it, plus it’s easy to grow.
When to Sow?
Lettuce can be planted all year round in most areas of Australia.
But for Celtuce or Asparagus Lettuce, sow the seeds, in September through to December in temperate zones.
For arid areas and sub-tropical districts, Celtuce can take more heat in hot summers than lettuce, and it doesn’t seem to mind wet weather either.
in cool temperate areas, you might like to grow your lettuce in a greenhouse or undercover somewhere during winter.
Celtuce tolerates most soils, including clay soils.
Any gardening book (mostly written for the northern hemisphere) will tell you that full sun is essential.
Full sun is best ONLY when it isn't too hot. Once the temperatures go into the thirties, your lettuce will definitely appreciate some shade, especially afternoon shade!
Sow the Celtuce seeds only half a cm deep, spreading the seed very thinly along a row and cover lightly with soil, or sprinkle it over a bed and rake it in.
For all you balcony gardeners, any largish pot will do for 3 or 4 lettuce seedlings.
Lettuce seed is very fine so you'll get a few clumps.
Thin them out, you know the drill.
If the weather is very hot and your soil sandy, you will need to water daily. Stick your finger in the soil if not sure.
By the way, lettuce seed doesn't germinate that well at soil temperatures over 250C. 
So if you are sowing it in a pot, keep the potting mix cool by putting it in light shade until the lettuce seed germinates.
Don't plant you celtuce or any lettuce in deep shade, like under a tree, or they’ll just grow into pale, leggy things with few leaves on them.
If you can't find a position that provides dappled shade in the afternoon, try interplanting between taller plants that won’t totally shade them like capsicums/peppers or eggplants, staked tomatoes.
Lettuces need good soil, that means light, free draining and rich in organic matter. 
You soil need to be able to hold lots of water, nitrogen and other nutrients.
Sandy soils need help from your compost bin or worm farm.
If you have clay soils, growing celtuce or lettuce shouldn't be a problem, as is growing them in pots.
All types of Lettuce have shallow roots, so they dries out easily.
You must keep up a steady supply of water because any set back will at best, make them tough and bitter, at worst it will cause them to bolt to seed straight away without making any leaves for you!
So make sure they never get stressed (e.g. by forgetting to water them).
Celtuce not being a hearting type of lettuce won’t go to seed in summer very quickly.
TIP:In the summer months, you can’t grow hearting lettuces, even Cos/Romaine types, as they're also very heat susceptible and won’t form a heart at all.
I have grown those types of lettuce and they were the first to bolt to seed at the first sign of hot weather
Celtuce takes about 3 months from seed to harvest, but you can pick the leaves much earlier.
When the stem of the celtuce gets to about 30cm tall and is about 3-4cm thick, that’s the time to cut it and use it as a sort of asparagus come celery alternative.
TIP: Unlike Asparagus, you need to peel the stem because the outer part which has the sap, is bitter to taste.
The soft, translucent green central core is the edible part.
You can eat this fresh, sliced or diced into a salad.
The flavour is sort of like a cucumber, yet different.
Why it’s called Asparagus lettuce or celery lettuce has more to do with it’s appearance and not it’s taste.
So why is it good for us?
Asparagus Lettuce is very good for digestion and promotes good liver function.
All types of lettuce have good levels of Vitamin C, beta-carotene and fibre.
You won’t put on any weight eating Lettuce  because most varieties have over 90% water and are extremely low in calories.
Lettuce contain the sedative lactucarium  which relaxes the nerves but not upsetting digestion.
As a general rule, the darker green the leaves, the more nutritious the salad green. For example, romaine or watercress have seven to eight times as much beta-carotene, and two to four times the calcium, and twice the amount of potassium as iceberg lettuce. By varying the greens in your salads, you can boost the nutritional content as well as vary the tastes and textures.  
Happy Asparagus Lettuce growing everyone!


talking with landscape designer Glenice Buck about designing a garden in upstate New York.
If you were a landscape designer, would you fly all the way to America just to design someone’s garden?

Surely there’s plenty of American landscape designers who could do the job?
But, what if you were offered the job and thought well, it’s an exciting opportunity to discover new plants, and learn about a new landscape, even if it’s thousands of miles away.
So why would we be interested?

photo Glenice Buck
Some listeners might live in just that type of climate and want to know what sort of plants will grow there that they can try and source.
The garden is a 2 acre block just out of the little hamlet called Germantown.
Germantown is approximately a 2 and 1/2 hour drive north of New York city in Columbia County which forms part of the Hudson Valley. 

Germantwon is located on the east bank of the Hudson river with the Catskill Mountains to the west and the Berkshire mountains to the east. 
The house is in fact a converted 115 year old barn.
photo Glenice Buck
The block of land the Glenice has to design for is  boomerang shape. The trees growing on it are two old Gleditsias, Magnolias, lilcas, pink oak, white oak and shaggy barked hickories. 
Let’s kick off this new series, “ the garden at the barn-designing a garden in New York State.

We know where this garden is now, and over the next few weeks you’ll hear the story unfold, what trials and tribulations were encountered and how it ended up.
You’ll also hear about what plants worked, no gum trees of course, or Bottle Brushes or Banksias.
So what are the plants that grow in New York State?
You’ll hear about those too.


with Karen Smith editor of and Jeremy Critchley owner
Don’t you just love the way garden marketing gurus name new plants.
Take last week’s Pelargoniums. We had Big Red and Big pink.
This week we have Hemizygia Candy Kisses or Mauve Magic.
Sounds more like a sweet, or a lollipop, perhaps even an energy drink, probably not that, but it’s a plant?
But it’s not just the marketers that are having a field day with this plant.
The botanical name is a doozy too.
In any case, you’ll want to have one of these that’s for sure.
Let’s find out what it is.

 Hemizygia Candy Kisses is an attractive, upright, perennial shrub that produces a delightful display of pink flowers that are highlighted by its stunning variegated foliage.
Short days initiate flowering that would mean it flowers in winter.
The flowers are produced in sprays of flowers which are prominently held above the foliage.
Candy Kisses can be grown for its flowers or foliage.
For best results plant in a sunny to partly shaded position in moist well-drained soil.
Prefers a warm, frost free position.
Spent flowers should be removed after flowering.
An ideal garden specimen well suited to cottage gardens, containers and tubs or as a general feature plant.
Grows to 1m high x 80cm wide.
You would buy this plant just for the leaves, especially around Christmas, because the leaves are that dark green with cream edges and almost look like variegated holly.

Without the prickliness of course, and the stems are sort of succulent.
Beats hollies any time because it will flower with a spectacular show although flowering is initiated by short day length so that means it flowers in winter.
Still, the leaves give all year round interest.
Want one? Yes, what gardener wouldn’t want something new.

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