SOIL SAVVYIf you want a lush garden where everything grows wonderfully like in this photo, you need to know what type of garden soil you have in your back yard.
How well do you know your soil in the backyard?
No matter how much work you do in your garden, all that careful sowing, weeding and tending could be in vain if the quality of your soil isn’t up to scratch or you’ve been planting things which aren’t suited to your soil.
We gardeners all know that the soil gives your plants vital nutrients, water and air that they need for healthy, but each plot of ground has its own blend of minerals, organic and inorganic matter which largely determines what crops, shrubs or trees can be grown successfully.
Let’s find out how to go about knowing your soil type .
I'm talking with Horticultural Scientist Penny Smith. Penny specialises in soil science.
There are six main soil groups: clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky and loamy.
There’s even soil types which are combinations of the main types; sandy clay, clayey sand.
They each have different properties and knowing what type you have lets you make the best choices and get the most from your garden.
PENNY'S TEXTURE TEST
Grab a small handful of your garden soil and make a fat worm with your soil.
Put your thumb into the top of your soil worm and squish it out.
If you soil is sandy the bit that you squeeze out will fall apart; if it's clay soil it will stick together reasonably well with some cracking.
Loamy soil will stick together but won't dirty your hand as much as the clay soil and there should be no cracking.
Remember, soil types can vary from suburb to suburb or even street to street, so don’t always rely on what someone tells you.
If you’re still not sure after doing Penny’s soil test, take a sample of your garden soil to your garden centre.
If you have any questions about finding out your soil type or have some information you’d like to share, why not email firstname.lastname@example.org or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.
VEGETABLE HEROESThis weeks Vegetable Hero is the Capsicum or botanically-Capsicum annuum or Bell Pepper or Sweet Peppers if you’re in America and Capsicums if you’re in Australia, and Pimento if you’re from Spain.
Capsicums are from the Solanaceae family, with tomatoes and eggplants.
So how did they get to be called Capsicums: probably from the Greek word kapto, which means to "to bite" or "to swallow."
Did you know that fossilized grains of Capsicums were found on grinding stones and cooking pots used in the Americas some 4000 years ago? (that’s Mexico, Central America and northern South America,)
Would you believe that there are 30 species of capsicum in the world, but only five of these have been grown in home gardens?
All of the others are wild capsicums that still grow mainly in South America, such as in Brazil.
Just recently two new capsicum species were discovered in Bolivia so discovering diversity is an on-going task.
Capsicums grow on a medium sized bush, up to 1 metre, which produces white flowers.
Capsicum seedlings grow into a bush with one or two central stems and branches that come off the side.
As the capsicums grow, they change from green through to red but can be harvested at almost every stage.
When to Sow
Some of you may have already made a head start on sowing the seeds of Capsicums because they take ages to grow and because of the long lead up time before the capsicum is ready to eat.
But there’s still time.
If you live in temperate zones around Australia, zones you have from August until the end of December to sow the seeds of capsicums.
If you live in cool temperate districts, September until November, are the times you start you capsicums from seed, preferably undercover somewhere.
In warmer sub-tropical and tropical areas, you can sow Capsicums almost all year, from June until next March.
Did you know that commercial growers can either buy in seedlings or sow seed? Container-grown seedlings from commercial nurseries cost about $90 per thousand plus the cost of the seed, and for new hybrid varieties may be up to $9000 per kilogram.
All capsicum seeds need higher temperatures than tomatoes to germinate-in the 230C to 280C range
Capsicum seeds can be a difficult seed germinate, and seedlings grow slowly.
The other drawback is that it takes 70-90 days or 2 1/2 to 3 months for your capsicum to mature, depending on the variety you’re growing.
As the bushes start to grow tall and produce fruit, they can fall over causing the stem to break so stake them up using strips of stockings to tie them on.
The fruit of capsicums can grow quite quickly if they’re watered and fed regularly.
But, if the soil is allowed to dry out too often or they don’t get enough food, the fruit can get crack lines on the skin.
This is because it grew quickly, then stopped, grew quickly and then stopped again! These are still edible, they just don’t look as nice.
The colour can be green, red, yellow, orange and more rarely, white and purple or chocolate brown, depending on when they are harvested and the specific cultivar.
The sweetest capsicums are those that have been allowed to ripen fully on the plant in full sunshine, while those that are picked when green and ripened in storage are less sweet.
After you get your seedlings going, pick a spot in the got that is the hottest-with the longest hours of sunshine.
Do the usual by, adding plenty of compost, manure, and a general fertilizer.
In cooler districts, transplant young seedlings outdoors after the last chance of frost.
If the weather is still cool, delay transplanting a few days, and keep them in a cold-frame, indoors or next to the house.
Capsicums don’t like to dry out and actually prefer moist but not wet soil and don’t like extreme changes in the weather.
When your capsicum plants start to get bigger and small flowers appear, switch over to a fertilizer higher in Phosphorous and Potassium.
Something like tomato feed should do the trick.
You don’t want just all bush and no plants do you?
Tip:Capsicums are self pollinators.
Occasionally, they will cross pollinate from pollen carried by bees or other insects.
If you don’t want hot capsicums, don't plant hot chillies too close.
Don't worry though, as it won’t affect the fruit of this year's crop.
The cross will show up in the genetics of the seeds, if you save them.
Capsicums and chilli peppers are almost identical except for the level of Capsaicin which gives chillies and some peppers that “hot”sensation.
Question:Martha has emailed this question about growing Capsicums.
Why are my capsicum's leaves going yellow and falling off?
Well Martha, leaf yellowing and falling is usually caused by either powdery mildew or bacterial spot. Spray with a mixture of Full cream milk and water for organic treatment of this problem
Why are they good for you?
Red capsicums have very high levels of vitamin C - 1 capsicum has enough vitamin C to meet the daily needs of 10 people and yellow and green capsicums have nearly as much
Did you know that compared to green peppers, red peppers have more vitamins and nutrients and contain the antioxidant lycopene.
The level of carotene, another antioxidant, is nine times higher in red peppers. Red peppers also have twice the vitamin C content of green peppers
Red capsicums are also rich in beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A, vitamin E and a good source of folate (one of the B vitamins).
One red capsicum contains almost the equivalent of almost 2 teaspoons of natural sugar, which is why it tastes so sweet and delicious.
Yellow capsicums are sweet with natural sugars too, but green capsicums have much less sugar, so they’re a little more bitter.
AND THAT WAS YOUR VEGETABLE HERO FOR TODAY?
DESIGN ELEMENTSContinuing with the series on best fit gardening. Living Fences
Conifers make great living hedges especially in Northern Hemisphere gardens, but may not suit your district.
A Living Fence is a fence made of living trees and shrubs either made from thorny or non-thorny plants.
It can also be called a green fence, or hedge.
Will a living fence work and what would you grow in your district?
Let’s find out what you can plant. I'm talking with Garden Designer Peter Nixon www.peternixon.com.au
Peter mentioned Grewia occidentalis ‘Lavender Star or South African Crossberry; Solandra longiflora or dwarf Hawaiian Chalice; Choisya ternata or Orange Blossom and of course rose bushes for cool districts.
PLANT OF THE WEEKGroundcover Bamboo
Have you had a bad experience with growing bamboo?
Perhaps there were invasive bamboo runners coming up through the fence from next door?
You might be surprised to learn that not all running bamboo is bad, but it’s good to know the difference between running and clumping bamboo.
Let’s find out about them by listening to the podcast.
I'm talking with Karen Smith from www.hortjournal.com.au and Jeremey Critchley owner of www.thegreengallery.com.au
A tip about bamboo; when planting bamboo in the ground, whether it’s clumping or running types, it's important to know how they’ll behave.
Add mushroom compost through the top soil and plant at 50cm spacings apart in a grid-like fashion or closer for quicker results.
Mainly so that they survive and also so that they don't take over.
Bamboo "Baby Panda" has lime green very dense foliage and only grows to 20cm in full sun.
In a part shade position Jeremey says it can get to 30 - 40 cm.
Baby Panda bamboo is frost tolerant.