Saturday, 3 December 2016

Jerry's Gone Amongst the Rhubarb


Brown Gerygone

Belonging to the family of Scrubwrens means this tiny bird is very hard to identify if you see it flitting about in the bush. 
In fact if you were on a guided walk you might be told that they belong to the group SBB or small brown birds. 
Brown Gerygone photo John Gunning

Did you know though that this particular bird builds a truly unusual nest and you can recognise the call if you think of a little phrase, "which is it?"
Let’s find out what it is.. I'm talking with Dr Holly Parsons Manager of www.birdsinbackyards. 

Gerygone is pronounced Jerr-Ig-O-Knee  
By the way the phrase to help you recognise the call “which is it” is an Onomatopoeia: a word or a grouping of words that imitates the sound it is describing. 
And a note from a photographer about this bird reads “I'm convinced these birds are physically unable to keep still and take great delight in hiding behind leaves in perfect light or perching on open branches in the darker areas.” 
If you have any questions about the Brown Gerygone or have a photo or have some information to share, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.

Rhubarb Rhubarb or botanically Rheum x hybridum.
The word rhubarb originates from Latin.
Do you think of Rhubarb as a fruit?
You wouldn’t be the lone ranger on that one, because we’re used to eating it mainly in deserts, such as Rhubarb and apple crumble, or Rhubarb and Apple pie or strudel.
But did you know that rhubarb is actually a close relative of garden sorrel, which means it’s a member of the vegetable family.
If that’s a bit Confucius, in 1947, in the United States, a New York court decided since it was used as a fruit, it was to be counted as a fruit for the purposes of regulations and duties.
Rhubarb [Rheum x hybridum] came to Australia from England with the first free settlers, and was well established by 1840.
Did you know though that until 1890 all culinary rhubarb worldwide was winter deciduous, until an Australian market gardener [Mr Topp of Bendigo Victoria] bred an evergreen variety and called it "Topp's Winter”

Rhubarb x hybridum photo M Cannon
So what is Rhubarb?
Rhubarb-the vegetable used as a fruits, is an herbaceous perennial.
Herbaceous because it dies down in winter, perennial because it regrows from year to year.
Rhubarb has short, thick Rhizomes –the underground horizontal stem part of the plant.
The leaves are sort of triangular shaped and crinkly with small greenish flowers.
What we all like to eat is the long, thick (and tasty) petioles or stalks.
How do you prefer to eat your Rhubarb? In sauces or pies, you can actually eat the stems raw in a salad or stewed.
Perhaps Rhubarb and ginger muffins or for something savory, how about rhubarb with pork or chicken with baked rhubarb?  
Normally I would talk about when to plant Rhubarb crowns which for most districts is a bit late now.
Instead today I’m going to suggest that you can sow seeds of rhubarb.
You can buy the seeds online from a variety of seed companies in Australia or you might be able to source some from your local garden club.
How to sow Rhubarb seeds
The seeds are encased in a rather large paper-like shell. You need to first soak the seeds in water for a few hours before planting.
After that sow them into punnets using a good quality seed raising mixture.
Don’t use potting mix because it’s too coarse and doesn’t contain the right amount of fertiliser to get those seeds going.
Rhubarb seeds photo Flora Cyclam Flikr

Seeds should germinate in about 10 days at this time of year.
Keep your seedlings evenly moist but don’t over-water (the seedlings can die from root rot if the ground is too wet).
The stems of rhubarb grown from seed will not all have that intense red colour that you see in fruit and veg stores.
Some stems will be red, some green, and some in between.
But they will all taste the same, perfect for your rhubarb and apple crumble.

IMPORTANT TIP: In case you think you can also eat the leaves-DON’T.

The leaves contain oxalic acid and are toxic. There’s no safe method of using them in cooking at all.
A few vegetables have oxalic acid but in this case the concentrations of oxalic acid is way too high and it’s an organic poison as well as being corrosive. Other methods of growing Rhubarb is by planting pieces or divisions of 'crowns' formed from the previous season.
If you have a friend that grows rhubarb, ask them to make divisions by cutting down through the crown between the buds or 'eyes' leaving a piece of storage root material with each separate bud.
This is a good way to share your plant with friends.
Divide your Rhubarb in Autumn or winter when it’s dormant but here’s another tip- not before it’s at least five years old.
Rhubarb is a heavy feeder, that means needs lots of fertiliser during the growing season.
Use large amounts of organic matter like pelletised poultry manure and/or cow manure mulches applied in late autumn and work that mulch carefully into the soil around the crowns.
Tip: Use only aged manures, not something fresh from the paddock, or you will get fertiliser toxicity which will stop the plant from thriving and you might even risk losing your rhubarb plant.
During the active growing season you will also need a side-dress of fertiliser using some sort of complete fertiliser at three-monthly intervals do this also after you picked off some Rhubarb stalks for dinner as well.
You don’t have to dig up your rhubarb plant, as it’ll last for 10-15 years.
So plant it in a place that’s permanent, otherwise choose the pot alternative.
The biggest question people have about rhubarb is why aren’t the stems red yet? There’s good news and then there’s bad news.
The good news, stems stay green for the first few years on some cultivars, but they will eventually turn red.
On others, especially those grown from seed, they will always be green or red or in between and this is because seed grown rhubarb isn’t always reliably red, even if the seeds came from a red stemmed parent plant.
So the bad news for you is that these plants will always be the same colour that started out with.
When you’re picking those rhubarb stems here are some tips to keep your plant growing well.
Let some leaves remain on the plants during summer to generate energy and reserves for the following year.
The recommendation is harvesting a few stems at a time, in spring and autumn only. It’s best not to stress the plants during the summer, so avoid harvesting at this time. Frost will kill all the leaves, so harvest all the leaves when frost threatens in Autumn.
There isn’t much that goes wrong with Rhubarb …although some districts may get mites in the leaves or borers in the stem. Unless you are growing plants in really heavy clay, you won’t get crown rot either.
Which Seed Variety Should You Buy?
Until now seed grown rhubarb has had a bad name, because almost all available rhubarb seed is the winter dormant “Victoria” or variations of it.
Some people will tell you that green is all you will get.
It goes to seed readily, and is extremely variable; often only one plant in 1000 is worth keeping.
There’s a company called French Harvest that collects seed from its extensive rhubarb trial fields which are open-pollinated with over 50 different superb non-deciduous red commercial clones grown in close proximity.
They say that it germinates well, and if sown in the spring, can be ready to pick in only 6 months. Approximately 90% of the plants will be red, with a good percentage of stunning red clones.
Growing rhubarb from French Harvest seed has many benefits over root division.
It’s virus free.
The variations obtained from seed raised stock increase the chances of finding a variety suitable to grow on your site.
Large numbers of plants may be obtained quickly.
Low cost per plant. Their trial fields contain unrelated Rheum X’s (rhubarb) resulting in many of their seedlings exhibiting hybrid vigour.
The chance of finding your own new clone and naming it.
Remember all of today’s commercial rhubarbs were once seedlings
The Website
Why is Rhubarb a vegetable Hero?
The good: news rhubarb is low in Saturated Fat and Sodium, and very low in Cholesterol.
It’s also a good source of Magnesium, and a very good source of Dietary Fibre, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Calcium, Potassium and Manganese


Scented Leaves to "Brush By."
Continuing the series on scented plants and scented leaves.

Lavandula sp. photo M Cannon
Was it a term coined by Peter? It seems likely but until Peter mentioned the term, “brush by” I had never come across it.
In fact if you did a search on the internet for “brush by plants” you get a selection of Bottle Brush plants.
That’s not it. If you put in just “brush by”, you guessed it, a selection of definitions on brushing and websites selling hairbrushes.
So what does it mean? 
Let’s find out..I'm talking with Peter Nixon, garden designer and project Manager of Paradisus Garden Design.

Scented leaves on Geraniums, Lavenders, licorice scented leaves of Agastache, and Bee Balm or Bergamot. Just some of the plants to choose from for your brush by garden.


Artemisa vulgaris Common Wormwood
If you’re hankering after scented leaves with silvery-grey foliage, you can’t go past these (wormwoods) plants. 
Not only do they have lacey foliage, but their scent makes them a perfect “brush by” plant.

So let’s find out wwhy they're so good. I'm talking with the plant panel: Karen Smith, editor of Hort Journal and Jeremy Critchley, The Green Gallery wholesale nursery owner.

Artemisia vulgaris photo M Cannon
All wormwoods are member of the Asteraceae or Daisy family, and are related to Tarragon.
Wormwood silver-grey leaves look almost likefeathers and both the stem and upper surface of the leaves are covered with small, whitish hairs.
Once established, this plant can cope with any amount of dry conditions because it’s that tough.

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