Saturday, 30 December 2017

Everything from Lily of the Nile to Dry Soil

What’s On The Show Today?

How to improve your watering in Plant Doctor, crunchy like an apple but sweet like a watermelon in Vegetable Heroes, a mainstay of many gardens in plant of the week and festive flowers in Talking Flowers?


Watering The Garden and Hydrophobic Soils
Water is a scarce enough commodity in Australia, so gardeners would like to think that they are watering efficiently.
We all know the best times to water but what you may not know is that if you scratch the surface of your soil, you may find that the water hasn’t even penetrated.

There are many causes of soil that is water repellent or hydrophobic.
Why’s that you may ask?
Let’s find out. 'm talking with General Manager of

Water repellence can be due to the waxy substances that come from plant material being not properly decomposed. These in turn coat the soil particles. The smaller the soil particle, as in sandy soils,the great chance of the waxy substances clinging to them.

Through no fault of your own, the soil in your garden may be prone to being water repellent.
This means you may need to have routine distribution of a wetting agent, either wetting granules or the spray on kind.
The liquid form of wetting agent also comes in a hose on so it does seem an easy way to do a large area.

Wetting granules though are no more difficult to apply than spreading organic fertiliser around your garden.
When choosing a soil wetter one thing to note is that some are based on petroleum derivatives and alcohol, making them unsuited to organic gardens. 
Others contain only naturally occurring substances that readily biodegrade and cause no ill effects to the soil or plants. 
To help choose a suitable wetting agent check the ingredients. 
For organic gardeners, eco-Hydrate contains polysaccharides (natural humectants that can suck moisture from the air), soil surfactants (which aid in moisture penetration) and soil conditioners (including fulvic acid and seaweed extract).  

If you have any questions about hydrophobic soils either for me or Steve, why not email us or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


Yacon : Smallanthus sonchifolius (syn Polymnia sonchifolia)

Yacon is in the Daisy or Asteraceae family.

Yacon is sometimes called, Peruvian ground apple, ground-pear, and pear of the earth.

We’ll stick to Yacon-which is the name this vegetable mostly goes by

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.

So what does this plant look like and which part do you eat?

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.

The part that you eat is underground.

Yacon tubers look a bit like sweet potatoes, but they have a much sweeter taste and crunchy flesh.
The tubers are very sweet, juicy and almost calorie free but more on that later.
I would say that 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.


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.
Once the soil starts to heave at the base of the plant, dig around to 'bandicoot' a few early tubers to extend the harvest season.
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. 



The old varieties of this tough as old boots flowers, are often seen in neglected gardens but did you know its Greek name means love flower?
Love flower sounds much more romantic than the German Schmucklilie which translated means jewel lily.

This plant with its lily like flower grows almost everywhere except where it’s extremely hot or extremely cold.
Let’ s find out what it is. 'm talking with the plant panel: Jeremy Critchley of and Karen Smith, editor of

photo courtesy plants
In some areas they are used as a fire retardant plant because of their fleshy green leaves and also for holding banks and stopping erosion with their large and tangled root system.
In the norther hemisphere, Agapanthus, other than in their native South Africa need to be moved into unheated greenhouses in winter.
So don’t underestimate the humble Aggie, plus breeders are always looking for new colourways, so that you won’t be disappointed if you seek them out.

Some newer varieties to watch out for Australia
Agapanthus Black Pantha
Agapanthus Cascade Diamond
Agapanthus Snowball
Agapanthus Golden Drop with variegated foliage.

Christmas Bush: Ceratopetalum gummiferum

Ceratopetalum....from Greek ceras, a horn and petalon, a petal, referring to the petal shape of one species.
gummiferum....producing a gum.
In the home garden, I would regard this plant as a large shrub in people’s gardens rather than a small tree because it rarely grows to more the 4-5 metres.
That’s equivalent to Coastal Tee-tree.

The leaves are up to 3-7cm long and are divided into three leaflets or trifoliate, which are finely serrated and the new growth is often pink or bronze coloured. 
Leaves are opposite each other.
I grew these plants as part of a trial when I was studying for my Hort Diploma at Tafe some years ago.
Testing a variety of fertilisers for growth factors. 
Definitely one plant that doesn’t tolerate Phosphorus in the fertilizer. 
Native fertilisers only.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini of
Recorded live in 2rrr studios and published on Facebook.

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