Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Soap Making and Tomato Problems Plus a Little Garden Style

We’re making our own soap on the Good Earth segment, finding out how to control fungal problems on tomatoes, finding out what causes our tomato plants look terrible as Summer draws to a close in vegetable heroes, aa new series on garden styles in Design Elements and an encore of the Birds Nest Fern in Plant of the Week


Making Your Own Natural Soap
Soap making is an ancient art, but did you know that you can make your own soap at home?
Soap making is an art form where the potential ingredient combinations are practically endless.
Homemade soaps use natural skin-nourishing components such as Almond Oil, Grape-Seed Oil, Macadamia Oil or Margaret's favourite is Coconut Oil.
 These handcrafted soaps are enriched with vitamins, minerals, and beneficial oils that won’t’ dry out your skin like store-bought soaps have a tendency to do. 

If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at making soap, listen to this.
I'm talking with Margaret Mossakowska from 

There are so many dried herbs that you can use to infuse your own soap with.
Lemon Verbena, Rosemary, Thyme are just a few that you can start with.
Steep the herbs in your favourite oil for several weeks and then strain off.
There are a few critical steps you need to watch for such as watching the temperature of the caustic soda and only putting the soda into the oil and not the other way around.

The recipe is important so go to Margaret’s blog to check it here:Making Natural Soap

This is an extract from Margaret's web page on making soap
Recipe ingredients for a soap made from olive oil (this is the “cold” soapmaking process):
  • 1000 grams olive oil (plain or scented with garden plants – see the link above)
  • 135 grams caustic soda crystals. If you want more moisturising soap, add 5% less
  • 380 grams water (= 38% of oil weight)
If you have any questions either for me or for Margaret, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


This weeks it’s what’s going wrong with those tomato plants?
Not so much about how grow your tomatoes, but more about what might have gone wrong with them.
It’s a very big topic about which books have been written and which can’t be all covered in a short segment but the main tomato problems will be dealt with here.
I’m assuming you’ve put some tomatoes plants in about September and now you’re getting fruit ripening on your tomato vine.

Let’s start with some problems with hot weather.

We’ve had a few very hot days and tomatoes don’t like really hot and dry conditions.
They actually ‘close down’ lose moisture and droop.
By ‘close down’ I mean the process of respiration and transpiration-you know when plants exchange gases and lose water through their leaves.
By shutting down those pores or stomata in the leaves, the plant is making sure that no more water is lost.
Sun Scald of Tomato

  • If you’ve got whitish, yellow patches on the skin of your fruit, then your tomatoes got too much sun and are sunburnt.
  • Probably because they didn’t have enough leaves to protect them.
  • Why not try putting up a shade umbrella over your veggie patch for those really hot days of over 290 degrees  as a quick fix.
  • Some gardeners put a permanent 50% shade cloth over their veggie beds during the summer months.
  • If the tomatoes are sunburnt, pick them off now because they’re likely to rot.
  • The yellow patches on the fruits, if not caused by sunburn can also be tomato mosaic virus or tobacco mosaic virus.
  • What this virus looks like when your plant has it you’ll see light or dark green or bright yellow patches (often called mottling) on the leaves.
  • The leaves also look like they’ve been scrunched up or puckered, the plant is stunted and there’s also the patches of yellow on the fruit.
  • Cross- infection can occur through plants touching each other or through pruning, tying and transplanting.
  • How to prevent this next time is by controlling weeds, rotating your crops,  and always disinfectng your secateurs with methylated spirits when you’re pruning.
  • Finally  get rid of infected plants.
  • Also, DON’T SMOKE near your tomato plants!
Because we’ve had really humid weather, it’s likely that you’ve got powdery mildew all over your tomato plants.
Powdery mildew on tomato leaves/
  • Powdery mildew starts on the biggest or mature leaves and looks like a brown spot in the centre of the leaf surrounded by yellow area.
  • The leaf starts to die very quickly and pretty soon, almost overnight, the leaves have shrivelled up.
  • Cut them off as soon as you notice that they’re going yellow, and spray the leaves with a seaweed solution.
  • Water your plants early in the day so that there isn’t water on the leaves overnight. You can also use a sulphur based fungicide. Or you can use a bi-carbonate of soda spray on you tomatoes as a general fungicide.
  • 3 teaspoons bi carbonate of soda, 40mls or 2 ½ tablespoons of any horticultural oil and mix with 4 litres of water.
  • Spray all over the leaves and stems, including the undersides.
  • Next year, don’t plant your tomatoes there because you’ll get that problem again-the spores stay in the soil.
This fungicide and Eco Carb containing  potassium carbonate can also be effective on Fusarium wilt.
  • This starts off as yellowing of oldest leaves on your tomato plant then turning brown, almost overnight and drying up but remaining attached to the plant.
  • After it begins it progresses upward, often with yellowing on one side of leaf or branch.
  • The disease can attack at any stage in a tomato plant’s growth, but symptoms are most common right after tomato blossoms appear.
  • The fungus favours temperatures between 21º-32ºC and wet weather, which allows it to spread more easily.
  • Plants in poorly drained soil are more susceptible to infection than those in well-drained soil.
  • Wet soil allows the fungus to multiply and move up through the tomato plant’s water-conducting tissue.
  • This is not an easy disease to fix.
Some gardeners might have issues with fruit fly larvae in the fruit.
Some varieties of tomatoes that I’ve been growing Russian Red and Russian Brown tomato aren’t always affected by fruit fly.
The same with cherry tomatoes because they seem to have slight thicker skin which the fruit fly avoids piercing sometimes but not always.
You can buy fruit fly netting to put all over your plant or just bags that fit over the bunches of fruit.
The bags are white and have minute breathing holes-sort of like a very sheer papery material.
Otherwise there is trap, lures and natural sprays that you can buy containing Spinosad, that you can use for next year.


Garden Styles: Introduction to Federation, Modern, Formal and French ProvincialStyles of Gardens.

How well do you know your garden history in Australia?
For example when did the Federation garden style begin and end and when did the Modern garden style begin and end?
What were the components of the Federation style?

Let’s find out a little bit about each style.
I'm talking with Danielle Collier from Artistic Horticulture

Garden styles have a long history, much longer that we might think.
Formal gardens for example have their origins in Persia all those centuries ago.
What does it mean for us gardeners?
Well we can embrace a style for our gardens which will in the end give us immense satisfaction.

For Federation gardens, built features such as fountains and gazebos were important. (Pictured)

If you have any questions either for me Danielle why not write in to

I'm talking with Garden Designer and Horticulturist, Danielle Collier, from Artistic Horticulture

Banksias, Fennel and Birds Nest Ferns Plus a Little Frangipani

Find out growing tips when I talk to the President of the Frangipani Society of Australia in part 2. Growing a veggie that’s has a little aniseed flavour in vegetable heroes, great for shade in Plant of the Week and an Australian favourite native in the Talking Flower segment.

Frangipani Culture part 2

Last week I had part 1 of the interview with the President of the Frangipani Society of Australia.
Anthony had so much to say it was necessary to split it over two weeks.
In this part, you’ll discover quite a few extra tips and growing frangi’s as they’re known by members, and how to get them to flower well.

Let’s find out. I'm talking with Anthony Grassi from the Frangipani Society of Australia.

General Tips:

Frangi's can be transplanted in winter when they're dormant.
Reduce the canopy by 50% because you will have to reduce the root system prior to moving the tree.
Frangipani seeds last 5-6 years but some can last upwards of 10 years before planting.
Sow the Frangi seed in seed-raising mix and stand the seed up. The fat end goes in first.
In warm temperate districts, the frangipani will flower 2-3 years after sowing the seed. In the sub-tropics it may be as little as one year.
Frangipani rubra flowers photo M. Cannon
Colder climates will take around 5 years or more.
They now are a FB society so you can join their FB page, but if you join the society, you get to also join the financial members FB page as well as receive a lovely calendar, CD and tips on how to grow the best Frangipanis ever.

If you have any questions either for me or for Margaret, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


Florence Fennel Foeniculum vulgare dulce and var. azoricum
Did I really mean Florence Fennel?
You might think that I’m trying to get you to grow that roadside weed that is found all over Australia.
No, I’m talking about the culinary fennel.
That other fennel was probably the Fennel  mentioned in the seed  inventory list brought out to Australia by the First Fleet in 1788.
Fennel is a member of the Apiaceae family, which include parsley, caraway, dill, cumin, anise and carrot.

Did you know that in Ancient Greece fennel juice was used as an effective cure for poor eyesight, night blindness and cataract?
In medieval Europe, fennel and St John's wort were used together to ward off evil.
  • The real fennel (Florence fennel Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group;) is a cultivar group with a sort of bulb at the base that you can use in cooking, salads and stir fries.
  • Also the real fennel or Florence Fennel has a much milder anise-like flavour, than wild Fennel and is more aromatic and sweeter.

Where  and When to grow it?
  • This plant is best in hot, dry climates but will grow in practically all climates of Australia. Knowing when to sow the seeds is the key.
  • Timing is crucial: if sown too early, cold can cause bolting; if sown too late, plants won't fatten up before the winter
  • Now is ideal, when the temperature is stable, day length is consistent and there's at least 16 weeks for bulbs to develop.
  • In sub-tropical areas, you can plant or sow seeds from March until May, in temperate zones, from February until May, in cool temperate zones, you have from February until about mid- March, and for cold or mountain districts, it was February then not again until November/December unless you have a greenhouse.
  • For arid areas you have March and April and again in July.
  • Should you have a soil thermometer, Fennel is best planted at soil temperatures between 10°C and 25°C  and as a general rule of thumb, soil temperatures are around a few degrees cooler than the current air temperature.

Likes and Dislikes of Florence Fennel

A perennial that’s rather stocky and really only grows to about 60cm
  • It resents disturbance and responds to any shock by bolting: so you’ll only get feathery fronds and flowers, but no swollen stems.
  • Because the bulb grows only partially below ground, and mostly above ground it suits those districts with heavy soils. Otherwise, you can grow it in a pot-by itself.
  • Florence Fennel isn’t too fussy with soils as long as the veggie bed, or garden bed is well drained as has compost or decayed animal manure dug in, In cool temperate districts cut back the plant to about 10cm above the ground as winter draws nearer.
  • Fennel likes a well-drained soil, fertile from having been manured the previous year.
  • When planting your Florence Fennel seeds –sow them about  5mm deep, and unless you’ve got a lot of space, you don’t need more than 2 or 3 because they need spacing of about 30cm.
  • Never let the soil dry out because water is needed for germination, steady growth and swelling.
  • If roots become visible or plants seem unsteady, earth them up to stabilise them.
  • This will help make bulbs white and tender and, later, exclude frost.

Looking After Florence
  • After about 6 weeks you can hill out the soil around the emerging bulb so that, like Celery, the base stays white and is more tender than if you allow the sunlight to turn it green.
  • Hilling up is just mounding soil or mulch around the base of the plant.
  • You can make sleeves out of newspapers or use bottomless milk cartons to keep the hilled soil from getting into the leaves of the Fennel plant.
  • Plants take several months to mature that’s 3-4 months after sowing.

When they look big enough to eat use a garden fork to loosen the roots and cut the bulb off about 2.5cm above the ground.
This way you’ll get more feathery shoots that can be used as celery/dill-flavoured seasoning in the kitchen.
 The bulb is best sweet, ripe and fresh (try it raw in salads) but it will also keep for several weeks in a cool, dry place.
You can get root cuttings from plants that have been lifted during spring, so any if you attend a garden club, ask if any members have this plant.
There are plenty of seed suppliers in Australia that have Florence Fennel Seeds.
Why is it good for you?

The fennel bulb is also an excellent source of Vitamin C
Did you know that if you don’t get enough Vitamin C that’s linked to the increase in the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis?
 Fennel also has folate (Vitamin B), fibre and potassium.
One cup of fennel has 10.8 per cent of the daily fibre intake, 5.9 per cent of the daily folate and 10.3 per cent of the daily potassium.
 An advantage of growing Florence fennel are that it attracts parasitic wasps and very small Praying Mantises.
It’s free of pests and it looks great and the Fennel bulb is delicious baked, too.

 NEW  Birds Nest Ferns
  • Asplenium nidus is an epiphytic species of fern in the family Aspleniaceae, native to tropical southeastern Asia, eastern Australia, Hawaii, Polynesia, Christmas Island, India, and eastern Africa.

Ferns are great for shady places in the garden where not many flowering plants will go.
But do you think of ferns as a tad boring?
They’re just green right?
Wrong. Ferns come in all shapes and sizes, with so many different frond shapes and a little variation in colour as well.
But here’s a fern that’s traditionally too big to consider for indoors unless you have a conservatory, now available in a dwarf form too.
Let’s find out why we should grow it.
I'm talking with Jeremy Critchley owner of the

Asplenium nidus 'Crispy Wave'
Jeremy grows a lot of birds nest ferns in different frond shapes and sizes.
Some of these are dwarfish and can be used as indoor plants.
Why not look out for these in your local nursery or garden centre.
Asplenium 'Crispy Wave' or Asplenium' Chrissie' and Asplenium 'Victoria.'

If you have any questions either for me Jeremy why not write in to


Banksia species
Australia isn't overwhelmed with different types of Banksias.
Banksia is a genus of only around 173 species in the plant family Proteaceae.
All but one occur naturally only in Australia.
Breeders have hybridised many more, think Banksia 'Birthday Candles.'

The flower heads are made up of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of tiny individual flowers grouped together in pairs. 
The colour of the flower heads appear very similar across many species. 
Think a honey coloured brown with some red.
Banksias are great for nectar feeding birds because they flower over autumn and winter when food is scarce for them.
The fruits of banksias (called follicles) are hard and woody and are often grouped together to resemble cones. they're not cones of course because Bankias aren't conifers.
In many species the fruits won't open until they have been burnt or completely dried out.
  • An easy way to release seed is to place the 'cone' in an oven at 120°­140° C for about an hour. 
  • The follicles then open and the seeds can be removed with tweezers. Two black winged seeds are usually found in each follicle.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini about Banksias as a cut flower.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

All About Frangipanis, Lisianthus and Never Never Plant

Is it possible to have Frangipani flower with colours of the rainbow? Find out soon when I talk to the President of the Frangipani Society of Australia. Growing the sputnik of veggies in vegetable heroes, hard to say but easy to grow in Plant of the Week and Miss Lissie in the Talking Flower segment.


All About Frangipanis Part 1
What’s new in Frangipanis?
Q. I have a leaf here that doesn’t look great? 
The green in the centre has gone white and there’s white fluffy stuff, maybe scale? What do you think?
Mite Damage on Frangipani leaves
A: this is typical mite damage on the leaves seen an Frangipani and Camellias as well.
The treatment is Natrasoap spray to which you can also add Neem Oil.
I'm talking with Anthony Grassi from the Frangipani Society of Australia.
Q. It’s been so hot but my Frangi’s aren’t flowering what can be done and is it too late?
 A. When Frangipani are still relatively small, often every second year is a resting year, so they don't flower. Especially if they're in a pot, flowers will be bi-annual. 
It's only when the Frangipani is a mature tree, that you see yearly flowering because they have enough leaves to carry out the photosynthesis needed for lots of flowers.
The exception is when there is a micro-climate and the plants are pampered with high potash fertilisers.

Frangipani Society of Australia
are now  a FB society so you can join their FB page, but if you join as a financial member, you get to access another FB page as well as receive a lovely calendar, CD and tips on how to grow the best Frangipanis ever, plus seeds for you to grow some new varieties of Frangipanis.
photo M. Cannon
If you have any questions either for me or for Margaret, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR PO Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675


Although kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea gongyloides ) and brussels sprouts (B. oleracea var. gemmifera) look like they belong in two different families, they are in the Brassicacea family, along with cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower .

Would you believe that all these vegetables came from a common parent, "wild cabbage"?
You don’t see a lot of Kohlrabi today but it’s been around awhile was known to the Roman Empire.
Did you know that by the year 800 A.D., the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne ordered that kohlrabi be grown in his Imperial gardens.
Charlemagne is thought to be French, but he was actually from western Germany.
So "Kohlrabi" is a German word where Kohl means cabbage and Rabi means turnip. "Kohlrabi" Means "Cabbage Turnip"
By the end of the 16th century it was known in Germany, England, Italy, Spain, Tripoli, and the eastern Mediterranean.
Some said that Kohrabi was the first veggie grown on a field scale in Ireland in 1734, in England in 1837.
Kohlrabi is another one of those vegetables that has the person at the supermarket checkout stumped, you’ll be asked what it is.
Kohlrabi grows above ground
The funny thing about Kohlrabi is that even though it looks like a root vegetable, it actually isn’t.
The bit that you eat grows above ground. 
How to grow Kohlrabi.
Kohlrabi is a good choice for beginner gardeners because it’s fast and easy to grow of all the Brassicaceae family.
Your kids will love kohlrabi because of it’s funny appearance.
Sort of like little aliens from other space-a little round body with little "legs" coming out of the ground.
If you’re into companion planting, Kohlrabi grows well with Beetroot because they have the same water requirements.
Companion Planting:

You can also fit Kohlrabi in between lettuce, onion and radicchio, because it sits above the ground and doesn’t take up as much room as cabbages .
  • You can direct seed Kohlrabi or start them in punnets or seed trays because they don’t mind being transplanted.

When to Sow:
In temperate districts deep January to March and the same for cool temperate districts.
For arid zones, February to June is the best time.
March to August for sub-tropical and April to August for tropical zones.
Sow the seeds about 1 cm deep in rows 30 cm apart and thin them out to 15 cm or a couple of hand-widths apart.
  • Kohlrabi can be rather closely spaced (or interplanted) and is out of the garden in 60 days (2 ½ months)or so, leaving time to plant something else.
  • As with all vegetables a standard application of an organic fertilizer, mixed into the soil according to label rates prior to planting, is all you need to do.

So when do you pick your Kohlrabi?
  • If you want small kohlrabi, pick them when they’re about 6cm in diameter, with the leafy greens still attached.
    photo M Cannon
  • The greens should be deep green all over with no yellowing.
  • Although kohlrabi stores well, up to one month refrigerated, yellow leaves means that the vegetable is not fresh.
Now you may be wondering how to eat Kohlrabi, and it wouldn’t be fair if RWG didn’t pass on that information.
Eat them RAW
  • Kolhrabi sort of tastes like the stem of Broccoli or heart of a cabbage but sweeter.
  • Remove the stems by pulling or cutting them off the kohlrabi globe.
  • If the kohlrabi is small, there is no need to peel it, but you might want to cut off the tough base end.
  • If you've bought large kohlrabi, peel it and slice off the tough woody base before slicing or dicing.
  • Slice or cut into julienne and include it on a relish tray with dips.
  • Coarsely grate kohlrabi into a tossed salad. Because it is mild, succulent and porous, it absorbs the flavour of a mild or pungent salad dressing quite well.
  • Dice kohlrabi and combine with your favourite vegetables and dressing for a chopped salad with delightful crispness.
  • Slice kohlrabi, put it in a container, and pack in your bag for lunch for a crunchy snack.
  • Chop and include as one of the ingredients in a raw soup.
  • Slice kohlrabi or cut into bite-sized pieces and put into a saucepan with 1cm of water. Add a dash of salt, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and steam for 5 to 7 minutes. Leaves can be steamed lightly just as you would do spinach.
  • STIR FRIED Dice or chop into bite-size pieces and stir fry 5 to 7 minutes in a little extra virgin olive oil with a clove or two of minced garlic and a dash of salt.

Why Is It Good for You?
Kohlrabi is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
It’s rich in thiamine, folate, magnesium and phosphorus and is packed with dietary fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, copper and manganese.
The only bad thing about kohlrabi is that a large portion of the calories in this food come from sugars.    

Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii

Some plant names are meant to confuse but botanists persist in them remaining. The reasons are varied but it often is because of what family it’s in, where it came from and because once upon a time, a botanist declared that it looked like horses hooves, or a dolphin’s snout.
So here we have a great plant, the Ctenanthe but with a name that just isn’t that attractive.
Ctenanthe Burle-Marxii
It's pronounced:  Ten- An-Thee
No, don't ring up Jeremy and ask for ke ten-an-thee.
I'm talking with Jeremy Critchley owner of the

Ctenanthe is sometimes called the ‘never-never’ plant, but nowhere can I find why?
It’s much hardier than it’s cousin Calathea that looks similar but with thinner leaves.
Both of these plant types like to be warm, so unless you live in the tropics or sub-tropics, it’s an indoor plant for you.
If you have any questions either for me Jeremy why not write in to


Lisianthus: Eustoma grandiflorum (syn Lisianthus russelianus)
Praire Gentian is one of its common names.
How to grow
Seeds are as fine as dust particles, and the need light to germinate.
When you sprinkle this dust onto the seed raising mix, barely press them into the soil.
Then just cove them with a fine layer of vermiculite and mist with water from a spray bottle.
Preferred temperature range for germination is (21-24°C).
It takes 5 months from seed sowing to flowering.
Once plants are growing keep the soil most. Plants get stressed at temperatures over 29°C
Grows well in pots and prefer full sun.
Prairie Gentians are heat loving plants that flower best where nights are warm.
If you live in a climate with rainy, humid summers., then grow something else, because you'll have difficulty keeping these flowers going in your garden.
I'm talking with Mercedes Sarmini from about how best to keep the vase life of Lisianthus going.
Mercedes mentions tips about how to choose the best lissies from your florist or flower seller.
Video recorded live during the broadcast of Real World Gardener on 2RRR 88.5 fm Sydney.