Saturday, 31 August 2019

Jacky Winter, Loofahs and Alocasias

We’re talking about a small brown native bird with a lovely voice in Wildlife in Focus, growing something we can use to wash with; in Vegetable Heroes. Choosing a tropical look in plant of the week and getting back into indoor plants in design elements.


Jacky Winter:Microeca fascinans
If someone asked you what bird sings loudly from high trees that sounds like a whistling call "chwit-chwit-chwit-queeter-queeter-queeter", would you hazard a guess or be completely in the dark?
This bird happens to be Jacky Winter and is almost sparrow like in its appearance, weighing only 15 grams.
Jacky Winter
Let’s find out more?
I'm talking with Dr Holly Parsons from

Native to Australia, Jacky Winter is widespread in open woodland , preferring bare ground, rural towns and peri-urban areas.
An insect eating bird that dars out from its perch onto open ground but then flies back to that same perch or perhaps another nearby.
Very acrobat in the way they chase their insect prey.
Jacky Winter builds a cup shaped nest which is often positioned on a dead branch so it blends in better.
Bird Calls:
Bird call recognition can be tricky, especially if there’s no chance of seeing the bird, but have no fear.
There are apps for your mobile phone which allows you to record the call and it will identify it for you.
There’s even one called Shazam.
 If you have any questions for me or for Holly email us at
you can write in to 2RRR PO Box 644, Gladesville NSW 1675


Loofah or Gourd: Lagenaria siceraria
Gourds, not Gawd but Gourds those funny shaped vegetables that provide more that just food.
 from the Cucurbitaceae family.
According to one website there is a claim “that Gourds are the worlds most versatile vegetable?”
  • Did you know that Gourds have been around since 7000 BC and are thought to originate from Africa not far from the Sahara or even India? 
  • Here’s something you didn’t realise, Because seed can germinate after 7 months in seawater, it’s thought that the spread of this plant was from just floating around in the ocean.

Gourds are a bit of a mystery as to why they grow some many shapes, textures and sizes.
A bit like the mystery that evolved in my garden.
Mystery in my garden
  • I couldn’t remember planting loofah and when the vine grew I noted the somewhat different yellow flower, almost like flowers of cucumbers but not.
  • Then when this long green fruit grew, I thought, maybe I mistakenly planted zucchini.
  • When quite a number of these fruits grew to about 30 cm long, I decided to try one. It was horrible, in fact more than horrible, yuk. 
  • Then a friend visited and pointed out that I was growing loofahs.
  • Ah yes, now I remember.
  • She said the only time to eat them was when they were really small because after that they become bitter. Got it.

Loofah of course is in the gourd family.
Did you know that that some loofahs or gourds can grow to as long as 2m?
They are so easy to grow, whether you are a gardener or a beginner, gourds have something to offer everyone.
If you can grow pumpkins, then you can grow gourds.
You may even have fun discovering the different shapes and colours.
When to sow
  • In tropical climates, they grow all year round, so those gardeners can have 2 crops of gourds every year.
  • For the rest of Australia, it depends what part of Australia you live in, normally from Spring (mid September to early December) after the danger of frost has passed.
  • In temperate climates, sow the seed when temperatures are around 200C to 300C.
  • In colder climates this means waiting until summer weather has come.

Text books say that to grow Gourds or loofahs, soak the seeds overnight in lukewarm water.
I don’t remember doing this so it mustn’t be essential.
Sow the seeds in mounds of well composted soil about 30cm ( a ruler length) apart. 
The seeds should be planted around 2 cm deep.

Growing luffa requires a certain amount of patience.
 It's not a typical garden plant.
It grows slower than most gourds.
Add some organic pellets of fertiliser to the planting hole, and back fill with some more of the same fertiliser.
The Loofah vines can grow 30 feet(10m) long over the course of a growing season but you can trim it.
  •  Once the fruits form it may take a long time to fully develop fibre and dry for harvest.
Then the work of picking, peeling, and cleaning happens late in the year.
Luffa needs about 140 to 200 or more warm frost free days, depending on the location and variety grown.
  • Mine grew into winter then my friend said, bring them inside and dry them.
  • If you’re interested in growing loofah in Cool temperate areas, start the seeds off in pots, well before the last frost, that way you can extend your growing season.
  • It needs lots of sun, warmth, water, good root nutrients, and a large strong trellis.
  • The vines will grow on the ground on a well drained weed-free flat surface but tend to produce curved loofahs.
  • Luffa can also be grown in pots as can all other Gourds, but make them at least 30cm wide.
  • It’s also a good idea to stop the plant growing when it reaches about 1.5m by pruning off the tip.
  • This also increases the number of Loofah fruits that you get off your vine.
When the weather heats up, add layers of sugar cane mulch or something similar so the plant doesn’t dry out. Or you may lose your Gourd or in this case Loofah!
  • Tip: Gourd plants don’t transplant that well, so either use one of those pots made from coco peat, or a jiffy pot, that can be planted into the soil, or plant them where you want them to grow.
Because they’re a climbing plant, train the stems onto trees, over fences, that garden shed, or frames with 15cm mesh netting.
If your area doesn’t have high rainfall of between 800-1200mm per year, don’t worry, you still can grow gourds as long as you keep them well watered.
To keep them growing well, add a liquid feed of fish emulsion, or worm tea every three weeks.
One problem you may get, and it’s the same with pumpkins is lack of fruit set.
The separate male and female flowers may come out at the wrong time, or it’s cloudy, windy rainy when they come out, and that will mean the mainly bee pollinators won’t visit them.
Try some hand pollination. That’ll work.
Hand pollination is a very simple procedure.
It simply involves shaking or tapping pollen from the male flower (that you have picked) over the female flower. You can pollinate several female flowers with just one male flower.
It’s very easy to tell male from female flowers as the female flower will have the small gourd shape below the flower, and the male flower grows on a stem without the ball shape below the flower.
The flower, by the way is a single perfumed white or yellow flower that opens in the evenings and only lasts for one night.
Vines will start growing fruit after 3-4 months,

When to pick your loofah is the big question.

If the skin feels loose like it will come off easily, then it's ready.
The loofah gourd will also have changed from green to brown  or even yellow and feels a lot lighter.
The skin feels loose and thinner when they are ready to pick.
  • In my case it was hanging on and staying green, so my friend said ,it’s big enough, time to let it dry inside the house. If it feels like it can be peeled easily then it’s ready.

    Peeling Your Loofah photo M. Cannon
  • The bottom tip of the luffa pod can be broken off and many seeds can be shaken out before peeling. Seeds should be allowed to dry before storing so they don't get mouldy.
  • Peel your loofah, give it a bit of a wash under the tap and let it dry in the sun.
  • Loofahs can be kept for years as long as they’re dry and dust free.
  • "Imagine!" being able to grow your own bath sponge!
  • Yes, that’s right those expensive sponges used for exfoliating while bathing or showering-Luffa Cylcindrica?
 Are gourds edible?
Some people eat the gourd fruit when it is very young.
However as the fruit matures it has a sour, bitter taste. It’s really bad, believe me.
Apparently the young fruits are rich in Pectin and are popular in tropical Africa and Asia in stews and curries.
If you were interested in eating them •they are low in Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol, and high in dietary fibre, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Zinc, Thiamin, Iron, Magnesium and Manganese.


Alocasia species
For an instant tropical feel, plants with large leaves are one of the main choices.
Some of these belong in the Alocasia family originating from a bulb or rhizome.
But will they grow in your district.
Alocasia amazonica
Let’s find out
That was Jeremy Critchley

Jeremy mentioned these varieties of Alocasi to watch out for.
Alocasia macrorrhiza, Alocasia zebrina and Alocasia amazonica, are all outstanding cultivars.
The latter has very dark green leaves with prominent veins, edged in white, while the back of the leaf is purple.
Slow growing but hates the cold.
Jeremy thinks that it looks a bit like an African mask.
Don’t be like me and forgot they die down in winter.
Luckily I didn’t throw it out.


Indoor Plants for Warm Climates
The most important elements required for healthy houseplants include light, water, temperature and humidity.
If any or all of these factors aren’t properly met, your houseplants will inevitably suffer.
You might be sweltering under the fans in the heat of a subtropical summer but what about your indoor plants?
Can they cope or is this the climate where they thrive the best?
So let’s find out more in this new series on indoor plants.
I'm talking with Julia Levitt, Landscape Designer and Director of

The good news is that tropical plants usually enjoy warmer conditions and don’t perform well once indoor temperatures fall below 13-16 C.
Plus they like a lot of humidity, that means at least 50%, but better at 70% or more.
Most of the tropical, ornamental indoor plants with attractive foliage & colourful leaf patterns are suitable for hot & humid climates.
For example Dieffenbachia or Dumb Cane, Dracaena, house ferns of many kinds, Tricolor plant, snake plant, Philodendron, Money plant, Syngonium etc

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