Friday, 28 December 2012

Perfume, Plums and Long Shanks

Wildlife in Focus

Black Winged Stilt

Himantopus himantopus leucocephalus (White-headed Stilt)
If ever there was a bird that would make a great porcelain figuring, it has to be this one. The Black Winged Stilt is super elegant, handsome and beautifully coloured.
Let’s find out more… with ecologist Sue Stevens

This bird is a wader, meaning it’s standing not swimming when it feeds, as distinct from ducks. They use their sharp bills to peck.
If you’ve seen aquatic birds and wondered what they’re eating- only very small food such as molluscs, miniscule crustaceans, algae, flies and aquatic insects.
In order to keep predators away from their unhatched eggs, a Black-winged Stilt pretends to be injured so it can lure the predator away.
The stilt can also make a sharp yapping sound and fly around frantically to distract any predators.
Unless you have a nearby wetland you probably won’t see this bird, but in the holiday season, you may just well come across it in your travels.
We would love to see your photo of this bird. Send it in to or write in to 2RRR po Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675

Vegetable Heroes

This weeks Vegetable Hero segment is actually a fruit tree-the Davidson’s Plum, an important food tree in Australia’s bush food industry.
There are three Davidson’s plum in the genus that are native to Australia.
Davidsonia pruriens, is a tall slimline tree that grows to 10 metres and is from Queensland  in the understorey of rainforests.
The plums off this tree hang of the branches as well as the trunk.
The flowers also have that amazing habit of growing straight off the trunk as well.
The fruits are larger than Davidsonia jerseyana also known as , Davidson's Plum or Mullumbimby Plum,
This one is also a slimline tree, only around 5 metres tall, and native to lowland subtropical rainforests of New South Wales. It is considered an endangered species in the wild, but is grown for its pleasantly sour fruit that is used in jam, wine, ice-cream and sauces.
The last in the three is Davidsonia johnsonii,  known as Smooth Davidson's Plum.
Also a small tree with a spreading canopy, and smooth leaves native to New South Wales and southeast Queensland. It is also considered an endangered species in the wild, but is not grown very much.
Today, we’re concentrating on the taller of the Davidson plums-Davidsonia pruriens.
Mainly because I grow it and also because the Mullumbimby plum prefers warmer conditions.
This tree is suitable for any tropical area, but also warm temperate and further south, Mediterranean climates such as lower part of Victoria, including Melbourne, and of course, around Adelaide.
For cool temperate districts you can grow this tree in a pot indoors for quite a few years because of its slow growth.
Davidson’s plum' is a beautiful palm shaped tree with what’s called pinnate leaves that have fine hairy stems underneath.
Pinnate means that the leaves don’t come of branches but rather from a thicker central stem, from which five, seven or more leaves come off.
New growth is an attractive dusky pink, as are the panicles of flowers that appear in Spring.
In Autumn the plum fruits appear.
Plums hang of the tree in clusters and are quite large, dark blue to black about 4-5cm in diameter.
The plum looks like a blood plum inside and out.
Inside the dark red flesh there is two unusual flat seeds and has a really acidic plum flavour. The skin is thin but on the tougher, leathery side, and is covered with very fine hairs.
Because these trees are understory rainforest trees they can be grown in shady conditions but commercial growers do grow them in full sun.
This tree needs protection from wind until it’s established, and prefers moist, humus enriched well drained soil.
The online supplier suggests that they make a very attractive indoor plant when young.
If you would like to buy this tree you can, from two suppliers in Australia. Either call email or write for a catalogue.
The suppliers are in fact located close to Mullumbimby.
Computer users can put in Botanic Gardens nursery + and 
Fairly slow growing and prefer being in shaded locations.
I’ve made Davidson’s Plum jam, but you can also find recipes for Davidson’s plum paste and Davidson’s plum chutney.
You could also substitute Davidson’s plum for tamarind in satay sauce or when making sweet and sour sauce.

Design Elements

Redefining the Concept of a Produce Garden.
Imagine the idea of plucking your own herbs and vegetables. No, you don't have to go to a far away place, but be right in your homes! More and more people are taking to redefining the idea of fresh greens and vegetables and shrinking the distance between the ingredients and the pan. Let’s find out how…

I hope that’s given you some idea start a produce garden or maybe redefine it so it works better for you.

Plant of the Week


For reasons best known to themselves, taxonomists have been changing names of plants. Names that we’ve used for decades so it’s quite difficult to get used to the new one.
Stephanotis is one such plant.
The scientific name and the common name were the same.
It’s now called Marsdenia floribunda instead of Stephanotis floribunda.
But, no matter what you call it, there’s no denying that it has one of the most fragrant flowers of any climbing plant.
  • Planting too many strongly scented plants close together and all flowering at the same time would be overwhelming, so it is important to know when each plant will be in flower.
  • Known as Madagascar Jasmine, once known as Stephanotis floribunda.
  • Also known as Bridal wreath because the flower is often used in bridal bouquets.
  • It is a vine native to Madagascar that is in the same family as milkweed, hoya and crown flower, the Asclepiadaceae.
  • The genus name derives from the Greek stephanos, or crown, and otis, for ear, referring to the arrangement of the stamens in the flower, which are supposedly ear-shaped.
  • The name was changed to Marsdenia in 1990.
  • Drought tolerant and frost hardy. It’s sold as an indoor plant in places like Austria and Germany.
  • The vines can grow to 3 6 metres or more and are covered with shiny, thick, dark green leaves. The leaves are  opposite each other along the stem and are basically an elongated egg-shape and are 5-7 cm long.
  • The stems often have long internodes (spaces between the leaves) but because the stems intertwine readily as they grow, the overall effect is one of dense foliage.
  • Marsdenia likes well-drained Acid, Alkaline or Neutral Loam, Chalk or Sand
  • Suggested planting locations and garden types-City/Courtyard Gardens, Patio/Container Plants or Wall-side Borders
  • Vigorous climbers -Timing: Those that flower on the previous year's growth should be pruned after flowering and where flowering occurs on the current year's growth prune in late winter or spring
  • Pruning: No regular pruning needed. However trimming may be required to keep them to the space available, removing as much from the longer shoots as necessary.
  • Pure white flowers appear in short clusters at the axils of the leaves.
  • The flowers are very fragrant, tubular, waxy and 3-6 cm long long.
  • The main flush of flowers starts in late winter or early spring and goes on into the summer in tropical climates, but late summer for temperate and cool temperate districts.
  • If you live in sub-tropical areas, you’ll get  a spattering of flowers on some vines all year long, though you’ll more like get no flowers for several months at a time in the winter months.
  • Fruit on stephanotis vines appear fairly regularly in Australia and they look like a green mango but have an obvious seam running along two sides.
  • When the fruit is ripe, in this case, changes colour from green to a fairly dark brown, the seed pops open along the seams and literally hundreds of flat, brown seeds attached to white tufts of hair about 1 cm long. These tufts act like parachutes and allow the wind to disperse the seeds.
  • Very easily propagated from seed and in some cases, you’ll find the seed has sprouted somewhere else in your garden in the conditions are right-filtered sun, moist soil.
  • Propagation-Propagate by seed sown at 18-21°C in spring or strike semi-hardwood cuttings in summer, with bottom heat
  • Stephanotis needs to be grown on a support of some sort. The vines are heavy and need a strong fence or trellis.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

By The Sea with Samphire

Spice it Up


There’s more to herbs than you can imagine or never thought of asking. For example, have you ever wondered if a particular can be a herb and a spice? Perhaps not, but it’s the case for a lot of herbs, and this one is no exception.
Let’s find more .....with herb expert Ian Hemphill from

In cool temperate districts you can sow coriander in October to Dec, in temperate districts, August to November in temperate districts if you want to grow it in full sun, after that, do what permaculture devotees do, grow it in the semi-shade. As for sub-tropical and tropical areas, you can grow it anytime, except in the hottest part of the year, or grow it in the shade because the best time for you guys is in late April to July.
For arid districts, August and September are your best months.
That doesn’t mean you can’t try it at other times, but you might have to consider planting it in pots or semi-shade.

Vegetable Heroes

This weeks Vegetable Hero is Sea Fennel, Samphire or CRITHMUM maritimum. In the Family Apiaceae-that’s the same family as carrots.

It was Shakespeare, in the  Tragedy of King Lear. London. (Act IV, scene VI,) who referred to the collecting of this herb “Half-way down, Hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!" Meaning that people often lost their lives trying to collect Rock Samphire halfway down cliff faces.
Being a rare herb I was originally not going to mention this via the CRN, however, of late, Australian native herbs are making a resurgence in various retail outlets, from seed, to dried herbs and pickles.
In fact an Australia seed company on the Mornington peninsula in Victoria does sell seeds of Sea Fennel, although they call it Rock Samphire in their catalogue.
It grows in its native environment from rocks and shingle and on cliffs to rocky shores, and  is the last dry-land plant exposed to strong wind, salt, sea waves, drying sun... it survives extreme weather conditions.
Samphire grows to anywhere between 15 and 45cm in cultivation, depending on local conditions.
Being a halophyte, it can withstand very dry conditions as well, so there’s no reason why it can’t grow anywhere in Australia.
However, Rock Samphire can tolerate being always moist as well as drying out between waterings.
Rock Samphire is a muted blue or pale aqua- green edible plant which also grows on tidal marshes. Plants of Rock Samphire, will last you for many years in a pot or in the ground.
For those listeners with clayey soils, I would recommend growing them in pots at first, but seeing as they also grow in marsh land, you may be lucky if you tried it directly in the ground.
Rock Samphire or Sea Fennel is a succulent, smooth or glabrous, multi-branched herb, and woody at the base, naturally growing on rocks on the sea-shore and wettened by the salt spray.
You could say that stems of Sea Fennel are long, fleshy, -green, shining leaflets (being a succulent they’re full of aromatic juice) and lots of clusters or umbles of tiny, yellowish-green flowers, although the flowers aren’t a real feature.
The whole plant is aromatic and has a powerful scent. Some say it has a strong smell of furniture polish, but I think that’s a bit harsh and think it’s more like aniseed.
Sow seed in cold frame autumn or spring, lightly cover the seed, grow on in pots and plant out in the summer.
Prefers a dry well drained soil in full sun sheltered from cold winds, benefits from a salty soil.
Being a succulent, if you have success with growing Aloe vera, than good, Rock Samphire likes the same growing conditions.
Where do you get it? The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney nursery have started propagating this plant-where I got mine from. Otherwise

Design Elements:

Research tells us that gardens are getting smaller. More true in cities that in the country, but perhaps we’re downsizing, or waiting for an opportunity for a place with a bigger garden.
Another possibility is that you’re downsizing the garden for whatever reason.
You’ll be wanting to know how to redefine your small garden then…listen here.

I hope that’s given you some idea to the way you can change your small garden, maybe  add new plants to your garden.

Plant of the Week:

Plant a Passionfruit or two- Passionfruit Panama Red, Panama Gold, Nellie Kelly and Banana passionfruit.

  • PASSIONFRUIT is a well known and loved vine in Australia. It is very ornamental in leaf and flower and will improve the appearance of fences, stark walls, tanks, etc
  • Almost every garden has space for one passionfruit vine, so try to find a suitable spot against a sunny fence or wall.
  •  Dig in some Dynamic Lifter pellets before planting,
  • Sprinkle soil with 0.5 kg dolomite lime, and mulch with an organic mulch once the vine’s in place.
  • All passionfruit like full sun and protection from wind.
  • You only need two wires along a north facing fence. One placed near the top of the fence and another one 50 cm lower.
  •  Train the young plant up a stake until it reaches the first wire, then allow two shoots to go out along the wire.
  •  Passionfruit are notoriously short lived, so it’s a good idea to plant a new vine in a different part of the garden every couple of years.
  • In colder areas you can grow the banana passionfruit which have a similar taste and pink flowers.
  • Regular water and fertiliser will increase vigour and crop size.
  •  In warm areas you will get fruit for most of the year. In temperate areas expect a crop summer and late autumn. In cold areas only summer.
  • All passionfruit are suitable for trellis, fence or pergola in most soil types. Also suitable for pots on a balcony.
  • (Passionfruit - Panama Gold vigorous and sweeter than the others.
  • Black Passionfruit - (Passiflora edulis) Will tolerate light frosts. Self pollinating.)
Problems with passionfruit;
The most common problem is "I get flowers but no fruit not even with hand pollination. "
The most common reasons for passionfruit vines having lots of flowers but no fruit are:-
1.      Lack of pollinators, i.e, bees.
2.      Temperatures too hot or cold during flowering.
3.      Long periods of overcast weather during flowering –vines in southern Victoria are prone to this problem.
4.      Growing in too much shade.
5.      Not enough water during flowering.
6.      Lack of Boron or other trace elements.
One other reason for a lack of fruit on grafted vines can sometimes be that the vigorous rootstock has sprouted and outgrown the scion without the grower realising. Check the leaves on your plant.
The understock has a palm shaped leaf, whereas the Nellie Kellie has an oval shaped leaf if you’re not sure about this.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Free Range Worm Farms and Christmas Trees

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
Steaming live on the net at

The Good Earth

with Penny Pyett, Director of sydney Institute of Permaculture.
Do you have a worm farm? If so, does it work well for you, giving you liquid referred to by gardeners as black gold, or do you have trouble with your worm farm and are at the point of giving up.
Here’s a marvellous if not fantastic way of having worm farms all over your garden at very little cost.
Let’s find out how…
 If your worm farm smells, then it’s probably too wet or you put in too much kitchen scraps. Worms can only eat so much.
If ants and cockroaches are making a nuisance of themselves in your wormfarm, you can fix this, but they actually won’t harm your worms. Keep a lid on your worm farm or underfelt cover over the food scraps. If you worm farm sits on legs, place each leg in a bowl of water so the uninvited visitors are kept out.
Remember, at all times keep your worm farm out of direct sunlight, covered and well drained, otherwise you will either cook your worms or drown them.
Finally, add a dash of ash, dolomite or lime every few weeks to stop the worm farm from becoming too acidic.
If you have problems with your worm farm, write it or email because we would love to help. or write in to 2RRR po Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675

Vegetable Heroes

BEANS..or Phaseolus vulgaris latin for Common Bean. Their family is Faboidea or the pea family.
Growing bean crops is essential in a veggie garden because beans, as well as other legumes, have nitrogen fixing nodules on their roots.
Yep, that’s right, the roots make nitrogen out of the air and deposit it into the soil. Lightning storms are even better for that reason.
Beans, either climbing or Dwarf Beans, are sometimes called French beans.
To grow beans you  need up to four months of warm weather.
In subtropical climates beans can be grown almost all year. For temperate and arid zones, mid-spring through to late summer are the best times to plant.
In colder districts, beans, don’t like the cold at all and they certainly don’t like frost. You have until the end of summer, certainly you wouldn’t be expecting any cold snaps now.
Tropical districts, once again, need to wait until the winter months to sow beans.
Beans are best planted at soil temperatures between 16°C and 30°C. so planting them from now on is good..
Beans are easy to grow, and each year I teach hundreds of schoolchildren to sow bean seeds. Schoolkids just love to see those bean seeds grow  so it’s a great way to get your kids or grankids started in the vegetable garden.
 Sow seed about 2.5cm or  1-inch or depending on the size of the bean I guess.
Sow your beans, either climbing or  dwarf beans either in rows or just scatter so the seed are 5-10cm apart (don't worry about the odd ones which are closer).
Cover with soil, potting mix, or compost and firm down with the back of a spade or rake. Grown this way the beans will mostly shade out competing weeds and 'self-mulch'.
Keep watered and watch for vegetable bugs and green caterpillars
Pick the beans regularly to encourage new flowers.
Flowering will slow right down if you let the beans get too large (hard and stringy) on the plants.
Tip: To have beans all summer long, plant more seed as soon as the previous planting starts to flower.
Protect against snails and slugs by laying down straw or sugar cane mulch and sprinkling coffee grounds around the edge of the veggie bed.
Slugs and snails will completely destroy newly sprouted beans.
Beans do poorly in very wet or humid tropical climates because they get bacterial and fungal diseases.
Pods won’t set at temperatures above 270 C.
They need well-drained soils with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0 and are sensitive to deficiencies or high levels of minerals in the soil.
Especially climbing beans, so make sure you spread some chook poo or cow manure before sowing seeds.
When growing green beans, keep the soil moist.
A good rule of thumb is to put a finger in the dirt and if the dirt is dry up to the first knuckle, then it needs about an inch of water.
Go easy on the fertiliser or you’ll get lots of leaves and no beans.
When picking your beans, pick times when your plants are dry.
Working with beans when the leaves are wet tends to spread any diseases.
When are beans ready pick I hear you ask?
Usually in about 10-12 weeks.
Pick them when they are about as thick as a pencil, smaller if you want a better, tender taste.

Design Elements:

Garden Gurus tell us that the new trend in garden design is the outdoor room. Usually that means not only plants but everything else including the kitchen sink.  You may not want to have an outdoor kitchen that ultra modern designers insist we should have, so let’s look at alternatives…
I hope that’s given you some idea as an alternative to an outside kitchen.

Plant of the Week:

Choosing the right christmas tree can be tricky?

You’re looking at what’s on offer in your garden centre-Christmas trees in little red pots.
Should you pick the Norfok Island Pine, Wollemi Pine, Black Spurgeon Pine, or perhaps something completely different. It's so easy to be fooled into thinking that what you choose won’t grow big, after all, it's in that tiny pot.
Research shows, that a lot of people buying plants don’t actually read the labels of plants, so here’s some advice to help you choose without reading any labels!

 Trees to avoid if you have a small garden, courtyard or balcony garden.
Leighton's Green Cypress, Norfolk Island Pine.Norfolk Island Pine is a native and is fine for big gardens or properties.
Trees to choose instead:
  • X Cupressocyparis leylandii 'Gold Nugget'  -Grows slowly to 3 m. Somewhat open growing with beautiful fans of golden foliage and a strongly pyramidal habit, its colour is a bit brighter than some of the other golden forms.
  • Juniperus virginiana 'Spartan' –Spartan juniper. Grows to 4 metres x 1 metre wide. Fast growing, fastigiate conifer, later broadening into a slender cone. Dark green foliage. Excellent screening, tub or topiary specimen. Great tub specimen for limited spaces. Hang tinsel around the tree.
  • Native alternatives that make good Christmas trees:
  • Lillypillies (Syzygium paniculata.)These are Australian rainforest plants with dainty dark green leaves. There are a number of dwarf varieties that can be clipped into pyramid shapes or cone shapes. They prefer a mild climate. Eg.Acmena 'Forest Flame' grows to 2m
  • Black Spurgeon Pine, Prummnopitys ladei, from Qld. Likes warmer districts.
  • Box hedge trimmed as a cone or pyramid. Slow growing to 2 metres and very drought tolerant. Keep it tidy with some shears a few times a year.
  • The Wollemi Pine makes the perfect Christmas tree. It has a natural conical shape and very flexible leaves that can support Christmas decorations. A large 1.5 to 2 metre Wollemi Pine can also be kept in a pot if it remains in partial shade. It can be used year after year as the family's Christmas Tree and for the rest of the year it makes a fantastic patio and indoor plant.
  •  In the wild, the Wollemi Pine grows to a height of 40 metres but in the home garden, expect it to grow to about 15-20 metres. 
  • So unless you keep it in a pot, you will need a large garden.
  • The Pines have grown in temperatures from -5 to 45°C are fast growing; up to half a metre in height a year.
    The Wollemi Pine can be heavily pruned i.e. up to two thirds of the plant size removed . Heavy pruning is best done in. Apply controlled release fertiliser after pruning.
    Care of your living Christmas tree:
  • It’s a good idea to choose slow growing types so they won’t outgrow their pots every few months.
  • The Cypress family are slow growing in general, particularly if potted up.
  •  Keep your potted tree outside until its time to decorate it a few days before.
  • Your potted tree won’t like being indoors for more than a week.
  • Don’t overdo the decorations-heavy weights can permanently damage the branches and might spoil the look of the tree.
  •  Place the potted tree inside with a deep saucer and water regularly.
  • The deep saucer will protect your floor surface and keep the tree moist.
  • After Christmas take your tree outside but don’t put it in full sun. 
  •  Choose a semi shaded spot because it takes a few weeks for the tree to adjust to outdoor conditions.
  • The tree can stay in the pot for a couple of years, then it’s time to move it to the next size pot.




Sunday, 9 December 2012

Wildlife Tropical Gardens and Staghorn Ferns

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
Streaming live

 In Your Garden This Week:

Do you have Hydrangeas in your garden? They should be looking fabulous now. There are so many different varieties-Hydrangea “Ayesha” is actually an old favourite. It has curled petals that look like tiny little cups. Very unusual. Then there’s those Hydrangeas with tiny flowers in the centre surrounded by a ring of sterile florets. That’s the lacecap range, quite different to the mophead variety.
Mopheads are just great with their enormous sized flowers, and a few years ago, the “Endless Summer” range was re-released. Actually another old variety that has the bonus of flowering from Summer through to Autumn.
Most people think Hydrangeas need lots of watering. That’s true when they’re being established, but I’ve seen them in neglected gardens surviving on what natural rainfall there is.
Hydrangeas do best in temperate and cool temperate areas, but do actually grow as far north as Cairns.
It’s best to give Hydrangeas an south or east facing wall or fence to grow near, because westerly sun, or sun all day, will wreck the appearance of the flowers, and possibly burn the leaves.




Design Elements

with Louise McDaid
Wildlife and rainforests just going together like peas in a pod. Rainforests are essentially natures tropical garden and now only cover less than 2 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet rainforests house more than 50 percent of the plants and animals on Earth.
  Here’s some ideas that might get you interested in creating that tropical space in your garden. 

Rainforests have 170,000 of the world’s 250,000 known plant species. 
  You’ve probably heard of Madagascar, that  has around 500 species. 
And an area of rainforest the size of two football fields (one hectare) may have more than 400 species of trees. 
And why do tropical forests and gardens attract so many creatures?
  The canopy structure of the rainforest provides an lots of places for plants to grow and animals to live. 
The canopy gives sources of food, shelter, and hiding places, providing for interaction between different species. For example, bromeliads that store water in their leaves allow Frogs and other animals to use these pockets of water for hunting and laying their eggs.
So why not grow a tropical area in your garden to attract wildlife?

Vegetable Heroes:

Cucumbers. are botanically Cucumis sativus..
Cucumbers just love the hot weather, so they’ll germinate and grow quickly at this time of the year. Cucumbers are one of the world’s favourite vegetables.
Sow the seeds of Cucumber in late Spring and early Summer for cool temperate districts, spring and summer for arid and temperate zones districts, mid winter to mid Autumn, for tropical and sub-tropical areas.
Tropical areas may be able to grow them all year round!
Choose a sunny, well-drained position.because Cucumbers are a subtropical plant that need full sun. Cucumbers also want a decent amount of growing space in your garden,. If you’re short on space, try growing them up vertically on a trellis or even some netting, perhaps a tomatoe trellis?. There are also a number of dwarf varieties if you’d like to grow your cucumbers in containers. You’ll need to go to a seed mail order place for those.
Cucumber plants naturally thrive in both all types of temperate and tropical areas and generally require temperatures between 15-33°C.
Cucumbers are happiest when the average temperatures are around 210C
The best thing is that Cucumbers aren’t picky about soils. As long as your soil is well-draining and has a pH of around 6.5.
Add in plenty of organic compost and fertiisers like chook poo or cow manure.
I’ve seen an idea where you make mini mounds, wet the soil first and then drop in 4 -5 seeds into the top of each mound.
Wet the mounds so they don’t dry out but not too much or you’’ll be wondering why nothing is germinating, that’s because the seed has rotted away.
When your seeds have germinated, pick out the strongest couple and throw away the other couple so you don’t get overcrowding.
Water regularly at the base of each plant – keeping leaves dry or you risk powdery mildew disease – and feed every couple of weeks with a soluble plant food.
Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that is spread by spores carried by the wind.
Look for white to gray fungal deposits on the leaves and stems of your cucumbers. As the mildew spreads, the leaves may begin to drop off.
You can also try a natural fungicide. 1 part whole mile to 10 parts water, and spray in the cool of the day.
There’s seems to be a few theories for bitterness in cucumbers.
There is a theory is that the bitterness is caused early in the plant’s development by terpenoid compounds that give a bitter flavour to the entire plant.
 According to this theory it’s a genetic problem. Newer cucumber hybrids seem to have fewer problems with bitterness.
I’ve always thought it to be the result of Cucurbitacin, readily found in most cucumber plants, Cucurbitacin causes fruit to taste bitter.
High levels of cucurbitacins gives an extremely bitter tasting fruit-.
Cucurbitacin levels increase when a plant is under stress..
The concentration of these Cucurbitacin varies in each cucumber and not everybody can taste the same level of bitterness from each cucumber.
Insects have also varying preferences for cucurbitacins- the compounds attract cucumber beetles but repel other insects, such as aphids and spider mites.
Anyway, it proves that you shouldn’t stress out your cucumbers!

By the way, if you do get a bitter cucumber, peel it and cut of the ends by about 2.5cm, that’s where the bitterness concentrated.
Just like zuchhinis, cucumbers have separate male and female flowers. Male flowers come out at first, but don’t worry too much because the female flowers will arrive soon after. Cucumbers should be ready at about 50-60 days and picking fruit often stimulates more to develop. Cucumber can be harvested quite small, which is often when they’re at their sweetest.
Twist the cucumbers off the plant or cut the stalk just above the cucumber tip.
They keep for 7-10 days in the fridge then the start to look like something that came from outer space…green and slimy.

Plant of the Week:

Staghorn Fern-Platycerium bifurcatum-P. superbum

They make a nice plant for your balcony, verandah or just somewhere perhaps on a tree in the garden and are very easy to care for.
They can be grown year-round outdoors in areas protected from frost and freezing. In their natural habitat they can be seen growing high up in the crowns of trees.
Staghorn ferns are native to tropical central Africa including Madagascar, southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and Australia. One species is native to the Andes mountains of Peru.
Native to Queensland and northern New South Wales these plants are epiphytes growing high in the rainforest canopy.
P. superbum is greyish green fronds that lay flat over the root system which is attached to a support.
They have two distinct leaf forms. Flattened sterile shield frond protect the anchoring root structure and take up water and nutrients. This ‘nest’ frond is designed to collect falling leaves and insects and funnels it to the feeding roots. That is how the staghorn is able to source nutrients needed to grow new fronds. 
It is from this frond that the fern attaches itself to the host tree.
Staghorn Fern In cold areas such as Melbourne,  keep the fern on the ‘dry side’ during winter, especially when young as they;re prone to rotting.
In its native habitat Stagferns are used  to a long dry season, with plenty of air circulation, moderate humidity, and sunlight.
Staghorns do well in tropical and subtropical regions but are quite hardy and tolerate the cold of Melbourne which is considered in the temperate zone.
The best position is in light shade with occasional patches of sunlight (not hot afternoon sun filtering through, in dry climates).
Although they'll cope with light frosts, these plants will need more protection in really cold areas.
Protect from wind.
 Water regularly throughout growing season behind the sterile fronds.. Perfect drainage is essential; plants do best mounted on plaques. Increase water as temperature rises.

If you manage to grow some young plants if you pot them into good quality potting mix in a shallow pot.
Mature plants should always be mounted on a board or onto a tree.
During the warmer months of the year - throw a few slow-release organic pellets some say even smelly old Dynamic Lifter 2x a year, behind the sterile fronds.
That old wives' tale of banana skins works for my Elkhorn fern.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Yellow Rumped Thornbills Go with Purple Carrots

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm in Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network
NEW: streaming live
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
Garden Diary:Are you preparing your garden for warmer weather?
Because tropical gardens have featured in design elements over the last few weeks, now’s a timely reminder to fertilise heliconias, gingers, hibiscus, cordylines and other tropical foliage plants such as Dieffenbachia and Crotons.
Move sun sensitive potted plants into shaded areas before their leaves burn, and spray leaves with an anti-transpirant in the early morning.
If you are expecting a bit of a scorcher, I know some gardeners that throw an old sheet over plants that can’t be moved, because they scorch easily.
Hydrangeas are one of these.
If you haven’t planted out some flowers for the festive season, now’s the time to throw in the seeds of Balsam, Californian Poppy, Marigolds, Petunias, (except for sub-tropical and tropical areas). Sunflowers, Torenias and Zinnias.
On the vegetable front, you could be sowing all manner of carrots, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, marrow, melons, rhubarb crowns (except for the tropics), sweetcorn , sweet potato, (except for cool climate gardens), tomatoes and zucchini. That’s just to name a few.

Wildlife in Focus

with ecologist Sue Stevens.
Diminutive, active ,fast ,confident, these words are used to describe the Yellow Rumped Thornbill.
They eat mainly insects and spiders, and occasionally small seeds. Sometimes YellowRrumped Thornbills forage in trees and shrubs, but they are mainly considered to be terrestrial as long as there’s  some tree cover nearby, and they often hang around parties of other small birds when feeding.
Let’s find out more…

Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Although there is evidence for declining numbers in some major cities as a result of urban development, Yellow Rumped Thornbills have mostly adapted to suburban environments and may be common in parks and gardens.
Luckily for us, they have also adapted to agricultural lands, especially where there is remnant native vegetation.
Foxes and feral cats probably catch and eat them, dogs also attack them and poisoning from insecticide ingestion has been recorded in vegetable gardens.
If you suspect that your cat is catching native wildlife you can help by installing a cat run or enclosure.
Dogs should be kept on a lead when walking through nature reserve areas.
They’re also hit on the road fairly regularly. If you live in an urban area, consider using public transport or riding a bike when possible to reduce the chances of road kill.

If you have photo of  a Yellow Rumped Thornbill visiting your garden or nearby park, send  in ,a photo and I’ll put it up on Facebook because we’d love to hear from you. or write in to 2RRR po Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675

Vegetable Heroes

Today it’s Carrots but not just any carrots, I’m going to talk about purple carrots.
The carrot you buy in the supermarket or veggie shop is botanically Daucus carota, subsp. sativus. Carrots can grow year round in subtropical and arid climates.
In Temperate zones, you have from September through to May, in Cool temperate districts, September through to February, and in the tropics you can really only grow carrots from April to June.
Carrots prefer full sun but can grow in partial shade.
They also prefer deep sandy soil with plenty of water.
If you have heavy clay loam, and want to grow carrots, you could grow them in a half wine barrel, or raised garden bed. Otherwise, they’ll be stunted and fairly small.
If you’ve grown carrots and they were stunted, grew two or three legs, and just didn’t look right, that’s because they ran into stones, sticks or freshly manured soil.
Another reason for misshapen carrots is if you’ve sown them first in punnets and then transplanted them.
Carrots hate being transplanted and won’t grow properly for you.
In a 4 bed rotation system carrots are grown with onions, garlic, parsnips, leeks and other root crops. So let’s go through the acronym-LRLC. Legumes, Root crops, Leafy and cucurbits and tomatoes.
Ideally you should grow Carrots where you’ve grown legumes-beans and peas before.
The simplest way to sow carrots is to mix a packet of   seed with once cup of  river sand, pouring the contents into seed drills or just broadcasting them.
Cover the seed with finely sieved compost. Not too thick or they won’t germinate.
The sand makes germination easier; but because sand drains so quickly you need to make sure the carrot seedlings don't dry out at this crucial stage.
Carrots have one of the longest germination times of all vegetables; often taking over 3 weeks, but hopefully for you it will only be 4-7 days.
You can help germination, by adding a packet of radishes.
Radishes will pop up in 4-5 days, and help break the surface crust of the soil. The radishes will be gone in a few weeks so no problems with overcrowding there.
Thin the carrot seedlings out when they're about 5cms (2 inches) tall, and have 4 little leaves.
Carrots need that space so they can grow the root without pushing onto other carrots, otherwise they will also be stunted.
If you’ve grown carrots before and found that the roots were cracked that’s a sign of overwatering.
Ease back on the watering this year.
Carrots usually need 4-5 months to grow to their full size.
Pick your carrots as you need them. Thinned out carrots are great baby carrots for stir-fry meals.
Seeds of purple carrots can be purchased online from these suppliers.  www.

Design Elements

with Louise McDaid, Landscape Designer
Rainforests are found throughout the world, not only in tropical regions, but also in temperate regions like Tasmania and mountainous regions in Victoria and New South Wales.
Montane rainforests are like tropical gardens in cool temperate areas, so it’s not such a stretch to consider planting or designing with the tropical look.
Montane rainforests have quite a lot of year-round rainfall, are mostly above 1,000 metres and mostly have a canopy layer but don’t have the year-round warmth and sunlight associated with tropical rainforests
I always say that it’s important to remember that windbreaks and creating microclimates will help establish large leaved plants that might not thrive or do that well to start off with. But with a bit of planning, I’m sure you can get that tropical look for your mountain garden. Close planting is the key, and layering.
Let's find out more....

Plant of the Week

Callitris spp;

Callitris could be grown in preference to exotic conifers. They are faster growing and drought resistant. The leaves are more lacey looking that pine trees, but the overall effect is similar.

What do Callitris look like? Glaucous green foliage.  The leaves are scale-like, 2-6 mm long and 0.5 mm broad, arranged in decussate whorls of three on very slender shoots 0.7-1 mm diameter.
They're not true pines but they are conifers.
Some callitris forests survive, however, on annual rainfalls as low as 200 millimetres, including in a small area of desert in Western Australia. They occur on a wide range of soil types, but most commonly on nutrient-poor soils with sandy or loamy surface layers and a clay loam at depth.
Callitris has mycorrhiza – mutually beneficial associations between fungi and plant roots – that enhances the plant’s uptake of nutrients, especially phosphorus, from nutrient-poor soils and gives the fungi access to carbohydrates from the tree’s roots.
Examples of Callitris species you can grown in your garden:
Callitris oblonga is a tall shrub or small tree that will reach a height of five metres. The branches are dense and the foliage dark green. Female cones are clustered together, longer than broad and up to 24 millimetres in diameter.
Callitris oblonga is an attractive shrub that could be grown as a “stand alone” specimen or part of an informal hedge. The dense foliage provides safe nesting sites for small native birds. The species is classified as a rare plant. Coastal cypress pine forest (Callitris columellaris, also called white cypress pine grows to 20m) occurs in a fragmented distribution along the coast in northeastern New South Wales, where it has been proposed for endangered ecological community listing. 
Has been extensively used in building construction fencing telegraph poles. Complete resistance to termite attack and high resistance to fungal decay.
There are a lot of Australian native birds that don’t build nests. Instead they look for tree hollows which are in short supply. We can temporarily ease that shortage by building next boxes, but then we need tall trees to put them in. Why not plant this next tree, so that you’re future proofing the next generatins of cockatoos, kites and owls.

To find out about building different nest boxes, go to Birdlife Australia website at
Also don’t forget that you can still help the Powerful Owl Project.
Letting Birds in Backyards know  if you see or hear a Powerful Owl in your area. You can either fill in a survey at
 or email David Bain and Rod Kavanagh at
to report your sighting; you can send us photos or recordings of their calls if you are unsure.