Sunday, 30 November 2014

Wise Owls and Champion Trees

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at 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. The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website


with ecologist Sue Stevens

Other names for  Australia's Barn Owl are Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Silver Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Screech Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl and Delicate Owl.

The last one is the sub-species occurring in Australia-Tyto alba deliculata.
The heart-shaped structure of the facial disc is unique to these types of owls (Tyto species).

If you think all owls sound out hoo hoo, hoo hoo, then you would be amongst the general concensus but incorrect.
Barn Owls are generally quiet, the common call being a  rough, hissing screech.
I think they should add another name-Farmer’s friend because these owls breed up quickly when there’s a mouse plague.

Let’s find out more about this particular owl….

Barn owls specialise in hunting small ground mammals, and the vast majority of their food consists of small rodents.
In wooded areas, the Barn Owl's is a stealthy hunter, lying in wait for an unwary animal to pass underneath, then diving down to strike.  
Barn Owls also quarter over open grassy paddocks at low altitude, flying without making a sound, to snatch mice from the grass. 
Since European settlement, the Barn Owl's favourite prey has been the common house mouse and introduced rat species. 
Sadly, many barn owls die in Australia every year due to secondary poisoning as a direct result of human pest control methods.


Summer Button Squash is the yellow or green saucer shaped members of the Cucurbit family that includes pumpkins, melons and zucchinis. Cucurbita pepo.
If you don’t like the taste and texture of Button Squash, some even call them patty pan squash, maybe you need to buy a different variety to zhooszh up your taste buds.
Did you know that squash comes from a native American word which means eaten raw or uncooked?
No surprises that archaeologists have traced squash origins to Mexico, dating back from 5,500 BC.
 Squash was a part of the ancient diet which also included maize and beans.
In terms of nutrients, button squash give bananas a run for their money. More on the later.
Button squash are small veggies that look a bit like space ships with scalloped edges. 
They grow to between 3 and 5cm in diameter and although they are come in other colours, the most common are the pale green and the bright yellow ones. 
The inside of the squash is pale white and the whole squash is eaten cooked, including the skin and seeds.

Button summer squash, particularly the yellow button squash, is a warm weather squash preferring temperate climates with a well drained soil.
Yellow squash is Cucurbita pepo, just as zucchini squash, cucumbers, and melons are.
This means it must be planted from one another or it will cross pollinate. Only a problem if you collect the seeds though.
You can get some weird looking, and tasting, squash that way.
Squash can be grown all year round in hot, subtropical climates, from spring onwards in temperate zones and only in early summer in cool temperate regions.
As for arid zones, from Spring until early Autumn.
For tropical areas, summer squash is a bit of a misnomer because for you, growing squash is only during the dry season.
So squash can be grown somewhere in all parts of Australia right now.
In fact,  did you know that Squash is grown in all horticultural production
areas including Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia,
Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
Squash like to spread out, but will follow a trellis if the vines are tied to one. 
Seeds are can be planted individually into small holes or planted on small mounds, three to five to a mound. 
If you’re doing the mound method, when the seeds sprout, pinch off the weakest vines until only the strongest one is left. 
It’s better to pinch off the weak vines, as pulling them will disturb the roots of the strong one.
Using the mound method, they should be 30-45cms apart and the rows 2 metres apart from each other.
You could start up a market at this rate if you have the room.
This can take up a lot of space, but one squash plant can produce a lot of squash.  Unless you’re feeding an army only plant one or two mounds of squash then.
Squash have male and female flowers that bees, flies, wasp or other creatures must pollinate it.
Did they fall down on the job for you last year?
Plant plenty of flowers alongside your squash otherwise you’ll end up having to hand pollinate using an artist’s paintbrush.
Squash are, like most vegetables, heavy feeders and need lots of fertilizer and water.
Don’t over fertilize with chook poo pellets or you’ll have big plants and no squash.
The vining types of squash need the extra space and will invade even more
space if allowed, so plan and plant accordingly.
Water requirements are high and you really need to be on top of keeping up the watering for your button squash during hot weather and when fruit is filling out.
If you don’t you’re very likely get shedding of flowers and partly formed fruit.
Button squash grows very quickly and will start producing us in about 8 weeks.
It’s a twining vine with large, broad, spiny, lobed leaves and an angled, prickly green stem.
Its yellow flowers are either male or female and the female flowers, after fertilisation, those little buttons.
Pick your button squash carefully by cutting them from the vine through their stem.
Did you know that button squash need to be harvested often even commercially  because of their very soft skin and so they’re very labour intensive to grow?
Picking should be done regularly, at least every day as the fruit develops.
When the squash start appearing more and more, you’ll have to go out more often to the veggie patch to pick them.
If you leave your squash on the plants too long they’ll stop growing new ones altogether.
Picking your Summer squash at about 2 ½- 3 cms in size is when they’re at their most tasty.
If you plant an open pollinated type, (doesn’t have hybrid in its name) you can let one or two squash grow out until they are completely ripe and save the seeds from them at the end of the season.
Some varieties from various online seed suppliers.
There’s a French heirloom variety Squash Jaune Et Verte especially for those of you who are not convinced about the benefits of growing squash. 

Picked young, the flesh is sweet and buttery and the skin cooks to lime green.
This is a compact variety producing scallop shaped fruit over a long period. Takes 7 weeks from seed to harvest.
New Gippsland Seeds-Golden Ruffles Hybrid is a Yellow Button Squash- High quality button squash capable of tremendous yields. Fruit gold, often with a green end spot. Tasty and popular.
Greenish-white skin, with lots of round flat fruit on a bushy plant. Best when picked young. 46-60 days.
Scalloped patty pan squash, pale green, harvest 7.5cm—10cm, fine texture, medium sized bush, very productive over a long period, popular traditional variety for home gardens. 47-56 days.
Why are they good for you?
Summer squash is very low in calories and high in fibre.
Button squash is rich in beta-carotene an excellent source of vitamin C, folic acid and calcium.
Amazing fact:One cup of summer squash has nearly as much potassium as a banana!

Did I say they were low in calories?
100g of squash has just between 85 and 105kJ.



with landscape designer Louise McDaid
Trees part 4-Large Trees

Large trees are very long lived-quite often up to hundreds and even thousands of years.
Did you know that in china, tourists flock to see a 2,000 year old Osmanthus?
And in England, the old trees in some gardens like Stourhead, are called Champion trees because of their age, being around 600 years old.
photo M Cannon
Large trees really need a lot of space to give them room for their root spread as well as canopy – a park like area, rural or country, or very large town block – these are the sorts of trees you usually see in estate gardens, botanic gardens, town parks and gardens
If you have a spacious garden, then trees of this size are needed to fill it, to make it look ‘not empty’ – and you might need quite a few – but like I said, not too close to the home. Their spreading canopies are great for shade, and their size balances built forms.
There are ways to use large trees in large gardens but if you’ve got a small garden don’t tune  to this segment on large trees because it’s good to know what trees to avoid when you’re planting out in your garden.
Let’s continue with part42 of the series on trees.

Haven’t we all driven around looking for that shady spot to park on a hot summer day!
Trees and other plantings can reduce asphalt temperatures of carparks by as much as 13°C, and cabin temperatures by 17°C.
But apart from all the health, social, environmental and economic benefit of trees,  it’s sad to note that tree canopy on private land is declining at a rate of 5% per year.
We need to plant more trees not cut them down.

photo M Cannon


with Editor Karen Smith
Bottlebrushes make excellent garden plants.
They vary in size from 0.5 m to 4 m tall. The flowers can be spectacular and are irresistible to nectar-feeding birds and insects and most species are frost tolerant.
Did you know that the popularity of bottlebrushes as garden plants stared soon after European settlement and that the Crimson Bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus ) was introduced to Britain by Joseph Banks in 1789?
Some of these are very good garden plants. -
let’s find out about this plant.

The ones mentioned in the radio segment are Callistemon 'Little John',
Callistemon "Better John "and Callistemon "Pink Champagne."
Callistemon Pink Champagne
Callistemon Better John
 Karen hard prunes her Callistemon Pink Champagne and finds that the plant flowers more profusely than if left unpruned.

Many types of bottlebrush or Callistemon species can cope with (or thrive in) damp conditions, yet most are very hardy and will tolerate drought and limited maintenance.
They grow well in a wide variety of soils, except those which are very alkaline. Plants grown in full sun produce the best flowers.
Plants can be lightly pruned after flowering to keep them in shape or you can give them a hard prune and they’ll come back bushy and as good as new.
 A low-phosphorous fertiliser should be applied in spring and autumn. Mulching will help retain soil moisture and reduce weed growth.
Many cultivars have been selected from natural variants and hybrids between species.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Purple Trees, Green Beans and Yellow Fenugreek

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney, streaming live at 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. The new theme is sung by Harry Hughes from his album Songs of the Garden. You can hear samples of the album from the website


with Ian Hemphill from

FENUGREEK Trigonella foenum-graecum)

An annual plant in the pea or Fabaceae family .
Did you know that there are five main flavour attributes that you get in food?
Can you guess what they are other that sweet sour and bitter?
Well I’m not giving it away that quickly other than to say that this next spice is used to trick unsuspecting lovers of Maple syrup with a fake version, but the spice isn’t at all sweet.
But that’s not all about this quirky little seed that actually comes from the bean family.
Let’s find out more about the space they need….

If you want to grow your own fenugreek, the better bet is to get seed from a seed company rather than from the spice shop.
Culinary spices aren’t meant to germinate into the plant so they’re not test for germination, plus some of them are heat treated to remove surface bacteria.
Fenugreek is a very useful herb and spice. The leaves can be used used dried or fresh, the seeds of the spice can be used not only in cooking but as sprouts and microgreens.
Fenugreek as a plant is an annual bush about 60cm tall.
It's quick to germinate only taking 2-7 days.
You can plant in spring/ summer, to early autumn, in full sun, in well limed soil.
The soft leaves are three-lobed, and triangular in appearance, which is probably why you might come across it being called ‘trigonella’, which in Greek means three-angled.
If you have any questions about fenugreek, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


This weeks Vegetable Hero is the BEAN..or Phaseolus vulgaris latin for Common Bean.
Did you know that the Egyptians had temples dedicated to beans, worshipping them as a symbol of life? They must be good
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 are probably native to ancient Peru cultivated 500 B.C.

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 grandkids 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'.
In the summer months always keep your veggie patch well watered and watch for vegetable bugs and green caterpillars
By picking the beans regularly you'll get new flowers.
If you don't pick the beans everyday and let the beans get too big, flowering will slow right and your bean plant will stop producing new beans.
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.

Why are they good for you?

Green Beans are a good source of vitamin C and also contain calcium, magnesium, zinc and Vitamin A. Beans provide a major source of soluble fibre,  and are also is a source of folate .
Some varieties of the dwarf  beans are
Brown Beauty-flat pods
Dwarf Snake Beans-ready in 11 weeks.
Windsor Delight has long pods of about 15cm.
Blue Lake Climbing, long pods again but they’re round this time.



with Louise McDaid, landscape designer.
Trees in Landscape Design-Medium Trees part 3
Did you know that in one year a hectare of mature trees can provide enough oxygen for 18 people?
Batsford Arboretum photo M Cannon
Trees cool the city by up to 6°C, by shading our homes and streets, breaking up urban “heat islands” and releasing water vapour into the air through their leaves.
This design series is all about trees and last week it was about small trees –that means those trees under 10 metres.
So what’s a medium tree and do we have enough trees?
Let’s continue with part 3 of the series on trees.

What can you do?
In a garden larger than a courtyard, or small urban space, there is a bit more leeway in how you use trees – you can of course still use small trees in places, but a medium sized tree will be more in keeping with the proportions of the site – a medium sized tree 10-12m is the most preferable for a regular size country town garden, the old quarter acre block.
It’s likely you might have more than one tree – if in a group they could be the same species for the effect of a copse or glade planting, but they could be positioned in different spots to serve different purposes – so think about why you want the trees, what is their main purpose

Stowe, England photo M Cannon
Would you have thought that by just planting three trees strategically around a single-family home, you can cut summer air conditioning needs by up to 50 percent?
Not only that, by reducing the energy demand for cooling our houses, we reduce carbon dioxide and other pollution emissions from power plants.


Jacaranda mimosifolia or JACARANDA
photo M Cannon

The blue jacaranda, or Jacaranda mimosifolia, is a type of deciduous tree that is grown in gardens all over the world for its beautiful and long-lasting purple flowers that often hang in long bunches.
Jacarandas are flowering simultaneously around Australia.
From Adelaide to Sydney, the purple flowers are filling our views, and carpeting our streets, and lawns.
Let’s find out about this plant.

Some people think Jacarandas are native because they’re grown so much in in Australia, but they’re native to South America.
The jacaranda can be found in virtually any part of the world where there isn’t the risk of prolonged frost, so they can withstand brief bouts with cold temperatures reaching around -60 Celsius. It's also a tough, drought-tolerant tree that can handle a variety of soils and growing conditions.

photo M Cannon

Monday, 17 November 2014

Ground Pears and Walking Iris

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


with Margaret Mossakowska from
Ever though about keeping chickens-there’s small ones you know-those feisty bantams.
If you do have chickens are you keeping them happy?
O.K. although they have been domesticated for about a gazillion years, and do OK inside small areas, they were once wild critters that roamed the forests or jungles looking for food,  keeping their young safe, protecting their flock, etcetera. 

Three chickens in a row photo M Cannon
Watching them over their life-cycles is fascinating and informative, and we come to realize that even the little-bitty chick you raised by hand has those innate wild survival skills. They just want to break out all the time and you can’t keep building the fence higher and higher.
Let’s find out more about the space they need….

At the Royal Easter Show
photo M Cannon
Make sure they have access to some dry soil for their dust baths. If they only stay in a chicken run, you can make a sand pit for them to bathe in. They do this to suffocate any mites they may have.
Chickens also love greens-whether pecking at some grass or maybe of box of weeds especially grown for them. They love chickweed, dandelions etc.
If you do have a chicken run and find that a couple of ring leaders are flying the coop once too often you’ll have to trim their flight feathers on one of the wings.
Clipping these feathers is no different or hurts no more than you cutting your fingernails.You do need to cut the right ones. Check out the internet or a good book about keeping chickens if you’re not sure which ones and how much to cut.If you have any questions about chickens, or have an anecdote about their behaviour, even, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Today it’s Yacon or scientifically speaking : Smallanthus sonchifolius (syn Polymnia sonchifolia)

photo M Cannon
Yacon is sometimes called, Peruvian ground apple, strawberry jicama, Bolivian sunroot, groundpear, pear of the earth.
We’ll stick to Yacon-which is the name this vegetable mostly goes by
Yacon is in the Daisy or Asteraceae family.
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.
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.

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


Where and How  to Grow.
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.

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.

photo M Cannon

with Louise McDaid, landscape designer.
Nearly every primary school girl or boy will tell you that trees give us oxygen. But exactly how much?
Well science to the rescue and a 30 metre tree can pump out 2,721 kilograms of oxygen in a year, which is enough to support at least two people.
That same tree can absorb as much as 22.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide in a year, which over it’s lifetime is approximately the same amount as would be produced by an average car being driven 41,500 kilometres.
But don’t panic, this week’s episode is about smaller trees and they have their role too.
Let’s continue with part 2 of the series on trees.

According to the University of Melbourne, because trees grow faster the older they get, their capacity for photosynthesis and carbon sequestration increases as they age.

photo M Cannon

Don't just plant any tree in a small garden but a tree that's under 10 metres maximum, or which is the classification of a small tree.
In a small garden, trees are much closer so features like the bark can be considered to enhance your garden.
For cool temperate districts a silver birch would look lovely. Otherwise for a similar silvery bark, try Eucalyptus caesia " Silver Princess."
Of course cooler districts are spoilt for choice in the Japanese Maple range.
Another great tree for a bark feature is Crepe Myrtle, especially the Indian Summer Range which is more resistant to powdery mildew.


with Karen Smith from
Neomarica sp. Walking Iris.
Fantastic strap leaf plant to use in the garden as a filler, with beautiful, iris-like flower
Plants are what’s called Heterophs because they make their own food.
They need to of course because they can’t walk to the next meal.
Except for this unusual plant that seems to walk.

Let’s find out about this plant. 
Technically you could say that the walking iris doesn’t actually walk.
Walking iris really only seems to move because the small plantlets that form at the ends of the flower stalk, grow and weigh down the stalk, bringing it to the ground where it will root.
It also grows and spreads from underground stems or rhizomes.



The Blue Walking Iris is a vigorous growing tropical but surprisingly cold hardy.
Walking iris is clump-forming and its leaves are broad, sword-shaped and pointed at the ends. They grow in flat, fan-like arrangements, as do most members of the Iris family.
The brilliant purple-blue iris flowers are marked with white and burgundy-brown spots and appear in clusters on leafy stems held above the leaves. This species tends to bloom in succession from summer to spring

It does best in filtered light to part shade. The flowers are short lived but replaced with new flowers throughout late Spring. Be careful not to over water.


Friday, 14 November 2014

Wurzels and Parrots


There’s no denying sulphur Crested Cockatoos are loud and noisy.
Sulphur Crest Cockatoo photo M Cannon
They’re a bit like teenage larrikins-very social, like to be the centre of attention, fairly friendly but do muck up from time to time.
Sometimes they can be down  right destructive but they’re probably just playing.
Let’s find out more what about them….I'm talking with ecologist Sue Stevens

You’ll probably me familiar with the high-pitched screeching noises that the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo makes.
Did you know that their screeching is meant to traverse long distances through tropical and subtropical forest environments?
They also make loud and incessant grating calls during the evening when they return home to their nests.
Sulphur-crested Cockatoos mainly feed on seeds of grasses, grains, herbs, wild melons, fruits and vegetables. They also eat flowers, nectar, nuts, cereals, oilseed crops, grapes, berries, orchards, leaf buds, rhizomes, bulbous roots. These cockatoos even prefer to eat certain insects like skinks and crickets as well as small larvae. No white bread in that diet that’s for sure.
If you have any questions about Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, or have an anecdote about their behaviour, even some photos, drop us a line to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


This weeks Vegetable Hero is Mangel Wurzel
Folk band or vegetable?
Vegetable of course but there is a band in England called the Wurzels.

Scientifically- Beta vulgaris var rapacea also know as mangold and beets.
Before I start I have to say, I’ve never grown or eaten Mangel Wurzel, but after with a name like Mangel Wurzel, I couldn’t resist talking about it. Plus it seems like a fun veggie to try and grow.
Mangel wurzels even feature in George Orwells novel, Animal Farm’
Also Time Robbins mentions in his book, Jitterbug Perfume, where the characters us the wurzel as one of the ingredients of a perfume.
In the northern hemisphere winter, food was shot for animals, and in the nineteenth century in addition to dry hay and grain, horses, cows and sheep were often fed pumpkins, cabbage and root crops like mangel wurzels.
Why don’t you see this veggie in the shops?
Did you know that if you looked at any seed catalogue from the 1800’s you not only find this vegetable listed, but the description would make claims that the root could grow as big as a small child.
As you’ve guessed it’s a root vegetable that’s related to beetroot and different varieties have yellow, red or even cream flesh.
The roots vary in size and shape too-some are like long radishes and some are short and squat.
Why grow them?
Mangel Wurzel has the highest sugar content of any vegetable.
Plus the leaves not only look like siverbeet leaves, can be cooked and eaten like silverbeet.
If you can grow beetroot or silverbeet you can also grow Mangel wurzel because it needs the same conditions.

When to Grow

For tropical climates plant in the dry season,, during autumn winter and spring in the subtropics, and during spring, summer and autumn absolutely everywhere else.
Yes that means temperate and cool temperate regions.
Because the mangel wurzel has fallen out of favour, all those varieties from the 1800 seed catalogues have pretty much disappeared.
But, you can get seeds from heirloom seed companies, seed saver networks, and community gardens.
If you can get the yellow or cold coloured varieties-they apparently taste the
A Basic Guide for Growing Mangel Wurzel.
If you manage to get your hands on some seed sow them straight into the ground because like a few root vegetables-carrots and beets, they don’t like being transplanted.
If you want mini-mangel wurzels which are supposed to be good for roasting-just space these about 10cm apart.
If you want big mangel wurzels-space them 25cm apart.
On the upside, mangel wurzels grow in any type of soil as long as it’s well drained.
The soil pH doesn’t matter much either as long as it’s not some ridiculously high or low number.
And, you can pick them whenever you think they’re big enough to eat.
You might be wondering how to tell when they’re big enough.
That’s easy-like beetroot and carrots, they push themselves up out of the ground as they get older.
In the mangel wurzels’s case, as much as one-third of the vegetable pushes itself out of the ground.
From go to whoa takes about 5 months.
If you want a really big mangel wurzel-be warned it won’t taste nice and be quite woody.
Here’s a tip: when you pull out your mangel wurzel out of the ground, cut of the leaves as soon as possible, leaving about 5cm.
The reason you need to cut the leaves off and harvesting is because if you don’t do this, the root part of the vegetable will shrivel.

Mangel wurzels don’t have any problems except if you have bandicoots, possums, rats or mice in your area.  They love mangel wurzels apparently.
Look out for mangel wurzels at farmers markets or online
When you cut of the top 5cm, you can replant that bit back into the veggie garden or put it into a jar of water to sprout some roots.
If you’re cooking mangel wurzels, the recommended time is 20-30 minutes if whole or less if you cut them up smaller.
Mangel wurzels are used in cooking as a potato substitute either boiled, baked, mashed etc; also has an interesting history of being used during the 18th century to brew beer.
By the way, if you want to save seed of mangel wurzels-they usually only flower in cool temperate districts.
Why is it good for you?

Mangel-wurzels are low in calories and they also have high sugar content, which can stave the craving for sugar without putting on kilos.
They’re high in vitamin C, folic acid and of course carbohydrates-good for energy stores if you’re low.
Mangel wurzels have large amounts of Betaine –which is particularly good for  cardiovascular health.
And finally they’re high in fibre.


with landscape designer Louise McDaid
Starting a new series- all about trees – they’re an essential part of a garden’s structure, adding shade, shelter and privacy to name just a few

Do you have a favourite tree and is it growing in your garden?
Or is the tree that you really like something that belongs in a park or nature reserve?
Whatever the case, trees are essential not only for providing animal habitat, food, shelter and nesting sites, but provide us with a few amenities as well, like shade, and beauty.

But how fast do they grow? In this day and age we are moving house more often than we used to, so is it any use planting a tree now when we might not be around to enjoy it?
Yes is the answer, because there are so many benefits that you can enjoy while it’s growing (even if you don’t see it to maturity).
We need to be patient with trees, and generally we’re impatient – we want things to grow fast – but there are some drawbacks with this.
While fast growers are good for the impatient, they are usually short lived – take acacias for example, some may only last around 10 years which is paltry for a tree.

Where would Koalas be without trees?                               photo M Cannon

Let’s start the ball rolling with part 1 of the series on trees.

In the words of Dr. Seuss character from his book The Lorax
“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.
I've come here to celebrate Earth Day, so please Come join me and help spread the message I bring. Be a friend to the trees and to each living thing.”

Trees provide beautiful flower colour       photo M Cannon
Are you aware that as trees grow they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it away for decades or even centuries?
All the more reason to plant more trees.


with Karen Smith editor of

Scaevola is a well-known Australian native that really does well in gardens in all states and not just the east coast of Australia flowering from Spring to Autumn, even during the worst heat of summer.
Drought tolerant, salt tolerant, pretty flowers and no real maintenance.

Wouldn’t that be good if most of our plants were like that?
Never mind, even if we put some plants of these amongst the ones that aren’t so hardy, we’ll still have a show of colour and foliage when those others fade away.

With those sort of credentials -let’s find out about this plant.

That burnt hand story I’ve discovered was slightly off with the facts.
The latin word scaevola has a link to a Mucius Scaevola which was a lineage of patricians during the Roman Republic.
It was an offshoot of the Mucian family started by Gaius Mucius Scaevola.
This Gaius Scaevola was a legendary assassin who burnt away his right hand as a show of bravery during the early years of the Republic. Not saint at all then.
Latin: scaevola, "left-handed.

It grows naturally along the coastline around Nambucca Heads to Coffs Harbour where I’ve seen it on bushwalks.
S. albidus grows as far south in coastal areas of Victoria and Tasmania doing well in any type of soil, including clay soils.

The flowers have a beautiful fan shape in colours of purple, blue or mauve.
This petal colour is combined with a white or more commonly a yellow centre to give a bright eye catching flower.
The flowers grow along the stems and become smaller from the top to the bottom of the plant.
Flowering time is from spring through to the end of summer these although this flowering time alters according to the length of summer and the temperatures of the season.
Visited by butterflies and Honey Bees

If you have any questions about growing Scaevola or fairy fan flower why not write in to