Thursday, 23 April 2020

Create A Bird Friendly Garden and Crop Rotation


Building A Bird Friendly Garden

Wildlife in Australia has taken a massive hit with bushfires, then torrential rain that in some cases resulted in flooding.
Are you wondering where have all the birds gone in your garden ?
Or perhaps you have some of the more aggressive birds like Indian Mynah or Currawongs and want to know how to attract those smaller birds.
How can you help the birdlife in your garden?
Superb Fairy Wren
Perhaps start by thinking about creating an oasis, but there’s some essential steps that need to be observed first.
Let’s find out .
I'm talking with Glenice Buck, consulting arborist and landscape designer

If you provide your birds in your local area with a source of food, shelter and water, and that should help with not only supporting them, but letting you enjoy more of their presence. 
  • Glenice points out that you need to plant in layers.
  • This includes the canopy layer or larger trees, the shrub layer, then groundcovers and finally the leaf litter layer.
You may have noticed when you are walking in your district, where the smaller birds congregate.
This will give you some idea of the kind of habitat that they prefer.
You don't necessarily have to plant the same as in the bushland are nature reserves, because some might be weeds.
Grevillea Scarlet Sprite
For example, fairy wrens love to dart in and out of lantana bushes that are growing along a path under the Gladesville bridge in Sydney.
Instead, plant the type of style of bushes that these birds prefer; a shrub with dense foliage to the ground, such as Grevillea 'Scarlet Sprite,' or "Firesprite.' There's also a range of Callistemons or bottlebrushes that attract a variety including fairy wrens.
  • Think about plants that flower at different times of the year so that you've got a food source all year round in your garden.
If you have any questions of course, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Crop Rotation 101

I thought I’d better address the whole crop rotation thing because of an email I received.
It was from a gardener in Auckland who had problems with his corn.
Some of the problems were caused by his planting the same crop twice in a row.
He was totally unaware that this can be a real problem.

  • With his corn, the second crop was stunted and tasselled early. He was wondering why?
  • I had told him that, early corn tasseling usually results when plants are stressed.
  • Corn that is exposed to cold temperatures early in the growing season may develop tassels too early.
  • On the flip side, corn tassels too soon, can occur if it is stressed by drought, nutrient deficiencies or hot and dry conditions.
  • Perhaps one of those reasons outlined may be the cause?
  • He had added compost before planting the second lot but the compost wouldn’t have been enough.
  • He would have needed to add a barrow load of decomposed manures, but then waited for a few weeks for that to break down in the soil so that it was available to plants.

It’s not ideal to plant the same crop twice in the same garden bed. 
Crop rotation does a couple of things. The purpose is to prevent a build up of pathogens in the soil which can infect and re-infect particular families of plants.
Another purpose is that plants absorb different quantities of soil nutrients, and repeated plantings will quickly deplete the soil.
Crop rotation allows for more balanced soil fertility and microbial balance.

  • Here’s the outline of a basic 4 bed rotation system that I call Crop Rotation 101.

I will outline one of the beds.Let’s call it bed 1.
Say you start with Legumes which includes beans, peas, broadbeans.
You will have to adjust to the seasons yourself.

  • Because winter is approaching the legume could possible be planted with peas or broadbeans in most areas.

If you were starting this rotation in spring/summer, then beans and okra would be sown here.
When that crop has finished, in that same bed, the alliums will follow.
  • So alliums follow legumes.
  • You can choose from onions, shallots, leeks and Garlic.

Following on from Alliums, you would go to root and fruiting crops.
  • Root  and fruiting crops follow alliums or the onion family.

There’s quite a choice here, but in winter it might be potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beetroot and in spring or summer, sweet corn, tomatoes and capsicums.

Still in bed 1. There’s one more rotation before you can plant the legumes again.
The last thing to go in this bed is from the brassicas.
  • Brassicas are then following root and fruiting crops.

Hopefully you know the brassica family really well.
They include in autumn/winter cabbages, English spinach, broccoli, turnips and parsnips, depending on your district of course.

  • In spring/summer you may want to plant silverbeet, radishes, mustard greens and pack choi.

If you don’t have enough room for 4 beds, even 4 little vegetable beds, then you need to just stick to one crop.
You’re probably wondering what do I plant in the other beds?
Stay with me, because it can seem complicated.
Remember I started off with legumes in bed 1.
  • At the same time, and in bed 2, I would be on to Brassicas.
  • Also at the same time and bed 3, I would plant out something from the root and fruiting crops.
  • And, at the same time, I would plant something from the onion or allium family in bed 4.

So if you were in a warm temperate area right now, this is what you could have in your veggie garden, assuming the beds aren’t that big.
Bed 1, climbing peas-yes they are legumes
Bed 2 sprouting broccoli, from the brassica family
Bed 3 carrots, root crops of course
Bed 4 garlic and leeks. From the onion family or alliums.
That wasn’t so hard was it?

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Black Bean Tree in Plant of the Week


Common Name: Black Bean Tree: 
Scientific name: Castanospermum australe
Family: Fabaceae
Native distribution: east coast of Australia in Queensland and New South Wales, and to the Pacific islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia
Over the last few weeks in this segment, we’ve been talking about big, big trees, and today’s offering is no exception, but perhaps not as big as the Kauri Pine.
This tree, although very range with amazing huge boat like seed pods, is in the same family as peas, beans and broadbeans.
Castanospermum australe
The Black Bean tree makes an interesting pot specimen. 
Lovely red and yellow pea like flowers, typical of the legume family.
I'm talking with Adrian O”Malley, horticulturist and native plant expert.
So let’s find out more.

  • Black bean tree is an attractive Australian rainforest tree with dark glossy leaves and masses of yellow and red flowers during summer. 
  • Flowers attract lorikeets and other nectar feeders.
Sometimes used as street trees as long as they’re not under power lines. 
DO NOT plant in the garden, because it has invasive roots.
Certainly bird attracting when in flower and has a spreading canopy when it matures.
If you want to grow it from the large bean like seed, sow the seed so that half of it is inserted into the seed raising mix.
Attractive pea like flowers of Castanospermum australe
Sometimes sold as a novelty plant with 6-10 seeds in a small pot, sort of like a bonsai plant but with many stems.
Unless you have a large garden, we recommend that you can plant this one successfully in a pot for many years.
  • The beans of Castanospermum austral or black bean tree or toxic to everyone. 
Sydney Botanic gardens have a couple of these trees and various suburbs such as Hunters Hill, have the occasional Black Bean tree as a street tree.
seed pods of Black Bean tree.

If you have any questions either for me or for Adrian, why not write in to

Deter Mosquitos with Plants and Grow Chicory


Planting to Deter Mosquitos

The warmer months of the year can become the bane of a gardeners life, or in fact anyone who likes the outdoors, if hordes of insects invade your personal space. 
I’m talking mainly mosquitos,  because they bite, but flies can just be just as annoying if your relaxing in your garden, or having friends and family over for a bbq.
So what can we do to deter them?
Pelargonium graveolens: scented geranium
I'm talking with Glenice Buck, consulting arborist and landscape designer
Let’s find out more.

There are plenty of foliage plants that have a particular fragrance which deter insects, but you have to plant a lot of them, not just one or two.
Brushing the foliage releases the scents, so plant them close to where you entertain.
Most successful plants are what you think of as herbs: mint, basil, lemon scented verbena, sage.
Catnip, lavenders, scented geraniums, bee balm (Monarda spp.)
The biggest tip is not to expect the lone rosemary shrub or Tea tree Mozzie Blocker (Leptospermum liversidgei) , to do that heavy lifting in terms of fragrance.
Mozzie Blocker tea tree.
Plant them right around the area where you sit and enjoy your garden so they act as a buffer zone between you and the insects.
  • You need an armarment of plants between you and the invading hordes.
If you want to know more or if you have any questions about plants to deter mosquitos, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Chicory! Cichorium intybus
Have you ever eaten chicory?
  • What do you do with it other than give it to your chooks? Apparently the leaf chicory is very good for them?

Did you know that there’s actually two types of chicory, both of which are considered a vegetable?
There’s the leafy type and the one where the tap root is used more.
But let’s begin with some interesting facts.
  • Chicory comes from the daisy or Asteraceae family, and like dandelion, chicory has been grown since ancient times as a pot herb.
  • A pot herb is one you put in a pot along with your meats and vegetables and cook together for a while-usually a long while.

Chicory is most likely native to the Mediterranean region and it’s an interesting plant because it’s been used in coffee substitutes and additives where the roots were baked and ground.
You probably didn’t realise that Chicory used as a coffee substitute during the Great Depression in the 1930s and during World War II in Continental Europe.
  • Do you realise that if you’ve ever drunk a coffee substitute, like Caro, then you’ve drunk roasted chicory root?
Some beer brewers even use roasted chicory to add flavour to stouts.Some other beer brewers have added it to strong blond Belgian-style ales, to add flavour to the hops, making a "witlofbier", from the Dutch name for the plant.
  • So how come chicory can be used as a coffee substitute?

Chicory contains two polysaccharide, inulin and fructose.
When these are roasted, inulin is converted to something called oxymethylfurfurol, OXY-METH-OL-FUR-FUR-OL and this gives off that coffee-like aroma.
  • Did you know that the first person to grow and process chicory in Australasia was Edwin William Trent (1839 - 1883)?

Eddy or Edwin, operated a steam coffee mill in Nelson in New Zealand, and later moved to Christchurch where he established the first steam coffee mill in Australasia in1863.
Did you also know that Chicory, or Cichorium intybus, was grown as a crop on Phillip Island for nearly 100 years from the 1870s?
  • If you’ve visited Philip Island you’ll see some unusual small brick towers dotted about the island.These are chicory kilns, once used in drying chicory dock – a parsnip-like underground root of the Chicory plant that was grown widely in Phillip Island’s rich volcanic soil.

Are you thinking, I’m not going to bother drying and roasting the chicory root, what on earth do I need to grow this ahem, vegetable?
Here’s the reason: Chicory is actually a nutritious food.
The leaves of the chicory plant can be eaten in salads to add flavour and crunch.
They can also be lightly roasted in olive oil.

You can buy seeds of Chicory “Red Dandelion: this plant has red stems with deeply cut frilly deep green leaves.
As a microgreen or ‘baby leaf’ this variety adds great flavour to salads and it’s a colourful addition to any mesclun mix.
If you get the red variety, it’s one of the few red leafy vegetables that keeps the crimson colour when cooked.
Chicory ‘Red Palla Rossa’ is a small heading chicory, 8 - 10 cm across .
The bright red, very tight heads have prominent white midribs. It has a slightly bitter, tart taste.
As a ‘baby leaf’ they add great flavour to salads.
There’s also the coffee chicory plant or Chicory Coffee 'Magdeburg' which also has the same botanical name of Cichorium intybus.

So What Is Chicory Plant?
This chicory is also a frost hardy plant but with a long taproot topped by a whorl of oblong, broadly toothed, milky-sapped leaves.
The flowers are on top of 1 ½ metre tall, zig-zagging flowering stems with a few sparsely placed leaves and lots of sky-blue to purple flowers.

Flowering is mostly in summer and the 50 cent-sized flowers open at the beginning of the day but close as the heat becomes intense.
Chicory plants flower for several months and the flower looks quite a lot like a purply-blue dandelion flower.
Like dandelion, the seeds are spread by wind.
Also, like dandelion, the leaves are concentrated in a whorl, just above the soil surface.
If you really wanted to you could dry and roast the roots, then grind them for a coffee substitute.
The leaves and young roots can also be cooked as vegetables.
The roots can grow up to 30 cm long and weigh as much as 1 kg.
The one I have in my garden has been there for over a year so I’m guessing that it’s going to have a heavy large underground root.
Chicory is a hardy vegetable and frost tolerant but does wilt a bit on hot days.
It’s a useful cool season crop to add interest to winter salads.
  • When To Grow?

To grow the leafy Chicory, for sub-tropical areas, April to June is the time to sow, in Temperate areas March until May, for Arid areas June to August, and Cool temperate districts, sow late summer to mid-autumn.
  • In all cases sow the seeds directly where they are to grow.

So to grow Chicory you need a well- drained, deep soil.
Chicory will also grow on heavier soils as long as they’re not likely to get waterlogged for extended periods.
  • Are you wondering if Chicory is just as weedy as Dandelions?

It’s unlikely to become a weed since plants tend be short lived.
If you’re growing the coffee chicory, the fleshy taproot of the first year’s growth is dug up in winter, dried, ground and roasted.

(Roast the roots on low heat (around 250 C) until crisp, then grind with a little roasted barley (around 400F or so) for a wholesome coffee substitute.
It contains no caffeine and just adds bulk to coffee, although its bitter flavour can give bland coffee a bit more "bite".)
  • Here’s an interesting fact: Coffee is readily available now in all types of strengths but until the 1960s, before instant coffee was invented, coffee and chicory essence was a popular alternative to using roasted coffee beans.
  • Do you remember that thick black liquid with a very distinctive attractive aroma and sold in squarish bottles with a blue label? It was often drunk with sweetened condensed milk.

Why is Chicory, good for you?
One of the major functions of chicory is to increase the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
The leafy greens of chicory are a good source of calcium and vitamin K;
They also contain folate and like other green vegetables chicory contains good  amounts of potassium.
Chicory is also good for the digestion, and the circulatory system.
From an agricultural point of view, Chicory is used as a short and medium term forage, and is an alternative to lucerne in areas where soils may be too acid for lucerne. Tolerates a pH down to 4.2

Friday, 3 April 2020

3D African Daisies and Others


African Daisy: Osteospermum sp

The daisy plant family (Asteraceae) is one of the biggest in the world.
In fact it includes 32,000 species and 1,900 genera and 13 sub-families.
The seeds of the osteospermums are quite hard. 
All are classified as sub-shrubs with green leaves and 90% of Osteospermums that you see for sale are from the same species.
Botanical Bite:
The daisy flower contains outer sterile ray florets (what look like petals) and the inner part of the daisy, or the 'eye' contains hundreds of tube like flowers and are referred to as disc florets.
Osteospermum sp.
We all know what daisy flowers look like, but what are modern day breeders doing with the colours and shapes?
Is the centre of Osteospermums always a blue eye?
So let’s find out .
I'm talking with Jeremy Critchley, horticulturist and owner of the Green Gallery nursery.

  • What about those daisies that have no centre?
With the fully double flowers, the disc florets that contain the sexual organs, have been genetically replaced  with petals making the flower fully double. These varieties cannot close at night, unlike the singles. 
  • Most Osteospermum's have a blue 'eye.' Any other colour?
There are two cultivars that Jeremy grows with different coloured centres:
Voltage Yellow has a yellow centre.
Osteospermum 3
White Lightning, creamy white with a cream white centre.

The doubles cannot close at night because of the amount of petals in the centre.
There's a range called the 3D's which include yellows, reds, oranges and many shades of pink.
3D's have names like Violet  Berry, Banana Shake-usually with two tone colours.Jeremy mentioned that he used to grow 80 different colours of African daisies. Can you think of 80 different colours?
  • Jeremy'sTop Tip:
Osteo's love food, or fertiliser. The more food, the more flowers.
  • Can you think of 80 different colours?Nope? 
Well, Jeremy now only grows 30 different colours and I bet you would be hard pressed to think of more than 7.
  • Funnily enough the classic white petals with blue centres are still the best sellers.

Why Trees Fail and Celery


Why Trees Fail/Fall?

When a large, mature falls in your garden, it can be very disheartening, especially if it’s a special or favourite tree.
Kurrajong tree photo Glenice Buck
You may be left wondering what happened to cause it to fail after 20 or 30 years.
Sometimes it’s obvious why a tree may fall in your garden, but what are the underlying factors?
I'm talking with Glenice Buck, consulting arborist and landscape designer.
Let’s find out .

There are many reasons why trees fail or fall.
  • Trees need to be growing in well drained soil. 
  • If the soil holds onto too much moisture, this results in no oxygen in the soil, leading to tree roots rotting, making the tree unstable.
Trees will also fail or fall over in extreme weather events if they're susceptible.
Heavy rain inundation together with strong winds undermine the soil that the tree is growing in, particularly if the soil is shallow.
Glenice talks about the force of the wind, where the canopy of the tree acts like a lever, causing it to topple.
Sometimes the tree can be rescued by giving it a hard prune and winching it up, but that is the exception rather than the rule.
  • Trees not planted correctly is another factor.
  • The planting hole needs to be wide enough so there there is enough room for the roots to spread . The hole should have more of vase shape, and loosen the soil so there is no soil 'glazing.'
  • Don't plant the tree too low in the ground.
  • If the tree is planted into a tight narrow space, not giving it enough room for the roots to develop to support the canopy.
If you want to know more or if you have any questions about why trees, fail, next week’s episode is about assessing trees for failure with Glenice.

If you have any questions of course, why not email or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Celery or Apium graveolens
  • Fun Fact: Did you know that at first, it wasn’t meant for consumption, but instead, celery was used for medicinal purposes, as a flavouring herb, and sometimes fed to horses.
  • Celery or Apium graveolens is in the same family as carrots; Apiaceae

If you’ve ever let your celery self seed you would’ve noticed that the leaves become a bit feather and the flowers look like those of carrots.
Flowers of Celery
History of Celery
Did you know that celery leaves and inflorescences or flowers were part of the garlands found in the tomb of pharaoh Tutankhamun (died 1323 BC),?
Another interesting bit of trivia is the romans used celery seed in pills for relieving pain (as described by Aulus Cornelius Celsus) around 30 AD.
The Greeks believed celery to be a holy plant and so it's not surprising they wore necklaces of it at their version of Olympic Games.
For the ancients there was not much difference between celery and parsley. In fact the name for parsley actually means rock-celery.
  • Have you tried growing Celery and found it to be too much work?
Celery has had that reputation of being a difficult crop to grow, mainly because traditional varieties need a lot of work and attention - they have to be planted in deep trenches and require layers of soil added regularly to blanch the green stems. 
Otherwise the celery tastes too strong and bitter.
I know of one gardener who uses sheets of corrugated iron against his celery patch to blanch them.
Must love his celery!
  • Did you know there are, self-blanching varieties that don't need earthing up to produce tender white stems?
When to Grow
In sub-tropical districts you can plant them from April until November, Tropical districts only from March until July.
In temperate zones-August until December.
For Arid areas-May until August.
Finally cool temperate districts-I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until September, then you’ll have until the end of December
What Celery likes:
  • Celery prefers moisture, well-drained soil in a sunny spot. 
  • A short row can be squeezed into a garden, raised bed or you could even try dotting the odd plant into a border. If you have a tiny garden it's possible to grow celery in very deep, long tomato style pots.
Celery is a biennial plant (which means that they flower, fruit, then die in the second year) but are generally grown as an annual.
  • Celery prefers warm days and cool nights and grows best in a clay to sandy soil with plenty of moisture.
Soil preparation
Dig the soil (in the spring before planting), removing big stones, weeds and incorporating plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure.
A week or so before planting, rake a general purpose organic fertiliser (90g per square metre) into the surface layer of the bed.
How to sow seeds
Celery seedlings
  • If you have time, plants can be started off by sowing seeds. The seeds take 1-2 weeks to germinate.
  • Celery seed is tiny, so take a pinch and lightly sow across the surface of the soil. Watering from the top is likely to disturb the seed, so fill a bowl with water and put in the pot. It can be removed once the water has been drawn to the surface.
  • Finish by covering with a thin layer of vermiculite and putting in a heated propagator on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. Water daily to ensure the compost doesn't dry out.
  • Take the seedlings out of the propagator when they've germinated. 
  • They're ready to be given pots of their own when the first proper leaves have formed.  That means at least 4 leaves.
  • Plants will be ready to go outside about five weeks later, when they're 8cm tall.

For perfect plants with lots of well-branched sticks, plant celery seedlings about 27cm  or a ruler width apart making sure that the crown of the plant is at ground level.
Plants will grow better if they're arranged in a grid pattern, rather than planted in long rows.
TIP: The secret to fresh crisp stalks is plenty of manure and water, don't let the soil dry out as it has shallow roots.
Keep celery well-watered and the area around them free from weeds.
Plants can be given a boost by feeding with a balanced liquid fertiliser about a month after planting.
Celery Leaves
Celery will be ready for picking in about 3 ½ to5 months, depending on the variety you grow.
When picking your celery just lift plants using a hand fork, taking care not to damage neighbouring plants.
  • One of the main advantages of growing your own is that you can individually pick the stems one by one rather than taking out the whole bunch.

TIP: For best flavour and longer storage, water celery plants the day before harvest.
Best Varieties
A variety called Celery Dorata D' Asti Apium graveolens var. Dulce is available from a one and Stringless American that is normal to use unblanched.
I'll be getting my seeds from them rather than buying celery seedlings and having to try and blanch (unsuccessfully) then ending up with bitter tasting celery.
The Dorata  variety is easier to grow than other varieties, remaining crisp and juicy without the need for blanching. The lime-green stems can be snapped off from summer through to autumn and winter.
Although plants can be grown from seed sown in early spring, it's far easier to buy ready-grown seedlings, which can be planted out in August onwards, depending on what zone in Australia you live..
A third NSW seed company has Golden self Blanching variety, which by all accounts, tastes the best.
Why is it good for you?
On top of the above celery health benefits, celery is known to be a negative calories vegetable.
Which means that the body uses more energy to digest than absorb calories from it!
Add the fact that Celery's high water content and fibrous nature mean that it is great for those who like to snack without gaining weight
A medium stalk of celery contains around 10 calories, 2g of carbohydrates, 1g of protein, zero fats and cholesterol!
Celery leaves can also be eaten or used in soups or used to make celery