Sunday, April 20, 2014

Growing Jerusalem artichoke from seed

Now that my Jerusalem artichokes / sunchokes are dying down I decided to pull up the one seedling that I managed to grow from the 3 seeds I collected last year.

The plant was small, as I expected from a seedling, but it had a surprisingly good harvest.
The tubers were no different or better than the 'usual' artichokes but I also expected that as you have to grow a lot from seed to find a chance seedling that is better than its parents.
They were quite knobbly and tasted the same but now I have a new 'variety' that will flower and pollinate my other artichokes better as they don't self pollinate well. That was my goal.

I was lucky this year as after the parrots stripped my sorghum, sunflowers and most of the artichoke flowers I went through the flowers that I could see and found a couple of them with seeds. I ended up with 19 seeds that I will plant next spring.

This means that I should have a lot of plants that will pollinate each other and produce seed - I might eventually be able to breed a new and better variety. So much for all the people who insist that Jerusalem artichokes don't produce seed at all and can only be propagated from tubers.

I actually don't like artichokes, I have the gene that makes them taste like dirt, but it is a fun project that might pay dividends as there are no named varieties in Australia and I might in the future be able to breed something that is truly different, well, as long as I have the room.

As I said, the parrots have been stripping all my tall plants so although I love growing sorghum, especially broom sorghum, I think I will not be able to grow it again as it is so hard to keep the birds off and it is too tall to cover effectively. I am worried now that they will discover the corn next year :(

As long as the frosts hold off a couple of weeks longer I should be able to harvest my one cob off the Giant White Peruvian corn. It is a bit uncovered so I hope the parrots don't find it but it is looking good so far. The heat of summer meant that the husks didn't grow the cover the ears properly on all my corn. I am glad that pests weren't a problem with them.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pignuts and Saffron

Some months ago I bought a packet of pignut seeds ( Conopodium majus ). This is a small native plant of Europe and lives in wooded areas. It produces a tiny, edible tuber. I don't have many European natives so I will have to look into what is available. If I had the money and a few acres I would make a park showing off native food plants from all over the world for people to come, taste and learn. This has been a dream for more years than I can remember but it will take a win at lotto for that to come true. Pity I don't buy tickets, lol.

 I got good germination of the seeds and have transplanted them out to one of my beds that will be covered in shadecloth as they need shade and moisture in our summers, although they grow naturally in grasslands also in native areas.I ended up with 15 plants but since they are slow to reproduce it will take a while till I will be eating them.
The flavour is supposed to be similar to hazelnuts and Brazil nuts. It is usually eaten raw.

They will never be a commercially viable food plant as the tubers are so small and slow but it is interesting anyway. They are foraged by many people where they naturally grow. I wish I could find someone who can supply seeds from the type that has tubers that are supposed to grow as big as golf balls.

I noticed today that my saffron bulbs are starting to shoot. I have tried growing them once before but they died. I think that the soil I had them in was too sandy and the constant wet then dry while watering them in summer rotted them. If they are not watered in summer when they are dormant in the heat we get they will dry rot anyway. In my well drained sand it is best to water bulbs when they are dormant rather than letting them dry out.
I have planted these new ones in better soil that I have added compost to. I really hope they do ok now.

I don't think I will end up bothering harvesting and selling the stigmas, instead I will grow them to sell as bulbs/corms for people who want to grow their own.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Looking at my banana yucca and chufa

It was a bit drizzly today but I still got a bit of weeding and digging done. The photos for today were taken yesterday which is why it looks sunny.
I am enjoying these days of Autumn before it gets cold.

 My banana yucca plants (Yucca baccata) are now three years old and still this size. I can't find any info on growth rates or when they start to fruit on the internet but I did expect that they would be bigger by now. I am looking forward to trying the fruit.

I did have 12 plants but a few died when I followed the general growing advice on a couple of websites that tell you not to water them except in periods of extreme dry and heat. I found that they respond better to the regular watering and care that I give all my plants. As with many desert plants I have tried this is the case. I only have 8 plants left.

It is native to North America (I am getting quite a selection of US native food plants now) and the fruits are reputed to be sweet, large and edible raw or roasted. When baked they are supposed to taste like potatoes. The roots contain saponin and can be used as a natural soap.

One of the problems I am going to have with them when I eventually get a lot of these plants (as long as the fruit is worth it) is that they are pollinated by a specific insect so I will have to go around hand pollinating them. I have no idea yet if this is an easy or difficult job.

In otehr news. my chufa plants are starting to die down and have produced mounds of the small tubers under and on top of the base of the plants. It certainly makes them easy to harvest.
I think I will get to them in the next few days. I am going to get more tubers than I thought so that is a plus, I am happy.

I would like to try a larger tubered type that I have heard about, but haven't been able to find a source so I will have to be happy with these. At least they are easy to handle, even if they are small.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

With the weather getting cooler I have started transplanting some of my tender South American vegetables to the polyhouse. It is difficult to get the growing conditions right. I have tried growing them outside with shade in summer and a polytunnel in winter but with the move to the bigger polyhouse I won't be digging them for a year so I hope the summer in there is not too hot. In their native areas they don't get the sort of heat we do.

 Here are the aracacha plants (Arracacia xanthorrhiza) that I managed to get through last winter, well I got two plants through but some of these are offshoots of those plants.
I am really hoping that putting them in the polyhouse will allow them to grow properly and produce roots so I can taste them. So far they haven't produced any roots, just offsets.

They are supposed to taste like a cross between carrot and celery.

This raised bed now contains Cocoyam ( Xanthosoma sagittifolium ). It has the same problems as the aracacha but I managed to get two plants to produce tubers although with only two I wasn't game to eat them. Maybe next year.
I only have one bed filled yet but I have 3 more plants to dig with their offsets so that will fill up most of the rest of the raised beds. The other beds will be filled with some other frost sensitive plants like pepino and lemongrass.
I have also put in a piece of my achira/edible canna (Canna indica) plant to see if it does better inside or outside in the winter.

My polyhouse is not very warm as it doesn't have doors on the ends, just openings but it always stays just above frost temps which is what I want.

I managed to finish dividing all my rhubarb today. I have so many plants now that I don't know if I am going to be able to sell it all when it comes back into production. I did put about 30 or so into growbags to sell at the Co-Op shop and the markets in winter witch will get rid of those.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Kurrajong and corn

I went to the Sandford market today but another market was also on only 30km away which was bigger (it's not hard to be bigger than Sandford, lol) so half the stallholders and all the public went over there. It was as quiet as a cemetery. Oh well, I sold $66 worth of veg and have some left to take around to the neighbours tomorrow. Lucky I didn't take much or it would have been wasted.

I have just picked all my black waxy (glutinous) corn and will let the stalks die, then plant peas up them. It is handy to have that ready-made climbing frame.

The black waxy is the only corn I had any luck with this year, probably because I have been growing it for a few years and it is adapted to my climate. Most of the rest didn't get pollinated because of the summer heat that dried out the silks and tassels as soon as they emerged.

I have been picking these cobs (saving some for seed) and chewing on them as I water and work. I like fresh, raw corn and these are surprisingly sweet for a cooking corn, and for mature cobs. They are mostly used for grilling and thickening dishes as they have a special protein that thickens better than other corn types. They have a chewy texture.

When you pick sweetcorn for eating you pick it in the 'milky' stage, where if you stick your finger nail into a kernel it will seep a white fluid. Unfortunately the coloured sweetcorn looks fantastic but you have to pick it for eating before the colours come out, they are only colourful when ripe/mature.
If you are picking for seed you wait till the outside leaves of the cob are brown then pick it and dry inside.

I pulled up a kurrajong seedling today at the six month mark. I was going on the growth of their cousins, baobab trees but it seems that kurrajongs are much slower to get to eating size.

Baobabs can be pulled at 4-5 months but it will take longer for these.This is one of the bigger plants and it is only barely a size that can be eaten.

Anyway, I peeled and cooked it (steamed til tender), then served it with butter as they are a bit bland on their own. It was delicious but I think it would have been better with a sauce or in a stir-fry.

I will pull one a month till I find out the best age where they are eating size but before they go woody. I must go and inspect the town trees to see if this years seeds are ripe yet.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kohlrabi and eggplants

I was going to start buying the stuff to cover all my veggie beds a bit at a time till I have them all covered by summer so I ordered a roll of polypipe and a panel of weldmesh to get started but I ordered the wrong size of pipe. I took it back to get a roll of 25mm but they are out and are not going to order any more for another month.
Lucky I don't really need it for another 6 months so I don't need to worry just yet. I was hoping to spend the day getting the hoops ready but since that wasn't going to happen I just weeded instead.

My couple of beds of kohlrabi have recovered from the awful attack of white butterfly and are starting to grow now. I really have to get another couple of beds in for the end of winter when I start to run out of stuff for the markets.

I love kohlrabi and am trying to get more interest in it by my customers. The main problem is they don't know how to prepare and cook it, which is the problem with any vegetable they are not familiar with.
It will take time but I'm sure they will start asking for it specially after they eat it. I always put out some small signs to give a brief idea on how to cook unfamiliar produce which helps a lot.

My eggplants didn't bear very well this year, just like all the summer veg but I did get a few and left some on the plants for seed. When they are ripe (too late for eating) they turn yellow/brown and that is when you can collect the seeds. This one is nearly there.

I am not fond of eggplant myself but I sold all the ones I did pick so I will continue to grow them every year. I think, since they did well, that I will try a few different varieties to make a nice and colourful display.

I am a bit sad that all the rain they were predicting didn't eventuate but we did get some cool weather the last few days with a light shower or two. It was enough that I didn't have to water for three days but I will be back into it tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My favourite rare vegetable books, websites and other resources

After a lazy day indoors because I used the excuse of too wet to work outdoors, which was a bit weak as the rain seems to have missed us and it has only been very lightly drizzling all day, I caught up on my bookwork and watched some programs I had recorded.
Anyway, I didn't do much that was interesting so I decided that this post would be about some of the books I have in my bookshelf that get used a lot and the seed websites I use. Maybe you will find a gem here.


Here are some of the books I have that you might find useful if you are looking for books on rare and unusual fruits and veg.
1, Uncommon fruits for every garden: Lee Reich.
2, Growing uncommon fruits and vegetables in Australia: Keith Smith
3, Plant breeding for the home gardener: Joseph Tychonievich   - This book is great for those want to know how to start breeding some vegetable or flower varieties for fun. It is a basic guide that explains the processes in a simple and easy to understand way. A perfect book for a beginner.
4, The complete book of fruit growing in Australia: Louis Glowinski   - I think of this book as the 'bible' for home fruit growers. It is detailed and covers many common and unusual fruits. I have an older version but I have been thinking of updating the newest one which I have heard has even more fruit types in it.
5, Breed your own vegetable varieties: Carol Deppe  - This book is a little more technical than 'Plant breeding for the home gardener' and should be next in line if you enjoyed Joseph's book.
6, Buried treasures: Tasty tubers of the world: Brooklyn botanic garden  - A handy reference for some unusual root crops.
7, Lost crops of the Inca - you can download this book onto your computer or e-reader for free. Just Google it. It covers a lot of unusual and rare crops from South America.
8, Lost crops of Africa  - Like the Inca crops, this set of three (free) ebooks covers indigenous fruits, vegetables and grains.

I know there are a lot of other books that I should have and want but they will have to wait till I have the money. I will have to find a book on native North American foods.


Here is a list of interesting seed companies, Google them for their websites if I don't link them here. I have bought seeds from most of them over the years. For my readers in Australia I have the link to the AQIS website at the bottom so you can find out what you are allowed to import.

  • Hazzards wholesale seeds
  • Wild garden seeds
  • Adaptive seeds: A range of amateur bred varieties
  • Baker Creek Seeds ( I buy a lot of seed from this site. A great range of heirloom seeds.
  • Plant world seeds
  • : Unfortunately they don't post internationally
  • Victory seeds
  •  : A good range of old and rare grains

Here is the AQIS site for Australians:
it takes some practice to be able to search the database properly. Some of the vegetable seeds that cannot be imported to here include beans, peas and other legumes, some grains, corn, tomatoes and many other of that family.

I hope you get the same pleasure I get from looking at these websites and books.