Posted by Phytopath on Mar 1, 2012
For some time now, I have been listening to health gurus tell the western world not to eat anything white.
Do you have an opinion on this?
I have very strong views about their generalist statement, my first being “what hogwash”.
As any gardener will tell you, there is an array of naturally occurring, often organically grown, white fruit and vegetables.
Are we to assume that fruit and vegetables are bad for us now?
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
The Allium tribe – onions, garlic and leeks, just to name a few.
A medium sized onion weighing approximately 125 grams has 30 calories, contains a small amount of vitamins and minerals and reportedly helps to lower cholesterol.
Leeks have about 25 calories per 100 grams, contain dietary fibre, minerals and are a good source of vitamin C.
Garlic, said to be eaten by the slaves who built the great pyramids, to give them strength. Garlic is also reported to be good for the heart, reduces cholesterol levels in the blood and contains anti-oxidants.
What about other white vegetables?
- Fennel bulbs
- Daikon radish
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Globe artichokes
- Potatoes (the supposed bad boy)
Now you might put forward the argument that some of these are not white (on the outside), but most people either peel or cut away the outside layer before using it, revealing a white flesh inside.
The same holds true for some fruit – often, the greatest portion of the fruit that we eat is under the coloured flesh e.g. apples.
Now lets consider some fruit
- white currants
- white sapote
- White fleshed nectarines
- white flesh peaches
- white grapes
- white mulberries
- Custard apples
- Lychees (we only eat the white bit)
So am I to believe that I should avoid all of the above foods?
Of course not.
And I haven’t even mentioned fish, shell fish or edible flowers.
These ‘gurus’ are talking about processed food, like flour and sugar.
So gardener’s, don’t despair. I am sure we are not going to destroy our health by growing and eating fruit and vegetables that may be white.
I just wish the ‘health nuts’ would become gardeners first and advisers second.
What’s your opinion?
Posted by Phytopath on Dec 30, 2011
Basil, in its many forms, belongs to the family Lamiaceae.
There are approximately 35 species of basil, some are annuals and others are evergreen perennials and some grow into shrubs.
They prefer to grow in warm and tropical climates and do not like the cold at all.
They grow best in soil that is well drained but rich with a pH of 5 to 8. Most gardening books advice growing basil plants in full sun but in my particular location (which is hot and dry), I find they need some protection from the sun. Dappled shade or afternoon shade seems to suit them.
From the many species of basil available, there are four that are most commonly grown.
Ocimum basilicum or sweet basil, would be the most common. With bright green leaves and small white flowers, the aroma is unmistakeable. This is the basil of ‘Pesto’ fame. The cultivar ‘Dark Opal’, has purple leaves with pink flowers. The aroma is less intense than sweet basil but the colour makes up for it. Try making purple basil vinegar with the leaves. The colour is marvellous.
Other cultivars include: ‘Cinnamon‘ with purple veined leaves and a slight cinnamon aroma, ‘Cuban‘ with a spicy flavour, ‘Genovese‘ often regarded as the best basil for pesto, ‘Green Bouquet‘ has small leaves and a clove-like flavour, ‘Green Ruffles‘ has crinkly leaves, ‘Thai‘ has an anise-liquorice aroma, ‘Napolitano‘ has large leaves and is also used for pesto and ‘Purple Ruffles‘ has dark purple crinkly leaves and pink flowers – very pretty.
The whole plant is harvested for oil production, being cut just before flowering begins. For home use, leaves are picked as required during the growing season. They can be used fresh or dried for medicinal use.
Another commonly grown species of basil is Ocimum x citriodorum or lemon basil. It is an annual plant with lemon-scented leaves and seeds. The leaves are frequently used with chicken and fish dishes and also to make herbal vinegar.
Ocimum americanum is another popular basil. It is native to tropical regions of India, China and Africa. The cultivar ‘Spice’ is used to flavour curries, soups and salads. The seed are mixed with coconut milk to make a refreshing drink.
Ocimum tenuiflorum is known as holy basil and sacred basil. It is native to India, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. The plant is hairy with downy, purple flushed leaves and small purple-pink flowers. The whole plant is used, internally and externally. The fresh leaves can be added to preserves, salads and to flavour fruit dishes. Dried leaves are part of a spice mixture and the seed are used to make a cooling drink.
Posted by Phytopath on Oct 30, 2011
When you shop for fruit and vegetables, do you bring the produce home and put it in the crisper section of the refrigerator?
Well apparently there is a correct, or optimum way to store mixed fruit and vegetables (short term), because they are not all compatible.
Much like companion planting, perhaps we could plant our vegies into beds that are the same as the compatibility groups for storage. That way, we would know to store the vegetables together that grow in the bed together. Just a thought.
Here’s how it works.
Fruit and veg are divided into five different groups according to storage temperature.
This in part, is to stop one food group tainting another with its odour.
Another important factor in short term storage is the relative humidity.
The five storage groups are:
1. Temperate fruit and veg that are not cold sensitive. Storage temperature is zero degrees Celsius.
2. Fruit and veg that are moderately cold sensitive. Storage temperature 7-10 degrees Celsius.
3. Tropical fruit and veg that are cold sensitive. Storage temperature 13 degrees Celsius.
4. Pineapple. Store at 20 degrees Celsius.
5. Un-refrigerated storage. Produce in this group include; garlic, onion, potato and nuts.
Another thing to consider with storage is Ethylene.
Ethylene gas is a hormone that plants produce.
It can hasten the ripening process of some fruit, turn broccoli yellow and cause cut flowers to die quicker than expected.
Some fruit give off a lot of ethylene (perhaps you could liken this to some people who eat a lot of beans) and some vegetables are very sensitive to ethylene. So do not store them together.
Below is a list of ethylene producing fruit for each of the groups.
Group 1. Apple, apricot, fig, kiwi fruit, nectarine, peach, pear and plum.
Group 2. Avocado, honeydew melon, guava, passionfruit, rockmelon (cantaloupe) and tomato.
Group 3. Banana, cherimoya, guava, mango, pawpaw, plantain, rambutan and mature green tomato.
Posted by Phytopath on Sep 30, 2011
When you have a limited amount of ground space in which to garden, climbing plants are the answer. Vertical gardening can be useful for screening an unpleasant view, whether that view is a neighbour’s ugly shed or an ugly neighbour.
Some gardeners delight in covering an unsightly shed or fence with a beautiful flowering climber. Unfortunately, many visitors to the garden will most likely be thinking “Oh what a beautiful climber covering an ugly fence.”
The best thing to do in this case would be to grow a climber that is not showy – just green with insignificant flowers. That way, the eye will not be drawn to the climber or the fence behind it.
If you want people to be drawn to a particular area in your garden, then a large flowering climber growing over an arch should do the trick. Keep in mind that your choice of plant will have a huge impact on how well the arch will look.
For example, you wouldn’t choose a plant that has a strong upright growth habit because you would end up with bare branches on either side of the arch and all of the foliage sitting at the top of the arch, much like a Bart Simpson hair cut.
A fair amount of thought is also needed when matching the plant to the arch or structure that it will cover. A strong, vigorous growing Bougainvillea or Wisteria would soon crush a light weight, whimsical frame. Something stronger and long lasting would be required to support such plants.
The opposite may be true for climbers that are not at all vigorous. The chosen plant could possibly be a disappointment when it struggles to reach only half way up the climbing frame. In this case, the arch would be the feature instead of the climber.
The shape, size and pattern of the frame, is also important. Plants utilize different methods to make their way up the frame that you have provided. Some twine their stems around a support, some use tendrils as a means to hang on, others use backward facing hooks and yet others seem to hang on for dear life, using sucker pads that can be extremely difficult to remove in the future.
Maintenance of the climbing frame or support needs some consideration as well. Is the support made from timber? Will it need repainting at some time in the future?
Or is the support made of material that will rust? How will you prevent the climber from collapsing?
Another consideration in plant selection is whether to choose an evergreen or deciduous climber. Both have their merits. The main benefit of using a deciduous climber is; with thought given to the location, it can provide shade in the summer months and allow the sun to shine through during the winter months.
What about growing climbers up a tree?
Although it can look nice in some cases, the short answer is – don’t do it.
Beneath that beautiful display of flowers and foliage there could be lurking some dreaded pest or disease in the tree. Well hidden and un-noticed, it could eventually lead to the demise of the tree supporting the climber.
Climbers also increase the total crown weight of the tree, possibly leading to wind resistance and instability. If the foliage of the climber is dense, it can also lead to reduced photosynthesis in the leaves of the tree, which would weaken the tree and reduce vigour.
Growing climbing plants up living trees also makes it too darn hard to pick the flowers to put into a vase.
Posted by Phytopath on Sep 18, 2011
Would you like to grow a particular plant, but live in an area where it might be difficult?
For example, perhaps you would like to grow a banana plant in an area that would be considered too cold. Or perhaps your chosen plant needs protection from frost. Or how about diverting cool summer breezes toward an open window?
Microclimate modification can be achieved through the use of wind breaks, shade trees, paved areas and water features.
If you would like to create an area in the garden that is warmer than the rest of the garden, create large paved areas and use rock, brick or masonry where possible. Make sure the area also has maximum sun exposure. This would be north facing in the southern hemisphere and south facing in the northern hemisphere.
Planting under evergreen trees can also offer some frost protection for more sensitive plants. Make use of windbreaks planted in the direction of cold prevailing winds.
To create a cooler microclimate, use many shade trees and climbing vines throughout the area. Prune the lower branches from trees and shrubs (called canopy lifting), to allow air to flow freely around the garden. Plant a large shade tree on the southern side of the house (northern side in the northern hemisphere) and open an adjacent house window. The transpiration from the foliage of the tree will create an evaporative cooling effect, all
without the use of electricity. Fish ponds and pools can also create a similar effect.
For garden plants that prefer some humidity, create a forest atmosphere by having different canopy heights. Use groundcovers and low growing plants as well as trees, shrubs and climbers. A thick canopy will reduce evaporation and increase transpiration leading to higher relative humidity. This can be utilized for either cool temperate plants like ferns or warm temperate plants like palms.
Posted by Phytopath on Aug 22, 2011
The idea was to sample seasonal tropical fruit and find out if some of these wonderful fruiting trees would grow in my warm temperate garden.
So with fingers crossed, a friend and I headed for Cape Tribulation where there was a tropical fruit farm that had fruit tasting and farm tours.
Some of the fruit that we sampled were soursop, longan, papaya, sapodilla, custard apple, yellow sapote, black sapote, red flesh dragon fruit and pummelo.
I apologise for using the common names but most people, in Australia at least, would recognise the common names and not necessarily the botanical name of these fruit.
I had tasted some of the fruit before but many were new to my tastebuds, and what a pleasant surprise.
The yellow sapote, also known as Canistel (Pouteria campechiana) was interesting to taste. The colour and texture of the flesh was similar to a hard boiled egg so I wasn’t sure what to expect as I slid a piece into my mouth.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised. The taste was sweet and a bit ‘earthy’ but worth going back for a second helping. The tree itself is evergreen, slender and erect to around 8 metres (in the tropics) with a very low tolerance to frost. I guess I had better forget about growing this one back home.
The Pummelo (Citrus maxima) was very impressive with its large fruit and pale pink flesh. The skin of the fruit is very thick and I must say, I was a little disappointed in the flavour which is very similar to grapefruit. I don’t think I will bother with this one.
Sapodilla (Achras sapota) was a fruit that I had never tried before.
The outside was somewhat furry, very similar in appearance to a kiwifruit. When cut open the flesh was a brown colour and didn’t look at all appealing. The taste however was almost orgasmic (almost).
I have a very sweet tooth and when the sapodilla passed over my taste buds it excited the sweet portion on my tongue. It taste just like cream caramel. Now, I want one of those.
The tree however has a very low frost tolerance. We are in the tropics after all.
The custard apple (Annona atemoya) I had tried before, and they are very nice. The flesh is white and soft, hence the common name of custard. This tree is semi-deciduous and grows to 7 metres. It does not need a pollinator and the tree has a moderate tolerance to frost. This one should grow at my place.
Soursop (Annona muricata) has a name that can turn a person off if they have a sweet tooth.
The fruit is almost heart shaped, green and rough to the touch with soft fleshy spines. Most books that I had read described the taste of the fruit as juicy and acid. I was not particularly looking forward to sampling this fruit.
But, in the name of ’get out of your comfort zone’, I tried some. To my taste buds the fruit was not acid at all, but rather sweet and very pleasant. Perhaps it was the particular variety that we were sampling, anyway, I thought this one might be worth having. Frost tolerance is low but there is a mountain soursop that is much hardier, tolerating temperatures down to -2 degrees celsius. I hope it tastes as good as the one I just tried.
Black Sapote (Diospyros digyna) is related to the persimmon. The fruit is green and picked when it is hard. It is then allowed to soften for three to six days. Once cut, you can see the dark brown colour of the flesh inside.
Another common name of this fruit is “Chocolate Pudding Fruit” and I kid you not, It taste like chocolate pudding. (I really want one of these). The fruit has about four times more vitamin C than oranges and is low in fat (a good reason to buy a tree). The tree itself is evergreen and grows to a height of three to six metres. It does not need a pollinator and crops very well.
The frost tolerance of this tree is low but I don’t care – I want one.
Posted by Phytopath on Jul 26, 2011
This makes it easier to decide which branches to remove or shorten, and which ones to leave alone.
It is not necessary to prune in winter.
You could prune your fruit trees after harvesting the fruit in summer and autumn, but the canopy of leaves may obscure your view. This may result in branches being missed that are possibly diseased.
It has also been noted by some commercial fruit tree growers, that early pruning can produce vigorous upright growth in some trees, while later pruning (late winter) appears to suppress the surge of vigorous branches.
I think you should always consider the local weather conditions before making a decision.
Some trees have strong apical dominance. Meaning the main trunk grows like a flag pole, reaching
for the sky. This is also called a central leader.
These trees should be cut back when young if you want to develop an open vase shape tree.
If you choose to constantly prune the central leader, control of apical dominance will be lost due to the number of new shoots competing for the new leader position. An increase in pruning cuts will then be required next pruning season and control of the subsequent regrowth will be lost.
They include: Apples, cherries, pears, quince, European plums and prunes.
I must include additional information at this point.
Some rootstock will have an effect on the overall shape and growth of the tree, sometimes reducing the overall height, as in the case of dwarfing rootstock.
Other trees do not have strong apical dominance and develop a more rounded shape.
Examples of these trees are: Apricot, peach, nectarine and Japanese plum.
Whatever fruit tree you are growing, it is a good idea to perform selective fruit bud removal when the bud density is too high, in an attempt to prevent alternate cropping.
One of the most important things you need to know before you make your first pruning cut is, where does the tree carry its fruit? Is it on new wood, old wood or permanent spurs?
Once you are familiar with the fruiting habits of your tree, you can then assess each individual tree in your care.
There are many different ways to prune fruit trees. Just ask a dozen different people and you will get a dozen different answers.
The most important question you should ask yourself is: why am I pruning this tree?
If the tree does not need pruning, then don’t prune it. But always look for any dead wood in the tree. Remove this first. Then look for any branches that are crossing over. This is an area for potential disease entry, so look at it, then choose one of the branches and remove it.
If you are pruning the tree to encourage fruit production remember that the tree needs its fair share of leaves as well. Photosynthesis produces sugars for the developing fruit. So do not sacrifice too many leafy branches.
Peaches and nectarines produce fruit on last season’s laterals so when pruning make the cut at a triple bud. Last season’s fruiting laterals should be cut back to the basal leaf buds.
Apricots. I personally do not believe in pruning apricot trees. If you never prune them, growth appears to be slowed down but once you start to prune an apricot tree, you’re then bound to continue pruning because of the vigorous regrowth.
Japanese plums produce flower buds on last season’s laterals and short spurs on older wood. Prune to shorten the older laterals and thin out the spurs.
European plum trees develop permanent spurs on two year old laterals. Prune long laterals to half their length.
Pruning apple trees can be a complex exercise because different varieties have different fruiting habits. Some trees bear mostly on laterals (Jonathan apples) so shorten these by about half their length.
Other apple varieties produce fruit on spurs (Granny Smith). Thin out congested spurs and shorten or remove strong laterals. Keep the shorter laterals for future spur development.
Pear trees are pruned similar to apple trees. Thin out old spur clusters, cut back strong laterals and keep the short ones.
Always sterilise your pruning equipment and make sure your implements are sharp.
If you are not sure how to prune your fruit trees, there are many good books available with step-by-step diagrams.
Posted by Phytopath on Jul 4, 2011
“They are too hard to pronounce and too long”, I have heard people say.
So why do we use them?
Because they are universal.
Imagine travelling overseas to a foreign country. A place where English is not commonly spoken and you do not speak the native language. Communication would be difficult.
But if you arranged to meet a botanist or horticulturist and mentioned a few botanical names of plants growing in that region, I am sure that after a few nodding heads you would be taken to the nearest location of those plants that were mentioned.
Now imagine a similar scenario but this time common plant names were used instead of botanical ones.
“I would like to buy some violets” you say. Which are edible (Viola sp.), “to make a violet syrup.” The person you are speaking to nods their head and takes you to a nursery selling African violets. What a disappointment, and they are not even closely related.
What if you had never actually seen the plant you were seeking? The common name that you are using could be a completely different plant in another country or even another state of the same country you live in.
What if the plant with the same common name was poisonous or a skin irritant?
You could find yourself in trouble, health wise, if you intended to ingest it.
So that seems a pretty good reason to use botanical names, especially if you are out of town.
An example of confusing common names exists here in Australia.
We have a tree called a ‘blue gum’, trouble is, there are three different Australian states that have a tree called
‘blue gum’ and they are all different species.
So not to confuse anybody, botanical names are the way to go.
When writing botanical names (correctly), there are just a few things to remember.
The Family name starts with a capital letter e.g. Myrtaceae
The Genus or generic name starts with a capital letter and is underlined or written in italics e.g. Eucalyptus
The species name is written in lower case and also placed in italics or underlined e.g. leucoxylon
Most people use only the genus and species when referring to a particular plant, so an apple tree would be written as Malus domestica
Posted by Phytopath on Jun 26, 2011
Remember that song by the Beach Boys back in the mid 1960’s?
The fact is – insects knew about good vibrations well before the Beach Boys.
Many insects, including cicada, ants, beetles and stink bugs, use vibration to attract sexual partners.
Not much difference to the disco days, when we all gathered at a particular venue to ‘check each other out’ on the dance floor.
Experiments performed by biologist Andrej Cokl on southern green stink bugs, showed female stink bugs provide detailed directions to their male suitors, on where to find them.
This AGPS (Arthropod Geographical Positioning System) uses vibration as its method of transmittance.
Initially, the male releases pheromones to attract the female.
Scent or aroma is not always a precise indicator of the origin of that aroma (unless it is a dead mouse under the refrigerator), so the female sometimes lands on a nearby plant instead of the same plant the male is eagerly waiting upon.
Once the female has landed in the nearby vicinity of the male, she starts to vibrate and send out a type of Morse code, tapping directions to the nearby male.
Cokl noticed that female stink bugs moved an abdominal plate attached to the thorax, in time with the rhythms oscillating through plants (100 hertz pulse every five seconds).
These vibrations move through the plant at speeds between 30 and 100 metres a second.
Flavio Roces of the University of Wurzburg in Germany believes that the difference in arrival time of the vibration between the left and right leg of the stink bug, is an indicator to the bug whether to move left, right, up or down along the branches of the plant.
He also believes that mechanoreceptors on the antennae may also play a part in determining which direction to go.
This constant movement of legs and antennae on the plant must certainly look like a disco dancing dude.
A truly amazing sight.
Posted by Phytopath on Jun 19, 2011
The Good, The Bad & The Dangerous.
But is it the best thing to do in YOUR garden?
The main types of mulching material are;-
Organic materials which decompose readily. For example, straw, hay, leaves, manures and seaweed.
Organic material that decomposes more slowly, for example, pine bark, wood chips, twigs and thin branches.
Minerals such as pebbles, gravel and crushed bricks, just to name a few.
Synthetic material such as weed mat.
You can also use ground covers as a living mulch.
The idea of using a layer of mulch around your plants or throughout your garden is to reduce the loss of water
from the soil via evaporation.
Mulch can also protect the soil surface from heavy rain and reduce the risk of crusting and erosion.
It can slow the flow of water across the soil surface and increase the amount of water moving down through the soil profile.
Mulch can change the temperature of the soil beneath it and it can sometimes suppress weed growth.
Organic mulches that decompose rapidly also help to improve the soil structure.
All in all, mulching sounds like a good thing to do.
So why is the title of this blog post ‘Mulch. The good, the bad and the dangerous?’
Well, some mulching material can be detrimental to your plants.
If mulch is spread too thickly and forms a watertight layer, it can prevent gases leaving and entering the soil
Carbon dioxide levels can build up in the soil and plant roots can ‘suffocate’ from lack of oxygen.
The same situation can occur if you are using plastic mulching material.
Plants may develop Nitrogen deficiency when certain materials, such as sawdust and straw, decompose
rapidly. If you intend using these types of material that are high in carbon, place a layer of nitrogen fertilizer on the soil before applying the mulch.
Mulches can aggravate anaerobic conditions in soil where the drainage is poor. This can lead to denitrification
(loss of Nitrogen) in the soil which will show as a yellowing of older leaves in some plants.
Many types of mulch are used to decrease the soil temperature in hot climates, so the plant roots that are
growing near the surface of the soil don’t ‘cook’. But air temperatures are more extreme just above the mulching material. Young seedling plants growing through a layer of mulch in the summer can be injured by the higher temperature.
The opposite is also true for night temperatures. Organic mulches are not good at absorbing heat during the day and the surface of mulch cools very quickly under night radiation, sometimes being three or four degrees colder above a mulch than above bare soil.
Another factor to watch out for is the possibility of toxicity or phytotoxicity.
Not all plants get along with each other (much like people) and some plants even cause other plants to get really sick if they are in close proximity to each other.
If material that has been designated for mulch has not been composted properly, it can cause toxicity to other
plants once spread around the garden.
Bark and sawdust from certain trees have been reported to be toxic to other plants. Some examples are Eucalyptus, redwood, cedar, larch and spruce.
So there you have it.
The Good, The Bad and The Dangerous.