Unsustainable September has well and truly spilled into October and November, but fear not, the learning continues as we prune, pick and propagate our way through all the events. Today I thought I would share what I have learnt (through failure and success!) whilst trying to pull together a primary school fete plus a few insights from other events I have attended.
My key aim for this season were “make it fun” and that “creating a garden needn’t be expensive“.
So with that in mind, we have looked at a heap of different ways to germinate plants, make / recycle pots and gather up a heap of props to prompt discussion to get those kiddie sponges-of-brains firing. So, whilst short and mainly pictorial, today I’ll run through the successes and failures of the journey.
Make it fun and inexpensive….. you name it, I pruned it and stuck it in water, here is what I learnt:
Sweet Potato – easy and a winner every time
Royal Potatoes – great to grow, easy to root, but all too easy to rot in my experience…. ongoing story to see if these will keep going and actually produce potatoes, so I elected to call them an experiment and they did not appear at the fete.
Rosemary – The short answer is I did not do well on these and they never made it to the fete either – next time I’ll put them directly in a pot months ahead. I found about 1 in 8 cuttings for woody cuttings and about 1 in 15 for green cuttings were able to root when stood in water. The roots took about 2 weeks to start and another week to be significantly developed. Note: these durations appear shorter than many reported on the internet, I am guessing that with things warming up weather wise, the rosemary was pretty happy and keen to live. Then of these once potted only about half grew prospered.
Key learnings were (1) the rooting ratio did not really matter because normally you need to prune the unruly beast anyway, but if this is not the case, then go for woody cuttings; (2) when you put them in water remove leaves from the bottom 2 inches; (3) when potting them up, they tend to die back, but offshoots of new growth start quite quickly (not quickly enough though for me to feel confident selling them!), so you might want to trim the top back and (4) a lady brought along her rosemary cuttings that she had propagated by just snipping them and shoving them in a potting mix with no ‘water rooting time’ – they looked brilliant, but she had done it 3 months before (so I sold hers instead!). So I guess the big learning here is if you have time to make mistakes, do so, but if you have time or money pressures, then ask around as someone has already made them and can save you the trouble.
So from my limited experience I would suggest that rosemary wants to grow – with enough cuttings and patience its not tricky. Next time I’m going to try the just-shove-in-a-pot trick (and whilst this to me felt like a waste of pots and mix, I’m assuming as long as you cover the soil with mulch and don’t let it dry out, your chances are good and if your success rate is not high, then you’ve grown a pot of improved soil!)
Mint is a whole other story – it roots almost instantly when cuttings are put in (with a day or two), grew prolifically once potted up, forgave sporadic watering and when planted with a long length of stem submerges, popped up new shoots all along that length…..BUT unfortunately its that time of year when the tiny (not sure of the breed) and not so tiny (cabbage moth) caterpillars were in top form and, having taken the mint away from the garden pest/predator balance I had to do a lot of work to have prime (chemical free) specimens to sell. I would suggest perhaps choosing a different time of year to propogate if you have the choice or keep your propagated cuttings out amongst the rest of the mint if your plants don’t need to be pristine. (As an aside, never try to sell choc mint plants…. what you make on the stall, you’ve already lost in the time you’ve taken to make (or buy) choc mint ice-cream or chocolate….. they smell far too good. Seriously though, while a little trickier, choc mint can be easily propogated by taking out a ‘rooting runner’ and potting it up as is. I have not tried rooting the cuttings in water.)
In addition we took cuttings of sugar cane (cuttings left) and banna grass (shoots right). These guys can be propagated in a similar way to bamboo. We choose to bury the cuttings horizontally in the soil (if planned to be a permanent fixture) or in coir/coconut husk (if temporary). Each knot in the sugar cane photo has the potential to both root and shoot, but to be safe we include three knots, so we know the middle is not adjacent to any trauma. The rule with these is to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, then give up and plan to plant something else, and only then will the first shoots appear. They’re consistently successful, but only once you’ve lost hope.
In a similar manner it appears that tomatoes like to wait until you give up as well. I never new, but if you cut off the horizontal branches of your tomato plants early in the season, and pop them in water they will eventually grow roots. The theory is that you can plant these out and extend the season of your tomato productions. The former part I have proven all three cuttings produced roots, the latter I’ll let you know about in time as they have just been potted up.
And as a small update…..
Before: Remember the barrel from back in April (Quick Link to Blog) – my strawberry barrel with a Taro planted in the lower wetter level and a couple of bush tomatoes dropped in the top and in some of the top holes……see the tiny seedlings, I was very excited!
Now: not quite the ‘strawberry barrel’ I was intending. Below is what it looks like now, with the Taro well and truly happy (almost ~ a meter high) and the bush tomatoes taking off out the top at nearly a meter high and wide. It’s no being trellised out across our recip roof structure. Note to all, if bush tomatoes don’t come up within a short period, don’t plant more. Wait at least 12 months or you’ll end up with them all coming up when nature says the time is right and you’ll end up with a forest! Good for testing the option of cuttings though! And yes, that is the Chila coming around to cover almost half the frame already!
Make it fun and inexpensive….. pots come in all shapes and recyclables, that are only limited by your imagination. Here is where my imagination took me….
Muffin trays which were being thrown out after a school event, complete with clear plastic lids being used as self watering pots – low soil volume means they dry out quickly so regular small amounts of water were essential:
Old milk bottles converted into pseudo wicking beds – head back to the Wicking bed series for more information, but you can see the reservoir, overflow lip and then soil system. Just a bit of fun really….
Muffin trays, toilet rolls and meat trays being used again to make self watering systems again small soil volume, but also note that cardboard is bad and good – bad as it wicks the water and enables the breeze to evaporate more water compared to the plant in a pot, but good as it gives you a great visual indication of when things are drying out.
The big bonus of the toilet rolls is that you can just bury them and soil life will break them down, so there is no disturbance to the plant’s root system. Similarly I started using newspaper to make pots…. after several origami square pots…. and a number of very flimsy ‘wine bottle’ pots (meaning I used wine bottles to make the circular pots with flimsy bottoms, not that the wine effected my ability to make the pots!):
I started going a little batty. Luckily the call went out to our local community and barely a week later this was hand delivered, which I can recommend if you’re planning on making a million pots. The technique is pretty simple and the results are consistent so looks a little more professional (I reckon!):
One issue with the paper pots is that they can start to break down with seedlings that need a lot of water. Luckily we are having a hot spell and live in a dry climate, so although they stuck together, with careful treatment I only lost perhaps 2 per tray to explosions.
Another issue is not hardening seedlings to the outside environment and not giving them enough light so that they grow long and skinny searching for light and then get hammered on a windy day….. lost several sunflowers this week to kinked stem, but I know for next time (or next week if I get time! The sunflower seed were from our praying mantis habitat out the front, great to see I had not left it too long to harvest.)
The other great thing about the fete was that we used it as an excuse to go through all our expiring seeds and completed viability testing…. that process was an education for me too:
Seed Germinating in damp paper towels:
Then of course a billion plants to put in my various pots.
We also sold seeds at the fete and here is our seed sorting department hard a work….
Launching a new arm of our business and bring our two, as yet unacknowledged workers, into the family business – SELF SEEDS – Wild Seeds from the Terra Perma Jungle. Just a bit of fun really, but good to push us to test our seeds and make Perth acclimatised seeds available to the public who are not yet in touch with the seed saving groups. Plus great experience for the kids to see how the seeds, hard work and responsibility are all part of the means to make pocket money. [Having said that, seed sorting turns out to be not a great step away from their recreational bead or lego sorting, so the notion of hard work has not actually dawned on them….]
Other Activities: I was also lucky enough in the last week to head down to Southampton Homestead in Balingup, Western Australia’s only free range poultry farm (as in meat, not eggs). There was a discussion held on soil biology followed by a tour of the property and walk through of the process from eggs to sales as well as the implementation of the Regrarian style of farming with input from Joel Salatin and Darren Doherty. A fascinating day, but, apart form making you jealous, I was actually mentioning it as I managed to borrow the macro fauna extraction kit and a spiffy microscope. I was allowed to work the extraction kit, but it was a battle to get time on the microscope. Here are a few snaps to give you the idea:
The extraction kit is just warm lights above the soil which is placed on a gauze and fly wire sieve. The macro fauna crawl down to get away from the light/heat and drop through the sieve, down the funnel and into the little specimen jars. After about an hour, as long as you have selected reasonable soil from a location not currently being baked by the sun, then you have little guys running around in the jar to look at. Its just fascinating. I’m going to try and build one (the extraction kit, not the microscope) so I’ll let you know how I get on.
Hawk moth update: We’re proud to announce our poor muddled caterpillar has finally emerged from the cocoon safely, having been entombed since May! You may recall we had a hot spell back in May and we think he thought it was spring….Poor love has been in a cocoon since then and has waited for for the right moment to emerge….5 months later. Here he is (he was a brown/black caterpillar):
The moth is a night time pollinator. So he clocks on when bees clock off so great for all flowers, but pretty important for the specific night time flowering plants. We’ve only had a few at a time (so not plagues to worry about) which we keep as pets feeding them what we choose to be devoured and then returned moths to garden to do their job. Great education for the kids.
This is what they look like at caterpillars (green and brown/black, but there are heaps of other types I understand), plus one of our past moth children (from green caterpillar):
One more thing… I’ve noticed on many forums the explosion of pests in the garden with the kick off (and near completion) of spring and the desire to reach for the nearest bottle of magic to rid gardens of these foul and destructive beasts. I’d urge everyone to have a read about Integrated Pest Management or perhaps more specifically our form of pest management which is chiefly based on knowing your enemy (and your friend). The last workshop we did was at Duncraig Edible Garden and I have attached a link to the free workshop notes here to get you started….. BUT, what I wanted to show you was both a bit of fun and a lesson in patience plus the fascinating life cycle of the ladybird being played out as we combat our pests this year….
This is the most valuable and productive plant in our garden…….
Yep that motley kale in the middle. She’s not much to look at, but this is the war zone for all pests and predators. Everyone struggling with caterpillars, and to whom we try to explain planning your pest management by having a habitat or sacrificial plant to wage the war, this is a great example of what we’re talking about. Yes, it has been decimated over the years, but it is perennial and has three layers of foliage – allowing for multiple pests to thrive and, as with the natures law of supply and demand, if there is an abundance of pests the predators descend.
I snapped all of these shots within 5 minutes so its a very busy plant and I hope that this provides one option for long term pest control (and not just throwing on a potion, however specific its application) as well as understanding what is a pest and what is a predator. I failed to capture the crane flies and other wasps who moved too quick for me on this particular morning.
This balance will naturally continue whilst we provide the habitat, other means of control need hard work to repeatedly apply. Yes, its a long term plan, but think about it. The photos also give you a great run through of the life cycle of the ladybird if you’ve not seen them.
ABOVE/RIGHT 2 – Three layers of foliage with different levels of exposure and climates.
ABOVE LEFT AND RIGHT – Ladybird nymphs – love these guys. (Right hand shot is not a nymph carcass, its the skin the nymph’s shed. See also crappy photo below.
ABOVE LEFT – Yes, this is the crappy shot of the shed skin the nymphs. But it is disturbing to witness as when it emerges it looks like one nymph cannibalising another! RIGHT – This is the pupa stage as the nymph becomes a lady bird. You can just see another one on the top left around the corner.
ABOVE LEFT – You know this one! RIGHT – Ladybird – Adult and nymph
ABOVE LEFT – Hoverfly – predator and pollinator. MIDDLE – Guessing type of fly – he had a whitefly in his mouth which lead me to bring out the camera…. by the time I got back he was done….. many flies and wasps predate of whitefly, aphids and caterpillars.
FINALLY – Parasitic wasp – I’ve added a link to the video , (from an insect perspective be warned its pretty graphic, Mother Nature is not kind), but this guy is your best defense against cabbage moths and their destructive spawn!
(P.S. Our youngest wanted to take a caterpillar into school for news as ‘something found in the garden’ and we could not find one. Murphy’s Law – they are out there, but not in plague proportions. So the poor love had to take tomatoes, mulberries and nectarines instead! Quoted as ‘pretty boring news, Mum’.)
Well, whilst I have far more to tell you about from the past two month’s activities, I’ll leave it at that so I can get this out and let you know I am still alive and still very keen to keep this journey rolling for us all.
I thought next time I’d try and give you an update on my PhD topic, for which my proposal, you might recall, has just been accepted. But, as that is pretty dry, I think I’ll need to match it up with something pretty spectacular….. here is a taster:
Not all those seeds sprouted were dull old (but very tasty!) beans…. there are some ripper exotics (at least for me) which we have now sprouted, so i am hoping for some great snaps to cover the life and habits of the last few plants on our list. It does not get much more crazy than this one: A FRUIT OR A COCKTAIL GLASS, ITS UP TO YOU!
Until then, enjoy.