HAPPY WORLD SOIL DAY (DECEMBER 5TH)

Good Evening All,

Just a quick note in honour of World Soil Day in the International Year of the Soil – December 5th, 2015.  Did you miss it? Never mind, we can celebrate it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day….

FOUR gifts for you today – (1) For the first time in 18 months, I’ll actually deliver what I promised to write in this next blog; (2) a brief reminder of how to hug that soil we depend on for so much, (3) I’ll give a brief rundown on my new field of study (which is slowly becoming clearer to me), and (4) an early Christmas present – Kiwano under the proverbial microscope.

Let’s tackle them in reverse order as I’m hoping to keep your interest at least through this fabulous fruit discussion and, being in the holiday mood, I thought we’d shake things up a bit!


(4) an early Christmas present – Kiwano under the proverbial microscope.


Exhibit A: Chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia) – See Previous Posts

Exhibit B: Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora) – See Previous Posts

Exhibit C: St Mary’s Thistle (Silybum marianum)

Exhibit D: The Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)

Exhibit E: The Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga (Leonotis nepetifolia)

Exhibit H: Kiwano (Cucumis metuliferus)  

NAMES: Once again, there are many names applied to Kiwano which include horned melon, African horned cucumber, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, gakachika or blowfish fruit. (Ref)  For me, whilst I like the idea of blowfish fruit, that name more signifies a non-edible context for me.  No name is as descriptive as the horned melon and I am all for calling a spade a spade, rather than a “manual geomorphological modification implement”.

Note of caution: If you would like to sound knowledgeable and be the centre of attention at a gathering of gardening novices, then use the name Kiwano….. From experience, dropping the term horned melon into a conversation leads to either a long silence, several constructive comments from that friend who loves to deliver the conversation to the gutter at the first opportunity (yes, we know who we are!) or a rapid topic change….

At least with this one, its pretty hard to miss identify it once the fruit is bearing and no matter what you call it, the description will quickly put you on the same page!

african cucumber seedsSCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION: 

Along side the Chilacayote the Horned Melon belongs to the Cucurbitaceae or Gourd family, which consist of over a hundred genus, the most important of which are (Reference):

  • Cucurbita – squash, pumpkin, zucchini, some gourds
  • Lagenaria – mostly inedible gourds
  • Citrullus – watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)(Citrullus colocynthis) and others
  • Cucumis – cucumber (Cucumis sativus), various melons
  • Luffa – common name also luffa

Genus – Cucumis – this genus contains the “twining, tendril-bearing plants” including:

  • Cucumis anguria – West Indian gherkin
  • Cucumis dipsaceus – Chuzzle Cucumber – had to include a picky as its gorgeous!)
  • Cucumis ficifolius – Fig Leaf Gherkin
  • Cucumis humifructus (aardvark cucumber)
  • Cucumis melo (musk melons, including cantaloupe and honeydew)
  • Cucumis metuliferus (horned melon)
  • Cucumis myriocarpus (paddy melon)
  • Cucumis prophetarum (another spikey cucumber thing (excuse my use of such an elite technical term, but there appears not to be a common name) used in traditional Indian medicine, but more recently identified as useful in the treatment of diabetes – even made the mainstream science journal!)
  • Cucumis sativus (cucumber) (Ref)

This reference has some beautiful photos of examples across the Genus.

The majority of this genus originate from Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. The Horned Melon is native to Sub-Saharan Africa and is considered a traditional African food crop as well as providing a critical water source across the dry season in the Kalihari Desert. (Ref)

GROWING –

“Seed – sow early to mid spring in a greenhouse in a rich soil. Germination should take place within 2 weeks. Sow 2 or 3 seeds per pot and thin out to the best plant. Grow them on fast and plant out after the last expected frosts, giving them cloche or frame protection for at least their first few weeks if you are trying them outdoors.” (Ref)

“Cucumis metuliferus is a ANNUAL CLIMBER growing to 1.5 m (5ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10 and is frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.” (Ref)

We’ve grown them successfully in Perth and have a new batch in the early seedling stage (very late, but when you’ve got to work around supply a school fete…..).  I’ll let you know of our success, but here are some snaps of the aging process from a couple of years back when we had a lovely crop.

kiwano seeldings2african cucumber gafrican cucumber o

This is a younger one from REF 

Interestingly several articles talk about Kiwano being readily available in US markets, so whilst perhaps naive in the hope that they have not been imported, I would imagine in the more southern states conditions are suitable. (Ref)  The guru believes he has seen one occasion when the fruit was for sale in Perth, but it is a rarity here still.

Note that the whilst the spikes look dramatic, they are not really harsh and are more like fleshy lumps.  They are only an annoyance for holding the fruit firmly.

EATING –

We found them pretty cucumbery with limited taste and lots of lumps.  However, we loved the way they looked and likely kept them until they were over ripe, so not very good examples.

Anecdotal reports – “The fruit’s taste has been compared to a combination of cucumber and zucchini or a combination of banana, cucumber and lemon. It is also said to taste like an unripe, watered-down banana. A small amount of salt or sugar can increase the flavor. Some also eat the peel, which is very rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber. The fruit can be used in cooking, but when eaten raw, most suck out the pulp and spit out the seeds.” (Ref)

Fruit – raw. Insipid according to one report, whilst another says that it is rather bitter. Said to have a banana-lime flavour and often sold in speciality stores in Europe and America, the fruit is not considered to be very desirable in its native area and it is only eaten in times of scarcity. Seed – raw. Rich in oil with a nutty flavour but very fiddly to use because the seed is small and covered with a fibrous coat. Leaves – cooked.” (Ref)

The PFAF website mentions that “the sprouting seed produces a toxic substance in its embryo” so perhaps avoid that – I tend to trust this website.

Perhaps a better idea is using them in recipes of which I have no idea, but lots of other do, so head off and have a look.  Although whilst I’m not a fancy cook, throw anything in a hollowed out casing and you’re bound to impress!  This site has one example. Or this one.  Really I think anything goes.

 

DRINKING –

Often used as cocktail glasses and as an ingredient, what’s not to like?

PESTS AND DISEASE –

We had no issue with pests or disease affecting the plant over a Perth Summer.

Our friend Wiki states : “It was found that kiwano is resistant to several root-knot nematodes, two accessions were found to be highly resistant to Watermelon mosaic virus (WMV-1), but very sensitive to the Squash mosaic virus (SqMV). Some accessions were found to succumb to Fusarium wilt. Resistance to Greenhouse whitefly was reported. Kiwano was reported to be resistant to Powdery mildew, however in Israel powdery mildew as well as the Squash mosaic virus (SqMV) attacked kiwano fields and measures had to be taken. ” (Ref)

On the other hand, the seeds are thought to help expel tapeworm if dried, ground, consumed as a water/seed emulsion and then followed with a “purge” to expel the worm. (Ref) However, every site that talks about this appears to have very similar wording, so I would guess this has come from one source…. please hunt around yourself to ensure you trust sources of any medicinal advice.  Exactly the same wording and without references generally means blind regurgitation so advance with caution.

NOVEL/FRUITY STORIES –

The kiwano was featured in an episode of Star Trek as an

out of space fruit, although from the photos, it looks like they picked a very unspikey one! (Ref)

Not to forget Charmed (Ref)

Great for Halloween, although here you’d need to get them in very early….. but the timing of our summers here in Perth, chances are in two years you’ll be okay!

(Ref) (Ref)

So in summary, I guess this is what I would call a fun, conversation started fruit.  Not particularly nice to consume, but a hardy plant that wants to live (great for Perth!) and with an exotic looking fruit that you can play with.  We look forward to another season of quirky conversations and perhaps a few cocktails in the name of research!


(3) A brief rundown of my new field of study


And now the scary bit….. I have embarked on a research project and, whilst I am very keen to hear feedback and seek interested people, this discussion is not meant to be recruiting people, more an opportunity for me to put my plan into words and share it.  With this work I am treading a very fine line between “lab research/mainstream agriculture/corporate interest/dollar driven/journal article producing” activities and the production of “cheap, quick field testing/acknowledging local knowledge / regenerative agricultural practices and knowledge / both dollar and other success measure driven / interpreted practical application of said journal articles”  tools.  Whilst the two rarely come together, with any luck each can learn about the other and cherry pick the wins, which hopefully will lead to a win for soil in the long term. So, hold on tight, here is the plan…..

The overarching goal is to combine local knowledge of farming land with existing research, publicly available data and simplified carbon modelling tools, to support the translation of relatively poorer performing areas into more healthy, productive systems.

By looking at rainfall behaviour (plus the value derived) across a farm, and then drawing parallels with good versus poorer areas; carbon deposition; fertile soil depth and other indicators, it is thought that a broad scientific basis can be documented to support the following:

(a) allocation of incentives towards positive action rather than outcomes only (e.g. outcome based carbon offset payments puts the risk with the landholder, payments for action proven to improve carbon storage removes both weather based risks and insures against government policy changes, etc) and

(b) enable quantification of broadly valuable changes rather than measurement on a single benefit reward (e.g. water use value, plus carbon offset potential, plus long term productivity/income/nutrition security, plus water table health….).

Also by providing a guide/assessment tool for what changes might be made to improve poorer areas and the extent to which these changes will benefit the soil (and hence landholder), a coarse cost/benefit analysis can be conducted at a farm specific level to bring more confidence to decision making with respect to land management change.

This research aims to draw together the:

(a) local knowledge of the landholder with respect to their specific soil properties, water behaviour and land management practices (wins & losses);

(b) existing research into soil health – carbon, biology, etc (balancing productivity & long term potential);

(c) soil success measures (For the purpose of this research a “soil success measure” is defined as a positive outcome related to a change in farming practices/management where that change influences the land’s soil properties.  May be productivity, drought resilience, soil carbon, etc);

(d) soil properties (clay vs sand,  water repellency, etc.), landscape influence (topography), and farming methods (soil exposure, inputs/amendments, etc); and

(e) existing tools for both the soil carbon response to change (a proposed health indicator) and climate change prediction specific to South Western Australia.

The aim is to deliver the existing research associated with the success measures identified to the “farm gate” in a location specific and practically implementable form.

The plan of attack must be in 5 sections for the purpose of this research and so I have split it into:

  1. Simulations/modelling – using the existing carbon modelling to determine key influences on soil and how the models may be utilised at a farm wide assessment level.  There is a bit of a play with climate projection impacts in here too!
  2. A questionnaire – targeted at collating the potential success measures in order to build a ‘total benefit’ picture which is to be assessed against the effect of improved rainfall usage. There are three questionnaires – for the landholder/manager; for the support bodies (Landcare, NRM, researchers, agronomists, government policy makers, etc); and for the offset purchasers (can we draw attention to soil carbon sequestration as both an offset box ticker and a social impact/local content options!)
  3. and 4. are audit/sampling/analysis sections looking at different water usage locations on specific farms and assessing these as reflected in lab based testing of soil health.  3. is the sampling of locations based on a water audit type assessment (to be constructed!).  I.e. how well do we use water at the point where it falls (rainfall).
  4. See above, but more focused on other soil success measures that may be indirectly influenced by water value – carbon, biology, etc.  I’m keen to compare the lab info with infield simple testing – from soil colour change to brix, to jar shake testing and water repellency tests.
  5. Finally this will all collate into the construction of an open source tool for farm assessments to identify options for water use/value optimisation initiatives.  Connecting the modelling, laboratory and in-field audit/testing on a farm-wide and region-wide scale.  Also to draw in the existing research (completed by far more erudite folks than yours truly), so that for a given success measure, a landholder can see that for their particular soil type, X, Y and Z are a means of improving these in conjunction with better value obtained from rainfall.

And, once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor from laughing to hard at the though of achieving this in just a few years, perhaps you forgive my spasmodic Soil Hugger blogs over that period.  Its a huge job and sometimes I feel its just so obvious that its a waste of time!  Better use of water where it falls = better soil.  (Applying a little TORK on the big scale!)  You may find it suspiciously Permacultural / Regrarian as we progress down the path, but what better way to communicate these platforms with industry/government than through science and statistics.

However, I’ve been lucky enough to score an independent benefactor, so I am (a) free to pick and choose the direction I head, (b) do not have a person/company with a vested interest steering my line of inquiry and (c) someone believes what I am doing is worth investing in.  If I can help one farmer understand a little better why something worked for his neighbour, but not for him or to understand the long term picture of their particular means of farming (good or bad), then it has all been worth it. And hopefully there might be an article or five to keep the University keen to keep me.

So it should be fun and I’ll learn a lot to share with you. Wish me luck!


(2) A brief reminder of how to hug that soil we depend on for so much.


Recap on how to fix your soil…..pot, yard, acreage, farm….the answer it pretty much the same:

We apply a little TORK (or in the sandy soils of Perth it could be considered to be CORK-ing the soil!)

—T                     Texture – develop texture aspiring to loam

—O                    Organics – Fine (compost) and Coarse (Mulch)

—R                     Rock Dust – Long-term Macro- & Micro-Nutrients

—K                     Kelp – Introduce Sea Minerals and growth tonics

—As a pre-cursor, please note that I am not endorsing any product over any other within my comments.  There are examples included so you can see what a specific product available local to me brings to our pure sand, but it is important that you —chose locally available, ethical and economical substitutes to fulfill the same function. Do your research also about how much of the composition is providing benefit.  Buying the pre-mixed form to apply as is may save you time, but buying the individual components and then applying the ratio you need may end up cheaper than diluted or general application products.  Similarly coarse (less soluble) additions give the soil longer to ‘use’ them before they flush out of the soil with watering/rainfall.  Liquid fertilisers give a quick nutrient boost, but then wash away easily.  So it can come down to a question of (i) urgency of results as well as (ii) whether you are time rich or money rich.  It depends on your circumstances and its up to you.https://i1.wp.com/www.fao.org/fileadmin/user_upload/GSP/imgs/WSD2014/buttons/infographics/infographics_en.jpg

  • T                     TextureTriangle with sizes copy

We’ve talked about texture at length – in Perth sands this means we need to add C for clay (hence the CORK acronym works here).  A jar shake test will let you know where you are relative to the oasis that is loam and hence what you need to apply to get there. The silt element will be added by the soil life breaking down the organics, so that one is covered without any extra effort.

We use West Australian pure calcium bentonite clay which is readily available, kaolinite clay is also available in bags, and there are many clays and clay blends which can meet your needs and often be sourced locally (dam walls etc).  For poor sands (and with water restrictions!), clay should be mixed in deeply (25cm+) to maximise the water holding around the future roots – by hand or rotary hoe.  Thorough mixing of bentonite with sand/soil is necessary to avoid clumping in the short term (hence the rotary hoe).

For less dramatic application or where plants are already established, the clay can be applied to the soil surface before the mulch (or next application of mulch!) is applied and it will enter the soil gradually as you water.  Make sure you cover it as the clay has a knack of clumping and if Volume Components of Soil copyyou walk on it may stick to your shoes  –  its never a good idea to walk on soil though as compaction reduces the pore space and reduces the surface area for soil life and space for water distribution.  However, I believe that it is this clumping and messiness that leads many to purchase pre-mixed products to avoid the hassle.  Again think about your plan of attack, understand the positives and negatives, know if you’re time or money rich and hence set yourself up for success.

The clay can normally be purchased in 20kg bags.  The application rate will depend on the product, the state of your soil and the means with which you elect to apply it (dug in or superficial application).

  • —O                    Organics

Soil Food Web Expanded copyCompost – fine organics – can be created in any number of ways which may be formal or informal, compost bins (in any incarnation), via chooks, worms or just as an aged form of coarse organics.  Any organic waste removed from your property (kitchen scraps in the sulo bin, green waste collection, etc) is your system leaking nutrients. A fabulous person once said “There is no such thing as waste, only stuff in the wrong place.” (Thanks, Charlie – song, website) Feed you soil fauna and in turn your plants to support the next yield.  If you must control the soil food web rather than just feed it, look to control life with life, to return the pest into the food cycle to benefit the system.  By taking the pest out by chemical means, you may remove not only the pest, but also kill/remove/send away other members of your food web through the direct effect of the chemical or the removal of their food source.  The pest will return faster than the predators as you promote their food!

Mulch – coarse organics – Can be simply the act of dropping the prunings of your plant on the ground at its base and letting fallen leaves decompose where they lie.   This effectively returns all the nutrients taken from the soil (to produce the leaf, limb or whole plant), back into the soil, as well as creating new habitats for your garden life.  Alternately prunings etc can be left to dry out and then chipped for faster break down and a more conventionally neat look.   However when you’re getting started and have not yet got green “waste” to work with, investing in some imported mulch (street tree, donated by a friend or other) might be the way to go.

The aim of the mulch is to mimic the debris which litters the floor of a forest.  Covering soil is the number one goal for healthy soil especially in Perth over summer, when new plants might be fried.  It is critical in the moderation of soil temperature, prevention of erosion and to minimise the moisture lost to evaporation (not only due to the sun’s heat, but the hot winds too).  Whilst we talked about mulch above, this cover can also be provided by picking hardy ground covers to plant (sweet potato is a personal favourite!) as living mulch; ensuring larger plants protect it; or better still, all of the above.

The beauty of the organic component is this element can truly self sustain – build the soil and the life will come…bringing with them castings, manure, bodies and plant accessible nutrients.  It’s uncanny how quickly life returns to barren ground once mulched.

The application rate would be classified as “more is better” especially with neutral pH mulch. With kitchen food scraps, other imported nutrient sources or compost products delivered to other parts of the garden, it is important to understand that, whilst the soil fauna might like it, some plants are built for limited nutrient situations (the pioneers) and some need to be spoon fed mass nutrients – over time you’ll figure out which is which.  Too much nutrition and your pioneers are no longer required in the evolution of your food forest and will tend to fade…. a good thing…. they become terrific trellis’ for climbers and reflect that your system is working.

As an aside, for the plants that you intend to remove from your garden (no longer wanted or dead) always ensure that the roots are left insitu.  This means that deep in the soil profile organic matter remains to sustain the soil life until the next plant’s roots dive as deep.  This retention of roots acts to increase the depth of the living soil profile and increases your carbon sequestration (amount of carbon stored in the ground and hence less CO2 in the atmosphere! Win Win!).

  • —R                     Rock Dust (Long term / Slow release Macro- & Micro-Nutrients)

—Contains: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Calcium, Carbon, Magnesium, Sulphur, Silicon, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Boron, Cobalt, Molybdenum and Selenium in a balanced, slow release form. —(The Green Life Soil Company)  Some producers also bond it with beneficial microbes (bacteria & fungi -VA Mycorrhizae) to innoculate the soil and help establish healthy microbial populations.  However unless you have organics in your soil to feed the microbes, they won’t stick around (or will just go dormant), but if you do have organic material available, and plants growing then chances are you’ve got your microbes working for you already.

There are lots of producers of Rock Dust in many different sized packages (small tubs to 20kg bags) but, as mentioned before use local ethical suppliers where possible and check out the product to ensure it meets the mineral needs across the board.  —It usually comes in a moistened form and is a mixture of granite and basalt rocks which has a significant spread of nutrients covered.

—Typically its great to hoe this in at the start, but applied under the mulch is a valid option also.  It is applied at 1-2 handfuls per square metre.

  •  —K                     Kelp (Sea Minerals)

The application of sea minerals is a general boost to the fertility of the soil and hence the productivity of the plants.  Information suggests that the application, due to the improvement in health, enables better heat, drought and frost tolerance as well as a better resistance to fungal attack and the impacts of insect attack.  Generally it can be considered as a faster release provider of a broad range of trace elements and minerals.

—In Perth we can purchase the coarse meal form of kelp, a fine powder (to be dissolved in solution) or liquid kelp already in solution with other additives.  The only example of composition I have been abSeasol analysisle to find was for Seasol which represents an example of the latter.  Again it is up to the buyer as to the volume and hence expense that is appropriate for them.  We typically go for the coarse meal as we work in young sandy soils and don’t want it dissolving and flushed away before the soil wakes up.  Horses for courses as they say.  Again, —choose locally available, ethical and economical option to fulfill this function to meet your soil’s needs. Anyway here is the example of Seasol’s contribution to your soil for you to see the breadth of minerals.

Application again will depend on your product, but typically the pure coarse kelp meal requires 1-2 handfuls per square metre and should be applied as per the rock dust. Work it into the soil mix or just get it under the mulch layer to start being eaten.

So “TORK-ing to your soil” is the key to providing you with the components you need to get started and bring in the little guys who make up the living bits of the organic piece-of-pie. They will do the rest.

For more of a detailed recap head back to:

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.1) – Mineral Particles and Pore Spaces

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.2) – Organic Matter

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.3) – Resultant Soil Properties

PLEASE NOTE: The size of the pot/property only defines the cost versus time-frame versus source of inputs.  Support local, go for diversity and set yourself up from the start. No point spending your hard earned dollars on soil food that will run straight down through sand to the aquifer below or on plants that will get water logged in soil that won’t drain.  Understand and respect the patterns of the sun and its (potentially harsh) impact on the soil.  And perhaps most important of all keep your soil covered and hence your soil life protected from both the heat and cold.

On larger properties, it is often better to maintain the status quo across the majority and focus on a nucleus/small area to amend as you start out.  This will both help you learn what your doing with minimal expense/loss as you will make mistakes (especially in plant selection and care – nature has taught me that lesson!) and give you the confidence to experiment without fear.  Once you’ve got your nucleus working for you, you’ll have the knowledge, contacts and an existing ecosystem to help expand the operation.  And may the weather gods shine (or more hopefully rain) on you!

HAPPY SOIL – here are a few link to commiserate what we have done on a larger scale, to look as what we might do and to celebrate the wins as attention turns slowly away from FOOD SECURITY to NUTRITION SECURITY.

Mr Permaculture / Mr Pemberton / Mr MGee – Down Down Down (Song for Soil) – Permaculture Day 2015

Thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN for the infographic above and their work to raise the importance of soil in the minds of those not directly seeing this critical link in the worlds food, fiber, fuel etc  They have a Year of the Soil page too with lots of resources.

Soils for Life also has some great information and is specifically Australia based.

Soil Science Australia can also have some useful links.

The Regrarians – http://www.regrarians.org/

We try to put all our information up as well – http://www.terraperma.com.au/free-workshop-notes.html

I’ll try to add more and more links over time so you can find your own gems amongst them.  Please fire any through you find too!


(1) Promised Delivered – Happy World Soil Day – hope you had fun!


And so with that I will wish you all a safe, constructive Christmas…. and, perhaps more importantly (in the words of my daughter – 2yrs old at the time – and the best expression of good wishes for everyone in 2016 I have ever heard), A HAPPY NEW YOU.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi — ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’

Until next time.

SH

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