Plants From Prunings – More Autumn Jobs!

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Hi everyone,

Autumn is starting to settle on southern Tasmania. The days are now noticeably shorter, the chickens are laying a few less eggs and we’re preparing for a cold change overnight and a major rain event in the next 24 hours. Fingers crossed, this will fall where it’s needed, fill all our tanks and not do too much damage!

I’ve been run off my feet trying to get as many winter vegetables ready and planted out before it gets really cold but I remembered this morning to keep up with the autumn cuttings! There are three main types of stem cuttings that generally fall into different parts of the year – softwood in spring and summer, semi-hardwood in late summer and autumn and hardwood in late autumn and winter (after leaf drop).

A couple of weeks ago I pruned and thinned out my two Blueberry plants (Vaccinium sp.) that currently live in two tubs. They produced over a kilo of fruit this summer so, in an effort to improve on this crop, I planted approximately 60 small cuttings directly into a nursery flat (tray). Hopefully, I’ll have enough young plants from this to put in a hedge of Blueberries and some to give away to family as presents next xmas.

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Blueberry cuttings [L] and mixed tray of berries and herbs [R]

Many people I know, even experienced gardeners, seem to be a little shy about propagating plants from cuttings but once you know what to look for, it’s really quite fun, can save a lot of money and provide gifts for other gardening friends and family. This is also called striking or asexual propagation, and is a much faster way to get new perennials than growing from seed. Unlike seed raising though, there is no genetic diversity – we are taking a piece of the plant, putting it in a growing medium and encouraging the piece to form roots and grow.

Some plants strike more readily than others. For instance, Bay (Laurus nobilis) and many of the most beautiful Australian natives can be notoriously difficult even for the experienced, whereas plants like Sage (Salvia officinalis), the Rosemary forms (Rosmarinus sp.) and even Lavenders (Lavandula sp.) can be really quite easy.

Many professional horticulturists use rooting hormones to dip their cuttings in before planting, and these powders and gels are widely available now to home gardeners. While this can help increase strike rates and give a boost to node and root production on hard to strike plants, they do contain some pretty nasty chemicals. I tend not to use anything except very fresh cutting material and if I really feel it’s warranted, (for Bay trees for instance) I use a tablespoon of unadulterated honey dissolved in a half cup of warm water and dip the cuttings just before planting. When I had access to it, I’ve also used small sticks or bark peelings of Crack Willow (Salix fragilis) – which is a weed in Tasmania – soaked in water overnight. Much safer than commercial chemicals 🙂

The big secret to success is before starting, make sure everything is really clean – the pots or trays you want to use, secateurs (and make sure they’re sharp!), the surface you’re working on and of course, your hands. By the way, because of the spines I wore gloves when doing the berry cuttings and made sure they were very clean too. I use a good quality seed raising mix and usually fill the pots and/or trays with the mix and water it before starting doing the cuttings. And make sure you have labels, a marker or pencil and a something clean to make holes in the mix – this has the delightful name of a “dibble stick”. I use a pH tester that lives in the greenhouse – the metal rod is the perfect size for this job.

Today I did a mixed tray of my favourite Boysenberry, Youngberry and Silvanberry that needed pruning, some very special Lebanese Oregano or Za’atar Leaf (Oreganum syriacum) and my favourite Rosemary form (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Tuscan Blue’).

Because I was using a mix of pots today, I took a mix of cutting lengths to suit. I start by filling the pots, watering them and using the dibble stick to make a hole in each pot.  Then I went out and trimmed back the first plant I wanted to propagate, the Boysenberry.

First, make a diagonal cut just below a leaf. This little lump is called a node and is a “hot spot” for potential root growth in the soon-to-be new plant. Next, make a clean cut four or five nodes above my first diagonal cut and, leaving the top for the moment, carefully trim the leaves off the two or three nodes in between, making sure to trim as close to the stem as possible. It should look something like this little Boysenberry below :

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Sometimes, if the top leaves are particularly big they might need to be clipped in half too. Carefully put the cutting into a prepared pot and very gently press the soil around the stem. Continue until you’ve got what you need, label immediately and water lightly – a mist bottle is great for this!

This time of the year when there’s still some warmth in the sun, I leave them in a mostly shady spot in the greenhouse, down the bottom of one of my shelves. You can create a mini greenhouse, using a plastic bag with a few holes poked in it if you’re doing a tray inside.

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Do you propagate your own plants? What are your top tips for success and best plants? Leave a comment below. 

No Rest for Gardeners! – The Truth About Growing All That Food

 

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The uninitiated – that is, non-gardening friends – often say things to me that make me giggle. Things like, “you must be glad it’s autumn, you won’t have to be in the garden so much”. It got me thinking though that my busiest times are usually spring and autumn, preparing for the frenzy of summer and the hard graft of winter, when I’m more inclined to do heavy building work to keep warm, while trying to grow winter food. I feel there’s always things that should be done no matter the season and, dealing with a physical disability, things that I have to take a long view on completing.

One such job has been The Corner of Shame. I think every largish garden has one, that back corner, usually furthest away from the house, that gets overgrown and forgotten about because there’s so many other things that take your time and attention before you can walk that far! Well, after months (literally) of chipping away at it, my Corner of Shame is no more!

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The picture above shows the now Corner of Care that was started as a long term project by two of us in November last year. I had to get a second load of pine bark to finish top dressing around the plum tree and opted this time for the fresh rather than the composted, darker mulch. Also, I’ve planted an English Lavender (in the bottom right corner of the photo) and started pruning the plum tree. The netted area is half a huge bed that I left fallow for a season and built up with compost from the chicken coop, spent straw from rabbit hutches and a few good handfuls of dolomite.

Last weekend I planted leeks, silverbeet (chard), celery and some bunching broccoli in there and this weekend I finished it off with garlic. Next weekend, I’ll be doing a similar netting job on the other side but I’ll be waiting for a few more weeks for the next round of seedlings to be big enough to plant out.

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The two nursery trays above (ten punnets of winter vegetables and ten of onion varieties) were planted on March 8th, only six days ago. This morning, nine of the winter vegetables were up and big enough to handle and six punnets of the onions. Hopefully, I’ll get some time during the week to prick some of the kale, savoy cabbage and endive seedlings into toilet roll grow tubes and get them ready for planting out across five beds before the soil starts cooling off!

The other long term project I’ve brought to a close in the last few weeks has indeed been a labour of love. My all-time favourite vegetable is asparagus and at the beginning of spring, I took the plunge and planted some seed rather than wait until winter and buy (in my opinion) very expensive crowns. Asparagus seed is notoriously difficult and has a very short shelf life but either I chose well or got lucky – probably a little of both!

I ended up with 51 asparagus seedlings!!!

So, a dedicated bed had to be found, dug over, built up and dressed with sea grass – and quickly! I decided to use the bed that had garlic in last year and started the preparation in November, almost as soon as I’d lifted the huge heads. Digging is something I generally avoid these days because of my spine and arthritis unless it’s absolutely necessary – and this was necessary! It took up until the end of December to dig the previous mulch in, feed with copious amounts of sheep poo and mushroom compost, throw some dolomite over it and dig it over again. Then I covered it all with some sea grass I gratefully accepted from extended family who want to be paid in asparagus – long term investors! Then I left it to settle and every time I watered the garden, I spent some time watering the sea grass to remove the excess salt and stop the bed drying out completely. This is what it looked like after the sea grass mulch –

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In the meantime, I spent quite a bit of time teasing out the little seedlings into individual grow tubes as you can see from the picture below.

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Finally, a seriously diseased cherry tree had to be taken out from behind the bed before I could plant my babies out. Thanks to my wonderful son and other family members, I had some help with this and didn’t do anything my doctor wouldn’t approve of!

And then, at last I started planting these precious little seedlings out. It took me a few weeks to get it all done but they’re doing well – all 51 of them!!! At the moment they’re very tightly planted but as the crowns grow I’ll take over the rest of the bed and give them more space to grow. Asparagus is dioecious – it has male and female plants – and I’ll be removing most of the female plants as I work out who’s who. Male plants don’t have to expend resources to produce fruit, so can crop up to three times more than a female plant.

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Now all I have to do is top dress with more sea grass, manure and spent rabbit straw at the end of this winter and the next. If I’m lucky and careful, I should be able to take one spear from each that spring and by 2018 have my first crop. Asparagus will produce good crops for around 20 years. It will be worth it 😀

What’s your favourite vegetable and how do you like to eat it? Please leave a comment – I love to hear your stories! 

 

Autumn Love

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So, it’s March and I keep wondering where summer went. But it also heralds the beginning of autumn, undoubtedly my favourite season in Tasmania.

After the recent sadness of my friend passing away, I channeled my “inner Jeff” and got busy. One of his maxims was “activity with a capital A”, so last weekend I went and visited a dear friend who’s also a fabulous gardener. Her style is inventive and eclectic, mixing old fashioned cottage garden standards with some quite unusual ornamental plants as well as vegetables, fruit and a healthy frog pond in a smallish suburban backyard. Added to that, she’s divided her space into distinctly differently garden “rooms”, perfect for entertaining, reading or just lounging around. It was lovely to hang out with her and enjoy the garden.

Before I left, we picked a shopping bag of elderberries, which I must say, hardly made a dent in her magnificent tree! In Tasmania, the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra) has become something of a weed as it suckers readily and birds spread the seeds very readily. Nevertheless, the elder is prized for wine making and medicinal purposes, both for the delicately scented flowers in spring and the rich, purple/black berries in late summer and early autumn.

I wanted to make a medicinal (and delicious) cordial for winter, and once I got my bag of berries home, I had a great time stripping the fruit and making a mess. The shopping bag yielded over 2 kg of ripe berries! And finally, I recommend wearing old clothes when doing this – elderberries stain everything!

Elderberry and Cinnamon Cordial

Elderberries             Water                 Sugar             Cinnamon quills           Lemons

Use a fork to ease the ripe berries off the stalks. Remove any stems, dead flowers or insects and put the berries into a stock pot. Put enough cold water over to just cover the berries. Bring it to a gentle simmer and cook, covered for 20-30 minutes.

Use a potato masher to thoroughly break the fruit. Strain the liquid off and measure carefully into a clean jam pan or stock pot. (I used a fine mesh nylon strainer but a jelly bag or muslin would do just as well. Don’t be afraid to squeeze the pulp to get all the juice out.)

For every cup of juice add a cup of sugar and ¼ cup of lemon juice (preferably fresh) and for every three cups, add a whole cinnamon quill.

Cover and leave this mixture to steep, preferably overnight.

Next day heat the syrup gently and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pot up into sterilised bottles and process in a water bath to prolong storage.

To use, mix approximately a tablespoon of syrup with cold water and ice or soda water. It’s also great as a hot drink – just boil the kettle and use a tablespoon or so in a cup – incredibly warming and delicious on a cold day and one of my “go to” drinks when I feel a head cold coming on.

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8 jars of Elderberry Jam and 9 bottles of Elderberry & Cinnamon Syrup from 2.2 kg fruit

My household aren’t huge jam eaters but there was so much pulp, I couldn’t bring myself to waste it! So, extended family and jam-loving friends have all done well from this 🙂 Also, to my delight I discovered that a tablespoon of the jam in a serve of plain homemade yogurt is absolutely delicious!

Elderberry Jam

Elderberry pulp               Sugar                   Fresh Lemon juice and grated zest

Lemon Balm (optional)       Jamsetta (optional)

Measure the pulp and for every four cups, add three cups of sugar and a small bunch of lemon balm in muslin if you have it on hand. Heat gently in a jam pan and bring up to a simmer. Elderberries are low in pectin so if setting point is not reached, use a commercial pectin. Add the zest and juice of two lemons.

Gently boil the jam to a setting point and test.

Pot up into sterilised jam jars and cover immediately.

Elderberry Jam on Sourdough = Yum!

Elderberry Jam on Sourdough = Yum!

I’ve got a busy week coming up but I’ll try and make time to document my experiments with chilli preserves and different cordials in the last few days – it’s been an interesting series of hits and misses 😛

Meanwhile, take care wherever you are on this beautiful blue marble ❤