Here's the place to discuss how to grow fruit and vegetables, including how to improve the soil and the requirements of particular plants.

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A simple wire compost bin

At one of our compost workshops, Cheryl Noble from the Hamilton Permaculture Trust showed us how to make a small compost bin using recycled wire netting.

This was very quick to make and can be put directly on the area of garden where you will want to use the compost.

First Cheryl made a tube out of netting by wiring the two ends together.

Next she staked it into place - she's using an old piece of reinforcing rod. 

Then she covered the structure with an old worn out cotton sheet, but you could also use old woollen jumpers, cardboard, newspaper, ...  

It is now ready to be filled with your compost ingredients!

TIP: If you live in an older house you may find useful left over gardening or construction materials like netting and garden stakes under the house or up in the ceiling.  If you are renting, check with your landlord if it is ok to use these materials.

Make a Compost Tumbler

At the Being a Healthy Gardener workshop Jo Macky showed off her home made compost tumbler. 

The drum is used on dairy farms - farmers are often happy for you to take an empty drum for free, just ask.  Don't use drums that have had pesticides in them. This one had held teat spray, which is OK.

To make it:

  1. thoroughly wash out the drum
  2. saw half of the top off
  3. screw on some hinges (the only part she paid $ for) to make the lid swing 
  4. add a latch (a screw and a rubber band)
  5. drill holes in the sides and bottom to allow air and worms to pass through.

Roll it to where you are weeding, add your compost ingredients, then roll it to where you want to keep it. 

Give it a roll at least once a week - keeps you fit in the process!

When you're ready to use it, roll it to the part of the garden where you want to use the compost.

Rolling the drum turns and mixes the compost ingredients, keeping it aerated so the bugs and fungi can keep working.  You mimic what the birds etc do on the forest floor, as they scratch and turn the leaves looking for bugs.  

Tumbling makes hot compost, which breaks down the garden waste more quickly than cold composting methods.

Another type of temporary compost bin

These compost bins are Mike Hancock's, here in his Hamilton back yard. 

They are made from roofing iron off-cuts - you can sometimes get these for free from building sites, just ask.

Make sure they are open at the top to allow air in.

Sweet Treats

I was interested to see sugar cane growing in  a sheltered spot next to the banana palm in Fungai's garden in Hamilton last week.  The sugar cane plant is two years old, so has survived a Waikato winter.  If you pulp the cane to extract the juice, the remaining fibre makes an excellent mulch.  He got his plant from Bunnings.  It is variegated (striped), making it an attractive addition to the garden.

The same day I got him to taste the herb Stevia Rebaudiana (pictured here) which has been described as the sweetest herb in the world - the leaves are many times sweeter than sugar!  Unlike sugar (but similar to yacon) it has zero calories making it excellent for diabetics and people with a sweet tooth wishing to loose weight.

Stevia is difficult to grow from seed, so plants are usually propagated by cuttings (and if that means nothing to you, come to our workshop 'Plants for free! Seed Saving & Plant Propagation' on 22 Feb 2012). The stevia plant is tender (will be killed by frosts), so either grow it as an outdoor annual (spring-summer crop) or grow it in pots that you can move inside over winter.  (If you have had luck growing it outside in a warm spot, please let us know!) The leaves are sweetest just before flowering. 

The Plant Place (cnr Alison Street/Kahikatea Drive) stock stevia plants in the herb section from $3.50.  They are happy to give growing advice or see the link below for more information.

See the 'Eating' discussion for how to use this herb.

Learn more at: http://www.stevia.com/Stevia_article/Growing_Your_Own_Stevia/8077 (NB this is written for Northern Hemisphere audiences - the months of the seasons are the reverse of those here in NZ!)

 

Wild Flowers (also known as weeds or herbage!)

A fun way to learn to identify some of our local weeds is through the online Weed Quiz put up by Massey University at http://weeds.massey.ac.nz/quick_quizzes.asp

If you don't recognise the plant, you can click on 'cheat' and it will tell you what it is. Go back later and try again!

Alternatively, if you know the name of a wild plant and want to learn more about it, such as what kinds of soils it flourishes in, you can search their weed database from this page (use the 'click here' link to avoid being asked to log in): http://weeds.massey.ac.nz/default.asp


A greater variety of wild plants are included in Owen & Audrey Bishop's New Zealand Wild Flowers Handbook, (1994, Hodder & Stoughton, Auckland NZ).

Photo: Bindweed (Convolvulaceae) with arrow shaped leaves, strangling a lavender bush.

When is a yam not a yam?

When you buy a yam in NZ you are more likely to be buying what the rest of the world calls oca, originating from South America. 

With clover-like leaves, it is also a root vegetable which comes in a variety of colours - pink, yellow and red.  Harvest the tubers when the leaves have died back at the end of summer.  

The taro like yam grown in the Pacific is a tropical vegetable.  If you are growing some, we'd love to know about it. 

What America calls a yam is a sweet potato similar to the Beauregard variety of kumara.  There is more information on their site at: http://www.vegetables.co.nz/select_a_vegetable/yams.php

Which highlights the problem of using 'common names' for plants: they often refer to multiple plants.  Plant scientists (botanists) use a Latin based naming system which avoids duplicates.  It is helpful to learn the botanical or Latin name when you are trying to source plants from nurseries. 

The botanical name for oca is Oxalis tuberosa, in the Oxalidaceae (Wood Sorrel) Family.

Above: Oca growing at the Samoan Methodist Church.

Left: Oca tubers, photo courtesy of www.vegetables.co.nz


See the Eating! discussion for cooking ideas.

Fungai's Garden - grapes and apples


Fungai is has lots of different food plants growing on is suburban Hamilton section and has shared some photos.

Some of his grapes (Vitis vinifera) have developed fungus as a result of the warm wet weather (white fluff on the grapes, right)

Removing the extra leaf sprouts (laterals) will allow better air circulation and more light to reach the grapes, which can help prevent fungus as well as helping the grapes ripen.

You could also spray plants with powdery mildew (pumpkins and zucchini/courgettes often have this problem) using a 1:10 solution of baking soda, some people also add a little milk to the spray.  

Fungai also has an apple tree (Malus domestica, right). It looks like the striped variety called 'Gala' , which won't be ready until autumn. 

If you are used to buying your fruit from the supermarket, you may be surprised at the variation in shape and size of fruit on the one plant.  Small marks on the skin and damage from caterpillars can usually be cut out and the rest of the fruit eaten as usual, or cooked.   Put the diseased sections into the rubbish bin: do not compost it.

The presence of codlin moth caterpillars can often be detected by looking at the bottom of the fruit: there may be caterpillar frass (poo that looks like fine sawdust) around where the flower dropped off. 

My family used to joke that the only thing worse than finding a caterpillar in your apple was finding half a caterpillar in your apple(!)  Eating one won't make you sick - probably good protein actually!!

The yellow plastic pegged to the tree is coated with grease or petroleum jelly as a pest insect trap. Pests such as white fly are attracted to yellow, and get stuck on the sticky surface.   

 

Fungai's Garden - Capsicum family


What are often called 'capsicums' in NZ are a sweet pepper, and are members of the Capsicum family along with chillis.  Fungai's family are growing several varieties.     

The long chillis on the left can be eaten in both their red and green forms.  The healthy looking plant is growing in a pot on a sunny deck.  The Capsicum  family like lots of heat and light.  In hot countries they are grown as a shrub all year around, but here they are grown as a summer annual: they are killed by our winter frosts.

Always keep hot chillis out of reach of small children: they are not only hot to taste, they can burn your skin and eyes. Use gloves when preparing them, and wash your hands well.  Chillis' heat comes from a substance (capsaicin) that can damage soft contact lenses. 

You can freeze chillis for winter use, but the skin goes tough so you will need to scrape them out of the skin before adding to dishes.  If you have a warm dry airy place or a food drying machine you can try drying them.  Otherwise cook a chilli sauce and bottle them.

The other variety of chilli they're growing is a rounder form, probably peri-peri chillis (Capsicum baccaum, right), used to make a hot sauce of the same name.

They are also growing capsicum in a sheltered warm place in pots and in soil (see below).  Green capsicums are just the young form of the sweeter, coloured ones. 

Capsicum

The WIC advisory group visited the Te Ara Hou Community Garden in Hillcrest a few weeks ago where we saw this gorgeous almost-black capsicum!  If it is the variety known as 'chocolate' the flavour is very sweet and (in my opinion) very yummy. 

The Plant Place in Kahikatea Drive had some in stock last time I looked.

Fungai's Bananas

The photo left shows his bananas (Musa sapientum) and sugar cane (Saccharum, on the right) growing in a sheltered sunny spot.  Yes, this is Hamilton!  Both are about 2 years old.

I don't know what variety this is, but the most common form of banana grown in New Zealand is known as 'Lady Finger' or sugar banana, because it is a more cold-tolerant variety.  The fruit are smaller and sweeter than the ones you buy in the shops. Someone told me 'Misi luki' is another variety which would grow here. 

The plants can grow up to 5 meters tall and can be damaged by wind, so shelter is important.

According to Baxter & Jones book Growing Fruit & Nuts in New Zealand, it takes 12-18 months before it will flower, because growth stops below about 18 degrees Celsius. 

The flower stalk has 3 types of flowers, but only the female flowers at the base of the stalk will form fruit.

As the fruit develops it will bend the long stalk: it may need propping up with stakes.

When the banana hands have emerged (just starting on Fungai's plant, see left), the 'bell', or remains of the flower below the hand, is removed and the bunch should be covered with a plastic bag, or even a sack or building paper to protect it. 

Once the fruit have plumped up and the ribs have rounded-out, harvest the fruit one hand at a time: the topmost hand ripens first.  You can also ripen them off the plant by putting the hand in a plastic bag with ripe apples or ripe commercial bananas (they give off ethylene gas). 

In addition to fruit, banana leaves are used in some cultures for medicine as, like the fruit, they are rich in potassium.  People who have been vomiting deplete their potassium levels, so eating bananas can be part of their recovery. 

Many plants need potassium to set fruit, so use shredded banana leaves and skins as mulch or make fertiliser tea to water the plants with.  If you are planting roses, put a banana skin in the bottom of the planting hole. 

Bananas don't have seed, they are propagated by cutting off the suckers (pups) at the base of the plant at the time it starts flowering: leave no more than two suckers attached to a flowering plant.  Transplant the suckers on a nice warm day or they are likely to die. They can also be grown from a part of they plant which has a bud or 'eye' like on a large potato.

Bananas will do well against a north facing (warm) wall, especially if it is painted white or a pale colour, as this will reflect light.  They like humid conditions and moist (but not waterlogged) soil - they don't like sandy or pumice soils as these don't hold the water.  The plants also like lots of food.  When planting dig a shallow hole and either:

  • mix  through blood and bone fertiliser (bought from garden centres, hardware shops, The Warehouse, etc).
  • bury a dead possum - there are plenty killed by traffic beside the roads around Hamilton!

Then plant your seedling(s) around the side of the dip you've created and fill the dip with water.  When watering the plants in summer, water into the dip (this is the method used in some NZ Permaculture gardens, such as Betty White's near Otorohanga).   

A couple of us are going to visit Betty on the 7th March 2012 leaving Hamilton at 10 am, returning about 1 pm to get some banana suckers and look at her garden. She grows a surprising range of subtropicals including pineapple.  If you would like to come along, give me a call and see if we still have a spare seat.

There are a few nurseries in NZ that specialise in selling subtropicals, for example is Russell Fransham's in Northland, which sells by mail order see http://www.subtropical.co.nz/catalogue2.html  Many local nurseries will also try to get in plants that you ask for. 

If you are growing different varieties of bananas or have some growing tips, please share them with the group!

Bananas

There is a bit more information about growing bananas here. It includes comments by Rodger Bodle of Bermuda Palms Banana Research in Wainui Beach, Gisborne on the East Coast of NZ: he grows about 25 different varieties of bananas and other tropical plants. 

 

There is an interview with Roger in the Gisborne Herald.

 

Roger's garden is open to the public by appointment.

 

 

 

 

Photos: Fungai's bananas in Hamilton, taken just a couple of days ago.

Hello as I'm Hamilton based, I'd like to know if there's any chance of me contacting Fungai to view his bananas & possibly get some banana plant(s) as well?

Thanks.

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