Welcome to TheBloomingTales

Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog. Please feel free to make comments at the bottom of each post and tick the reactions boxes. If you have any gardening questions or want advice just post a comment (choose anonymous from the drop down) and I'll write about it. Regards JP.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Plant of the Week: Coreopsis grandflora

Over the next month or so I want to show you some flowers that you can start growing inside now (from seed) so that they will all be ready to plant out once spring hits.  I have chosen Coreopsis for plant of the week due to the fact that is a really easy flower to grow for the beginner gardener (from seed), they produce masses of flowers all through summer (good to cut for the vase and mass of colour in your garden) and are easy to look after (not a fussy plant, will grow well in almost all soil types and will forgive you if you forget to water it).   
The flowers look like daisies and are often bright yellow with the foliage being a dark green.  Coreopsis is often talked about with the common name Tickseed.  I would recommend the Coreopsis grandlflora and in particular ‘Early Sunrise’ as seen in the photo.  You can get seeds for this variety from Kings Seeds https://secure.zeald.com/kingseeds/results.html?q=Coreopsis.

I really get a kick out of seeing the whole process from growing from seed to picking the flowers.  So Coreopsis seeds from Kings will be on my shopping list this year.

Last week’s plant of the week was Whau (Entelia arborescens), and I said I was on the hunt for some of the seedpods so I could try and grow them from seed.  Well, while walking around the Zoo with the kids yesterday I picked a dried seedpod off the ground under a Whau tree.   
Once I pulled the prickly pod apart I got over 30 seeds (along with a baby cockroach).  So tomorrow I’m going to plant 10 of the seeds.  So stay tuned for my success/failure rates.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fruits of my labour: Silverbeet into Sag aloo

This time of year you should find that Silverbeet is prolific in your garden. It can be one of those veges that you grow, but leave uneaten in your plot because you don’t know how to make the most of this highly nutritious vegetable. Well I’m a fan of it just steamed or maybe with some butter and seasoning. It’s also great chopped finely in an omlet, quiche or frittata. Tonight though I took some inspiration from Mr Rick Stein and adapted his ‘Potatoes and Spinach with Cumin and Mustard Seeds’ recipe (Rick Stein’s Far Eastern Odyssey p. 278) for my own Silver Beet usage needs.
 For this recipe you will need 4Tbsp mustard oil (I just used rice bran), 1 tsp black mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 25g crushed garlic, 30g peeled and grated ginger, 2 thinly sliced green cayenne chillies (because I’m serving to small children I left these out), ½ tsp turmeric powder, ½ tsp kashmiri chilli powder, 700g peeled potatos cut into 2.5 cm pieces (didn’t measure every piece), 250g spinach (Silverbeet), ½ tsp Garam masala.

Heat the oil in pan, add the mustard seeds and cover with lid until the seeds stop popping, turn down the heat and add the cumin seeds, sizzle for a few seconds, add the garlic, ginger and chillies and fry for two minutes.  Stir in the turmeric and chilli powder, then the potatoes, 5 tablespoons of water and a teaspoon of salt.  Cover and cook.  Stir occasionally (add a little more water during cooking if needed, I didn’t).  Once the potatoes are tender, stir in the silverbeet and cook for a couple more minutes.  Sprinkle over the garam masala and eat!! 

As you can see I served with some steamed peas and a tasty piece of pan-fried salmon.

I would love to see the fruits of your labour and what you do with them, too.  Send me your photos.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Making Babies

As I’ve said in other posts, last season I grew lots of different annual flowering plants from seed to try to attract more bees and butterflies to my garden.  One way to keep annuals flowering prolifically during the season is to de-head (pull or cut) the flowers off the plants once they have died, to encourage new growth.  Near the end of the season I left a few of the heads on the plants in order to collect the dried seed for next season.  Well this was my intention.  I ended up pulling up the dead plants and instead of just throwing the dead flower heads in the garden bin I just chucked the heads on the bare ground (not knowing really what would happen, maybe feed a few birds).  After a walk around my garden this morning (after some rainfall and sun this week) I can see lots, well actually hundreds, of self sown seedlings popping up all around the garden.  There was no need to burry the seeds as most seeds can grow just sitting on the soil.   
Sure some of the seedlings are not where I want them to end up, and there are way too many.  But they are going to give a really natural look to my flower garden this coming summer season (if they survive the winter) without a lot of work (or money) at all.  My Asters, Zinnias and Echium have all self-seeded this way.  I’ve been out at Patamahoe today on a pruning tutorial, so stay tuned for a pruning post soon.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Plant of the Week: Entelea arborescens

I have decided on something a little different for this week’s plant of the week.  It’s a plant that I remember seeing as a kid during bush walks and a lot recently in various places around Auckland (including a large specimen at the Auckland zoo).  To be honest I have always thought it was a weed, but I have recently learnt a little more about it and in fact it’s a New Zealand native tree with the common name "Whau". 
The cool thing about this native is that its timber is one of the lightest of all trees in the world, yes even lighter the Balsa and it’s density less than Cork.  It has really pretty white flowers in the spring, which stand out against it’s large bright green heart shaped leaves.  The flowers then turn into these fascinating brown spiky seedpods. With the fact that it is a fast growing (up to 6m) spreading tree I am going to attempt to grow some from seed this coming spring, so I’m off for a hunt this weekend for some of the seeds.  Might have to visit the zoo.  I’ll let you know how I go!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blooming Answers: Farewell sweet Capsicum

"My capsicum have all started to rot and wilt now but i enjoyed them while they lasted.  Do I just pull them out now and plant something else or will they grow again and should I just leave them"?

Thanks for your question…Unfortunately it is time for you to say goodbye to your capsicums.  So pull those plants out and plant something for the winter period.  Capsicum plants are grown as annuals in New Zealand.  An annual is a plant that germinates, grows, fruits and dies all in one season (as apposed to perennials which live for more than one year).  Capsicum plants are not very tolerant to frosts and I’m guessing it’s due to the fantastically warm weather we have had up to now that they have lasted so long.  Have you thought about saving some of the seeds for next year’s crops?  Just cut open one of the fruit and scoop out the seeds, dry them on a sheet of paper towel, and keep them in a dark dry place (envelope) until the end of Winter when you can start growing them inside for planting out after the last frosts (when it starts warming up a bit).  Hope this helps.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Public Enemy No's 1,2,3 and Four

As a novice gardener I have lost many crops from birds pulling them up while looking for food, strong wind breaking the stems of young seedlings, snails and slugs feasting on deliciously looking young shoots and white butterfly caterpillars hole punching the flawless leaves of my little babies (and let’s not even get into cats).  And each year I try to come up with a plan to beat these public enemies at their own game (and before I start, there will be references to death in this post).  My most recent experiment has been to cover young seedlings with 3litre juice bottles with the bottoms cut out and the lid taken off (free) and pushed into the ground.  I have also invested in a couple of wire mesh plastic covered tunnel houses for the seedlings, too ($9.95 each from Palmers).  
 I leave the seedlings covered for 10 – 14 days.  This gives the young plants enough time to establish their root systems, stems and leaves without being hammered by the wind, pulled up by birds and even stops slugs and snails from chomping the delicate growth shoots.  I do put a few slug and snail pellets at the two ends of the tunnels.  I have also tried putting crushed eggshells around my seedlings to stop snails with fairly good results.  The bottles and tunnels both act like mini greenhouses giving light, warmth and shelter to the seedlings.  I did a little experiment during the last couple of weeks.  I planted two identical sized seedlings next to each other, one with a bottle and one without.  Have a look at the growth rate difference (the one with the bottle is one the right).  I had to replant the one without the bottle due to a bird digging it up.  


Dave asked a question during the week (see has comment on the cauliflower post ) about his problem with caterpillars eating his crops and not wanting to use sprays.  I too have struggled with this problem.  A young seedling can be totally destroyed in only a matter of days by caterpillars. This year I have gone out to the garden every evening and rubbed off all of the eggs that were laid that day with my thumbs, this requires looking on the under side of each leaf.  This was really effective all though time consuming, some days were worse than others.  A great friend of mine called Alexi (an all round excellent gardener who lives in New Mexico) once told me a story of how he was taught to deal with caterpillars and their eggs.  He wrapped packaging tape, with the sticky side out, around his hand and dabbed all over each plant that were affected.  The caterpillars and eggs would stick to the tape.  There are also homemade chilli or garlic sprays that can be made and sprayed onto the leaves to stop chewing insects (just google this and you will find a recipe).  I have also tried planting other plants (like lavender) away from my veges to give the butterflies somewhere else to lay and feed.  Maybe other readers could make suggestions about methods they have tried.  Comment below (choose anonymous if not a member).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Plant of the Week: Lavandula

I chose Lavender for the plant of the week for a number of reasons.  It smells great, looks attractive, attracts butterflies and bees to the garden, quick and easy to grow (not fussy at all), can be used in cooking, can be dried or pressed for medicinal purposes, you can put a few sprigs in pantyhose and leave it in your drawer to make your clothes smell fresh, and the list goes on.  A gardening friend of mine once said to me that a garden wasn’t really a garden unless it had lavender in it.  Mmmmm I thought, better go and get me some lavender.  It’s easy enough to go and buy it from the garden shop, but the other reason I wanted to write about it is because it can be so easily grown for free by you.  Yes, you!! Yes, free!!!  Just find a plant in your neighbourhood (as you go for your morning walk) and cut a 6cm piece of softwood with a flower bud on it.  Trim it up (to look like the photo), stick the bottom end in hormone gel if you have it (don’t worry if you don’t) and stick it in a small pot of potting mix.  Keep the mix damp but not soaking (or the cutting will rot). 
Only after a few weeks the cutting will start growing roots and after a couple of months you can plant it out into the garden.  I took (yes took, not stole) four different cuttings from four different varieties last year and all four are now growing and flowering really well (as you can see in the photos).  Two pieces of advice is to make sure you take the cutting from a healthy looking plant as you are making offspring from a parent plant.  Take from an ugly looking parent and you will get an ugly looking kid. And take the cutting from an upright section of the plant, not from the side (let’s not get into genetics here, just trust me).  You can grow lavender from cuttings all year round, although the best time is from late spring to autumn.  Even if you already have lavender growing in your garden give it a go and give it away.
Extra for Blooming geeks:  Lavender belongs to the Lamiaceae family – the mint family.   

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Cauliflower Update: Aloo Gobi

Just updating the fruits of my labour for the week.  I made the Aloo Gobi as I said I would.  The verdict - 'Yum, yum, yum' in the words of my one year old daughter.  Great use of the second head of cauliflower I picked today.  I used this recipe: http://vegetarian.about.com/od/maindishentreerecipes/r/easygobialoo.htm Let me know what you do with cauliflower!!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fruits of my labour: Cauliflower

I’ve got into the habit of late of planting just a couple of varieties of the identical plant at regular intervals, so that I don’t get lots of the same plant fruiting at the same time.  I don’t have a very big garden, but I have set aside room for growing 13 larger vege at a time, along side the plants that don’t take up so much room.
I really like the idea of sharing plants with friends.  If you can find a fellow keen gardener in your neighbourhood where you each buy a punnet (or better still grow from seed) of one variety of vege and swap a few plants with each other, then you can save a lot of money and wastage of your crops from being sick of eating the same vege every night. 
This weeks vege that was ready to pick: two good-sized heads of cauliflower that I planted out about 18 weeks ago.  Cauliflower takes longer to grow than other Brassica.   
They also grow with big leaves pointing towards the sky that makes it look like nothing but leaf is growing.  I have known people to pull them out because of this, but just a week before the cauliflower is ready to pick the leaves will open up displaying it’s head.  You don’t even have to grow the old school white cauliflower these days; there are also varieties that are green, orange and purple (I just replaced last weeks picking with the purple variety). I certainly couldn’t have it every night, but cauliflower is a really delicious vege.  My favourite way to cook it is to steam it until it’s cooked but still firm and cover with lots of creamy cheese sauce (dinner last Wednesday)!!   
This weekend I’m going to cook the Indian dish Aloo gobi which uses cauliflower and potato as its main ingredients.
All Brassica (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage etc) grow really well in the cold and there are special varieties that can be planted out all year round.

This weeks challenge:  Find someone this weekend who can be your ‘Vege buddy’, one buy a punnet of broccoli and one a punnet of cauliflower, and get swapping!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Plant of the Week: Scabiosa caucasica

Botanical name:  Scabiosa caucasica
Common name:  pincushion flower
Family name:  Dipsacaceae

Don’t you just love this week’s plant of the week?  The word scabiosa got my attention while flicking through a seed catalogue last year.  Sounded a lot like Scabies to me (that contagious skin infection that makes you want to rip your skin off, yes the same infection a flatmate passed round when I was a teenager).  In fact it is Latin for itch and was once considered a remedy for skin diseases.  All that gross stuff aside, this perennial is so beautiful.  Its common name ‘Pincushion’ is right on the money. The flower has a dome of stamens, which make it look like a pincushion. I really like the jagged foliage too, gives a bit more visual texture to the garden.  I grew them from seed (again on my living room table) just short of a year ago, and they have just finished flowering in the past week.  If you are not keen on growing from seed, they are available at Kings Plant Barn at the moment.  If you propagate them from seed now, they will be all ready for planting out in spring.  Kings Seeds have a number of varieties available (the one in the photo is from my garden, Scabiosa caucasica). Scabiosa can grow up to 90cm high so you may need to plant them next to something supportive to keep the flowers off the ground.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Fruits of my labour: Beetroot

When I think of beetroot: homemade burgers, stained t-shirts and canned vege come immediately to mind.  Back in February I put into the ground 15 or so cork beetroot seeds  (I went for a mix of Cylindra and Super king this year).  One of the easiest vege to grow in my opinion (I’ll go into how soon).  If you have never seen the seeds of a beetroot (see photo) they have a corky-like outer and can contain between 2 to 4 of the ‘true’ seeds inside.  The cork takes on moister once it comes in contact with the soil, triggering the germination process.
Out of the 15 corks I got about 30+ full-grown plants and were ready for harvesting after just over three months growing (I know the packet says sooner, but this wasn’t the case for me).  Over the past few years I have tried both rasing the seeds in trays first and buying seedling punnets from the shop.  So, this was the first time for direct sowing of the seeds and subsequently having the greatest success.  So what did I do?
Step 1.
The gardening books I have read suggest soaking the corky seeds in warm water for a few hours before sowing.  The concept made sense to me, so I did.
Step 2.
I put a few handfuls of my rich homemade compost and a sprinkling of NPK fertiliser graduals on the soil and raked it in gently.
Step 3.
Once soaked, I sowed the seeds roughly 20 cm apart and in a couple of rows.  My intention was to plant another two rows in a few weeks time to keep a circulation of plants growing (never happened though).
Step 4. 
Germination took about ten days and after a few weeks I thinned out the double up of plants and planted these in another two rows.

I did very little other than weeding and giving the plants a water of worm wee. And, last weekend I pulled up all of the brilliant red roots. Mmmmmm what now?
I saved a couple to roast up with potatoes that evening for dinner and the rest I decided to bottle.
As with everything in this blog being only my opinion (and those who agree), the simplest recipe for bottled beetroot can be found in Digby Law’s “Pickle & Chutney Cookbook” http://www.fishpond.co.nz/Books/Cooking,_Food_Drink/Canning_Preserving/9781869710552/
For less than the cost of one can of bought beetroot (and much MUCH tastier) I bottled three and a half large jars of simply the best t-shirt staining beetroot in town.  And if you don’t believe me come round for a sample.

The best time of the year for growing beetroot is July – March in most areas (NZ) but really all year round (except if very wet during the sowing time) in warmer areas.

Extra for blooming geeks:  The experts say that beetroot is packed with antioxidants and rummer has it, beetroot has an aphrodisiac quality.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Plant of the Week: Tweedia caerulea

Botanical name:  Tweedia caerulea.
Common name:  Blue flowered milkweed.
Family name:  Asclepiadaceae

OK fellow gardening fans, this is this week's plant of the week.  A great little flowering shrub.  I love the little pale blue star shaped flowers which grow in abundance right through summer and into early autumn.  Tweedias will grow up to about a meter high, but will need a bit of support if you want to keep it's shape. They need a sunny spot in your garden, but does require a bit of shelter from strong winds (I'm talking to you Wellingtonians).  They will grow well in pots and make a good cut flower for the vase, too.  
Let me know how it looks in your garden!!! 

Extra for Blooming geeks:  This plant was named after the American plant collector James Tweedie.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Attracting bees to the garden

After three years of poor courgette crops, actually nothing bar one stumpy courgette, I was keen to know why, why, why? Some study ensued and pollination seemed to be the key solution to my dilemma. What would help me solve the elusive pollination conundrum? Four letter word … bees! So my goal for the past summer was to entice bees to frolic, indulge and generally get their pollinating freak on in my garden. I’ve never been a great grower of flowers, usually using every available space in my small plot for veges. But this would need to change. I decided to grow in every other nook and cranny a variety of bee attracting blooms. On my list were Sunflowers, Asters, Dahlias, Lavenders, Hydrangeas, Echium, Zinnias and just to make it harder for myself I thought why not grow them all from seed or cuttings from the more impressive family gardens (thanks Lorena)?
Lets not dwell on the dampening off problems, frosts and unpredictable Auckland weather that resulted in many of my seedlings not making it to maturity.
I did actually manage to grow at least two or three plants of each flower on my list, and boy did the bees arrive! But did they solve the problem of the stumpy courgette? Get this! Over sixty courgettes off three plants, aah yes! The bees also had a fantastic impact on my beans and tomatoes, while others have reported extremely low yields this year I had record numbers. So here are some hints for you for planning next years summer garden: to attract bees plant a good variety of flowers with a particular emphasis on yellow, blue, white and violet hues and grow them in clumps. Make your garden inviting to the bees by providing shade and shelter from the wind and once they’ve made it to your garden don’t kill them, so lay off the pesticides.
and the results...

Growing Dahlia from seed

Botanical name:  Dahlia variablis
Common names:  Dahlia, Bloody Mary
Family name: Asteraceae

This is one of the first flowers that I attempted to grow from seed about two years ago.   I planted 12 seeds in a tray of seed raising mix on the table top in my lounge (much to the displeasure of my lovely wife, I wonder if this was due to the other 6 trays there also?) All 12 popped their leafy heads through the soil within 15 days.  Unfortunately once I transplanted them out into the garden, in early spring, only 3 survived.  I learnt my first lesson about spring frosts.  But wow, what a great flower to start with!  The three plants gave an abundance of flowers all through summer!!!  Inspired by Geoff Bryants book “Growing gardens for free” the following autumn/ early winter (after the vegetation had died off) I dug up three tubers from under one of the plants and planted each into different areas in my garden.  Forgetting that I had done so, this summer two of the new tubers sprouted and BINGO, two new plants for free.  I swear these new plants had twice as many flowers as the parent plant!!  The bumblebees loved them!

Side note for the Blooming geeks out there:
Dahlia is named after the Swedish botanist, Andres Dahl.  It was originally pronounced dah-le-a (as Americans still do I believe) and not day-le-a as heard in NZ.