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Coriander all season herb

Coriandrum sativum

Originally from the Ukraine or Turkey, Coriander or Cilantro has been welcomed by every culture it has touched, especially the Indian sub-continent.
Also known, for some odd reason, as Chinese Parsley.

You can quite comfortably sow Coriander at any time of year but you must keep in mind that it does not respond well to drying out at any time of it’s growth cycle.
Basically, if you are growing it at home and can maintain it you will not have any problems with it ‘bolting’ to seed too early unless you just forget to water it.
Part shade, especially in the afternoons will slow it down and allow for more robust growth of the plant.

Coriander is an excellent forage plant for bees, especially Australian Native bees but as the flowers are self fertile, that is simply an added bonus.
Unfortunately harvest of the seed is a tricky business as they never seem to mature at the same rate.
Green seed has a rather unpleasant aroma (hence, ‘koris’ Greek for ‘stinking bug’ ) and is not great for cooking at this stage, so you are best not to shake the seed from the umbels until they are on the brown side of khaki in colour.
Whether you are harvesting the seed for growing or for cooking it is always wise to ensure they are thoroughly dry so don’t pop them into a sealed container for a week or so after harvesting.

Of the two major types of Coriander, the round light brown seeds are European Coriander and the golden oval shaped seeds are the Indian version of the plant.
Both types are wonderfully heirloom as the herb has been cultivated and traded for thousands of years.
The two types will probably not cross pollinate in the same garden and any new plants will just revert to either one or the other rather than a perfect combination.

The fresh young leaves are excellent in everything from salads to stews but the seeds can be used with fruit (baked, stewed or preserved), fish and other meats including sausages and vegetable dishes, curries, breads, biscuits and cupcakes and will even lend their warm, aromatic signature to oatmeal porridge, pickles, ratatouille and many liqueurs.
Pungent, freshly chopped young roots are essential in much Thai cuisine.

On the medicinal front Coriander has a long history as a mild sedative and a digestive aid to soothe flatulence and ease migraines as well as the popular use of the essential oil in massage oils for facial neuralgia and muscle cramps.
Commercially it is widely used in toothpaste and perfumes.

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Companion Planting

It is true you know that good neighbours create a great Garden.

Experiment with companion planting as there are some very unusual combinations that exist outside of the usual suspects.

Here are some that we have have noticed but the list will grow as our observation increases.

Alfalfa Everyone except tomatoes.
Angelica Nettle and Dill.
Anise Coriander, Peppers, eggplant,  lettuce, kale, cabbage and beans.
Basil Tomato, peppers, oregano and asparagus.
Borage Beans, strawberry, eggplant, cucumber, squash, tomatoes and cabbage.
Caraway Strawberries, peas, radishes, beans, corn.
Catnip Eggplants.
Chamomile Cabbage and kale, cucumber, onion.
Chervil Radish, lettuce and broccoli.
Chives Carrots, tomatoes, brassica family, melons, peppers, lettuce, pumpkin and spinach .
Comfrey Around established Trees.
Coriander Anise, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, tomato, beans, peas, potatoes, nasturtiums, corn, catmint and roses.
Dill Brassicas, broccoli, cabbage, corn, eggplant, fennel, lettuce, onions, cucumbers.
Fennel Does not play well with other herbs and Vege. Keep it on it’s own.
Flax Carrots and potatoes.
Garlic Peas, brassicas, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, parsley, Chinese cabbage and potatoes.
Hyssop All Brassicas.
Lavender Chamomile, lettuce, brassicas, onions, tomatoes, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, rosemary, basil, lemon balm and squash.
Lemon Balm All mints, basil, oregano, chives, tomatoes, lettuce, okra, cabbage, carrots, radish, squash, berries, fruit trees, rock melon, watermelon, marjoram, sage, thyme and parsley.
Lemon Grass Most herbs and vegetables.
Lemon Verbena Alfalfa, lemon grass, fruit trees and other herbs.
Marjoram Eggplant, carrots, cucumber, peppers, loofahs, pumpkins, radish, strawberries and tomatoes.
Mint Brassica family
Oregano Tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, cabbage and cucumbers.
Parsley Asparagus, corn, beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, kale, lettuce, spinach, strawberries and tomatoes.
Peppermint Alliums, brassicas, cabbage, peas, tomatoes – in general the same as mint.
Rosemary Cabbages, beans, brassicas, carrots, thyme and sage.
Rue Goji’s and lavender.
Sage Brassicas, rosemary, kale, cabbage, beans,  carrots, strawberry, tomato, marjoram.
Spearmint Onions and Garlic’s, cabbage, peas and tomatoes.
Stinging nettle Chamomile, mint,tomatoes, valerian, angelica, marjoram, sage and peppermint.
Tarragon Everyone.
Thyme Lavender, cabbage, onion, sage, tomato, eggplant, salad burnet, potatoes and strawberries.
Valerian Mints, bee balm, chamomile, calendula and other flowers.
Wormwood (Artemisia) Brassicas and carrots.
Yarrow Cucumbers, lemon verbena, marjoram and oregano, corn, melons, roses, tomatoes.


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Common Germination Problems.

The most common causes of seeds not germinating are:
1. Soil was too heavy (Clay).
2. Soil was allowed to dry out. (Only once is enough to kill the emerging seed)
3. Seeds were not given enough time to germinate before sower gave up. (Many seeds
have slow or erratic germination.)

The most common causes of seedling loss are:
1. Damping off, caused by over watering or fungi.
2. Using containers that don’t hold enough soil. (Containers need to be at least 6cm deep and
filled to the top with seed-raise mix.)
3. Using potting mix, common garden soil, or previously used soil. (It’s best to start fresh
each time to avoid fungi, etc.)
4. Insufficient air circulation.
5. Planting in previously used containers that were not properly cleaned. (Wash containers in
a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water before re-using.)
6. Overcrowding. If you’ve planted too many seeds and they’re all competing for space and resources.
7. Introducing seedlings to full sun or outdoor conditions too quickly (not “hardening off”).

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Grow Your Own Spice (1)

 We are very fortunate, living in Australia, especially all the way down the east coast, to have what is generally regarded as a ‘mild’ climate.
I say this seriously as, when compared to many European or American climates, it’s just lovely here if you are a gardener or if you just like to grow good food.
Many years ago I started to notice that the quality of cooking spices was declining and, rather than just accept inferior taste, I decided that if I could grow my own I could only blame myself if the taste of my food was not up to scratch.
Thanks to our developing cultural diversity, we now have access to many of the spices that had always been regarded as too exotic to contemplate having in the garden. Now, the possibilities are endless especially with the newest range of spices that we are being introduced to……Native Australian Spices! Who would have thought??? (More about them in another post)

The backyard garden is generally perfect to maintain a comprehensive spice garden.
Some spices require long term commitment to grow but many are so easy to keep and harvest that it is convenient to replace the flower garden with a beautiful, architectural, spice garden.

Let’s start with Ginger.
What a precious gem in any garden.
Ginger, Zingiber officinale is a tough plant and, once established will just continue to grow and spread, year after year, supplying a good steady supply of rhizome, in and out of season.
Ginger needs to have a well dug garden bed to start with and responds well to regular mulching but will do quite well anyway if you forget.

It responds really well to thunderstorms and rain and creates a lovely backdrop for a layered garden, looks great around a pool or verandah and, after a few years it will establish a wonderful screen.
During Autumn it will die back which is your cue to harvest some rhizome but there is no need to dig it all up at once, it keeps extremely well underground until you need it. Just take what you need and leave the rest to nature.

Turmeric, Curcuma domestica is similar in many ways in the garden.
It is a visually pleasing garden addition and different enough to Ginger to grow with it as a companion. It’s broad generous leaves are bright green and add a touch of opulence to the garden. Turmeric requires little attention apart from a regular watering and occasional mulching. Turmeric can be used straight out of the garden, fresh, or can be boiled and dried as it is treated this way to supply the powdered spice.

One more wonderful spice that shares many of the garden attributes of both ginger and turmeric is Galangal.
Galangal, Alpinia galanga has the same growth habit but with one advantage over the previous two in that it will stay green and active during winter in most areas of Australia.
If it is particularly cold and dry, it will adopt a dormant state, but generally it hangs around all year.
The wonderful rhizome can be dug as required but should be used sparingly as it is quite a potent spice. The dry root was once powdered and used extensively as a snuff.

Now that the background is achieved, your garden needs some lower spices to delight you.
One of the best and most luxuriant and impressive mid height spices to plant is Piper sarmentosum, often called ‘Betel Leaf Pepper’. This pepper will slow down during winter in most states but usually never becomes truly herbaceous. The leaves are it’s prize offering to your dinner plate and as a wrap for steaming it is unbeaten.
Betel Leaf Pepper requires a good loamy soil and thrives with constant mulching. It has large, generous glossy leaves that make you look like a great gardener at any time of the year.
It adds a very special peppery flavour to many seafood dishes and even though the fruit and the leaves will dry well for later use, there is rarely any need as fresh is almost always available.
While we are on the subject of peppers it is worth mentioning both Black Pepper, Piper nigrum and Long Pepper, Piper longum.
These pepper plants do require a reasonably controlled environment and do best where summers are hot. They both need cool roots during summer, so, as with Betel Leaf Pepper, regular mulching and watering are essential during summer.
Many suburban gardens are able to grow these plants as the nature of the micro climates created by the architecture of the suburbs, allows more control and protection from many of the damaging elements. As long as the soil is moist to dry during winter, they will survive well.

One more medium height spice that is so easy to grow and will continue to provide it’s much loved root for many years is Horseradish.
This old favourite needs a good wet Spring but apart from that is easy to grow and maintain.
It is suited to the Australian climate and necessary for the Euro-Australian diet.

For the lower levels of your spice garden there are some lovely Asian newcommers to the spice scene.
Firstly a very interesting and easy to grow spice is Kencur , Kaempferia galanga.
Kencur is perfect for the backyard, large patio pot or shadehouse and is always rewarding to grow. The low, ground-hugging leaves can get to the size of a dinner plate and then it produces stemless orchid like flowers directly from the root. It can be harvested at any time but is at it’s most pungent in Autumn and Winter.
The leaves die back and that is you cue to lift the plant and thin out the fleshy roots.
The plant can be re-planted, just leaving the knob slightly out of the ground, so that next year the process will repeat.
Another low growing Asian spice that is gaining popularity is Vap ca, Houttuynia cordata.
Vap ca is one of those spices that people either love or hate.
It’s slightly fish like aroma lends itself beautifully to seafood dishes and the leaves can be used raw or steamed in the dish.
Vap ca is a spreading groundcover that will occupy any space that you give it. It prefers only 3-4 hours of sun a day and will survive with much less as long as it is kept moist. Again, easy to grow and use all year through.

Another that comes to mind as an easy to grow spice is Krachai or Chinese Keys, Boesenbergia rotunda, which is best grown in a moist environment that is usually quite easy to achieve on the back porch.

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Growing Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon – Momordica charantia

The seeds are easy to strike with germination being very high with our fresh seed.
They can be germinated in a pot and planted out when they are old enough, or strike them where you hope they will grow and take it from there.
They prefer the weather a little cooler than is possible during summer. We usually plant when the heat of summer has eased but in mild climates, even late Autumn should be quite suitable.
It is best to strike them in full sun as they grow weedy and thin in the shade.
Place the pots in the garden where you intend to grow them for a week and then transplant them when they seem strong.
Don’t be too impatient at the start, as they are slow starters but once they begin to take off, there is no stopping them.
They are not big feeders so just a general sprinkling of fertilizer when they begin to flower is enough.
The seedlings of Bitter Melon need to be protected from chill, wind and strong sunlight.
They will not do well if kept constantly wet but suffer from drying out, so you can be a little fussy to start with but there is no need to be careful once they are mature.
We grow ours over large frames to allow them to climb as much as they wish
They can climb on and over fences and trellis’s or, to conserve space and resource we often plant them in the same bed as the pumpkins.
They begin to crop in roughly 60 days from germination and will continue to produce fruit until the plant is exhausted.
Fully mature, green fruit is ideal to consume and the best reliable indicator to maturity is that the seeds from white to pink.
Once the seed coating is red, the fruit is absolutely overripe and may be inedible.
Immature green fruit is often preferred for soups for frying and larger fruit is ideal for stuffing and baking.
They do not store well in the refrigerator and should not occupy the same space as tomatoes and bananas.
The cooked fruit really does drop sugar levels. Quite quickly too.
For continuous use during the year, it is best to create some chutney like spreads.


Download BitterMelon PDF


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Growing Goji

If you have purchased fresh lycium berries, (Only possible during the fruiting season) they will come in plastic zip lock bags to maintain their moisture and viability.
The following instructions also apply if you have picked your own berries and are wanting to ‘plant on’.
Try and spread the pulp of the berry around.
It’s a sticky business but well worth the end result.
Extracting and planting the individual seeds usually just cuts down on the viability and is needlessly time consuming.
Three parts fill a tray or pot with seed raising mix, spread the berry pulp and seed and then sprinkle seed raising mix and sand lightly over the berry to about 3mm – 5mm in depth.
If you have purchased dry seed, it will need to be soaked for at least a day before planting or germination time is extended by up to three weeks.
Then carry one as above.
Germination is usually around 7 days but will vary with soil temperature and day length.

Once they have germinated…….
The pots must not dry out so be careful, but, after they have broken the soil surface they do not like to be too wet either. We water gently once a day until they are planted on or out.
Once they have achieved their second set of leaves you can tease them apart and give them an individual pot.
Keep them reasonably protected until they have reached 15 cm in height.

They will usually only generate one stem in pots so it is best to put them out as soon as the weather allows so that they can shoot multiple stems.
watering, but also need to have some air circulation within the pot as well, which is why seed raising mix and potting mix are preferable to soil at this stage.

If the seed raise mix that you have used, holds onto the water over the period of a day, then it is possibly too dense and is retaining too much moisture for the roots to ‘breathe’.

Some coarse potting mix will help to remedy this situation, added to the seed raise mix when you transplant.

If you have purchased seedlings then overall they are a very hardy plant but they tend to ‘sulk’ a little when posted or transplanted.
Their normal sulking position is ‘drooping’, which they can easily maintain for one to two weeks.
This is not usually a problem unless you panic and keep pumping water into them.
This will drown the roots.
Partly shaded, protected from wind, frost hail etc and a little patience is all that is required.
Do not forget that they are deciduous plants and in all environments will drop their leaves completely in Autumn/Winter.


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Growing from Seed

Growing plants from seed often throws people into a panic and seems to challenge us, walking into uncharted territory. This should not be the case as probably the most important thing to remember is that nature has been doing it, for millions of years.

Seed is, without a doubt, the most successful of reproductive techniques and will continue to happen, everywhere in the world, every day.

All we have to do is to get on natures’ bandwagon and plant what we want to grow for food, medicine or pleasure in the right circumstances, at the right time.

While growing herbs and vegetables from seed is natures’ way of ensuring survival of the species, it is not always easy to be successful unless you keep in mind the nature of the individual plants themselves.

There are numerous helpful tips from just about anyone flowing through the internet, and from ‘celebrity gardeners’ everywhere but the one thing to keep in mind, is that nature has already perfected the techniques and all we need to do is to fit in with what is already established as successful.
So, throw away the paper towel and plastic bags, hessian pots and other crafty ideas and get back to basics.

Once you have researched what will grow in your area and decided what you want to plant,
purchase good quality seed. As local as possible is always best. Most large seed merchants buy their seed from the most economically sound suppliers which does not always equate to good quality, fresh seed. So, direct from the grower is going to give you a better start, and the internet makes that easily possible in today’s marketplace.

There is a popular opinion, that has become a bit of an urban myth, that if you place your seed in a glass of water, the good seed will sink to the bottom and the bad seed will float. As a grower of seed, who plants seed every day of the week, I can categorically say that this is rubbish.
The physical factors that contribute to a seed ‘sealing off’ are many and varied and this is no indicator of viability.

Because seeds are naturally ‘shut down’ to survive until the circumstances for germination are ideal, all we have to do is to provide these ideal circumstances to wake the seeds up.

Most plants, with the exception of the Radish family, some beans and the Grass family, have a preferred time where germination is most likely.
Now, season is the best general way to determine that time but ‘season’ is a combination of, temperature (both air and soil), day length and moisture. If you ignore these factors, success rate will drop.
Some seeds simply will not germinate until their internal clocks have decided that these factors are correct and no amount of coaxing, yelling or weeping will encourage them to germinate outside of their ideal conditions.

While it is possible to soak some seeds overnight before planting, it can also make it more difficult to sow them physically, as the wet seed sticks to everything and you end up wiping them into the soil instead of popping into the hole. Wet seed is also easily damaged.
Soaking may encourage germination a little faster by a day or so, but it does have some drawbacks and I prefer to remain patient for a day or two extra, for the benefit of better seedlings.
Some people like to simply sow their seed directly into the garden where they intend to grow the plant and this is quite natural for many plant types but, you must accept the fact that nature plays the numbers, and you will need to sow much more than you need to germinate.
This practice works best for large seeds like pumpkins and beans as well as cereal and grass seeds and so I prefer to raise my seed to a strong plant before planting out.

The following tips are listed below but minor variations may need to be adapted as common sense will probably suggest.
Germination technique and expected times to germination are often indicated on your seed packets but most assume that you are familiar with the fundamentals of gardening.

1. Always use or make a good quality Seed Raising mix. The mix should always contain sieved material to keep it fine enough for young roots to navigate. Sand, sieved potting mix and ‘vermiculite, pumice or pearlite’.
Potting mix is too coarse, unless you are planting Coffee seeds, soil is too dense generally to be consistent.

2. Never sow seeds too deeply. This is probably the most common mistake that people make. If the seeds are too far down, they may be attempting to germinate but unable to reach the surface before the nutrient stores within the seed run out.

3. Try and keep them uniformly moist during germination. Seeds that are allowed to dry out or are left to sit in bog will probably not survive. Roots also need to breathe. You must never over-water the seeds or seedlings.

4. Firm the soil around your seeds by pressing down on the seed mix after you sow. If you have enough vermiculite in your mix it will not become too compressed and air and water will circulate around the seeds.

5. Emerging seeds are reasonably delicate and easily damaged by sunlight even though they are attempting to reach it. Full sun or full shade are not helpful. A bit of each is best until the seedlings are looking after themselves. Morning sun is better than afternoon sun but some reprieve from the sun is best initially.

6. Many seeds, (but not all) need warmth to germinate. It’s not just air temperature that matters but also the temperature of the soil or seed raise mix.

7. Be patient. If you have done all the right things as suggested above, then it is just a matter of time until your seeds sprout. Sometimes you will get everything coming up at once and other times
germination will be staggered.

8. Do not over fertilise.
A little slow release fertiliser like ‘Osmacote’ may help but most seeds do not require nutrient until well after they have sprouted.

9. Most seeds will, of course only germinate between certain temperatures.
Too low and the seed takes up water but cannot germinate and therefore rots, too high and growth within the seed is prevented.
Fortunately most seeds are tolerant of a wide range of temperatures but it is wise to try to maintain a steady, not fluctuating temperature. Once several of the seeds start to germinate the temperatures can be reduced and ventilation and light should be given.

Symptoms of Low light in your Germination area:
1. Elongation of the stems.
2. Slow growth.
3. Yellowing of the lower leaves.
4. Softer growth in the larger leaves.
5. Plants are bending in one direction.

Seeds are basically divided into two categories which determine their germination style.
One is to soak up the moisture in the soil, swell to re-hydrate the embryo, and then send forth a stem with the emerging leaf or leaves attached.
Once open and producing energy from the sun and air, they will send roots down to establish the plant.
The second type operate by sending forth roots to settle the plant into the ground, using the food source from within the seed. Once settled, they send forth the stem and emerging leaves.
Germination in the first type seems to happen much faster as there is evidence of the plant above the soil earlier, but they are slower to mature to ‘potting on’ size.

Generally speaking, once you have struck your seeds successfully, you will wonder why you were hesitant in the first place as the magic of the process is confidence building and exciting every time you do it.