Archive for February, 2008

Linum and linum

February 18, 2008

Not a firm of shifty solicitors, but the Genus name of a large group of plant species commonly known as flax.

Linum marginale is the native Australian species and the aborigines used the seeds as a food source and the tough stems to make cord and fish nets. Linum usitatissimum (who on earth thought of that mouthful?) is the northern hemisphere species which we commonly know and eat, as linseed. Another form of that species is used to make linen cloth.

The native Australian flax used to grow in our local area. It wasn’t growing on our property when we moved here, but I’ve introduced it. It’s an annual species with seed germination taking place with the autumn rains. Each seed results in a single tall stem, with small linear leaves distributed up the stem. Over spring and summer the top of the stem branches and the tips of each branch terminate in a small, pale blue flower. Seeds are formed in a rounded capsule and fall as the capsule matures and opens. The plants need to be checked every day and the mature seeds collected before they fall. That can be a pain in the you-know-where.

Linseed is a similar plant but larger in all its parts and here’s the best part of it: the seed capsule ripens and holds onto its seeds until they’re harvested. (I presume if no-one picks them, then the plants will die and fall to the ground where the capsule will eventually rot away and the seeds will be released.) I also presume it once used to release its seeds when mature like the native species, but selection by farmers has resulted in forms that hold onto their seeds, as happened with wheat.

I’m trying to grow linseed, because I use the seeds in bread-making and they are so nutritious and a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Enter stage left, a flock of Aussie seed-eaters, the very colourful Eastern Rosella. So each crop of linseed has to be encircled with wire mesh and covered with netting over the top. Trouble is, it grows over a metre tall when well-watered and fed and that’s a lot of wire.

I’ve noticed that the rabbits like the native linseed and if they chew out the central growth point the plant branches from the base, produces more stems and flowers and is generally shorter. So I’m going to try cutting back the linseed plants when they get a few inches high and see what happens. Shorter plants that bear more seed will be a bonus.

linseedup11.jpg

Linseed: Linum usitatissimum

Food database

February 15, 2008

I’m putting together a database of all the foods we currently eat. When complete it will show:

1. the nutritional status of the food, including calorific value, protein and vitamin/mineral content

2. whether I can grow the food and if so, how easily, including yield and time to produce it, pests/predators, water and soil nutrient needs and any other factors I can think of.

The idea of the database is to get a picture of which foods are the best to grow, giving a situation where nutrient intake is optimised in terms of growing space, water needs and soil nutrition. It will be searchable and sortable, meaning I can select a particular vitamin or mineral and sort in descending order to find the best food sources, then look at the growing needs for plants containing that substance.

For instance it may be not worth growing a particular crop if it turns out to take a lot of growing space, water and soil nutrients and only gives minimal nutrition and takes a long time to do it. I can’t afford to wait if waiting means starving.

For the nutritional information, I’m using the US Department of Agriculture’s searchable database.

It contains very comprehensive information right down to individual amino acids and fatty acids. If a food isn’t listed there, I try to find any other sources I can.

I’ve done some preliminary sorting and the results are interesting. Far and away the best sources of most minerals and vitamins occur in seeds and seed products. For example, oats (rolled oats/oat bran), linseed, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, brazil nuts, poppyseed, sesame seed, corn meal (polenta) and some others, all consistently appear in the top ten for most minerals and vitamins. That’s why I’m looking at growing some of these things. I’ve tried poppyseed and linseed; they’re easy; wheat, oats, caraway and fenugreek (high in iron) also. I haven’t tried sunflowers but I know they’ll be easy (keeping the parrots off will be the hardest part). And so on.

I know I probably won’t be able to grow enough wheat, for instance, to make a loaf of bread, but wheat (and other seeds) can be sprouted and eaten as sprouts and are just as nutritionally rich as ground grain.

Did you know that brazil nuts are the richest source of the mineral Selenium? They can contain up to 2000 micrograms (mcg) of Se per 100 gm. The recommended daily intake (RDI) is 70 mcg. A couple of brazil nuts a day provides the RDI. Australian soils are low in selenium but not as low as in some areas in China where selenium is so low that the inhabitants suffer a deficiency disease known as Keshan disease.

(Selenium is an essential element in the diet of animals and has a variety of roles: an antioxidant that works in conjunction with vitamin E to prevent and repair cell damage in the body, it is involved in immune function and is necessary for growth and fertility.)

Mulch, mulch & more mulch

February 15, 2008

Had a tree taken out a week or so ago. It was leaning a bit close to the house and dropping litter in the gutters, so it had to get the chop. The contractors were to chip it all up and had agreed that I could have the mulch. I was looking forward to a useful half-dozen barrowloads but when they arrived their truck was filled to the brim with the remains of their previous job. So I got that too.

About 10 cubic metres of the stuff. “It’s been in the truck all weekend”, he said. “It’s warming up.” Warming up! I could’ve hard-boiled eggs in it. It’d already started to char in the truck and parts of it were black. There followed a hectic rest of the day as I barrowed it in from the naturestrip and tried to get the pile spread out and reduced to a safely cool size.

In the end it didn’t catch fire and over 100 barrowloads later I’m still going and reckon I’ve moved about three quarters of it. The entire food forest area will be covered to a useful depth of 3″ and then some.

I’m really pleased because I’d concentrated on putting what mulch I could gather around the fruit trees and other sections were exposed, bone dry and cement-like. All I need now is a good shower of rain to wet the soil underneath and the worms to come to the surface and open it all up so that further rain penetrates.