Archive for April, 2008

Asparagus from seed

April 28, 2008

Just planted another dozen asparagus plants. They’re so easy to grow from seed.

When I first decided to try growing asparagus, I tried to buy 2-year old ‘crowns’ as the books advised. Asparagus is a member of the lily family and each plant grows from a perennial rootstock called a crown. The new shoots which appear in late winter and early spring are the asparagus spears we buy. If these aren’t harvested, the spear elongates and becomes tall and fern-like. It then flowers (male and female flowers are found on separate plants) and sets seed. The female flowers form bright red berries about the size of a pea. Each berry contains a half-dozen shiny black seeds.

Anyway, I couldn’t buy crowns anywhere. Most nurseries didn’t even know about them. But luckily, several seed companies sell seeds. I got some of the Mary Washington variety from Diggers and they germinated really well. After that it was easy to add more plants. Some spears are harvested from each plant in spring and the remainder are allowed to form the ferny growth. This puts energy and nutrients back into the crown, so that next season it’s able to push up more spears. So when the plants flower, all you need to do is collect the red berries from the females and push them into some potting mix in a pot. When they germinate, they’re like mini-skinny asparagus which elongate into tiny ferns. Just pot them up into single pots and plant them when they’re big enough to go out.

There’s another thing I’ve discovered about asparagus and that’s that they’re delicious eaten raw, especially at the young and tender stage.

A good rule of thumb for picking the spears: harvest them if they’re thicker than a pencil and leave to form the fern if they’re thinner.

Here’s a good site about asparagus.

Evil Pea Weevils

April 6, 2008

I’ve never grown peas; we aren’t big pea-eaters and frankly, supermarket frozen peas are so convenient.

Last spring I bought a bale of pea straw to mulch a new food-growing area and after a shower of rain a large crop of peas appeared. I harvested quite a lot; we ate some, I froze some and put aside a bottle of dried peas for re-sowing.

In February I decided to sow a small early crop. They germinated quickly and are now flowering. So yesterday, I thought I’d sow a second batch. Imagine my surprise as I opened the bottle and a dozen or so beetle-like insects flew out. I inspected the peas and several of them had neat little holes drilled in them. I selected some hole-less ones to sow and put the rest (minus insects) back in the bottle.

Later on, I thought I’d spread them out on my desk and remove any with holes. More insects appeared! They were still coming! I turned to Google, wondering incidently, how we ever did without it. The little blighters are Pea Weevils. They infest only peas. The adult lays her eggs on the pea pods and the hatched grub burrows straight through the pod and into the developing pea. In there it completes its life cycle, eventually changing to an adult weevil which bores its way out of the pea (bet they wondered where they were when they emerged inside the bottle), lays eggs and so on.

Since less than 5% of the peas were damaged and no more insects have appeared in the bottle, I don’t think I’ll worry too much about it, just note it as something new learned.

Pea weevil exit holes

Water wicking beds & boxes

April 1, 2008

A friend mentioned water wicking beds and it sounded interesting so I Googled. There’s a very good downloadable pdf file at this site and also some other good information.

Briefly, a water wicking bed is made by creating an underground reservoir of water contained by a waterproof container or liner below the surface. Water wicks up by capillary action to feed the plants. Watering is only needed when the plants have drawn up all the water in the reservoir. It seems like a very good way to conserve water and reduce the time spent watering as well. Two things I really need.

The bed can be constructed at ground level by building up a framework of timber or other material, and placing the waterproof plastic liner within this, or the soil can be dug out of the area down to a depth of 30 cm or so and the liner placed in the bottom of the hole so that it comes about a third of the way up the walls.

Once the liner is in place a length of slotted drainage pipe is laid the length of the bed with right-angle pieces at the ends and short plastic tubes as uprights. This is where the water is added.

If the dug-out soil is good quality it can be simply replaced, however the best option is to use a mix of good quality compost with added worms which aerate the medium and provide nutrient-rich castings. Of course, in a built-up bed new soil will have to be provided anyway. I think I prefer the built-up bed idea—no heavy digging involved.

A small-scale wicking bed can be created in a box. In my searching I found people who’d used polystyrene fruit boxes. I like this idea as the boxes can be located anywhere there’s room; I can envision a half dozen of them on our deck—just walk out the sliding door and pick the evening meal.

So I’ve started to put a few wicking boxes together for some growing trials. I’ve bought a few of those black plastic recycling crates; they’re 65 cm long, 45 cm wide, 25 cm deep and they hold 60 litres; bigger than your average poly box. I drilled a couple of overflow holes along each side and one at each end, about a third of the way up from the bottom. I dispensed with the drainage tube in the bottom and just put an upright plastic cylinder in the corner through which to add the water. I filled the bottom third of the box with coarsely mulched material and topped up with a mixture of partially rotted compost and soil. I added a few worms for good measure and filled the bottom with water via the tube until it ran out the overflow holes. I made 8 small depressions, filled them with moist peat moss and sowed a few tatsoi seed into each one. I’ll keep them damp untill they germinate and thin them eventually to one seedling at each spot.

Unfortunately, it’s heading towards winter here and there’ll be regular rain anyway so the wicking effect will be somewhat nullified by overhead rain, but come next summer and I’ll be really interested to see how they perform. Stay tuned for regular updates.

The wicking box