Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Perennial Cornflower and Ground Elder - one of them you can eat...

I’ve noticed a distinct lack of colour in our garden this year, well other than green anyway. Every pot and free bit of space is being taken up by my obsession to grow more lawn chamomile. Containers that would normally be used for glorious annual bedding plants have now gone monotone. I’m sure it’ll be noticed very soon and a bit of colour will creep back into the garden when Julie takes a trip to the garden centre. 

There is an herbaceous plant managing to break the monotony, a small perennial cornflower (Centaurea Montana) . This feathery purple flowering plant arrived unannounced a few years ago and is managing to pop up in various places. 

Perennial Cornflower
Centaurea montana is a variable but attractive plant native to the mountain meadows and woodlands of continental Europe, so it’s an ideal addition to our gardens. It grows best in a moisture-retentive soil in sun or partial shade. It's perfect for growing in sunny borders and gravel gardens. It's easy-to-grow, bearing clumps of mid-green leaves that perfectly complement its summer flowers.
Most flowers have a meaning behind them. Take the red carnation, this symbolizes an aching heart or admiration, jasmine says sweet love, geranium says true love, yellow rose means jealousy and so on. In the case of the perennial cornflower though it was used as a secret symbol by members of the Nazi party in Austria and was the German Kaiser Wilhelm's favourite flower. Who would have thought gardening and growing flowers was so political, although there was the War of the Roses that lasted over thirty years.

Ground Elder
Every year around this time I am reminded that there is ground elder in the garden. It tends to hide behind the polytunnel and occasionally pops inside the tunnel to say hello via its long spreading roots coming in from under the plastic. I tolerate the plant, mainly because like a lot of things, we can eat it. 

Also known as goutweed, ground elder is one of the first abundant edible greens that appear in spring time, together with cow parsley and nettles. It has a long history of being used as medicine-food. It was cultivated as food crop in the middle ages (probably before that too) The plant grows strongly in harsh conditions and can become a real problem in the garden if not kept under supervision as it’ll survive most attempts to clear it altogether. 

When you decide to nibble on a bit, the young tender leaves are preferred, before the plant is in flower. The flowering point can be postponed however by harvesting the top of the plants regularly. When the leaves are a bit more mature they can get a less appealing taste and they may act as laxative. They can be prepared as spinach, in stews, soups, sandwich and pies. Just a word of caution though (apart from the usual disclaimers about checking for allergies etc) is to only nibble on the young fresh leaves from a place you know the dog hasn’t been. It can make the taste that little more bitter.

Progress in the garden
My vegetable seedlings are shooting up now. I’ve planted out three large rows of pick and come again lettuce, along with some rocket for that savoury addition to a salad. The coriander and spinach has come up, I planted those straight into the garden along with the peas and beans which are now attaching themselves to the bamboo poles I put up for them.  The courgettes will be planted very soon too if I can find a space in between my clumps of chamomile (I’m selling them one-bay now to reduce my collection- or you could pop in and collect a few if you are passing)

I was also told of a place here in Inishowen where we can get free mushroom compost by the car load as long as we shovel it ourselves. I got thirty large coal bags full the other week and I’ll let them heat up over early summer and then use it as mulch around the mature plants later in the season as it’d be a bit strong year to put near younger ones. Some of the bags have been emptied straight into the compost bins to keep the worms happy.  
Where do you get this fabulous spent mushroom compost?  I hear you ask. If you go past the Rock Bar out of Muff, you’ll see a small sign on the right saying “mushroom farm” That’s inishowen mushrooms, Drumhaggart,Muff. See you there!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Companion Planting - Do Plants Really LOVE One Another?

                             By the power of Photoshop, plants that 'love one' another.

How many of us humanize our pets and other animals?  If it was a show of hands I’ll bet the room would look like an Adele concert.    
This Anthropomorphism of things doesn’t stop at animals though. I’m sure there would be at least one or two of us that treat our plants in the same manner. They are great listeners after all and love you unconditionally if they are fed and watered. But do they really? 
One way we are told to care for our plants and help them develop is to use the “Companion Planting” method.  The idea of this is to mutually benefit each plant in some way. Certain herbs are said to keep away greenfly for example and others such as marigolds (the calendula type) and nasturtiums are so soft and delicious that blackfly with flock to them instead of your prized broccoli and beans. Where does this idea come from though and is there really any truth in it? The idea sounds great but proving it works is a different matter.

I would imagine the idea has been around for thousands of years. Plants were associated with the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) and/or signs of the zodiac.  One of the outcomes of this categorization was the agricultural practice of planting together those species that “love” each other anthropomorphism reflected in a few popular books and many posters. 

One of the earliest recorded manipulations of nature resembling companion planting was the ‘Three Sisters’ idea in north America. Corn, beans and squash were planted together. Beans are nitrogen fixers, corn stalks are strong enough to support the beans climbing and the squash vines provide shade for the soil, reduce evaporation and deter unwanted competition from other plant roots. The plants complement one another and don't compete for the same things. 

The phrase “companion plant” is now used in both science and pseudoscience, so that its intended meaning is unclear. The science of companion planting has become a little blurred over the years and often gets confused with myths, crystal formations, which apparently tells you which plants "love" each other and the plants rhythm and vibrations.  Because of this the phrase companion planting now gets more accurate definitions such as "Intercropping" or "polyculture" 
Ecologists now use the term "Plant Association" to define the natural relationships towards plants.
 Most research focuses on the attraction of beneficial insects to plants. Certain plants can also disrupt the ability of herbivore insects to find suitable host plants to lay eggs on. The theory is that it wastes the insect’s time laying eggs in the wrong places.  Many plants share mycorrhizal (known as the soil web) in the soil, so share nutrients such as nitrogen some plants are totally reliant on host plants for this. The venus fly trap gets it's nitrogen from flies, but that's another story. 

There are other ways plants benefit each other, a few dry climate plants accumulate salts so this could benefit salt sensitive plants while others take up heavy metals which decreases the toxic affect to more sensitive plants and then there are the nitrogen fixers.

Plants don't move around themselves so need to adapt to their environments. Those with a narrow range of tolerances (such as my chamomile) will soon be pushed out by other more invasive plants of not enough sunshine, the wrong Ph. of the soil and a host of other issues. Some plants can even change their environment to suit their growing needs, large leaved plants can give the ground a lot of shade and stop other plants from challenging them for example. Changes such as this are happening all of the time in the landscape, ever changing and adapting. 

Linda Chalker Scott (from the Garden Professors Blog) really doesn’t like the term ‘Companion Planting’ but thinks there is validity in some of the practices.

“There is no scientific basis, however, for any of the several lists that exist describing “traditional companion plants”.  Like horoscopes, these lists may be fun to use, but they should not be perceived or promoted as scientifically valid any more than astrology.  Furthermore, those of us who value the science behind our horticultural practices should avoid using this phrase for precisely the same reason. 

The Bottom Line
•The phrase “companion plant” is too vague to be useful to plant scientists and professionals; “intercropping” and “plant associations” are more definable and credible
•Documented benefits from plant associations include physical, chemical, and biological alterations that can improve the establishment and survival of desired plant species
•Pseudoscientific, mythological and occult applications of “companion plantings” are not scientific and will damage your credibility as a professional
•Traditional “companion plant” charts have entertainment, not scientific, value  

For me it’s about diversity, experimenting and fun more than academic papers. But for now I won’t be recommending companion planting I’ll suggest “Intercropping” That should clarify things… or will it?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Seedlngs Damping Off

Clean pots and plenty of fresh air helps stop seedlings damping off

The first seeds have been sown. 
I’ve been staring at the seed packets for weeks next to the back door and decided they would have a better chance of growing if I actually put them in trays filled with compost. This isn’t always the case though as there are a LOT of things that would like to consume your valuable seeds.

For example, I planted peas and beans straight into the garden as they don’t really like being moved. The mice (or rats) digging them up didn’t care about moving them though. I’m not sure if rats and mice store food but if they do their pantry will be bursting full with my seeds. I have an emergency supply in case of a theft so all is good on that front. 

My broccoli, leaf salads, corgettes as well as a few sweet peas and sunflower seeds have gone under protection to save them from being munched by the night time visitors.

It’s not only things we can see that want a piece of the seeds. I’m cautious every year to keep the tunnel well ventilated come sowing and germinating time because a lack of air could cause the damping off disease we hear so much about in spring. 

At one time knowledgeable gardeners would recommend dousing the seeds/soil and sometimes yourself in something called Chestnut Compound to eradicate the problem. The main ingredient of the compound is copper sulphate and was used as a fungicide to control of powdery mildew, rust and blackspot on roses and rust and powdery mildews on other ornamentals and fruit and vegetables but like creosote- tar oils, green and yellow sulphur, paraquat, simazine, TBA and DDT , Chestnut Compound been banned from the garden centre shelves, so we need to look for simpler alternatives. Some folk are saying cinnamon powder works but to me that’s a bit like spraying  air freshener in a dirty room to mask the smell. The problem doesn’t go away.

Thankfully the best alternative doesn’t necessitate us diving into the kitchen cupboards or chemical shelf in the garage. 

It’s mainly a case of good hygiene practices.

What is Damping Off?
Damping off is a visible fungal growth on an emerging seedling. Infected seedlings rarely survive to produce a vigorous plant. Quite often a large section or an entire tray of seedlings is killed by damping off. Once plants have mature leaves and a well developed root system, they are better able to naturally resist the damping off pathogens. There is a critical period of growth between planting and maturity, where special care needs to be taken to protect sensitive seedlings.
A wide variety of vegetables and flowers can be affected by damping off. The fungi, Rhizoctonia, and Fusarium, along with the water mould Pythium, are the most common pathogens responsible for damping off.
How to spot
There are some key observations apart from the plants just keeling over and dying.
  • The seedlings could fail to emerge from the soil.
  • Cotyledons (the first leaves produced by a seedling) and seedling stems are water soaked, soft, mush and may be discoloured grey to brown.
  • Seedling stems become water soaked and thin, almost thread like, where infected.
  • Young leaves wilt and turn green grey to brown.
  • Roots are absent, stunted or have greyish brown sunken spots.
  • Fluffy white cobweb like growth on infected plant parts under high humidity.
  • Mushy tan spots indicate infection by the damping off fungi on this overwatered seed tray.
All of the pathogens responsible for damping off survive well in soil and plant debris. They can be introduced into the seedling tray in several ways.
The pathogens can live on pots, tools, and potting media that have been used in previous seasons and are not properly cleaned. Spores of Fusarium can be blown into the production area, carried by insects like fungus gnats, or move in splashing irrigation water. Pythium. is often introduced on dirty hands, contaminated tools or by hose ends that have been in contact with soil and debris. Once introduced to a seedling tray, the damping off pathogens easily move from plant to plant by growing through the potting media or in shared irrigation water.
Garden soil often contains low populations of the damping off pathogens. If garden soil is used to fill seedling trays, the damping off pathogens are likely to be present and initiate disease in the warm wet conditions favourable for seed growth. Seeds that are directly seeded into the garden can also suffer from damping off. Disease is particularly severe in garden seedlings when seeds are planted in soils that are too cool for optimal germination or when weather turns cool and wet after planting resulting in slow germination and growth. Which I why I tend to put off seed sowing outside until the last minute
  • Sterilize all used pots and trays in a solution of 10% household bleach by soaking for 30 minutes.
  • Use new potting media to fill trays. Do no reuse potting mix or use garden soil or compost.
  • Clean all tools that will be used in planting and maintenance of the seedlings. Store them in a clean location when not in use.
  • Use a heating pad under trays to warm soil to 70-75°F for indoor plant production.
  • Wait until garden soil has reached optimal temperature for germination before planting outdoors. This temperature varies depending on the plant (Table 1).
  • Use a potting media with good drainage. Water to keep potting media moist but not soggy. Use pots with drainage holes to insure good drainage of excess water.
  • Keep hoses and water heads off the floor.
  • Use clean tepid water to water young seedlings. Cold water slows plant growth and increases the opportunity for infection.
  • Resist the urge to apply fertilizer to seedlings until several true leaves have developed. Then apply 1/4 strength standard soluble fertilizer. Many potting mixes contain slow release fertilizer and do not require any fertilizer application.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Do Plants Like Music?

Do plants like music?
Music has always been a huge part of my life and I am sure that the inclusion of it has helped me grow, nurtured and healed me it both good and difficult times. 

I was brought up on a mix of opera and classical records from my parents (when they weren’t listening to Bill Haley and singing along to 1950’s musicals) and later my eldest brother introduced me to Sgt Peppers. I found my own direction in folk music and jazz, which were all linked into the progressive rock genre and I was drawn into that too being whisked away on 45 minute journeys into my subconscious with the concept LP’s that were popular at the time.  

I embraced the punk scene in the 70’s after hearing New Rose by the Dammed at our local youth club. I’d just started going out with a girl called Rose at the time which made it all the more powerful. Punk to me was more of an opportunity to voice disenchantment at what was happening around us, more of a rock against the establishment and fuelling socialist political agendas than wearing safety pins, although I did sport a pair of bright red trousers briefly. 

It was the start of the move away from the controlling multinational music companies to the small independent labels under the umbrella of Rough Trade records. 

The rise of over 500 new Indie labels gave rise to some great new music, notably the rise of electronic pop music in the 80’s, which was great to dance to. Every wave and change of the music industry is a constant joy to me and I love hearing new bands and styles. I wonder if plants are the same.  

It is claimed by various ‘researchers’ that plants, like us, respond to different music styles and notes. Although I am sure they don’t have the power to reminisce and evoke memories, they apparently do have favourites.  Most of the research comes before a new product is released on the market so it’s always a good idea to have a look behind the headlines to see if there is someone trying to make money out of it.

In the case of the Sonic Bloom, there is. A bloke called Dan Carlson tells us that his high frequency sounds help plants to ‘breath’ better, activating stomata under the leaves which helped absorb more nutrients.  Sonic Bloom works on frequencies and Dan claims that the introduction of sound will eliminate world hunger and help use less herbicide and insecticide. Bold claims indeed.
I’m quite sure if it works then the sounds of birds chirping in the trees with be stimulation and a harmonic trigger enough for the plants without buying into the products, or even turn up the radio outside.

Most plant music research is done using either classical or rock music, which is pretty limiting. There’s no denying which style of music is preferred. Google “Plant Music” and you will be inundated with downloads, CD’s and records all full of classical music. It’s been said that this type of music can help relax people so the assumption is that it will relax plants, helping them to grow. Try listening to Prokofiev - Dance of the Knights (theme from the Apprentice) loud and tell me if that sooths your sole. If I were a seed I wouldn’t germinate if that was playing.

The stimulation idea could have come from Dorothy Retallack, who, in 1973 wrote a book called ‘The Sound of Music and Plants’ that intertwines music with science, philosophy and religion to help us understand the way plants grow. You won’t find the book on the science shelves; it’s neatly filed in the “New Age” section of the bookshop, which might be where most of the research should go.

My favourite piece of music specifically written for plants has been made by Mort Garson, who in 1976 released an LP called ‘Mother Earth’s Plantasia’  It’s all original compositions made on a fabulous Moog analogue synthesiser.  It’s moody, atmospheric, fun and I have been listening to it a lot (for research purposes) If the plants don’t like it I think I’ve grown an inch. 

How could I not with these great titles:

  • Symphony for a Spider Plant.
  • Ode to an African Violet.
  • You don’t have to walk a Begonia.
  • A mellow mood for a Maidenhair.
Regardless of what the plants like, I think it’s probably more effective if we look at our own moods first before subjecting out musical tastes on a begonia or radish. If we listen to music that cheers us up we are more likely to pay attention to the veggies and flowers

More stories

Related Posts with Thumbnails