Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Miconia calvescens


Doesn't this plant look gorgeous? This is Miconia, the velvet tree or bush currant and is a species of flowering plant from the Melastomataceae family. It is native to Mexico and Central and South America and it has become one of the world's most invasive species. Miconia is a serious weed that has the potential to destroy native habitats and take over rainforests and threaten rare and endangered species. Miconia has demonstrated its capacity to rapidly infest steep country in high rainfall areas in Tahiti and Hawaii and rapidly displace native species.

Miconia is a fast growing weedy tree that reaches 3-15 metres. It has large leaves that average 1 metre long and 30cm wide, and are dark green and 'felty' above, with a distinctive 'leaf within a leaf' vein pattern. 

The underside of the leaves are purple. It produces dark purple fruits that are 8mm in diameter and contain hundreds of seeds. 

Miconia trees grow quickly and very close together, shading out nearly all other forest plants with their large oval leaves. It also has a shallow root system and can cause increased erosion and landslides.

See left a very steep hillside in Tahiti where some Miconia has been removed to expose just how densely it grows.

Miconia quickly matures, producing fruit after three to four years and flowers and fruits several times a year. Plants produce ten to twenty million seeds a year, which can remain viable for twelve years and possibly longer. Birds and animals (such as rats) spread Miconia seeds long distances. Seeds are very small and are unintentionally spread by humans and hitchhike on clothes, boots, gear, pets, contaminated vehicles, equipment and soil.

Miconia was first introduced into Australia as a garden ornamental in the 1970s and became a popular foliage plant and was sold by several nurseries in Queensland and New South Wales. In Tahiti, Miconia was introduced to a botanical garden in 1937, and has now spread across 70% of the island, forming monocultural forests driving many species to extinction. 

As Moconia is so fast growing and quickly colonises disturbed areas, this coupled with its shade tolerance, allows seedlings to grow in gullies and partially shaded understories, which is why it can easily devastate huge tracts of rainforest.

In July 2008, Miconia was detected on private property in the Tweed near Murwillumbah, this was the first time Miconia had been found growing 'in the wild' in NSW. All previous records in this state had been deliberately planted or were plants in nurseries. 

This plant carries a State-wide Class 1 notifiable noxious weed qualification. Following a report from a very observant member of the public, officers from the Far North Coast Weeds discovered fifteen Miconia plants growing in a nursery north of Lismore in 2013. The plants, ranging in size from very small seedlings to large plants that were pushing through the roof of a greenhouse, were removed. 

Miconia has been banned from commercial sale since 2000 so if you see this very distinctive plant at any market stalls, please DO NOT BUY it and certainly advise the stall-holder that its sale is forbidden. The seriousness of the threat to our bushland cannot be overstated, as we share a similar climate to other locations in the world where this plant has devastated the natural environment.

Monday, 20 June 2016

President's Message - June 2016

The Spring Garden Competition is fast approaching and I thought it might be useful to look at some of the things that will help people do well in the Competition. Maria has published these hints and others on the website, so make sure you visit it regularly for all kinds of great information on gardening as well as Club activities.

The first thing to remember for the competition is that the judge will be looking only at what they see in your garden at the time they visit, not what might be there next month or even next week, nor what looked good last week. So try to ensure your garden is at its absolute best on judging day. It’s also important to know that the judge has only limited time to look at each garden, so it helps to make a good first impression.

So what sort of things can you do to give your garden the best chance of success?

1. Overall garden appeal is really important. People should want to be in your garden, and that includes the judge. Here’s a few things that can help:

  • Resist the urge to put in an “instant” or just planted garden – it’s really obvious.
  • Ensure any paving and pathways are clean and safe with no overhanging branches or weeds.
  • Mulch beds well with material that doesn’t look as though it was put down the day before judging.
  • Keep your shrubs and hedges neatly clipped. Dead-head your flowers where appropriate, and any remove any dead leaves from shrubs.
  • Try to have things like garbage bins and old, unkempt garden furniture away and out of sight. Preferably don’t have washing on the line on judging day. Put away hoses and gardening equipment. And secure your pets, particularly dogs.
  • The judge will also look at the condition of your garden. Plants should look healthy. There should be no disease or insect infestation to be seen, and your garden should not have any signs of nutrient imbalance, e.g. yellowing of leaves etc.

2. If you have a lawn it should be healthy, weed free and nicely edged. Any other key features you have in your garden should also look their best. And your vegie garden (if you have one) needs to be seen as a working garden, ie, it is quite acceptable to have resting beds, and succession plantings are always looked upon favourably.

3. Garden design is another important aspect of judging and includes things such as layout, use of colour, line, form and texture, and of course, plant use. Try to have a clear theme for your garden and stick to it. Where possible, have garden “rooms” that help make best use of your available space.

Last but not least, please remember that judges are trained to objectively assess different kinds of gardens, so don’t be afraid to have a go with your garden in this year's competition.

Friday, 10 June 2016

No Dig Garden

When space is limited, or your soil is really compacted or you are renting and a vegetable garden is on your 'wish' list than this is perhaps the best way to achieve that goal.

Since 1975, Esther Deans' classic books No-Dig Gardening  and Leaves of Life have inspired thousands of people to grow their own vegetables and flowers at home in areas where this may not usually be possible. In this post details will be given on how to construct your no dig garden.

The principle with no dig gardens is to have a good mixture of carbon materials in the form of straw and nitrogen in the form of manures. Water each layer lightly because the garden needs to be moist to function properly. The construction is rather like making lasagne - built layer by layer.

Step 1
Select a sunny, level spot, which will get at least 4-5 hours of sun a day. Mark out the area and edge it with bricks or any other material that will contain the soil when it is built. Four square metres is a good size to start with, but this of course can be increased if needed over time. 

If building over an existing garden bed or soil, no additional preparation is required.

If building over concrete, paving, rocky ground or other hard surfaces, lay down a 7-10cm layer of bark, twigs, small branches, leaves or other dried matter first. This layer helps with drainage so water doesn't pool on the hard surface and create a waterlogged soil. You can also add dried seaweed to this layer.

If building over lawn or grass, you can mow the grass very low first, or just leave it. Next fertilise it with plenty of blood and bone and lime watering it in well. The fertiliser will help the grass rot down once it is covered up and buried under all the layers that will go on top of it..

Step 2
Cover the entire area with a wads of newspaper half a centimetre deep to smother any weeds, making sure that the newspaper is well overlapped to prevent any weeds from growing through (do not use coloured paper). I know someone who had a refrigerator delivered and used the cardboard as an additional layer on the ground before the newspaper was set down. The paper has to be very wet so it will start to break down immediately.

Step 3
Cover the area with the carbon layer - generous pads of lucerne hay which will break down easily and add vital nitrogen to the bed. Pea-straw or crop-straw like rye or canola may be used and of course for our area sugarcane mulch works a treat and is fairly inexpensive. Water the straw layer lightly.

Step 4
Next apply a layer of organic fertiliser - well aged chicken manure is excellent because it has high amounts of nitrogen, which helps in the breaking down process of the high carbon materials. However, any farm manure will perform this function, whichever is the most economical for you.  If you don't have a lot of the manure mix, this layer may be boosted with blood and bone, which is also high in nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous but low in potassium, so supplement the mixture with about 10% of sulphate of potash or woodash.

Step 5
Add a 20cm layer of loose straw (carbon).

Step 6

Add another layer of manure and again water lightly - you can continue to add as many layers as you wish to 'fill up' your bed.

Step 7
The last layer is good compost so that plants, seeds or seedlings can be planted. If there is enough available, the whole surface area of the garden could be covered with compost to around 10cm. Alternatively pockets of compost can be created for planting so that it can support a new plant while the new garden is breaking down. If you have a worm farm some castings added to this final layer would be terrific.

There are some proponents who recommend that the bed is left to 'do its thing' before planting up. However, if you are an impatient soul it is best to grow established seedings in a new no dig garden. The best plants to use are shallow rooted plants or annual flowers and once the garden is more mature deeper rooted crops and plants can be added.

Our good friends, worms will be attracted to this wonderful garden bed and will do their 'thing' by aerating the layers. As the layers break down top up with fresh layers of organic matter.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Stinging Ants

Stinging Ants include jack jumper ants and bull ants. Jack jumpers are found across the southern half of Australia and related species occur across the north. 

Avoid these critters as being stung from these little brutes really packs a punch for their size. They are very aggressive and become agitated when disturbed. They will give you a painful fiery sting which will hurt for a long time. If you are stung to relieve the swelling and pain a cold compress should be applied and also gently wash the area with soap and water but leave the blister intact.

People who are allergic to insect stings should seek medical attention immediately. On rare occasions, these ant stings can cause a severe allergic reaction.

If you see a nest, use baits which have a borax/sugar mixture (or use a commercial product containing borax decahydrate) and place it near the nest. Try a granulated insecticide product registered for use in the home garden.

Natural enemies of these ants - echidnas and birds.