Sunday, 26 February 2017

Let No-one Cast Aspersions at Beautiful Nasturtiums!

Botanical name: Tropaeolum majus

Although they can be vigorous to a fault, swathes of colourful nasturtiums give a garden an almost magical easy-care appeal. 

Nasturtium have over 80 species of annuals and perennials. They are easy-to-grow, whose leaves and flowers are both edible.These plants, with their bright greenery and vibrant flowers are good for either containers or ground covers. Their pretty fragrance also makes them a good choice for cut flowers....... bet you didn't think of that? 

With their large seeds and rapid growth habit these flowers are perfect to grow with children. They were the very first seeds my children planted - unfortunately they (the children) were so very, very diligent in their watering, the plot turned to mud. Not to be beaten by that minor setback, the kids used this area for their mud pie construction and 'who can get the most mud on them' play area. When their interest waned and they moved on to other exciting play activities, the area was left alone. Low and behold, the resilient Nasturtium seeds germinated, perhaps not as many as were planted, BUT! Just goes to show how nature will always endeavour to triumph over adversity - even my kids. 

Nasturtium come in the 'warm' colours of red, orange and yellow with some pretty salmon-pink and also creamy yellow flowers with orange centres. The foliage is a lovely bright green with some variegated varieties too. Nasturtiums bloom (and are at their best) during summer and autumn.

Tropaeolum tricolour

Their appearance has variable foliage. They may be many lobed (example left), trifoliate or shield shaped and some are even tinted a blue-green. 


Plant directly either in full sun or partial shade (they bloom better in full sun) in moist, well-drained soil. The plants should appear in 7 to 10 days. Water regularly throughout the growing season (but not as much as my kids). If you are growing them in containers, they may need to be trimmed back occasionally over the growing season to keep them looking good.

Nasturtiums are very easy to care for with the added bonus that they inhibit weed growth. If you don't like them in a particular position, it's an easy task to just pull them out. Drifts of nasturtiums planted in your garden are splendid for that special quiet morning walk where little droplets of dew sit suspended atop the leaves, just beautiful!

For those of you who would really like to make full use of nasturtiums, please visit this link to find out how to make pickled nasturtiums seeds - now there's something really different!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Good News for Bees (and farmers)

Australian company behind bee-friendly bio insecticide Sero-X secures deal to keep production in Goondiwindi
Updated yesterday at 1:39pm
A regional Australian company behind a game-changing bio insecticide that is safe for bees and other beneficial insects has secured funding to ensure its production remains on home soil.
Innovate Ag from Wee Waa in northern New South Wales has spent 15 years developing Sero-X, a pesticide using peptides from the butterfly pea legume as its active ingredient.
Last year the product was used under permit on macadamia crops and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority recently registered it for use by cotton growers.
The company this week announced a partnership deal with the Belgium based Biological Products of Agriculture (Bi-PA) to help commercialise its invention and distribute it globally.
Bi-PA's chief executive officer Johan De Saegher said it would develop and register Sero-X outside of Australia and New Zealand but the product would be manufactured at Goondiwindi in Queensland.
Mr De Saegher said partnering with Sero-X would help Bi-PA address international markets' needs for safer agricultural products and would speed up development.
Sero-X could be transformative for beekeepers like Harold Saxvik, who claimed he could no longer base his 2,000 hive operation in NSW's Riverina because of chemical use by the emerging cotton industry.
In 2013, he lost 500 hives to insecticide spray drift which he believes came from nearby cotton farms.
Since then he has been moving his bees to avoid any risk but he said it had become unworkable.
Innovate Ag's project director Nick Watts said Sero-X had huge potential for improving the environmental sustainability and ethical production of food and fibre globally.
"The secret behind this innovative product comes straight from nature itself in the form of cyclotides," Mr Watts said.
"Cyclotides are peptides, or mini-proteins, that are naturally found in plants and have a range of biological activities, including insecticidal and antimicrobial."
They also have great pharmaceutical potential.
"Footy players have given peptides a bad name, but they are fantastic, potent natural compounds that can perform all sorts of functions," Mr Watts said.
Sero-X is already shaping up as a game changer in the macadamia industry which relies on honey bees for pollination but is susceptible to heavy losses from insect pests.
Until now, growers could lose up to 50 per cent of their crop if they did not use broad spectrum synthetic pesticides, Macadamia Industry Board agronomist Neil Innes said.
"There's more reliance on less specific, more broader spectrum synthetic pesticides which have a lot more affect on our pollinators," Mr Innes said.
"There's three basic pesticides and they all have major constraints and it's a big juggling act to not damage pollinators, moving hives around lots of growers have had issues with bee kills."

Sero-X a 'no-brainer' for growers

Gympie based grower James Thomas was the first farmer to use Sero-X last year.
"Well I can spray when I want exactly where I want and if the bees are still feeding during the day I can still spray when the optimum conditions are needed," Mr Thomas said.
"I don't have to wait one or two weeks until the bees are finished, I can just spray exactly when I need it to get the best use of the product and the bees will continue to feed and pollinate the flowers."
He said the product had proven just as effective as chemical pesticide but was safe to use.
"I don't need to wear safety gloves because it's so benign to use, so it's an easy choice to make for us if we've got to use a spray when the bees are out feeding and pollinating, it's sort of a no-brainer," he said.
Research into the peptide based bio insecticide was started by the cotton industry 15 years ago, but Mr Watt and his agronomist father Kerry continued working on it when interest waned.
In recent years, they have partnered with researchers from the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience.
The institute's group leader, Professor David Craik, and his research team studied natural cyclotides (mini-proteins) and engineered new cyclotides that could be used as insecticides or to treat human diseases.
"We've been working with Innovate Ag to understand which cyclotides in the extract are active and how we can optimise the harvest of the plant so that the extract is more potent," Professor Craik said.
Innovate Ag currently produces from a pilot plant in Goondiwindi and is aiming to commission a new production facility this year with an initial production capacity of 10,000 litres a week, with room to triple this as demand grows.

Hicksbeachia pinnatifolia Red Bopple Nut

For February 2017 our subtropical guru Gavin has given a presentation on Red Bopple Nut.


Jane's presentation this month is a shrub that most are very familiar with on the Coffs Coast - Bottlebrush.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Ivory Curl Tree

Flower of the Month - February 2017

Scientific Name: Buckinghamia celsissima
Family: Proteaceae
Common Name: Ivory Curl Tree
Plant Type: Small tree, large tree   
Height 8-25 metres  Width: 1-4 metres
Flower Colour: White, Cream
Flowering Time: Summer
Ph Level: Acid, Neutral
Soil Type: Loamy, sandy loam, clay loam.

This is a tree we see all around Coffs. It's a great feature plant, screen, windbreak and pretty too. It only achieves its lofty heights when it is at home in the rainforest and looking for the light above the rainforest canopy. In the garden you can expect a well behaved moderate sized tree.

Like all Proteaceae family members, Ivory Curl Tree have a really low tolerance for artificial fertilisers. In fact, superphosphate can be the death knell to these beautiful trees. Having said that though, they require a good source of magnesium to assist with flower production. A fistful of Epsom salts scattered directly over the root zone and watered in well would be beneficial in the spring. Mulch using a natural mulch such as bark, straw or leaves - do not use mushroom compost.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Heatwave Survival for Plants

When the temperature is soaring like it has recently it's often hard to think past our own discomfort, but we have to be mindful of our plants too at this time.

It seems fairly basic advice but we need to protect our plants as much as possible during these major heat events. We have to give our plants the very best advantage against the extreme conditions.

Plants naturally evaporate water from the underside of their leaves, releasing this moisture with oxygen as by-products of their photosynthesis. In very extreme heat events, this evaporation process speeds up therefore they consume more water, so they need to take up more water from the soil. In high heat situations, water is also evaporating from the soil at a greater rate and so the poor plant mightn't have sufficient water resources to make up for the increased expiration. 

If your plant gets really dry, the more likely damage will be to the plant cells. This then makes your plant more susceptible to at the very least, sunburnt leaves or even its demise. There are obvious signs of heat damage:

  • Wilting - this is one of the very first indicators that the plant is suffering. As the plant tries to decrease the surface area exposed directly to the sun.
  • Dropping leaves - If the stress to your plant increases, it may even drop some of its leaves. This reduces the plant's area that water can evaporate from, therefore conserving the moisture it has got available.
  • Dropping flowers or fruit - If your plant is flowering or fruiting, it will also prematurely drop its flowers or fruit. To produce flowers and fruit a lot of a plant's energy is needed, so shedding these during extreme conditions is one way the plant employs to protect itself.

Some basic tips on how to protect your garden during heatwaves:

Be Prepared

Apply as much water as you can in the evening or morning before the temperature rises. 

Take special care of potted plants and young seedlings. Erect some temporary shade (like old sheets, beach umbrella, shade cloth etc) or spray with Yates Waterwise Drought Shield or AgroBest Envy on to very vulnerable plants. These products give the plants a polymer layer that provides protection from heat, salt, wind and also water loss. I have tried a polymer product on some Hydrangea plants which have generally suffered on really hot days, even dropping their leaves and it worked a treat.

Potted Plants

Move your potted plants into a shaded area if possible and water them well. During these big heat events it is perfectly OK to keep pot saucers filled with water, as the plants can draw on that water over the day. If you are preparing pots for exhibit in the Coffs Show in May it is vital that you pay particular attention to protecting them from heat stress and damage.

Water effectively

Start by checking to see if you really do need to water - push your finger through the mulch layer and check to see if the soil is moist. If it feels dry, it's definitely time to give it a drink. Give it a good deep watering so the water penetrates into the root zone. This is preferable to short, surface waterings that only encourage the roots to stay near the surface where they're more vulnerable to moisture loss. Also be mindful not to use a hose nozzle that delivers a strong jet that gouges holes in the soil. Instead choose a sprinkler or a water wand that is a gentle shower (or water breaker as sometimes called) to water gently. An application of soil wetting agents around the root zone in garden beds and also on potted plants will help get water where it is needed by breaking down the waxy water repellent layer that can develop on soil surfaces and potting mix making it hydrophobic.


Mulching material really should have been applied long before the heat event. It is best to apply a good layer of mulch when the ground is already moist and then further water applied after mulching. This will keep the soil cool and protect it from drying out in extreme heat. If your pots haven't been protected yet you could add some mulch now. Water the pot well, apply your mulch layer, then water again.

Water storing crystals

If you really have to plant something when there is going to be extreme heat it is best to give the poor thing the best start possible by using water storing crystals. Start off by soaking them in water so they swell before digging them into the planting hole. You may have made the mistake that many make and placed them dry into the planting hole without pre-soaking. The plant has been duly well watered in and later you find that your newly planted cherub has 'popped' out of the ground when the crystals took up the water and expanded!

Post event watering

After the heat has abated, give your plants some organic seaweed preparation (eg Seasol) to help them 'bounce back' after the heat event. It is not really a good idea to do this during high heat as the leaves might burn.

Be neighbourly

If your neighbour is away or is elderly, take time out to assist them by doing some watering too. Sometimes when it is very hot people flag very easily and are unable to get out and do this basic care.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Vegetable Gardener's Diary - February 2017

Preparing your Vegetable Patch for Winter:  

It’s about this time of the year that all the summer veggies have finished, and we need to start thinking about preparing the bed for the forthcoming winter season.

The aim is to transform your tired summer vegetable patch into a fertile winter garden that will grow a bumper crop of veggies.

The first task is to clear away all the spent plants and weeds. Some people argue that you should dig this spent organic matter straight back into the bed. You can if you like, but be aware that some disease and pests can continue to survive on foliage and fruit left in the garden soil. I prefer to remove all of this spent matter, and use processed organic fertilisers a bit further on.

Once you have cleaned up the bed, use the full length of your pitchfork to dig the bed over. Keep an eye on the condition of the soil as you do this. It’s essential your soil bed is as rich and ‘friable’ as possible, so that the young plants or seeds you introduce simply take off. The presence of big fat worms in large numbers is generally regarded as a good sign of quality soil condition. 

To ensure your new plants thrive and produce, prepping the soil is an absolute must. Adding rich organic matter like compost, manure and fertiliser will add body and nutrition to your garden bed. I use a lot of Searles Cow Manure and Searles Blood and Bone, both of which are readily available at a reasonable price at Total Gardens.

Once you’ve blended these new ingredients, turn your garden bed again, this time adding fresh garden soil alongside your organic matter, mixing the new soil with the old. Cover the entire area with mulch, give it a good water, and leave this for a couple of months, removing any weeds that pop up during this time. 

Make sure you dig it through one more time before planting.

By the time you are ready to plant your winter crop your soil bed should be just right – full of all the nutritional goodies that your veggies need to thrive – and begging for a row of new seedlings or seeds.

Happy Gardening

Terrific work AND in this heat, one has to admire your stamina!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

2004 History from 'For the Love of a Garden'

These are excerpts from 'For the Love of a Garden' A history of the Coffs Harbour Garden Club Inc. 1950-2005 written by Betty Newton & Jack Lawson

Horticultural Therapy Gardens: This project began in April, 2004 with a Garden Club committee of eight members. Half of the money raised from the 2003 Biennial Convention went to the Garden Clubs of Australia Inc, and half to the Coffs Harbour Garden Club Inc, who decided to put their share to good use. They wanted to enable people in aged care homes to be involved in gardening. It was felt that the use of special tools and raised gardens would be needed. The people involved in setting up this project would not be responsible for the upkeep of any gardens.

The Therapy Garden Club committee was also successful in obtaining a $3,000 grant from the NSW Regional Community Garden Grants run by the Australian Open Garden Scheme. This brought our funds for this project to $8,500.

Thanks to all the hard work by the committee members, the various sponsors of materials, tools and plants, the Therapy Gardens have proved to be a great success. The Aged Care recipients told us that it had made a real difference to their surroundings and was wonderful for the residents. They said it was a marvellous project which would be enjoyed for many years. Eleven Aged Care Homes benefited from this project.

The Garden Clubs of Australia Inc, presented us with the Eleanor McLeod Award for Service to the Community with the Horticultural Therapy Gardens. They also gave us a book 'Learn to Garden'.

25th Anniversary of the Coffs Harbour Garden Club Inc. Our 25th birthday was celebrated in fine style with a party at our meeting on the 17th of May. Approximately 60 people were present, including our past President and Life Member, Rhonda Brooks, who travelled from the Gold Coast to be with us on this happy occasion.

A sumptuous afternoon tea was enjoyed by everyone, and party hats worn by members displayed their creative talents. Members Margaret Radford and Ron Garton were winners of the best party hats. Both hats were masterpieces of ingenuity. The 25th birthday cake was a rich fruit cake beautifully iced and decorated. A photographer from The Advocate newspaper was present and we all appeared in a Wednesday edition of the paper, in glorious colour.

25 Years

Twenty-five years and evergreen
Coffs Harbour Garden Club is seen
As a caring happy lot
Devoted to the garden plot.

Great garden hints and tips
Outings and longer trips
We really are alive
Ensuring gardens thrive.

Lets give three hearty cheers
For our birthday of twenty-five years!
Our Garden Club is the best
With garden friends we are blessed.

               Betty Newton.

This Poem written for and read at this special occasion by Betty and as printed in the Garden Club June, 2004 Newsletter.'

'A Sad Farewell: The Augest meeting records the passing of our Patron, Peg Huegill. Peg had many interests, the Smith Family and the Garden Club being of special importance to her. Peg entered our Spring Garden Competition and won various category prizes. A generous and spirited lady, Peg made a tandem parachute jump to celebrate her 80th birthday. The Garden Club donated $100 to the Carers' Lodge, in memory of Peg.

The Hunter Valley Trip 15 - 17 October: The weather stayed fine and we only experienced rain on the way home. It was wonderful visiting the world-class Hunter Valley Gardens with its beautiful and imaginative displays of flowers and plants. We called in at McGuigan's Winery and had fun visiting Garden Nurseries and browsing through the shops at Morpeth. Beaumont's Coaches who took us on our trip, were so impressed with the Garden Club that they donated a 'lucky seat' prize for our Christmas part in December.

Christmas Luncheon 13 December - Grafton River Cruise: Wearing Christmas hats, members hopped on the bus for the trip to Grafton. A visit was made to the Junction Hill Nursery first and one member bought two large Poinciana trees. These were placed in the back of the bus and it was like travelling with our own Christmas trees!

A very warm, summers day and cruising on the Clarence River was ideal, with a gentle cooling breeze. The skipper gave us the history of the river and the Susan and Peanut Islands. This was followed by a summer lunch.'

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Pea Moth

Ever open a pea and found some dirty matter inside? This was most probably the work of the Pea moth.

Pea moth Cydia nigricana are hairy brown moths which see out peas when they are bloom and lay eggs on the young pods. The larvae burrow into the immature peas to feed.

On opening a pea pod, some of the peas have dark excrement near them. 

Inside infested peas you will find a tiny light grey to brown caterpillar.

It appears that snow peas don't seem to be popular with this little critter - might be due to the actual pea being small and not a good food source of the larvae.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

2 February 2017 Outing to Woolgoolga and Corindi

From all accounts it was a very, very hot day for the first outing of 2017. Some hardy souls braved this heat to visit three gardens - two at Woolgoolga and the last was CHGC President Sue and her hubby's expansive garden at Corindi.

Some members taking a break and having a chat in the shade.

 Gardener Joan at the first stop in Woolgoolga has an eye for embellishment - her garden in a rental has been constructed to be lifted if there is ever a need to move. A really fun garden to visit.
The second garden in Woolgoolga is maintained by a true plants-woman Jo, here members saw some wonderful traditional plants in excellent condition and a wide variety of propagated plants as well.

The final garden is on acreage at Corindi and this was the destination for lunch - apparently it was a relief to get indoors out of the heat and enjoy the company of like-minded folk over a lovely lunch.

Many thanks to Michael R. for the photos.

The February Outing - this report has been extracted from the Feb Newsletter

Couldn't have been hotter had we had cruised on the River Styx! Still was a great day. Joan Simson, from the Woolgoolga Garden Club, welcomed us to her garden. After a relaxing morning tea under Joan's pergola we explored the garden. Joan has some spectacular bromeliads and everyone admired the pure white frangipani, plumeria pudica and Joan's garden sparkles.

Second stop was another welcoming Woolgoolga Garden Club member, Jo Egan. Jo was once the owner of the Woolgoolga Garden Centre and her love of collecting plants certainly shines through at her home. She still sells plants from home and has far too many to mention so of course, most of us bought some
pretty good bargains. The caladiums were favourites as were the hanging baskets.

Lunch was a share a plate affair at Sue Young's house. By the time we got there the mercury had climbed to around 40. Almost too hot to venture outside into the heat but a few brave souls checked out the orchard, the vege patch and the hospice of fading plants.

Bound to be more fun to be had on the March outing ... see you there.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Some Like it Hot - Growing the Hottest Chillies

There is just something about chillies - they are addictive, both to eat AND to grow. Most chilli enthusiasts' decide to grow their own chillies rather than rely on the varieties available in the shops. Often, this decision is accompanied by the desire to grow the HOTTEST, most POWERFUL chillies possible. I, for one know someone near and dear who has made this his passion. The substances that give chilli their intensity when ingested or applied topically are capsaicin and several related chemicals, collectively called capsaicinoids.

There are many different varieties, ranging in heat ratings - from the ultra-mild to the lip blistering hottest. Obviously, your choice of chilli variety will play the biggest role in determining the potential for strength, but growing conditions ultimately play a part too. As a general rule of thumb the hotter varieties will be a lot harder to germinate and will be slower to grow and they will need more sunlight, warmth and a longer season for successful fruiting - perfect for the Coffs Coast.

Chillies have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500BC. At sites in a tropical lowland area of southwestern Ecuador there is archaeological evidence that chilli peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago. The chilli grains show that peppers were among the oldest domesticated foods in the hemisphere and is one of the first cultivated crops in Central and South Americas. The team of scientists who made the discovery say that the spice must have been transported over the Andes to what is now Ecuador as the chillies only grew naturally to the east of the mountain range.

In Mexico chilli also has been used to spice up food since at least 400BC. This has been proven when researchers analysed fine scrapings from inside pottery, (dating back to that period) excavated in Chiapa de Corzo in southern Mexico. Ultra-performance liquid chromatography revealed the presence of Capsicum species in these vessels. To read further about this evidence please see this Smithsonian article.

Chillies require a very sunny position with plenty of warmth to thrive and produce fiery fruit. They prefer a soil pH of between 6.5-7. If you're planting directly into the ground, then use a pH tester and add lime or acidic materials to adjust as necessary. However planting into containers gives you much finer control over the type of soil you use; a tomato blend is ideal for growing chillies.

When feeding chillies, use a tomato formulated fertiliser, or a seaweed-based product. General purpose feeds high in nitrogen, urea, ammonium sulfate or fresh manure are not the way to go as they promote vigorous leaf growth at the expense of the flowers and fruit. Use a fertiliser that is rich in potassium and phosphorus instead.

It might be worthwhile to explain NPK (which can be found on the packet of fertiliser):

N = Nitrogen
Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, which is why fertilisers with a higher ratio of nitrogen are an optimum choice for lawns and grasses. 
P = Phosphorus
Phosphorus encourages flowering and therefore, fruiting.
K = Potassium (Kalium in Latin)
Potassium helps plants to move water and sugar inside themselves and thickens their cell walls.

Some experts recommend the use of Sulphur in slightly alkaline soils. Be mindful not to overuse fertiliser as you may damage your plants. Too high a level of nutrients in the soil can send the plants into shock, slowing their growth, preventing the production of flowers and even causing leaf loss. Follow the recommended dosages on the packet and it is far better to use a light hand when applying, especially when containers are used.

Never let your plants dry out completely, but at the same time don't over-water them. Keep the soil moist as far as possible, but err on the side of dryness rather than waterlogging the plants - this could lead to root rot. 

Chilli plants which are slightly under-watered stress will put more effort into producing fruit than foliage, and the resulting peppers will be much hotter.

If you want to encourage bushier growth pinch out the plant tips occasionally. However, for maximum chilli heat, you want a large root system and not too many leaves, so that the plant puts most of its efforts into just a few fruit. This means that while pinching out your chilli plants may increase the yield, the heat will be reduced.

The longer you can leave the peppers to ripen on the plant, the hotter they will get. If your plant is particularly productive, consider picking half the fruits while they're immature, then removing any new flowers that appear so that the remaining peppers can be the focus of the plant's ripening activity. Don't leave them too long on the bush as they will become wrinkled.

Chillies, like so many other plants can be fickle and you may have to experiment with varieties and growing conditions to find the ideal combination for your own location and climate. 

But be warned: this could turn into a lifelong obsession (and competition with your mates) - the quest for the perfectly hot and fiery pepper!

With the abundance of your efforts the following recipe from Jane Griffiths ( might be a good way to use your harvest to the full. There is really no need to use jalapeno chillies - any chillies you have grown will be just as good. This jelly needs to be cooked in a very well ventilated position as it will make your eyes sting and the aroma to spread throughout your whole house! Any chilli preserving in our household is done OUTSIDE for that very reason.

Hot Diggedy Chilli Jelly Recipe - Jane Griffiths

2 red capsicums
10 red jalapeno chillies
1 1/2 c white vinegar
1 T lemon pips
6 c sugar
1/3 c lemon juice

Cut the peppers into quarters and remove the white inner ribs. Puree the chillies and peppers in a food processor. Combine the puree and vinegar in a large pot and bring to the boil. Boil rapidly for around 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tie the lemon pips in a muslin bag, or put them side a tea strainer that closes, add them to the pot - the lemon pips contain plenty of pectin, the stuff that makes the jelly set. Now add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring well without boiling until the sugar has completely dissolved.

Bring back to the boil and cook until it wrinkles when dropped onto a cold saucer. Pour the jelly into sterilised bottles and seal.

Jane suggests to eat the jelly with Philadelphia cream cheese spread onto hot croissants.

If you are wanting some fantastic expert advice on seed raising and care of chillies, see the following website