The cavalry are here!

Not fungi, Lacewing eggs!
Not fungi, Lacewing eggs!

I was removing the bottom leaves from recently planted Tomatoes as you do (this helps them to not pick up soil and mulch borne pathogens) when on one of the leaves, I just glimpsed the 3 little mushroom looking things in the pictures.

Straight away I knew what they are – Lacewing eggs! Lacewings lay their eggs on stalks, in clusters so I’ve  probably  knocked a couple off of the leaf. It was hard to see because Lacewings seem to like laying their eggs on the underside of things.  I replaced the leaf so that it is kind of in the same position that it came from so that, hopefully, the eggs will hatch.

With a better background...
With a better background…

I don’t know what kind of Lacewing these are, my critter ID skills haven’t got that good yet but which ever kind they are, they’re very welcome! Lacewing larvae are vicious, voracious, hungry, hungry predators of Aphids, Whitefly and their ilk, which I’m just seeing arrive on the Tomatoes.

A hungry little Lacewing larva
A hungry little Lacewing larva.

Guaranteeing Ginger

Finding nice looking Ginger, Galangal or Turmeric rhizomes at the supermarket often gets folks thinking of growing their own, only to find their rhizomes rotting after planting. With supermarket  Ginger at around $56 a kilo last year, it really is worth trying to grow your own.

I’ll share here the process that we’ve found successful at Ligaya Garden. It should give you a good crop and help you to avoid pieces of your favourite spice turning to goo after planting. We get some pretty extreme weather in Gawler but these tips work here and should work from Melbourne across to Perth. It’s a bit different in the tropics but isn’t everything? The steps in this article apply to all three rhizomes.

The most important things to remember when growing these plants are that they like a lot of Sun and don’t like swimming. They love a lot of water, but don’t like it sitting around. Good drainage is the key to successfully growing them.

When to propagate your plants

You can start growing your plants any time but they do much better if the weather is warmer. Spring is best and propagating then will give you a good start. If you’re in a hurry, you may even get a small harvest when the leaves die down in Winter. 

Choosing the right piece

A great place to start.

Successful growing starts with the choice of pieces to grow from. It may take a couple of visits to the markets to get just the right pieces but that effort is well worth it.

Find a piece that has a couple of eyes (buds) on the same side. If distinct shoots are already forming, that’s wonderful and if they’re green or turning green, that’s perfect.

The next trick is to not have too much rhizome. If each shoot has a piece of rhizome about the size of two 50 cent pieces, that’s perfect. One of the most common reasons for failure is putting too much rhizome in the ground.

Treating the pieces before planting

If you need to break or cut the rhizome, try to leave a little rhizome around the shoot and let the wound dry. It will callus over with a protective layer that will help your rhizome piece survive in the soil. The rhizomes have a protective surface and water only enters through roots so damage to the rhizome will allow water inside and could rot it. That’s probably the most common cause of failure. 

Let the wound dry thoroughly.
Let the wound dry thoroughly.

Now that the wounds are sealed, it’s time to soak the  pieces in a dilute liquid fertilizer such as Seasol. A few hours is enough but it doesn’t hurt if you leave it overnight. I often do that because I forget about them!

I know it's Turmeric but I forgot to take a pic of the soaking stage of Ginger!
I know it’s Turmeric but I forgot to take a pic of the soaking stage of Ginger!

It’s time now to plant the pieces into their temporary home, where they will grow roots and leaves and start supplying themselves with energy and nutrients, no longer needing to rely on the stored energy in the initial rhizome pieces.

Potting up

The first roots come from beneath the shoot.
The first roots come from beneath the shoot.

Put the pieces into well draining soil or potting mix in a small pot, the next size up from the size of the rhizome pieces that you have. Choose a loose, well draining potting mix, even add some sand if you’re not sure. These two things will ensure that water won’t sit around the rhizome for too long. You can put multiple pieces into a larger pot but ensure there’s a good amount of space between them. Don’t put a saucer beneath your pot.

Depth is important at this stage, place the pieces so that the shoots are just at the surface where they can receive a little light. We’re trying to stimulate them to grow leaves so that the plant can get energy. The shoots will grow leaves and the first roots will form at the base of the shoot. These two things are vital to our success. This can take from two weeks to a month depending on several factors, some of which I’m unsure of at this time.

Give the pot a good water and set it aside for a few days. You’ll only have to water twice a week for the next few weeks. When you have some healthy leaves, take a peek at what’s going on underground. If you see something like the pics above or below, you’re doing OK. If not, leave it a little longer.

Transplanting to your garden

Ready to plant out or repot.

When leaves and roots have formed, it’s time to transplant the new plants to their final home in a large tub or the ground There is a difference in how the three types of rhizome like to be planted. Ginger prefers to be closer to the surface, just lightly covered. Galangal likes to be buried deeper, 5 centimetres down. Turmeric prefers a depth of around 2-3 centimetres. It sounds like a bit of fuss (something that I’m not known for) but ot works.

Remove as much soil along with the rhizome as you can when transplanting to help prevent transplant shock. Water well with a little seaweed concentrate.

Remove from the pot with as much soil around the roots as you can.
Remove from the pot with as much soil around the roots as you can.

The plants need excellent drainage and a lot of light. I like to add about 5% of sand to where they are to be planted out.

The leaves will droop and look sad until the roots are re-established. When yiu see them back upright, all is well.

Mature plants will survive our near 50 degree South Australian Summers and the frosts of Winter but it is advisable to add some cover on these days. The rest of the year they’ll be fine. Currently, it is the hot, dry, Northerly wind that seems to do the most damage, so some kind of wind break helps until the plants are fully mature.

Add about 5% extra sand to your soil.
Add about 5% extra sand to your soil.

Water well, twice every second day and use  liquid fertilizer once a week for a while until the leaf growth looks good.

Lots of water and excellent drainage are key to successful Ginger growing.
Lots of water and excellent drainage are key to successful Ginger growing.

Wait a bit

It takes a while for the rhizomes to get going and  this is where folks sometimes think that they’ve failed when they’re really just jumping the gun. I advise no harvesting for the first year. In the second year just bandicoot around the edges of the patch. Once the main rhizome is well established, you’ll have so much of your favourite spice that you’ll be giving newbies tips on how to grow them

We grow different varieties of Ginger, Galangal and Turmeric at Ligaya Garden. There’s Redback Ginger for its striking leaves, Cardamom Ginger, shop bought Ginger, Alpine Ginger, Galangal and Turmeric. We’ve grown them all successfully using the methods I’ve written about here and if you follow these tips, I’m sure you will too.

Coffee grounds are gold!

Coffee uses 150 litres per cup to grow, process, pack and ship.
Coffee uses 150 litres per cup to grow, process, pack and ship.

Coffee isn’t just a boost for us, it’s a boost for our plants too! Making coffee, even in a coffee shop with those beasts of machines, doesn’t extract all of the goodness from the grounds. Instant coffee too has its benefits. Using spent coffee grounds also has a big ethical benefit – 1 cup worth of coffee uses 150 litres per cup to grow, process, pack and ship! Then there’s another 6 litres of water that goes into a teaspoonful of sugar, then the milk….

I originally wrote an article for Pip magazine #21 on the topic of using spent coffee grounds for your garden but wasn’t too happy with the way they changed it around. Here’s the full scoop!

One morning's worth of spent coffee grounds.
One morning’s worth of spent coffee grounds.

Once the caffeine and rich oils are extracted from the from the ground coffee beans there are still plenty of nutrients left in the spent grounds that can be used on our garden or even ourselves.

The main things that we are interested in are nitrogen, potassium and calcium and some trace minerals. Nitrogen is essential for producing proteins (particularly DNA and RNA) and enzymes. Potassium is essential for the balance of water in cells and calcium is used in making strong cell walls. Coffee, then can be an important booster.

Coffee grounds are mildly acidic but unless you dump whole pots of the stuff in one place, you’ll have no worries. Your thriving soil biology will take care of it for you. If you have any doubts, put the coffee into your compost or worm farm – the critters in those will balance things out for you.

Sourcing your coffee grounds

If you’re using your own coffee grounds, made at home, you may need to collect some to make a big batch of coffee ‘tea’ for your garden. That doesn’t preclude emptying your pot out daily around the base of mature plants. Essentially, enough for 1 cup for you is enough for one mature plant. Just don’t apply too often.

If you have ask nicely at a local coffee shop or restaurant, the staff will probably be more than happy to give your their spent grounds as long as you bring a bucket. Just a note, one of those tubes that cafes dump their grounds into will fill a 10 litre bucket, so be prepared!

We get our grounds from a couple of cafes in Gawler who are part of the Gawler Compost Collective. Once a week, I pick up a 10 litre containerful from Cafe Sia and that is more than enough for our garden, the rest go to Uncle Rob’s Worm Farm. Maybe you can set up a similar thing in your area.

Gabby is happy to give us Cafe Sia's waste coffee grounds.
Gabby is happy to give us Cafe Sia’s waste coffee grounds.

How to use your coffee grounds

As a tea

‘Coffee tea’ sounds funny, we are so used to thinking of coffee and tea as separate things but your garden doesn’t care. To make a bucket of coffee tea, simply soak a handful of grounds in a bucket of water. This will leach out the water soluble goodies. You can filter the coffee grounds out and then apply the remaining solution to your soil around the roots of your plants. There are so many variables in how strong your coffee solution will be, so I recommend using no more that 1 good handful of spent grounds to a 20 litre bucket of water. You can use that straight on the soil.

As a foliar spray, dilute the coffee solution with water at a rate of 20:1.

Direct to the soil

You can simply cast the spent coffee grounds onto the soil where their nutrients will be rapidly gobbled up by soil fauna and flora. The physical grounds are finely ground organic material and this will add to the organic content of your garden. Don’t put it on too thickly though, too much can clump together or form a compact layer over the soil which will prevent air, water and light from penetrating.

I suggest about 1 big handful per square metre.

Into the worm farm or compost

Spread a small handful lightly over the surface of your worm farm. The worms will find it and love it.

If you are putting it into your compost, spread it evenly over the surface so that it can be mixed in the next time you turn your heap or bin.

Bokashi

You can add spent coffee grounds to your Bokashi bin, just as you would any organic material. You can also make your own Bokashi bran from spent coffee grounds and use that instead of the store bought stuff.

Make your own Bokashi bran from spent coffee grounds.
Make your own Bokashi bran from spent coffee grounds.

Instant coffee

Instant coffee isn’t as potent as the coffee you brew from ground beans, too much has happened to it in the freezing, drying, packaging, shipping and storage process. However, it does contain traces of the goodies mentioned above and can be added (well diluted) directly to your garde. It doesn’t contain the organic component of the coffee grounds that give them the extra benefit of adding to your soil structure.

Planting tomatoes for greater success

It’s definitely Tomato time around here in Gawler. The time of the year is right for planting both tomatoes and (non-violent) revolution. There are thousands of seedlings on sale literally everywhere. On the weekend, I helped out at the Port Adelaide Food Gardening Heirloom Tomato sale where I gladly helped boxfuls of seedlings make their way to their new homes in people’s veggie patches.

So here’s some simple tips to planting great Tommies – 

Soil prep tips:

1) mix some powdered eggshells into the soil. This gives a supply of calcium which is needed for strong cell walls as well as preventing the dreaded blossom end rot.  Learn about the benefits of eggshells for your garden here.

A little eggshell helps a great deal
A little eggshell helps a great deal.

2) mix some chopped up  Dandelion leaves or Banana skins into the soil. Both of these contain heaps of potassium which is said to promote flowering, retain flowers, promote fruiting and fruit retention, giving you MORE TOMATOES. These two additives will be broken down and available  by the time the plant needs them. You can find out how to make your own potassium rich extract here.

Planting tips:

PLANT THEM DEEP.  Planting with plenty of the stem below the soil level will encourage roots to grow from the stem, giving you a more resilient plant.

Plant your seedlings deep.
Plant your seedlings deep.

Planting the seedling at least to the depth marked by the red line will give you a healthy plant. Some folks trim off any lower leaves that will below the soil level but I just bury them.

Newly grown roots from the buried stem.
Newly grown roots from the buried stem.

The pic above is of the original seedling roots and the new ones that have grown from the buried stem. These only took a couple of weeks but the plant will be much stronger now. If you plant yours deeper, you will grow more roots but, please make sure that you leave some leaves showing to give your plant energy. I suggest at least 5 cm of top showing above the soil line!

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