Saturday, February 11, 2012

All Citrus Great and Small

On a recent house call seeing to a two year old blood orange with suspected leaf yellowing, my love for citrus trees was re-awakened. I gave it a thorough and well-lit inspection from all angles, leaning the pot over, getting it to cough etc. I then realized that not only was quite a healthy looking tree but it was also hands down healthier than any of my citrus! This is my dwarf Lisbon (right) in its raised planter on the front corner of the house. After about three years in the ground, cropping regularly and developing into a well balanced tree, it seems to be showing significant signs of nutrient deficiency. I only wish citrus trees could work on displaying their woes in more varied ways than just yellow leaves. Why can't they just vary the colours a bit? Or emit an unpleasant odour for one problem and moan at you when you walk past for another? Nope, they just get all liverish at the first sign of trouble and you have to stare at these yellow patterns like fortune telling tea leaves to work things out. I've just remembered that I used to have a variegated Meyer lemon with the mottled green and yellow leaves fitted as standard! I mean, how the hell are you supposed to know when its got a problem! Luckily it died though. My gut feeling with the Lisbon is its a Magnesium deficiency, as the leaves are forming the characteristic yellow apex tapering out towards the tips. The older leaves look the worst and the rest are heading in the same direction. Seeing as summer is getting along I'm going to go for Yates Dynamic Lifter for Citrus and an extra dose of Epsom Salts and see where that gets me. I might even add some Smeckler's Powder or a Balsam Specific too. In a month or two I'll post the results, for better or worse.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Massive Mop Graft Update

It's been ages since I've taken updated photos on the progress of the mop graft, the legendary M26 rootstock which I selfishly hoarded away as it had more roots than all the other 19 rootstocks I ordered put together. With its expansive and well developed booties (roots), the mop graft found pride of place in my apple orchard and was crowned with a carefully selected piece of the mysteriously delicious unnamed apple which I have temporarily given the working title 'Corryong Seedling' (patent pending!). The scion wood was cut and delivered with the utmost care by the father of a friend and aside from the mountain ash sized mop graft, there are about 15 strong and healthy maiden trees growing in the nearby stool bed (that is what it's called, I didn't have an accident in my sleep). I have been photographing the tree itself as well as a closeup of the graft so I can get right in there and eyeball the fascinating process of grafting at whatever magnification I desire. The last photo I took was just before the tape had been removed and a great deal has happened since then. I waited as long as I could before removing the tape but it became urgent when it appeared that the trunk was starting to swell beyond the stretch of the tape. A month or two down the track and the trunk has doubled in size, it's becoming hard to differentiate the boundary between the stock and the scion. The tree has put on loads of healthy growth, no doubt thanks to its big feet. Above is a picture of the fruit it will bear should I succeed. This seems inevitable, barring a meteor strike or some kind of giant nibbling rabbit.

Friday, February 3, 2012


My second year of growing Jalapenos has been a comprehensive learning experience. While highly rewarding, I've had to fight hard for these little green power pods that deserve pride of place on the Schmidt Pain Index alongside the various wasps and warrior ants. The first major enemy encountered was a truly biblical plague of aphids. These potent rabbits of the insect world demolish Jalapeno plants leaving them wrinkled, shriveled and broken. Like the bugs from Starship Troopers, aphids come in different shapes and sizes, from the green peach aphids with their promiscuous offspring to the bulbous white monster aphids with their acid fire breath. I started off spraying with good old Pyrethrum which is very effective against aphids. It became clear though that Pyrethrum only holds aphids back for a week at the most and that they re-establish quickly in its absence. In desperation I turned to one of the most powerful weapons in the gardener's arsenal; Confidor, or as I like to call it, 'Garden Napalm'. Confidor is a systemic insecticide that once absorbed into the plant is then sucked back out by the aphids. The result is NO APHIDS forever. It is seriously effective. Confidor may not sit well with the organic crowd , but firstly, I considered it a last resort and secondly I don't care. 99% of my gardening is completely organic, but I still feel the need to set aside that little 1% for my evil side. I must say I would prefer the excellent service provided by my loyal squad of preying manti and ladybird beetles any day. However, aphids reach plague proportions far quicker than these guys can eat and also their breeding cycles are not perfectly in sync. This means that the bulk of the aphid damage has occurred before the natural predators are on the scene. Next year I will be well and truly prepared. The seedlings will get Confidor as soon as they are old enough to see them through the aphids season and then they will grow tall as trees damn it!

Jalapenos were in my first greenhouse this year, which has definitely improved their growth. Even more importantly, it has sheltered them from the above-average summer rainfall which, like their relatives (the tomatoes), chillies seem to hate. I am suspicious that the hot humid climate in the greenhouse is even more conducive to Aphid breeding.

Now the aphids I could handle. Sure they caused me plenty of gardener's angst and did their fair share of damage, but they were nothing new. What came next was not only new and scary but also horrifying in the H. R. Geiger sense of the word. My big and strong Jalapeno plants had yielded a fine crop of glossy ripe dark green 'pods' (as they are called) but I started to notice a Mulder and Scully case inside. They were completely hollowed out! Their sizzling seedy and inter-connecting tissue innards had been replaced by mounds of black muck. There was no sign of the party responsible. Finally one night when I was in the greenhouse at 3am harvesting Jalapenos like a NORMAL PERSON, one of the munching, shitting pod burglars made the mistake of emerging in my presence. He got his own photo shoot and really worked it for the camera. Afterwards he got a new home unscathed in the green waste bin. It was the kindest thing I could manage. I don't know exactly what they are yet but the hunt is on to find the name of the beast and learn the secret of how to destroy them. I would say 20-25% of my entire crop was destroyed by these shitting shitters and I'm going to be ready for them next year.

Griping and moaning aside, it has been a splendid year for growing Jalapenos. Superior in every respect to last years crop. Its been one of those times when I've realized how much of a learning process gardening is. When things go wrong, you only have to nut out why and then there's always next year. I've pickled about 2 kilos of Jalapenos so far and there's still more to come. They're like eating molten lava and worth every minute of effort, suspicion, paranoia and pleasure that has gone into their growing.