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1.Stella Ramos: This plant is growing in my brother’s backyard. What is it, is it edible by humans and can he feed it to the birds? The dark beans are those which are dried out. The pods are a bit fluffy. All the beans have a distinct white line along the edge. My brother is not sure if it’s safe to eat but he tried some and says it tastes a bit like peas but not as sweet. It is a hyacinth/lablab bean (Lablab purpureus). Here are some relevant links: How to grow hyacinth or lablab beans (video), how to grow hyacinth been vines, fair dinkum seeds and Wikipedia. Karen Ye: In Asia, we eat them properly cooked. The raw ones may be poisonous. According to Wikipedia: the fruit and beans are edible if boiled well with several changes of the water (otherwise, toxic); the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach; the flowers can be eaten raw or steamed; the root can be boiled or baked; and the seeds can be used in tofu or tempeh.
2. Velyne Moretti: Can anyone tell me what this is? It looks like a lychee but is mushy orange inside. The birds love them and this tree is next door. The answer is Irish strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).

Angelo Eliades: The fruit is edible but very gritty, tasting like strawberries and sand mixed together!

Karin Motyer: I’m sure that you and others know that Velyne’s photo is of and Irish strawberry. [Editor: well we should know because Karin herself sent in a picture of one for our 13th May newsletter.]

Maude Farrugia: I wrote a guide to them in the latest issue of Pip Magazine, including recipe for very yum Irish strawberry jam.

Pam Jenkins: I have never tried them but you can make jam with them. I have heard that they are not very tasty just straight off the tree and that the jam is not much better!

Ros Hardy: As Velyne says, the birds love them but I am not sure if they are suitable for human consumption.

Shelley Evans: Last week I made feijoa and Irish strawberry sorbet. I then used this as flavouring for my homemade ice cream. My very fussy family loved it and want more but they will have to wait until next year’s harvest.

Stephen Onians: The fruit is edible when ripe. It has a slight narcotic effect and should not be eaten in large quantities. It makes good jelly. Your local council may have it listed as a weed.

3. Jan Akeroyd: Does anyone know what is going on with this grapefruit tree (see picture)? It is an older tree which is healthy and productive but which has multiple areas where, like in the photo, the bark is missing on its branches.

Peter Bevz: I’ve seen black cockatoos strip bark off trees.

Velyne Moretti: I think it is because the tree may have been in mild drought and must have received some big, big rain which quickly expanded the trunk, causing it to split. So nothing is wrong with the tree.

Carrie Newbold: We had a similar occurrence with our kaffir lime tree this year. We blamed rats for eating the bark. The fully ringbarked branches eventually all died. Thankfully the tree is a 3-4m monster, and has seemingly brushed off their alleged poor behaviour.

4. Gerard O’Donnell: I planted capsicum seedlings a while back. They’ve grown and fruited rather well. I expected that the fruit would change from green to red but, instead, they have stayed green and developed black stripes (see photo). Is this black colouring natural or is something wrong?

Bruno Tigani: The black or purple stripes are very likely to be anthocyanin development in the fruit. This is probably due to colder temperatures, such as the very cold nights recently, with the anthocyanins being a protective mechanism in the plant against the temperature. Many vegetables exhibit this discolouration if it gets very cold, such as purpling in broccoli. The capsicum fruits are ripening very slowly now and may not turn red at all, as it is too late in the season here in Melbourne. If the fruit did mature to full colour, then the streaks would fade and you would be left with a red capsicum.

Pauline Webb: My observations of my own capsicums when they have dark marks or lines is that it is always late in the season when there is a lack of both sun and heat. At this time of year, no capsicum can turn red. It pays to pick them before they have little visitors inside as caterpillar frass is near impossible to wash out.

Moira Tucker: I think it is just a natural mutation and/or a cross of colour types. Keep the seed and see if the colour variation is stable as it has potential as a variation!

5. Shiva Vasi: I want to get a trailer load of manure (ideally sheep or cow) for my garden, thereby avoiding plastic bags. Can anyone suggest where I can buy manure in bulk?

Angelo Eliades: Bulleen Art & Garden nursery sells bulk cow manure. You can either get it delivered, fill a trailer, or borrow the courtesy trailers that they have.

Claire Smith: Whilst it is bagged, it is possible to get free manure from the RSPCA in Burwood East. If you ring them (9224 2222) and ask for The Barn then they can tell you how to access it.

Moira Tucker: Try a wool grower as they often accumulate manure beneath their shearing shed. It is a pity that the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show was cancelled this year as there would be have been a lot of shepherds there. There are many small specialist flocks where the fibre is grown for hand spinners. The Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria (based in Carlton North) may have some useful contacts.

6. Jo Buckle: What is this on my apple tree?

Heather: Woolly aphid. Cute, but naughty.

Angelo Eliades: Woolly apple aphid (Eriosoma lanigerum). They cover themselves with white, cotton-line secretions to form a protective cottony mass. They are a common pest of apples. You can spray them with eco-oil to get rid of them.”

Judith Chivers: the latest newsletter from Leaf, Root & Fruit has an article about woolly aphids, which includes the following sentence: “Although not majorly detrimental to the tree in small numbers, in large numbers they can cause significant stress and damage the tree.

7. Vicki Jordan: What is eating my pumpkins (see picture right)? Is it birds, rats, rabbits or something else? One day they are fine and the next time I look they are eaten. The smaller ones are not on the ground but on a trellis around 1 metre high. The large ones are on the ground and just have bits taken out of them.

Rats, mice, brushtail possums, deer, kangaroos, wallabies or wombats?

Robin Gale-Baker: Rats. I once saw a half acre full of beautiful pumpkins devastated by rats overnight. Hundreds of them devoured! I picked 3 pumpkins high up in our feijoa tree before the stem withered as, the moment they ripen, the rats go for them.

Pam Jenkins: Rats. They don’t mind climbing a trellis. Unlikely to be possums as they don’t like being on the ground. I’ve never heard of rabbits eating undamaged pumpkin – I hope they don’t!

Joanne Driver: Rats. I have had the same trouble this year with tomatoes and some apples. Our cat has a daily home on the compost pile near the bins and we have seen a few results.

Kris Filmer: Rats. We have had the same problem, as well as our potatoes being eaten underground.

Peter Bevz: Rats or mice, almost certainly. I’ve had identical issues in the past. Nowadays, when my pumpkins are ripening, I check them every day and, at the first sign of any nibbling, I harvest them all.

Marsha Merory: Brushtail possum. I lost 5 pumpkins (2 golden nuggets and 3 jap pumpkins) to a large brushtail possum. I then put metal waste paper bins on my last 3 pumpkins, with 2 bricks on top of each – so far, so good.

Angelo Eliades (before seeing Duang’s response below): Rats or possums, as rabbits aren’t capable of eating veggies hanging 1 metre off the ground, and birds wouldn’t eat that much and would leave tell-tale pointed pecking marks. The simple way to tell if it’s rats or possums is to net the pumpkins: if possums are the culprit then the pumpkins will be protected by the netting, but if rats are the problem then they will chew through the netting and eat the pumpkins!

Duang Tengtrirat: Deer. When we lived in Research, our pumpkins were eaten and the carcass looked just like the one in the photo. We first blamed the kangaroos then the rabbits, both of which there were plenty. After installing a camera, however, it became clear that the culprit was actually deer (a big deer with antlers).

Angelo (after seeing Duang’s response): Kangaroos and wallabies, maybe. If you live somewhere rural, then kangaroos and wallabies, as well as deer, would also be possibles. But, unlike rodents, none of these animals would chew through netting.

And Angelo again: Wombats, maybe. At Bulleen Art & Garden nursery (BAAG), we once caught a wombat on our security cameras eating the blueberries in the driveway!

8. Sandie Downes: I have two olive trees, variety unknown. Lots of the olives are falling off. They are small and green. Any suggestions about how to use them?

Morgan Koegel: You can either preserve them (e.g. through brining) or press them into oil. For pressing, you only receive back about 10% as oil (the pip and pulp are discarded) so you need quite a lot of olives to justify undertaking this adventure.

9. Carol Woolcock: A feral tomato that has popped up in my garden. I first thought that it came from the compost but I have never bought or grown one that looks like this. It is fleshy and sweet with few seeds. Should I save some seeds to grow next season? Is it a named variety?

Stuart Rodda: It looks very similar to one I have been growing for a decade or more from saved seed (see photo). It is a Roma-like tomato called ‘reggae’, which is a smooth-skinned, smallish, indeterminate tomato (4-6cm long, 2-3cm wide). It is resistant to disease and pest attack, keeps well after ripening, develops fruit in large clusters, is not fussy about soil quality and does not need regular watering (i.e. does not split if a dry period is followed by rain). The flavour is good and it is easily sliced. All in all, an excellent tomato for most uses, albeit a bit small.

Vanessa Reynolds: It looks to me very much like one of the egg-shaped Italian types, such as Roma or San Marzano, both of which are good for passata or canning.

10. Richard Lee, from KABUU: I would like to learn about vegetables indigenous to the African continent. I’m thinking about plants we could potentially grow in Melbourne as a food crop. Having a greater diversity of species would increase food security. Which African crops could we grow in Melbourne?

Heather: Okra has been planted by an African resident at a community garden I work at in Burwood and is doing very well. [Editor: also see this Facebook post about Ajak, an okra farmer in Coburg.] Also, teff is a grain used to make artisan bakery foods, including Injera, a traditional bread in the Horn of Africa.

11. Kerryn Johnson: My son brought home a mango from a property in Brunswick that he was working at a few weeks ago. The mango had been grown in their backyard! It was a lot smaller than your average mango, with a much smaller pip/seed. As any good gardener would do, I’ve saved the seed. How should I propagate this seed and can one grow mangoes without too much work in Melbourne or am I wasting my time?

Guy Palmer: If it is the fruit that you are after, I think you would be wasting your time but, as an experiment, I think it could be quite interesting. I have both avocado trees and banana plants. With quite a lot of effort on my part (e.g. shade cloth in both Winter and Summer), these plants now thrive, and they even have baby fruit, but the fruit never mature and ripen. My understanding is that mangoes are even more difficult to achieve success with in Melbourne. However, they are included as a possible in Louis Glowinski’s book.

Angelo Eliades points out another problem: the mango seed is likely to be fertilised and thus its DNA will be a combination of both of its parents rather than a clone of its mother. So, for example, just because the mother plant is hardy enough to survive in Melbourne doesn’t mean that the seed will be. More generally, it is because most fruit trees don’t grow true to seed that they are usually propagated by grafting or cutting rather than by seed. Putting this another way, if you plant a seed from a Granny Smith apple, you might well get an apple tree but it certainly won’t be a Granny Smith apple tree. And, indeed, all the Granny Smith apple trees throughout the world have originated by grafting or cutting from a single chance Australian seedling from 1868. Finally, Angelo points out that, if Keryn decides to plant the seed, she can find mango seed planting instructions on The Western Australian Government website.

12. Tracey Bjorksten: Most planting guides say that you should plant Brussels sprouts at the same time as other brassicas (i.e. around now) but that sounds suspiciously late to me. For those of you who have grown Brussels sprouts successfully, when did you start their seed and when did you transplant out?

Angelo Eliades: In my opinion, February is the month to plant, with the harvest time of 14-28 weeks that will mean harvest in mid-June to September before it gets too hot.

Bruno Tigani: There is a large Brussels sprouts grower in Coldstream. Their transplanting season runs from November to February, growing different varieties all the way through and harvesting from March to September.

Guy Palmer: The farm that Bruno is referring to is called Adams Farms. I spoke with the farmer there, Jeremy Adams, and he confirmed Bruno’s timetable, which means that their seeds are planted from September to end December. I asked Jeremy when home growers in North East Melbourne should plant their seeds and he said that it all depended on the variety. For example, whilst Gustus is a cool season variety which should be planted in late December, Gladius is effectively a warm season variety which they plant in September. He said that people could ring him in November on 0433 396 444 and get some seedlings from him. Thanks, Jeremy!

13. Louise Nolan: I heard somewhere that you can freeze herbs in oil? Chop up the herbs, place in ice cube trays, fill with olive oil and then place in the freezer. When wanting to use place the oil cube into your cooking. Has anyone tried this? Any problems with this method?

Meera Govil: According to Jamie Oliver’s website, wash the herbs gently, dry on kitchen towel, chop finely before packing them tight in ice cube trays and covering with water before freezing. Delicate herbs like coriander, chives, dill are good for this method. More robust herbs, like rosemary, oregano, mint, lemon verbena, are better dried. My mum cuts the herbs on a coolish day, washes and dries them on a cloth kitchen towel for about 1 hour before snipping off the thicker stems and laying the herbs out in a single layer on a sheet of newspaper in semi sun. She brings them in every evening for 3 days before grinding them in a little spice grinder and then putting them into small glass bottles for her (grown up) grandchildren.

Samantha Patterson: I have tried this and continue to practice it, finding it has its place among other ways to preserve excess herbs. However, one must be aware of its limitations. The freezing process does bruise the herbs (especially softer ones like basil), and one must be careful with ‘when’ in the cooking process the oil-herb cube is added – if added at the start, the herbs can over cook and the flavour is quite different. I successfully use oil-herb cubes in soups and casseroles, or used as a ‘rub’ on toasted bread for bruschetta. It also works well for a quick light ‘stir fry’ of leafy greens like kale. And I also use this oil freezing process with crushed garlic.

14. Sue Doman: I have picked my sweetcorn too early. Will it continue to ripen?

Guy Palmer: no, sweetcorn does not ripen after being picked (technically, it is non-climacteric). I judge whether my cobs are ripe by breaking a kernel with my fingernail and seeing if any milky substance oozes out – if yes, then it is ripe.

15. Meera Govil: Does anyone know how to dry oregano and mint so that they remain green when dry?

Tracey Bjorksten: All herbs are going to fade a bit when dried so it all depends what shade of green you are aiming for. Here is a picture of my peppermint and oregano, which were dried in a Miele oven at 80 degree C, fan-forced, for probably somewhere between 30 min and 1 hour. Time will vary between batches according to the water content of the leaves, the quantity being dried etc so they need to have an eye kept on them. I consider these to be a good shade of green. The flavour is also excellent.

Robyn Currie: I just gather bunches of oregano, about a half inch in diameter, tie and hang upside down in an out of the way place in the kitchen (usually a cupboard doorknob). After a couple of weeks or more, the leaves are dry and a dark green.

16. Ann Stanley: Are micro-greens grown from special seeds or are they just densely planted and therefore stunted shoots of normal seeds?

Bruno Tigani: the seeds used for micro-green production are generally the same varieties that are used to grow full sized plants. They are sown at higher density and harvested at an early stage, often with just the cotyledon leaves.

17. Ann Stanley: Are micro-greens more nutritious than ‘macro’ greens and, if so, why?

Bruno Tigani: according to this research paper, the nutrient density in micro-green cotyledon leaves are likely higher than those of a mature plant. Among the 25 commercially available microgreens tested, red cabbage, coriander, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of ascorbic acids, carotenoids, phylloquinone, and tocopherols, respectively. However, as Bruno observes, you might eat 100gm of broccoli at a mature size compared to 10gm as micro-greens, so the absolute amount of nutrition is probably higher from eating mature broccoli.

18. Susie Scoullar: How does one make black garlic and where can it be bought locally?

Chris Newman: per Wikipedia, black garlic is made by heating whole bulbs of garlic over the course of several weeks and the taste is sweet and syrupy. You can buy it on ebay but it is very expensive (around $160 per Kg) and I am going to try making using a black garlic fermenter, which is available on ebay for around $100. Apparently, you just choose the fermenting mode and put the garlic in for up to 12 days and then afterwards let it dry for 5 days.

19. Amanda Gutierrez: Does anyone know about any classes or workshops on maintaining goats?

Pauline Webb: Sylvia Allen, wife of Pete the Permie, knows all about goats. I’ve spoken to Pete and he agrees with Pauline and said that people are more than welcome to ring Sylvia and himself to ask their questions. Phone number: 0418 665880.

Fay Loveland: PIP magazine has published a podcast interview with Maria Cameron about keeping goats in a shared backyard context. Maria is from Hibi Farm in Heidelberg West, where she shares some goats with some of her neighbours.

20. Vicki Jordan: Are there any facilities for recycling corks?

Julie Cabrol: Darebin Council has made the following bald statement: “there is currently no recycling option for corks in Australia.According to the Ecobin website, this is because corks are not virgin cork and contain other resins.

Lucinda Flynn: whilst they no longer get collected for the zoos, they are fine to put into the compost.

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