Seed Saving – How Long Can You Keep Seeds?

pumpkin-seeds

 

The practice of saving seeds is as old as agriculture itself, and dates back to over 10,000 years ago. Early human civilizations harvested seeds and selectively bred crop plants to create domesticated varieties which displayed specific desirable traits.

Saving seeds has many benefits in the present day too, it’s a very cost effective way to grow herbs and vegetables, it allows gardeners to develop better varieties which do best in their location and climate, it helps preserve heritage varieties and it’s a great way to increase self-reliance.

When saving seeds, it’s very important for gardeners and farmers to maintain a stock of seeds which is fresh and viable, that will germinate and grow into healthy plants when sown.

 

Storing Seed

Seeds need to be kept in a cool dry place for maximum storage life. When saving many varieties of seeds, it’s best to have some means of organising them, such as in envelopes, with the name of the plant, and the date collected marked clearly. Envelopes ideally should be arranged in alphabetical order too!

The problem with seeds is that they can’t be stored indefinitely, and to complicate the matter further, different seeds can be kept for different periods of time. Knowing how long to keep seeds can get confusing, so to make it easier, we can classify seeds into three categories:

  1. Short storage time periods – store for less than one season (< 1 year)
  2. Medium storage time periods – store for up to or at least 3 years (1-3 years)
  3. Long storage time periods – store for five years or longer (>5 years)

The seed storage list below lists all the plants in each category. Using this system, we can look at the ‘MM/YY collected’ date on the envelope, look up the plant in the list and then work out the ‘Use By’ date, which will either be 1 year, 3 years or 5 years after the collection date. Write the calculated ‘Use By’ date on the envelope too!

Here’s an example of an envelope used by a community seed bank project I jointly set up many years ago:

nlfg-stamp-info

 

Seed Storage List

Seeds not to be kept longer than one season (short time periods)

  • Corn
  • Leek
  • Onion
  • Parsnip
  • Spinach

 

Seeds can be stored up to at least three years (medium time periods)

  • Beans
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Eggplant
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Pumpkin
  • Salsify
  • Squash

 

Seeds can be kept five years or longer (long time periods)

  • Beets
  • All Brassicas (Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Collards, Kohlrabi)
  • Chicory (Endive, Escarole, Radicchio)
  • Cucumber
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Melons
  • Mustard
  • Peppers
  • Radish
  • Rutabaga
  • Sunflower
  • Tomato
  • Turnip

 

Using this system, it’s easy to tell when collected seeds are no longer viable, and need to be replaced with fresh ones!

 

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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – May

May is the last month of autumn, when the weather starts cooling down. This is a time for pruning, taking cuttings for propagation, divide perennials, and t put in new trees, shrubs and vines. The soil is also still warm enough for moving and relocating plants around the garden.

It’s also the time to clean up the garden, to remove all the dead and dried leaves, branches and plants, which is a great source of organic matter for mulching and composting!

Things to Do This Month:

  • Continue planting new trees, shrubs, climbers, annuals and perennials.
  • Continue gathering and composting autumn leaves.
  • Continue cool season green manures crops, which will be cut down and dug into the soil in spring.
  • Continue collecting and sowing seeds from berry producing trees and shrubs.
  • Continue lifting and dividing overgrown perennial plants.
  • Continue planting garlic, strawberry runners and shallot bulbs.
  • Continue pruning brambleberries after they finish fruiting – cut out the canes that fruited, and tie in the newly grown canes to the support wires on the berry trellises.
  • Winter pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs can be done in autumn or winter and can begin now.
  • Check citrus for galls caused by gall wasp and prune to remove.
  • Cut back bamboo, and use the canes next season as plants supports and stakes in the garden.
  • Repair trellises now that leaves have fallen from deciduous plants, allowing better access.
  • Check tree ties, stakes and supports. Install windbreaks and tree guards around vulnerable plants.
  • Relocate evergreen shrubs (can be done either in autumn and early spring).
  • Lift rooted hardwood cuttings produced last autumn (the year before) and plant them out to a permanent location.
  • Some perennials plants with long fleshy roots such as horseradish can be propagated by root cuttings, take root cuttings from this time in late autumn until late winter.
  • Propagate blackcurrants, redcurrants whitecurrants and gooseberries from hardwood cuttings.
  • Propagate vines such as grapes using hardwood cuttings or ‘eye cuttings’ with a single bud.
  • Propagate rhubarb by lifting root, dividing it so each piece has one or more buds and replanting.
  • Harvest and store root crops – now is the time to begin lifting parsnips from the ground, exposure to cold improves the taste.
  • Ponds should be cleaned of old plants, and overgrown marginal plants around the pond can be divided.

Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in May Harvest (weeks)
Broad beans d 12-22
Carrot d 12-18
Chives ds 7-11
Corn Salad d 5-8
Florence Fennel d 14-20
Garlic d 17-25
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Lettuce ds 8-12
Mizuna d 35-50 days
Mustard greens d 5-8
Onion ds 25-34
Oregano s 6-8
Pak Choy d 6-11
Parsley ds 9-19
Peas d 9-11
Radish d 5-7
Rocket d 21-35 days
Shallots d 12-15
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Snow Peas d 12-14
Spinach d 5-11
Strawberry Plants d 11

Key:
d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – May

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Raised Garden Beds – What Size is Best?

raised-garden-bed

What is the optimum size of a garden bed? What is the most efficient width and length in terms of human ergonomics? What is the perfect balance between cost of materials, gardening space and usability? These are important questions in permaculture energy-efficient design.

 

How Wide Should Garden Beds Be?

Accessibility is critical in garden design. If a garden bed is too narrow, useful space is lost, but if it’s too wide, then unusable space is created.

The maximum width of a garden bed is a matter of human ergonomics, it’s the distance an average adult person can reach across a garden bed from both sides to easily access all parts of it.

Ideally a garden bed should be no more than 1.2m (4‘) wide if it is accessed from both sides, as this width allows an adult to reach just past the centre from any side, giving optimum accessibility to the gardening area.

If garden beds are to be accessed from one side only, the optimum garden bed width is 60cm (2’), which is half of the width of a bed that can be accessed from both sides.

Can you easily reach past the centre of a garden bed from both sides? If you can’t it’s too wide!

 

garden-bed-ergonomics

Narrow beds use almost as much materials as wider beds to construct, since most of the materials in a garden bed are used in the length of the sides of the bed. Making the ends a bit wider only uses slightly more materials, at a slight increase in cost. The downside is that narrow beds offer far less usable gardening space. The optimum size for a garden bed is therefore one with the largest usable garden bed width which can be easily accessed and used most efficiently at the preferred garden bed length, whatever that may be.

 

How How Wide Should Garden Beds Be for Children?

When designing gardens for children, the optimum garden bed width is 90cm (36”) if it to be accessed from both sides, and 45cm (18”) if it to be accessed from one side only, such as if the garden bed is against a wall. This is an important consideration in school kitchen gardens as ease of access will better help children enjoy their first experiences of gardening.

 

How Long Should Garden Beds Be?

Garden beds can be made to any length, though it is more efficient to keep them reasonably short to save having to walk long distances around them. Energy efficiency and minimising unnecessary work are very important goals in permaculture gardening!

What most often happens with long beds is that people will walk through them rather than around them if they are low enough, which causes soil compaction, ruins soil structure, prevents water absorption, and makes it harder for plant roots to move through the soil! This is something any gardener would best avoid. If raised garden beds are too high to walk through and too long to walk around, gardening becomes a burdensome chore!

If garden beds are required to span long areas, it’s best to build multiple shorter beds. This method will use more materials and therefore be slightly more expensive, but the shorter garden beds will be structurally stronger as the end sections will only have to support shorter lengths of sides, making the structure more rigid. The use of shorter beds will also save a lot of effort and energy getting across the line of garden beds, which will make the experience of gardening much more enjoyable in the long run.

Usually, the length of garden beds is determined by the standard lengths of timber materials. For example, railway sleepers are often sold in 2.4m (8’) lengths, so using the whole length without cutting avoids waste, reduces costs, and makes construction much easier. Making a single cut in a 2.4m long railway sleeper gives two 1.2m sections, which are the maximum width for a garden bed as discussed above. So with just three railway sleepers and a single cut only, a 1.2m x 2.4m (4’ x 8’) garden bed can be constructed. Now that’s efficiency!

 

 

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Product Review – F.D. Ryan Aussie Ho-Mi Asian Style Hand Cultivator

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Looking at how other cultures garden can really expand a gardener’s horizons, and discovering garden tools that have evolved over thousands of years can make work in the garden so much easier!

I had the pleasure to test the F.D. Ryan Aussie Ho-Mi Asian Style Hand Cultivator, and I was really impressed with this tool and the multitude of tasks which it could perform.

What is a Ho-Mi I hear you ask? A Ho-Mi (pronounced Hoe-Mee) which translates to “little ground spear” in Korean is variously described as a hand plow, a miniature  plowshare or hand hoe. First developed in Korea during the Bronze Age, this ancient tool is said to have been in use for the last 5000 years and is used widely at present throughout many Asian countries.

The unique design makes the tool perfect for performing a variety of tasks such as digging, weeding, furrowing, cultivating and seed sowing.

More specifically, the Ho-Mi can be used to dig holes for planting seedlings and bulbs or furrows for sowing seed. It can then be used to fill the holes or cover the seeds that have been sown. As a precision tool it’s great for thinning out seedlings, digging weeds without disturbing nearby plant roots, and transplanting bulbs and seedlings. It’s also a very capable tool for use in in heavier gardening tasks such as cultivating, levelling and mounding the soil One tool does it all!

 

Product Description

ryset-ho-mi-hoe

The Aussie Ho-mi is made by F.D. RYAN artisan toolmakers, an Australian artisan which produces high quality handmade garden tools.

It’s pretty clear what they’re about from the mission statement on their website:

“Today we make tools of strength, function and beauty, using the materials and techniques of a bygone era. Our tools are unique yet practical, hand made for the discerning gardener who appreciates quality.”

Their catalog describes their Ho-Mi tool as follows:

“This hand forged tool is a joy to use for a multitude of jobs. You can dig holes, make planting trenches, weed and cultivate. Swan neck, Angled blade and comfortable wood handle form a natural extension to your arm and wrist.Heat treated blade is light in weight, but strong and beautifully balanced.”

These are the specifications of the tool I tested:

  • Weight: 270g
  • Total Length: 28cm (11”)
  • Handle Length: 12cm (5”)
  • Length of Blade (from back to point): 12cm (5”)
  • Blade Thickness: 2mm (5/64”)
  • Stem diameter: 10mm (3/8”)

This Ho-Mi is hand-forged from 1055 spring steel with 0.55% carbon, and it’s hardened and tempered to 50 Rockwell C. This makes it harder than a mower blade but not as hard and brittle as a kitchen knife. At this hardness it has good edge holding ability, but it’s not too brittle to chip or crack.

The Aussie Ho-Mi has a retail price of around $30, and is sold directly from the manufacturer’s website at https://www.fdryan.com/store/p2/Aussie_Ho-Mi.html

It can also be purchased in Australia through the Diggers Club and CERES permaculture nursery.

 

Product Assessment

The blade is a useful length at 12cm (5”) long, allowing it to dig deeply when weeding. The blade is forged from 2mm thick steel, which is much thicker than most garden tools. The blade is properly heat-treated and hardened, the blade pleasantly rings like a bell when struck!

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The folded design of the blade makes it incredibly strong, and it’s attached to the 10mm thick stem with a decent welding joint which is totally solid.

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The edges are ground nicely and evenly to produce a good bevelled edge which assists with cutting through roots. The blade retains its edge after extensive use, pictured below is the blade with soil still clinging to it after weeding 20 square metres of new lawn and removing four large buckets of weeds. There are no chips or dents in the edge, proof that the heat treatment has produced a blade of high hardness with great durability.

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The sturdy tang crafted from 10mm rod is well fixed in the handle, which has a brass-coloured metal ferrule to prevent splitting. The ferrule is non-magnetic so is most likely non-ferrous and will therefore not rust.

ryset-ho-mi-hoe-4

 

In the hand, the Ho-Mi cultivator feels very light and balanced, yet very strong and solid. As this is a hand-crafted artisan made tool, it has that traditional old-world feel of a tool that is built to last a lifetime and them some! It will definitely outlast most hand garden tools and also duplicate their functions.

After using the tool for a two hour weeding session, I can say that the tool can be comfortably used for hours without any problems thanks to its ergonomic design, which has been refined by practical Asian farmers and gardeners over the centuries.

Since the blade is mounted at a right angle to the handle and offset by the swan-neck shape of the shaft, it puts the hand and wrist in such a position as to avoid strain to the wrist and arm, making it great choice for older or arthritic gardeners.

It can take the place of a garden trowel and is equally at place in flower gardening as it is in vegetable gardening.

 

Weeding Test

A good test of a hoe is how well it can weed, so put this tool through its paces weeding a newly rolled out Sir Walter Buffalo lawn in which weeds had been growing for two weeks. It’s important to be very gentle when weeding new lawns to not tear up the grass roots which are still establishing.

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The curved blade is unique in that it can cut around and under a weed simultaneously, loosening the roots all round and underneath at the same time, something most weeding tools can’t do! The blade has enough length to get in nice and deep.

ryset-ho-mi-hoe-5

 

One weed removed, with its long tap root perfectly intact, and no visible holes in the lawn!

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Seedling Planting Test

So this tool can weed, but can it plant seedlings?

I used the Ho-Mi to plant lettuce seedlings in a large self-watering vegetable planter, and I found that the tool easily pulled aside the soil medium to create a nice deep planting hole. It’s easy to create cone-shaped planting holes which guide the the seedling roots straight down as they’re lowered in. Filling in the hole was equally easy and straightforward.  I was amazed at how adept the tool was at such precise tasks.

ryset-ho-mi-hoe-9

 

When digging bigger holes, I was able to use the tool to hold back the soil medium to prevent the hole collapsing as the seedling roots were lowered the full length of the blade. The wider back portion of the blade can be used to hold the soil at the top of the hole where it caves in more easily, and the tapered tip of the triangular blade leaves plenty of unobstructed space within the hole so the seedling roots aren’t pulled back up as the tool is withdrawn from the hole.

ryset-ho-mi-hoe-10jpg

 

I also discovered another use for this amazing tool. Teamed to with a trowel, the Ho-Mil is perfect for planting seedlings onto trays of clay balls in hydroponic systems. With the hand trowel inside resting against the back of the Ho-Mi blade. they can easily be pushed into a container of hydroponic clay balls, and when they are pulled apart slightly at the top, they part the clay balls enough to slip a seedling in quite deeply.

Keep in mind that it’s not possible to dig into a container of small hydroponic clay balls, it’s like trying to dig a hole in a jar of marbles, when some are moved out of the way others roll back in to fill the hole. In the past I had to empty al,the clay balls out of my hydroponic pots, place the seedlings into position roots first, then fill with the clay balls, but using this tool that is no longer necessary.

On first seeing such an unusual looking gardening implement I was unsure as to how useful a Ho-Mi would be, but I was not only pleasantly surprised, I’m totally sold on the idea now. I always had my trusty hand trowel handy as my go-to tool for day-to-day garden tasks, but now I have a garden hand tool that can do much more.

To wrap it up, this is an awesome garden tool that is good at almost everything but is probably one of the most effective weeding tools I’ve ever used, and I can definitely recommend it!

Deep Green rating for the “F.D. Ryan Aussie Ho-Mi Asian Style Hand Cultivator” is 5 stars!

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If you are interested in submitting a product for review, please contact us via email at deep_green@optusnet.com.au , thanks!

 

 

 

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Why Citrus Fruit Drops and Flowers Fail to Develop

lime-flowers-becoming-fruit-2-800 

Is your citrus tree dropping its fruit before they reach full size, or even worse, dropping the flowers before fruit even begin to form?

Trees photosynthesise to produce carbohydrates such as sugars which they store as their energy source. They can only store a finite amount, which they use to drive the growth of new leaves, branches, roots and stem. Fruiting requires a tree to divert its finite energy resources away from these vital activities into the production of flower buds, flowers and fruit.

Fruit development involves pollination followed by fertilization, growth, maturation and ripening. This process takes between 6-7 months in warmer areas, requiring a considerable amount of the trees energy resources as a result.

Trees are capable of managing their own resources, and will re-divert them in cases of emergency…

 

Fruit Drop and Plant Stress

In regions where citrus produce a single crop each year, they go through a specific sequence of growth phases as follows:

  1. Bud formation and flower initiation (mid winter)
  2. Flowering and fruit set (early spring)
  3. Fruit growth – cell division (late spring to early summer)
  4. Fruit growth – cell expansion (mid summer to early autumn)
  5. Fruit maturation (late autumn to winter)

The exception to this is in regions where multiple citrus crops are produced throughout the year. In these cases, different growth phases will be occurring simultaneously.

A citrus tree can manage its crop load quite effectively, and will only carry as much fruit as it can support. It’s natural for all citrus trees to drop excess small fruit and young blossoms in early spring to prevent overproducing. There’s no need to be too concerned about flower drop, as a citrus tree only needs 1% to 2% of the blossoms to produce a good crop, and sometimes even less than 1% is enough.

If a tree gets stressed because it doesn’t receive enough water during hot, dry windy weather, of if it is starved of nitrogen because it hasn’t been given adequate fertilizer, the fruit drop will be much heavier in spring. There can also be a minor amount of fruit drop in summer under stressful conditions.

Solution: Provide sufficient water, and water more often during hot weather and strong winds. Feed citrus with a balanced fertiliser at the start of spring (September in the Southern hemisphere,  March in the Northern hemisphere)

 

Fruit Drop and Potassium Nutrient Deficiency

Where citrus trees are bearing heavy crop loads, fruit drop can be exacerbated by low potassium levels.

Potassium, also known as potash (represented by the chemical symbol K on fertiliser labels which state an N-P-K or nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratio) is a primary macronutrient which is necessary for flowering and fruit formation. Next to nitrogen, plants absorb potassium in greater quantity than any other nutrient. Without potassium, trees stop flowering and fruiting, that’s what happens when they’re not fed regularly.

Before any smug horticulturist proclaims to you that potassium is not directly responsible for flowering and fruiting, let me say that as a horticulturist and biochemist, plant chemistry, like the chemistry of all living things is complex, but certain inputs are necessary to produce certain outputs, and the references I’ve cited at the end of this article support my statements!

To get into the science, Potassium (K) is Important for water, nutrient and carbohydrate movement in plant tissues. It also activates enzymes which facilitate complex chemical reactions within the plant – such as the production of starch, protein and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The role of ATP is to transports the energy necessary for all cellular metabolic activities in all living organisms, and in plants the production of ATP can regulate the rate of photosynthesis.

Potassium also helps regulate the opening and closing of the stomata, the openings or pores on the underside of leaves by which oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged with the atmosphere, and the loss of water vapour through transpiration is controlled. It Increases root growth which increases nutrient uptake and improves drought resistance, and also increases resistance to frost, insects and diseases. Optimum levels of potassium levels produce uniform ripening and growth rate of fruit, as well as better food quality, flavour and grade.

Agricultural extension agencies advise that large amounts of potash are needed by most plants, and that a deficiency of potassium or inadequate amounts of the macronutrient lead to stunted plant growth and reduced yields, and that potassium levels affect not only  yield, but fruit size, juice quality and shelf life.

Since potassium plays such a key role with water regulation, a deficiency would clearly increase the stresses associated with fruit drop discussed in the previous section.

Solution: Ensure that citrus trees are fertilised with a balanced fertiliser as previously discussed. Additional potassium can be supplied by using seaweed extract (which is not fertiliser but contains a good amount of potassium), wood ashes (used in tiny quantities only as it’s very alkaline), or sulphate of potash (potassium sulphate) – all these are certified as acceptable in an organic garden.

Don’t ever use potassium chloride as it can be toxic to plants, it’s the cheap nasty alternative that fertiliser manufacturers substitute to save money!

Even if there are sufficient potassium levels in the soil, they may not be accessible to plants, unless we make certain improvements.

 

Improving Plant Uptake of Potassium

There are several factors that can affect potassium uptake by plants:

  • soil moisture
  • soil aeration and oxygen levels
  • soil temperature

Higher soil moisture levels increase potassium availability to plants by enhancing the movement of potassium to plant roots.

As soils get wetter and closer to saturation, where they become waterlogged, potassium uptake decreases, because air is excluded from wet soils and oxygen levels become very low. Air is necessary for both root respiration and potassium uptake.

All plant physiological activity, including root activity, increase as soil temperature increases, leading to increased potassium uptake, with the optimum soil temperatures being between 16-27°C (60-80°F)

Solution: Water enough but don’t overwater, and mulch the soil in late spring to keep the soil temperatures in the optimum range during very hot weather and to reduce water loss to evaporation.

 

Other Factors

Sometimes there may be several factors causing increased fruit drop in citrus. How does the fruit drop mechanism work in fruit trees?

Fruit drop (also known as fruit abscission) is regulated by the balance of two endogenous (meaning from within) plant hormones, auxin and ethylene. When the ratio of ethylene to auxin is higher, it induces the enzymes which dissolve cell wall components in the abscission zone between the fruit and stem (peduncle) at the button, which separates the fruit from the tree.

Ethylene is produced in response to stress factors such as water stress, physical injuries, frost damage, and decay of the fruit. When the fruit is injured, ethylene gas production is triggered, which may cause fruit to drop.

If citrus trees are planted in poorly drained soil, extended hot, rainy weather in late late summer to early autumn may lead to root root and cause excessive fruit drop in mature trees

Additionally, if the lower branches of the tree canopy are shaded out and don’t receive adequate light, the fruit is quite likely to be shed from those branches. Prune citrus to an open vase shape to ensure good light penetration through the canopy, which is important for even fruit ripening.

 

 

References: 

  • University of Arizona Cooperative Extension – Diagnosing Home Citrus Problems, AZ1492 April 2009 – John Begeman, Glenn Wright
  • University of Georgia Extension – Citrus Fruit for Southern and Coastal Georgia, Bulletin 804, 20154 – Gerard W. Krewer, Bob Westerfield
  • LSU AgCenter – Citrus Problems, 3/21/2015 – Daniel Gill 
  • University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension – Citrus Problems in the Home Landscape, Publication #HS876 – Mongi Zekri and Robert E. Rouse
  • University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Extension – Citrus Nutrition Management Practices, HS1292 – J. D. Burrow, T. Vashisth, M. Zekri, S. H. Futch, and A. Schumann
  • Virginia Cooperative Extension – VCE Publications / 426 / 426-613, Environmental Horticulture: Guide to Nutrient Management – Diane Relf, Extension Specialist, Horticulture, Virginia Tech
  • University of Minnesota Extension – Potassium for crop production
  • New South Wales Department of Primary Industries – Growing lemons in Australia- a production manual
  • Potassium Nutrition in Plants, Fact Sheet. A&L Canada Laboratories Inc.

 

 

 

Posted in Gardening Information, Pests, Diseases & Problems, What's New! | 2 Comments

For Melbourne Australia readers – Monash Climate Change Survey

Monash-climate-change

The Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub are running a column under Leader Local Newspapers, featuring local climate stories from everyone across Melbourne to help improve how we understand climate change.

Changing Climates will be the first dedicated climate column in Australian newspapers. It will bring the climate discussion back into the community by publishing your opinions alongside established climate science.

If you live in Melbourne, help us improve how Melbournians understand climate change and share your experience in your local Leader newspaper by completing this quick 5-minute survey link: bit.ly/MonashCC

The answers will not be used for research purposes.

Supported by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation

 

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Identifying and Growing Edible Aloe Vera

edible-aloe-vera-barbadensis-800

Aloe vera is a hardy succulent semi-tropical plant which is native to North Africa and the SW Arabian Peninsula, but at the present time can almost be found worldwide. It’s a very tough plant which will grow in poor soil and hot, dry sunny  locations, but can also be grown as an indoor plant in a near a window with bright natural light

The thick leaves contain a gel which is commonly used externally to treat skin irritation, minor burns, sunburns, itching due to allergies and insect bites, sores and skin ulcers. Aloe vera is possibly the oldest and the most used medicinal plant worldwide, its recorded medicinal use dates back historically to well over 2,000 years.

There is a growing interest in the health benefits of Aloe vera juice currently, and as a result some people are deciding to grow their own plants for the purpose. It’s important to understand that there are different varieties of Aloe vera, and the common variety for burns is not meant to be eaten, it’s just meant to be applied to the skin.

Lets look at the differences between the Aloe vera varieties, so we can distinguish the edible variety from the non-edible one.

 

Which Aloe Vera Variety is Edible?

There is more than one variety of Aloe vera, and Aloe vera barbadensis miller variety is usually mentioned as the most beneficial variety of Aloe vera, and as the edible one. Trying to find this Aloe vera is made much more difficult thanks to the botanists who have made a complete mess of the names!

To quote the San Marcos Growers website article on Aloe vera:

“The scientific name assigned to this aloe has been changed several times in the last few years from Aloe vera to Aloe barbadensis and then back to Aloe vera. It seems that this controversy dates back to the two names being published a couple weeks apart back in April of 1768. In “The Illustrated Handbook of Succulent Plants: Monocotyledons” (Edited by Urs Eggli, Springer-Verlag 2001) L.E. Lewis, the author on the section Aloaceae, lists the plant as Aloe vera (Linné) Burman and notes that Linné (Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus) did not pubish the combinations of Aloe vera as a numbered species and that Gilbert Westacott Reynolds in “The Aloes of tropical Africa and Madagascar” (1966) argued that the name should be A. barbadensis but had overlooked the combination published by N.L. Burman (not later than April 6, 1768), which has priority over Miller’s name [A. Barbadensis]. Lewis cites as reference for this information L.E. Newton’s article “In defence of the name Aloe vera” in the the “Cactus and Succulent Journal of Great Britain” (1979:41-2).”

Currently, according to botanists, all these names refer to the same plant:

  • Aloe vera
  • Aloe barbadensis
  • Aloe vera var. barbadensis
  • Aloe vera var. chinensis

In the real world, horticulturists and growers differentiate the edible and non-edible Aloe vera varieties in a much simpler way, even if it’s not supposedly academically correct.

  • Edible Aloe vera is referred to as Aloe vera barbadensis, Aloe barbadensis or Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller.
  • Non-edible Aloe vera is referred to as Aloe vera var. chinensis

How do we tell the different Aloe vera plants apart?

Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller has thick, wide, fleshy upright leaves which are gray-green in colour, and produces yellow flowers.

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Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller has a green to grey-green colour and a very distinct circular rosette form

 

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Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller closer view of the plant

 

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Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller showing thickness of leaves

 

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Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller showing width of leaves, exceedingly broad at the base

 

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Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller showing width of leaves from underside

 

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Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller plant structure, with few very thick leaves forming a rosette shape

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Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller plant, showing the distinct difference between the spotted younger leaves, and the mature leaves, which have no spots

 

Aloe vera var. chinensis has less thick, narrow spotted leaves and produces orange flowers. This is the Aloe vera variety that is commonly sold for treating burns.

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Aloe vera var. chinensis has a blue-green colour (not shown well in these photos) and a very different form, somewhat flatter and stacked rather than a rosette

 

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Aloe vera var. chinensis closer view of the plant

 

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Aloe vera var. chinensis showing both the mature and young leaves are spotted, leaf markings are retained right through to maturity

 

The tubular yellow or orange flowers of Aloe vera plants are grown high on long stems in spring to summer once the plants reach a certain level of maturity, usually when they’re around four years old.

A more definite way to identify the Aloe vera barbadensis Miller variety is by comparing the young and the mature leaves, they will look different. The pups (baby plants growing at the sides of the parent plant) and young leaves on the mature plants will be ‘spotted’, they will have many white or pale green markings, which will vanish as the plant matures and the leaves get larger and thicker. The leaves are also green or grey-green in colour.

With Aloe vera var. chinensis the spotted leaves will not change as they mature, the young and the mature leaves look the same, with the only difference being in their size. The leaves are a different colour, more of a blue-green.

As a side-by-side comparison, I cut a mature leaf of Aloe vera var. chinensis (it’s the narrow leaf, the non-edible variety that’s applied to the skin only), against a mature leaf of Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller growing in a large pot.

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On the left, a leaf of non-edible Aloe vera var. chinensis compared to a leaf of edible Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller. Note the difference in thickness, colour and the leaf markings.

 

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On the front, a narrow spotted mature leaf of non-edible Aloe vera var. chinensis compared to a much wider plain-coloured mature leaf of edible Aloe vera barbadensis var. miller behind it.

 

Growing Aloe Vera

Aloe vera grows in full sun to part shade, is very drought tolerant, and will tolerate cold, it’s hardy to -2°C (28°F). It grows naturally in hot, humid climates with high rainfall, in well drained soils with high organic matter. It does best with an annual rainfall of 500mm or more.

Even though Aloe vera will grow in most soil types, it doesn’t like ‘wet feet’, where the soil stays wet and soggy for long periods, especially during colder weather. Dig in compost before planting to help with drainage in clay and other water-retentive soils.

In locations which are too shady, Aloe vera plants becomes weak and vulnerable to disease, so it’s best to ensure they get sufficient light when grown outdoors.

When growing Aloe vera in a pot or container, it’s important to use a very well draining potting mix such as ‘cactus and succulent mix’, and most gardeners use terracotta pots to grow them in because they drain much better. Water frequently in hot, dry extreme weather as Aloe vera plants growing in pots can get quite burnt and wilted if they are in a harsh, exposed open position and their water supply runs short.

Indoors, Aloe vera is often grown in the kitchen or bathroom for emergencies to deal with minor burns and skin irritations. It will grow well near a bright window which receives midday and afternoon sun. Let the pot dry out before rewatering, and ensure that the pot doesn’t sit submerged in a saucer of water. Avoid placing plants too close to the glass as there isn’t much air circulation and a lot of localised heat build up when a strong sun shines through. The non-edible Aloe vera var. chinensis is a much better plant for growing indoors on a kitchen bench, as it’s a much smaller plant and can be kept quite compact.

With both Aloe vera varieties, harvest the older outer leaves when required. If you need to create more plants, give the plants time to grow and they’ll multiply prolifically, whether in a pot or in the ground. Gently pull up the offshoots or pups growing around the parent plant and repot them, that’s all there is to it! Propagating Aloe vera is very easy and enjoyable, and a great way to create an endless amount of plants!

 

 

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