#14 Tongues in Trees
Sheep and solar, Gardenias, Permaculture and Invasive Species, Oothecas, The Wonder of First Flowers, It's okay if your plants are dying
The number of love!
We hope you LOVE the fourteenth Tongues in Trees!
Sheep and Solar Panels: Can they co-exist? An Australian study says yes!
Gardenia Plant Profile
How does Permaculture Principle One help remove invasive species while minimising environmental impact?
What is that!? It’s an ootheca!
The Wonder of First Flowers
Free read: It’s okay if your plants are dying
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Grazing Animals plus Solar Panels equals Mutual Benefit
Agriculture and renewable energy are not mutually exclusive events as far as land use goes in Australia. Rather they are mutually beneficial according to a new trial in Australia.
Sheep grazing under solar panels in Central West New South Wales have produced more wool that is also higher in quality.
Growers believe that it is the shade provided by the panels that gives sheep a break from the heat as well as reducing the need for water. The panels also drip condensation on to the grass underneath in the morning, producing better fodder.
There are neighbouring farmers that have expressed concerns about the project, but overall those involved are reporting positive outcomes.
If you’d like to read more click here.
Plant Profile: Glorious Gardenias
There are few plants that can claim the visual and aromatic sensory delights like Gardenias can! This is why they are one of the exotic species that I can’t bring myself to remove when creating a native garden.
Over the years, I have learned some things about keeping Gardenias in good health so that one can capitalise on their luscious deep green foliage, delightful blooms and the wonderful aroma that spreads through the air in Spring and Summer.
Firstly, Gardenias are hungry and while they aren’t especially thirsty, they do capitalise on soil moisture. They thrive on added nitrogen as well. I have an approach that tackles both these things at the same time. I mulch them with coffee grounds. Coffee grounds make a great mulch for plants that don’t mind an acidic soil ph and Gardenia is in this group. They keep moisture in the soil and gradually leach nitrogen feeding the plant over time.
The first time that I mulched Gardenias with coffee grounds, the three large bushes in question doubled their foliage and flowered in spectacular fashion. This was during a drought in our area and I only gave them the moisture that was still in the coffee grounds when I emptied the coffee pot around the base of each bush.
The second thing that I have noticed about growing Gardenias is that they are susceptible to Magnesium deficiency. This is easily solved with an Epsom Salt foliar spray made by mixing ½ teaspoon of Epsom salts with 500ml of water. Spray liberally every 6 months or whenever you see signs of Magnesium deficiency. The main symptom is yellowing between leaf veins on older leaves.
Gardenias need well-drained, rich soil in full sun or part shade. While they are quite drought hardy they should be given some water in hot weather to ensure an attractive bush.
Permaculture Principle One: Observe and Interact
And just like that, we’re back to the first permaculture principle!
When creating a garden that promotes biodiversity it’s important to observe each and every species before interacting. At the moment, we are removing the invasive Guinea Grass (Megathyrsus maximus) from our garden.
It takes up lots of habitat, makes areas inaccessible and smothers native plants including native grasses. It also provides habitat for small birds and insects.
The ecosystem services that this grass provides meant that I insisted on observing it for a few weeks before we removed it. I was looking for the spots where small birds might be living and harvesting the seed and for the oothecas of predator species like Mantids that are very useful to control pests without using chemicals.
Unfortunately, during the observation period, the Local Council workers sprayed herbicide all over the Guinea Grass on the verge and some wafted into the grass on our property. At least it made the decision about interaction easier. Dead grasses don’t provide seed for little birds.
Cautioning my partner to go slowly, I have checked areas as he clears them and saved some oothecas. I simply took the ootheca still attached to the top of the grass and put it in a bush elsewhere in the garden. Not sure what an ootheca is? Keep scrolling…
It’s an Ootheca!
An Ootheca is a protective capsule created by certain species when laying their eggs. I put a photo of this ootheca on iNaturalist and was thrilled to get an identification. After I did some more research I am confident that this identification is correct.
It was laid by Australia’s largest Mantid, the Giant Rainforest Mantis (Hierodula majuscule). I’m so glad I saved this creature with its limited distribution and capacity to devour numerous garden pests including aphids and scale!
With any luck it will hatch out hundreds of little Mantids. I’m not sure of the species, but I am sure whatever hatches will provide services to the local ecosystem that will help my garden as I transition it from chemical control to organic control.
So, how are these hard shells created? They begin as a foam. The adult mantis produces the foam as the eggs are laid and over the next week the foam dries out and becomes the hard shell that acts as protection for the developing nymphs. They hatch in 3 to 10 weeks depending on species and climate.
I have had the experience of accidentally discovering a different species as they hatched. I managed to get it on video. If you’re interested you can see it here.
Patience is its Own Reward, but Flowers are Even Better
This week’s moment of wonder happened as I was wandering around with an Epsom Salt Foliar Spray looking for signs of Magnesium deficiency in the garden. The Native Gardenia looked lush and green with no signs of ill health, but as I gave it a single spray before moving on I saw something that I had never seen before on my own plants!
The tiny buds of new flowers have appeared for the first time! I’ve had this plant for two and a half years. They usually flower for the first time around the three or four year mark and it must have been at least a year old when I bought it! I knew this time was coming, but I was anticipating Spring flowering.
I hope it’s not a bad sign that it’s flowering out of season, but I think rather that it’s a response to moving it from a subtropical climate to it’s native tropical range.
I’m so excited! I can’t wait for the buds to develop and open and then, if I’m lucky… it might fruit!
The free read this week is dedicated to all those lovely souls who look at me sadly and say things like, “I have a brown thumb” or “I just can’t keep plants alive”. This is a story I wrote almost a year ago to explain that “It’s okay if your plants are dying”. Click here for the free reading link.
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Do you have a plant that you’d like me to profile? Leave me a comment!
Thanks, Jane. I remember when I was first introduced to permaculture, my attitude was "Never mind the theory. How do I make hot compost? Do zones matter in a small plot?" etc. Practical know-how and design issues.
It took me a little while to realise the value and wisdom that lies in the permaculture principles. Now I think they're my most valuable takeaways from the whole permaculture adventure.
Love all of this information Jane. Thank you!