Term 1 – Week 7 – Alternative crops & Seed sowing

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Bridge over the Clyde river in Alexandra

The main crops currently grown in Central Otago are grapes/wine, cherries, apples and summer fruit. This week we looked into alternative crops for Central Otago; crops that will grow well here, will potentially have a market and can be grown on a smaller scale than traditional crops.

Some ideas are: berries, olives, saffron, strawberries (maybe hydroponic), walnuts and peonies.

Saffron (Crocus sativa) is an autumn flowering crop so it could fill a gap for some growers after their main summer harvest. The corms start sprouting in April with the flowers coming shortly after. Flowers need to be picked before they open, then the stamens are removed and dried. The plants then continue to grow throughout winter and are dormant over spring and summer.

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world so there can be high returns – 1kg = $20,000 – but you need so many flowers to get the quantities needed. It takes 150,000 flowers to get 1kg of saffron. Corms can be lifted and divided about every 3 years.

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Branch tied down for better positioning

There was another session on tree training for the young cherry trees. This time on the central leader style – one main vertical trunk with several layers of near horizontal branches at right angles. String is used to tie down the branches into the right positions. This needs to be done while the trees are still young and supple enough to be manipulated.

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Jeanine with her finished tree

In propagation this week we spent some more time on seeds and dormancy treatments to start germination.

  1. Stratification – treating seeds with moisture, cold for a certain number of weeks. Usually need for plants that come from a cold climate.
  2. Scarification – rub with sandpaper to break the seed coat allowing moisture to imbibe.
  3. After ripening – warm dry storage after collection

I found it interesting that some seeds need total darkness to germinate, like cyclamens.

To sow the seeds we used a ‘seed raising mix’ made up of 50% potting mix and 50% sand. The sand allows a lot of oxygen to circulate around the seed. You don’t want the seeds to get too wet. Spread the seeds out and cover with vermiculite to twice the diameter of the seed. You could use a thin layer of potting mix instead.

Damping off is a fungal disease that causes problems for seeds and seedlings. It causes mushy spots on seedlings and withering at the base of the stem. Seedlings will collapse and die. Damping off can be prevented by not over watering seeds, using new uncontaminated potting mix and by cleaning seed trays in a chlorine solution.

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Collected seed ready for sowing

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Clematis marata collected from Mt Rosa – old seed so I sowed the lot

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Greenhouse 1 is full of freshly sowed seeds

On Friday we had the Central Campus Plant and Food Fair. It was a really fun day. Lots of plants were bought (one couple spent $800 just on lavender plants!) and the food put on by the cookery students was delicious.

Last week’s weather:

weather

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