Tendrils: Edible fuchsia berry still flowering in November

Hello! Welcome to Tendrils, my weekly round-up of weekend plant-related reading. It’s still quite mild in the garden, and the fuchsia berries are flowering their little hearts out. It would look lovely, if it would stop raining!

Scientists have been investigating how African farmers make fertile soils using charcoal and kitchen waste. It’s akin (we suppose) to the Terra preta (dark earths) of the Amazon region, except it’s an ongoing process we can study.

Drones and citizen scientists in Australia are doing a spot of water hyacinth surveillance. Native to the Amazon basin, this aquatic plant has made a home for itself in many parts of the world, and can be considered invasive. So much so that, although apparently it is Britain’s favourite pond plant, it has been banned by the EU. Perhaps this means we’ll get it back after Brexit 😉 It doesn’t go particularly nuts here, it prefers a warmer climate, and it could be considered a very useful plant, according to Water Hyacinth Woes:

Water hyacinth is a good cattle fodder, chicken feed, mulch. dry fuel, mushroom growing medium, cigar wrappers, furniture and fertilizer. It is also a fantastic biomass for making alternative fuels.

Perhaps it would make a valuable addition to a space garden! Astronauts on the ISS started a third crop of space lettuce last month. They should be about ready to move onto growing something more exciting 🙂

Mind you, those of us who do choose to grow something a little unusual do have to be careful. A gardener who has been cultivating his allotment for 10 years is being evicted for growing nettles. He’s actively cultivating nettles as a crop, for soup, and for their wildlife value. Perhaps he could try tying himself to the railings with homemade nettle cordage as both a protest and a demonstration of the utility of his unusual crop.

Mind you, even conventional crops can be given superpowers. As well as packing a nutritional punch, spinach can be turned into a living bomb detector, showing the location of landmines and other buried munitions. Apparently ‘bionic’ plants could be engineered to detect almost anything, “for defence applications, but also to monitor public spaces for terrorism related activities, since we show both water and airborne detection.”

But I don’t think they’d be good for soup, unlike sweet potatoes, whose history in the UK goes back further than you think. Sadly, Henry VIII’s gardeners didn’t manage to crack growing them in the English climate, so we’re still working on that. Spare a thought for the South Pole gardeners who will be growing fresh fruit and vegetables for the German Neumayer III polar station in the new EDEN ISS greenhouse next year. They may have state-of-the-art, space age technology, but they’ve also got Antarctic conditions!

T&M cloche offer
It’s not quite an Antarctic greenhouse, but a cloche can go a long way to keeping your crops happy in winter!

And on that note, I will bid you adieu and farewell. Wrap up warmly if you’re gardening this weekend, and I will catch up with you next week for another exciting edition of Tendrils 🙂