A Gardener’s Diary

Some of you may have found certain plants difficult to root from hardwood cuttings, such as certain mussaendas. This can often be corrected by a technique called ‘wounding.’ This involves drawing the tip of your knife blade quite firmly down the last inch of a cutting and making a shallow incision through its skin. A more severe wound can be made about a sixteenth of an inch wide and an inch long with a sharp knife. This is because the production of new roots by the cells of the cambium layer of cells found just below the ‘skin’ of cuttings is stimulated. Used in combination with a hormone rooting powder rubbed into the wound you make, this will normally produce results.

A cheerful thought for the week: try and kill a few bugs every day of the year.

I am quite sure that every gardener in the land has worries about certain plants in the garden showing signs of stress. It’s a sobering thought that every acre of growing plants will use over ten tons of water each day, or over half a gallon a square yard to keep growing, so once again I urge you to conserve what is already in the soil by putting down a mulch – even during the rain. Many of the ferns, orchids, and plants from the shade zones of the tropical rain forests grow better in moderate shade and high humidity in our gardens. In our shade shelters we need to syringe the plants a couple of time each day, and the floors and the benches need to be kept moist in order to maintain a high level of humidity. This will reduce water loss from the leaves of plants, and the need to water them so often.

This month our American friends will be celebrating one of their most important holidays: Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday of November and it is usually celebrated with a feast of gargantuan proportions for family and friends. It is on quite a different scale from the very first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Europeans who survived that first awful winter in their new homeland. Their survival was due in large measure to the help given them by the friendly Indians who gave them maize which not only prevented large-scale starvation, but provided them with sufficient seed to plant 25 acres of land the following spring, and which they eventually called ‘corn on the cob.’ Perhaps the start of the gigantic cornflakes industry? Maize has fed people from Brazil to Canada for thousands of years. It was the staple of the Aztecs, Incas, and Mayan peoples a long time before those early colonists received theirs, and it is still one of the world’s most important cereals. It is also an easy plant to grow and there are still some very good ornamental forms available from North America if you can get some friends to post seed to you.

In Guyana I prefer to sow seed in pots and transplant them when they are large enough to handle, say about 4″ to 5″ tall. Maize can also be sown about one to one-and-a-half inches deep direct into the ground where you want it to grow. Ground preparation is important because maize is a very heavy feeder and repays heavy applications of manure worked into the ground before planting, followed by a heavy surface mulch after planting. This acts as a sponge for water during the dry spells. Maize is also wind pollinated and is much more likely to give heavy yields when a block of the plants is planted rather than just a few in rows or singly. The reason for this is simple. It is that pollination (and therefore cob production) is more likely to occur when the pollen is blown through a block of plants growing close together. The female flowers develop extra long styles (which growers call ‘silks’) which hang in the breeze waiting for pollen to blow onto them. After fertilization the cobs form and are ready for picking about the time that the silky strands have dried up and turned brown. One further problem. I remember growing a crop of maize in England, and having a large number spoiled by rats and mice. That could happen here of course, and it may be necessary to put down bait. But be very careful if you have pets and may your God go with you.

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