Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rum, Botany and the Lash..

Quiz time. Which of the following are true berries in the botanical sense?

(a) raspberry (b) potato (c) strawberry (d) Chilli (e) blackberry (f) banana or (g) pumpkin?

The correct answer is: potatoes, chillies, bananas and pumpkins - all of which are "true" berries in the botanical sense. Meantime raspberries, strawberries and blackberries are not. It’s all something to do seeds and pulp coming from a single ovary you see - that and smug botanists. 

The sort of stubborn, contrarian, pointy headed, sciency insistence that says potatoes are berries and berries are not, is just one reason why I happen to believe botany is among the barmiest sciences. History’s big bots deployed more money than sense - cruising the planet’s nether regions in hideously expensive expeditions to "discover" plants in their naturally occuring habitat, uproot them, rename them a “tippitiwitchet” or whatever, and then transplant them elsewhere on the planet where they’ve no business being.

Mad botanists...putting plants where they've no business being.
This was generally accompanied, like releasing rabbits in Australia or mink in Ireland, without a fiddlers for the environmental consequences.Here in Ireland mad bots brought us the parasitic mistletoe to suck life from our oak trees (James MacKay of Trinity College) and bad bots at the Botanic gardens in Kew and Edinburgh happily distributed Japanese knotweed to the masses throughout these islands setting it off to become our most destructive invasive species.

T’was the most renowned bot of all time, Sir Joseph Banks (founder of the Royal Society) who lobbied to have HR genius William Bligh appointed to captain the Bounty - the ship Banks designed to run a thousand breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indes. Banks wanted the breadfruit (not native to the Indes) to feed slaves who were chopping sugar cane (also not native to the Indes).
Captain William Bligh...mutiny consultant.
Despite Banks being cast adrift for months with Bligh after the resulting mutiny, Banks subsequently fixed it for Bligh to be appointed Governor of New South Wales. There the harbour was so overrun with busy bots that they named it “Botany Bay.” The result of Bligh landing was the Rum Rebellion in which he caused a whole province to mutiny. The ironic ending to this sorry tale of rum, botany and the lash came with the point flat refusal of the sugar slaves of to chow down on Banksy’s bread fruit.

But back to berries and false-berries.

July being peak berry time in Ireland, Plot 34 and my back garden are yielding strawberries, raspberries, red currants and gooseberries. I’ve had a less impressive crop of blackcurrants this year due to drainage issues (the allotment holder next door dug a trench behind them) but otherwise things are berry good indeed.

Look at the goji's on that!!
These days mad amateur botanists like my Dad (who’s been inviting all and sundry out back to have as look at his gojis) don’t need vast inheritances to take them sailing around the world in search of exotic plants -  they can simply pop down to Lidl, Aldi or their garage forecourt - the latest venue to flog foreign fruit bushes.Given their growing superfood status, this year Gojis are red hot around the world. From the Himilayas, the berries are extremely high in antioxidants indeed but have also been attributed with all sorts of quack claims including that they cure cancer and impotence.

The Chinese claim that Gojis were an vital part of the miracle diet that helped local herbalist, Li Quing Yuen to live to be 256. Research backs up the claims that the goji guzzler who died in 1933, was actually born in 1677 along with unearthing Imperial documents which detail official congratulations bestowed on Yuen for his 150th birthday in 1827 and his 200th in 1877.So it’s no wonder the world is going mad for the hugely expensive Gojis. But plant importation has not been without issue. In the UK there have been claims that plants imported from China via Holland (for a eurozone passport) carry diseases which threaten domestic tomato and potato crops.
Quing Yuen at 255 and not looking a day under 156
Experts there have urged buyers to take on locally developed plants.Alternatively here in Ireland you can just go out and dig one up. Thanks to mad bots, gojis have already been growing wild here for centuries. They’re mostly located in coastal areas with the biggest population existing the Wexford and Waterford shores where they’re better known as the Duke of Argll’s Tea Plant. Just make sure you get the right berry bush.What these naturalised pioneers prove is that gojis have no problem at all with Irish conditions and soils. They’ll also grow well in the shade and in containers and offer the change to bound your garden with a superfood producing hedge.

Bulletin boards online show that an untoward number of buyers end up with massive plants but no berries. The secret is pruning and feeding. Gojis are extremely heavy feeders and quickly clear the soil of nutrients. To keep cropping heavily they need manure or organic feed but not commercial chemical based fertilisers which produce leaf growth but no berries. Meantime there’s almost no information out there about proper pruning. If someone knows the proper procedure, tell me and I’ll pass it on.

Personally, I have less problems questioning the introduction of north american blueberries to Ireland because they’re so similar to the native fraughan as not to  make a difference. Also, like the bog bound fraughan they can’t self seed in average standard Irish soils because of their acid preference.  Blueberries are another superfood with high antioxidant qualities.

Cranberry plants complete the list of johnny foreigner come-latelys. The sprawling ground crawler takes a lot of space and like the blueberry, it requires a damp acid soil. If you must persist, try growing them on the top part of a two tier raised bed system so the limbs can hang downwards.

Some recently deceased cranberries yesterday

Plant them with upwards growing blueberries to maximise the space and this arrangement also allows better control of the soil conditions. Feed them with Rhododendron/azalea fertiliser.As for advice on your bananas and pumpkins, ask a dotty bot.

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