Dig those spuds
LIFTING and harvesting potatoes isn’t all that simple; it’s a job that needs to be done with great care because hidden tubers are so vulnerable to being spiked.
It can be heart- breaking when that happens, mainly because of the waste. A garden fork is best, but be sure to drive it in well clear of the main potato plant.
I prefer to first loosen the soil on the outside and use my hands to stroke it away, working towards the centre of each plant until I strike the first outside spud.
The fork can then be boldly driven in underneath a plant and levered upwards to bring the rest of the potato cluster to the surface. After a while, you’ll have an entire row of potatoes sitting on the surface.
It’s a good idea to roughly hose them down to blast off any soil, then leave them out in the sun for a couple of hours to dry.
Always store potatoes out of the light, otherwise they turn green and poisonous. Most keep in good condition for about seven months – although they sprout during winter. It’s a quick and easy job to de- sprout them before storing them back under cover. This stops potatoes from going extra soft towards the end of storage.
The bed in which potatoes were grown can immediately start growing a crop of unrelated vegetables. There’s still time for a late sowing of carrots, parsnips and beetroot for excellent winter and spring eating.
No fertilisers are needed for these root crops.
It helps if the soil is raked level, then given a very deep soaking before sowing the seeds. This provides a valuable reserve of moisture for the shallow- sown seeds during the vulnerable, 10 to 15- day germination period in hot weather.
Most peas and broad beans have already been harvested. Use a sharp hoe to chip away all withered surface debris, leaving the nitrogen- rich roots in the ground.
The best follow- on crop after legumes such as peas and beans is always nitrogenhungry leaf vegetables. They include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, silverbeet and lettuce, which are best obtained from garden centres as punnets of small, sturdy seedlings.
Before planting, dig in lots of old manure and pelletised poultry droppings, supplemented with blood and bone.
If you can get good, relatively fresh bags of mushroom compost, dig this in too – but avoid buying old, wet, stinky stuff because it has probably turned sour and is harmful to young seedlings.
After working in the fertilisers, water the bed almost to saturation and leave to drain for a day. Plant leaf vegetable seedlings during the evening and always into wet holes. This allows proper root establishment overnight – otherwise the leaves wilt and collapse in strong sunlight.
English spinach and Asian brassicas can also follow legumes.
Unlike European brassicas, they are best grown directly from seed, sown where they finally mature.
They resent transplanting and respond by bolting uselessly to seed.
Fortunately, they thrive best when growing towards cooler weather and as daylight hours are reducing.
However, like all leaf vegetables, they need a regular supply of water and applications of heavily diluted fish emulsion every week.
Most long- keeping onions and garlic should have been harvested by now. The vacant beds are ideal for growing late- season radishes, turnips and kohlrabi.
All are grown directly from seed. It is already too late for swedes, although it’s worth taking a chance with the quick- growing, deliciously sweet NZ butter swedes because they are so much smaller. They would be ready to eat in June and July.