Sea goodness for your garden
Go to the beach and take a bucket with you. You’ll need at least one to carry back any seaweed that has washed up onto the sand. I use a large, flexible bucket with handles that can be pulled together, thus partly closing the top of the bucket which stops the seaweed from slopping out while I’m walking up the beach across sand or stones. Fresh seaweeds are delightful to handle, smelling freshly of sea air and salt water, but older kelp and sea lettuce can pong and you won’t enjoy having hands that smell like old sea captains! Once your seaweed harvest is safely home, you can use it in a number of ways to improve the health of plants in your garden. Applied directly to the surface of the soil, seaweed acts as a mulch, suppressing weeds and later breaking down, first to a jelly, and then a liquid that plants can take up. Seaweed soups – either anaerobic brews that moulder away in a barrel unmodified, or aerated mixes that have oxygen bubbled through them to stimulate oxygen-loving bacteria to multiply – are good for your garden, bringing with them as they do, oceanic nutrients rarely found on land.
Favourite varieties of potatoes, if still in the ground, can be lifted now, inspected and if found to be sound, set out to sprout in a shady spot and watched for progress. The soil into which they are destined to be moved can be cultivated now, weeded if weeds are an issue for you, and warmed up with a cloche if you want to get an extra-early start on the season.
If you want to increase your crop, other tubers, such as Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) can be lifted and replanted straight away into new ground. I’m moving some of these incredibly knobbly root vegetables from a patch that has become too tightly-packed as time has gone by and would benefit from thinning out. I’m also reducing the bulk of my mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) crop by harvesting the plump tubers from the clumps they formed over the winter months. I’ve been eating some and planting the rest among a few shrubs that
I think would support the climbing vines and also benefit from having a nasturtium cousin growing nearby. Nasturtiums have pest-insect management properties that would be appreciated by any other plants that suffer from the attentions of sucking and chewing insects.
*Mashua is a tuberous vine from the nasturtium family that has only been grown here recently. It’s a vigorous plant that scrambles up fences in a way that suggests it might become a problem, but as yet there are no reports of it being weedy. The tubers are edible and while they look like yams, they are not quite as fabulous when roasted as the yams we all love but still very good. They’re great in stews and soups and the flowers and leaves are edible like regular nasturtiums. There are three varieties with white, orange and yellow flesh. They grow in any soil-type but do best where the soil is rich.
I’m a shocker for leaving my spades and forks standing out in the weather. In recent days, I’ve been gathering them up and giv- This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, Get Growing, from New Zealand Gardener Magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for get growing at: getgrowing.co.nz ing them the once-over with a scrubbing brush and a square of sandpaper. My favourite tool, a graceful wooden-handled light spade, went missing for a month and when I found it, fallen into a clump of fennel, it was a little worse for wear, with rust on the blade and water stains on the handle. I buffed everything well and once again we are friends. The implement pictured is an antique edge cutter and as I have no lawn, all but useless, but I keep it because it’s elegant and if ever I rediscover a love for lawns, I’ll be ready to keep their edges straight!
CHECK YOUR GUTTERS
Clear leaves out of gutters if they have become choked over winter. Wet leaves lying on the bottom of a metal gutter will cause it to rust and that red stuff never sleeps and will eventually turn your gutter into a shower rose. Nearby trees that are contributing to the problem can be pruned below the roof level to stop any falling in, but if you don’t want to do that and don’t mind regular trips up the ladder to clear the leaves by hand, you can leave trees looking natural. You can also install mesh to keep leaves out – which sounds like a great idea and would probably keep the nesting sparrows out of my roof as well, bless their chirpy little hearts.
TREAT YOUR CHICKENS
After a winter of resting, egg laying is happening again and the hens need to be pampered
in order to produce their best work. I wander about the garden, choosing tasty tidbits for my chickens; any flowers that are yellow, fresh green leaves from anything in the grass family, brassicas, fat hen, chickweed; anything I know they’ll like and will help colour up the yolks of their eggs. I still feed grains to my hens, but in lesser amounts than in the past, as grains are expensive and there are plenty of alternative foods growing right here. Chickens are primarily insect eaters though, and scratching for those makes them most happy. I let mine out into the wider garden for part of each day so that they can find whatever they favour and at the same time, manage the insect pests.
PUT UP SHELVES
Set out your seed trays on shelves in your tunnelhouse and keep the floor clear and save your back at the same time. My tunnelhouse has hosted a range of shelves over the years, made from wire netting, trellis, bamboo and this year, slats of thin wood. All have worked well, making the job of watering, weeding and inspecting seedlings easier. I don’t have anything on them just yet, but will remedy that situation this coming weekend!
Look after your tools, like this antique edge cutter.