Time to plot as­para­gus patch

Kapi-Mana News - - OUT & ABOUT - BARBARA SMITH


If you’ve got space, an as­para­gus bed will re­ward you with spring treats for many years. Look out for bare-rooted as­para­gus crowns ap­pear­ing at gar­den cen­tres from the end of July or order from NZ’s only as­para­gus breeder, Dr Peter Fallon, at As­para Pa­cific. Keep dormant crowns in a tray of damp pot­ting mix un­til the soil warms up to around 12°C – mid-Septem­ber up north but wait un­til Oc­to­ber down south – to avoid the risk of them rot­ting.

Mean­while get their per­ma­nent home ready. An as­para­gus bed will pro­duce for more than 20 years so it’s worth putting the ef­fort in. Choose a spot in full sun with good drainage where you can keep it wa­tered. Dig it over and in­cor­po­rate com­post, blood and bone, sheep pel­lets, aged an­i­mal ma­nure for added hu­mus and dolomite lime for a slightly al­ka­line pH (6.0-6.5). Let it set­tle for a few weeks be­fore plant­ing. Hoe down any weeds that pop up and dig out peren­nial weeds. You might want to add an in­su­lat­ing layer of weed­sup­press­ing mulch as well.

When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole 20cm wide and 20cm deep with a flat base for each crown. Al­low 20cm be­tween each – a di­ag­o­nal grid pat­tern makes ef­fi­cient use of space. Dig­ging 20cm wide trenches will speed things up if you have a lot of plants. A stag­gered dou­ble row al­lows you to pick the spears with­out walk­ing on the beds, but there’s room for more plants in large rec­tan­gu­lar beds and it’s much eas­ier to con­tain the ex­u­ber­ant but rather messy ferny fronds.

Dr Fallon rec­om­mends cov­er­ing as­para­gus crowns with 5cm of loose

soil. This will en­sure they get away to a strong start. Dur­ing the fol­low­ing sum­mer and au­tumn slowly fill the trench with soil as you hoe any weeds on the sides of the trench. By the fol­low­ing winter, the trench should be filled with soil and the sur­face should be flat again.


If you grow toma­toes, egg­plants, and chill­ies from seed it’s time to get crack­ing in order to have ro­bust seedlings ready to plant in Oc­to­ber or Novem­ber. Make sure you’ve got ev­ery­thing ready, even if you don’t ac­tu­ally start sow­ing un­til Au­gust. Sort out your seed stash and buy re­place­ments or try some new va­ri­eties. Clean pun­nets and seed trays. Buy fresh seed-rais­ing mix. Make some plant la­bels. Above all, work out how you are go­ing to keep your seed trays warm and shel­tered. Many seeds won’t ger­mi­nate if the soil is too cold. For ex­am­ple the op­ti­mum soil tem­per­a­ture for ger­mi­nat­ing toma­toes is 20-25ºC. Kings Seeds has the ger­mi­na­tion tem­per­a­tures for their seeds on­line and in their cat­a­logue. Heat pads with a ther­mo­stat are a bit pricey but last for years and are worth it if you are grow­ing a lot of plants from seed. To cut costs, look for sec­ond-hand ones on com­mu­nity sites such as www.neigh­bourly.co.nz. Home­made heat pads can be made from LED rope lights or re­cy­cled wa­terbed heaters. But be care­ful! Wa­ter and elec­tric­ity are not a good mix. Be sure they don’t over­heat and cook your plants. For smaller batches of seedlings think about the warm spots in your house like on the top of your fridge. At my place, the un­der­floor heat­ing works a treat but I imag­ine this wouldn’t work for house­holds with ei­ther pets or tod­dlers!


I love the look of herbs grow­ing in my stone paths and they smell won­der­ful when I brush past them. Low-grow­ing herbs stop soil from wash­ing off slop­ing beds and con­ceal awk­ward cor­ners and gaps where re­tain­ing walls don’t meet the paths. How­ever, to grow well, thyme, mar­jo­ram, sage and rose­mary all need good drainage. At my place, the wa­ter ta­ble is just be­low the top of the stones for weeks at a time over winter. The herbs sur­vive be­cause each one has a pocket of gravel un­der­neath. If your patch doesn’t have the con­di­tions these Mediter­ranean 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 herbs pre­fer you can mod­ify a spot to suit them. Dig a hole four times wider and twice as deep as the root­ball of the herb. Put a layer of gravel or crushed sco­ria in the bot­tom. Be gen­er­ous and al­low for the size of the full-grown plant – a 2-litre con­tainer’s worth for thyme but half a bucket for a large rose­mary. Place the plant so that the top of the root­ball will be level with the sur­face of the stones or other mulch. Back­fill the plant­ing hole with the orig­i­nal soil mixed with more gravel. Al­ter­na­tively, grow herbs in pots, raised beds or small mounds to help keep the roots out of cold, wa­ter-logged soil over winter.

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