Time to plot asparagus patch
PREPARE A BED FOR ASPARAGUS
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.
PREPARE FOR SPRING SOWING
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!
PLANT HERBS IN GRAVEL
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.