It’s the time to mulch again
MULCH, THEN MULCH AGAIN
I was mistaken if I thought I had a couple of weeks up my sleeve before I needed to start thinking about mulch, because just one week after filling our raised beds, our precious and pricey organic vege mix already has a thin and crispy layer on top. Mulching is crucial for vege gardens in spring and summer because it slows down water loss through evaporation and suppresses weeds (so they don’t hog all the resources your precious plants need). Plants that are stressed by a lack of water are less productive and more likely to be mauled by sucking bugs like aphids and green shield beetles. Because mulch breaks down over time, it adds organic matter to the soil too. We’re mulching with old feijoa leaves that we put though a mulcher, but you can use with whatever you can lay your hands on – lawn clippings (but not too much at once), shredded cardboard, sheep dags, bark and compost.
SET UP A REGULAR DATE WITH YOUR HOSE
I got the botanical guilts yesterday when I saw some new punnets of seedlings and a lovely red geum that is waiting to be planted keeling over in a wilted pile. I’d only watered them two days before, so it’s clear that daily watering is now on the schedule. Water seed trays, pots and hanging baskets in the morning and check them again at night. All berry and vege crops that have been planted out need plenty of water to get fruiting and while they are swelling, so give them a thorough soak once or twice a week. Lettuces and other salad greens, which are full of water, should be grown in soil that is constantly moist to avoid them drying out and becoming bitter. Check how effective your watering is by putting your thumb or a trowel into the dirt after watering to make sure you’ve penetrated the soil deeply enough. Water in the morning or evening when it is cool to avoid water loss through evaporation and remember to water around the root zone and not the leaves to avoid inviting fungal disease which thrives in warm damp conditions. For a DIY approach, bury a drink bottle upside down with its base cut off and fill it with water every few days which will then slowly seep into the soil. If you don’t have time to water or you’re going away, set up a watering system that runs on a timer.
COLLECT A HERB
I’ve decided that I’m going to grow as many types of thyme as I can: lemon, woolly, wild, golden variegated and so on. I’ll sing ‘Thyme After Thyme’ in my best Cyndi Lauper voice as I water them all. Check out the wide selection of different herb varieties available at your local garden centre or from Kings Seeds or swap cuttings with friends. To take softwood cuttings, cut off 5–8cm stems (if the new growth is too fresh it will wilt instantly, so snip the tops off if that happens), strip off the lowest leaves and poke the stems into containers of fine potting mix to grow on. Large clumps of thyme can also be divided now. Dig up your plant, work your fingers into the root ball and gently pull apart. Replant straight away.
SOW & GROWWATERMELONS
Melons aren’t the easiest summer crop to grow and can require a bit of space, but when my five-yearold, eagerly ran up to me with a seedling at the garden centre, I agreed to give up some precious space. In regions with reliably hot, long summers, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to watermelons. Sow Yates ‘Country Sweet’ or Kings Seeds snakeskinned ‘Georgia Rattlesnake’. In smaller gardens,
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
or in regions where summers can be short, plant smaller-fruiting varieties, as these are much more likely to ripen before the heat retreats. We’re growing the baseball-sized, dark-skinned ‘Sugar Baby’ (any fruit or vegetable with ‘sugar’ in the name immediately has kid appeal). Melons love hot spot and lots of water while the fruit is developing. In cooler areas, sow the seeds along the base of a north-facing wall or fence so they can soak up the reflected heat. Feed with the same liquid fertiliser you’re using for tomatoes.