Time to get those tulips sorted

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - FRONT PAGE - RACHEL CLARE

If you want to tip­toe through tulips in Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber, May is the month to plant them. If you live in awarmer area of the coun­try, ide­ally you should have been chill­ing your tulips for six weeks prior to plant­ing.

Tulips orig­i­nate from moun­tain­ous coun­tries, with colder win­ters than ours, so ar­ti­fi­cial chill­ing is necessary to al­low the bud to com­plete de­vel­op­ment and to en­sure the plants have nice, long stems.

How­ever, your spring need not be ru­ined if you haven’t done this. Paul Hoek from NZ Bulbs says that if you chill tulip bulbs now for three to four weeks and plant them in early June, this should be fine. Put the bulbs in the fridge in a pa­per bag and keep them away from your fruit and veges that pro­duce the ripen­ing gas eth­yl­ene which can pre­vent flower and root for­ma­tion.

Al­ter­na­tively, plant your bulbs at least 20cm deep where the soil is cooler. Work the soil to at least 35cm to al­low space for root de­vel­op­ment.

Tulip bulbs from NZ Bulbs are still avail­able and as they’re based in Feild­ing, they’ve al­ready had a de­cent amount of chill. They may not look pretty (the broad beans; not my hands), but th­ese win­ter toughies will ger­mi­nate even where night tem­per­a­tures plunge be­low zero, and they’re bril­liant in sal­ads and stir-fries or teamed with ba­con in pasta, and it’s now a` la mode to puree them with mint or pecorino.

Sow broad bean seeds suc­ces­sively be­tween now and mid-June. Soak the seed overnight, then plant them di­rectly into pre­pared soil at a depth of 4cm and 15cm apart. Most va­ri­eties grow to at least 1m high so will re­quire stak­ing. Wa­ter seeds deeply after plant­ing, then make sure you give them ad­e­quate wa­ter through­out the grow­ing sea­son, par­tic­u­larly when they flower and set seed pods. Kings Seeds sell both ‘Dwarf Early Green’ and ‘Su­per­aguadulce’ which both ma­ture 75 days after plant­ing.

Broad beans are pro­lific pro­duc­ers but need to be picked reg­u­larly to keep them com­ing on. For pod­ded beans, pick the pods when they reach about 30cm long and as thick as your thumb. Once they’re too big they tend to lose their ten­der tex­ture. Twist off by hand or snip with a pair of scis­sors. This week I’ve al­most suc­ceeded in pulling out ev­ery­thing that’s been lin­ger­ing on: the rusty, stringy cel­ery, crispy sun­flow­ers I’d been leav­ing for the birds and the leggy basil which is now more flow­ers than leaves. My tomato plants are still pro­duc­ing a small amount of fruit, but lots of new plants have popped up and are cov­ered in flow­ers. I’m go­ing to leave a few in for cu­rios­ity’s sake.

If you’ve got loads of green toma­toes, you can cut the plants off at ground level and hang them up­side down in your shed. The fruit will con­tinue to ripen slowly on the trusses. This is a more ef­fec­tive method than pick­ing in­di­vid­ual fruit and leav­ing it to ripen on a win­dowsill. Why not make green tomato chut­ney.

As you clear out your old crops, take the time to pull out any weeds and dig the soil over too. Sow cover crops like broad beans, mus­tard and oats (Bur­net’s has a good se­lec­tion of bulk cover crop seeds in garden cen­tres now), dig in com­post and an­i­mal ma­nures and pre­pare your gar­lic and as­para­gus beds for win­ter plant­ing.

I’ve been en­joy­ing my­self this week plant­ing different colour com­bi­na­tions of veges and flow­ers. I’d like to say that this is purely an act of en­vi­ron­men­tal al­tru­ism to pro­vide food for pol­li­na­tors, which it partly is.

I’m sure Iwouldn’t have so many tomato flow­ers right now if it weren’t for the cleome and sun­flow­ers that flow­ered in my vege beds all sum­mer long and were a bee me­trop­o­lis, plus my beans and toma­toes were free of green shield bugs – th­ese flow­ers act as a catch crop. Mainly though, I’ve been do­ing this to sat­isfy my life­long ad­dic­tion to flow­ers (per­haps the honey bee is my spirit an­i­mal?).

In one bed of salad greens, I’ve gone for awhite and green combo, in­ter­spers­ing rows of white pan­sies, di­anthus and alyssum with rocket, curly pars­ley and ‘Little Gem’ let­tuces. I’ve also planted white cro­cuses and the white daf­fodil ‘Thalia’, which will both flower in spring.

With the more hard-core win­ter veges – cavolo nero, broc­col­ini and sil­ver beet – I’ve planted blue pan­sies and lo­belia. Next I’m go­ing to sur­round a bean tee-pee with an or­ange, red and yel­low combo of co­re­op­sis, tagetes marigolds and trail­ing nas­tur­tiums.

In the re­cently pub­lished Vegeta­bles Love Flow­ers, Vir­ginia-based cut-flower and vege grower and com­pan­ion­plant­ing ad­vo­cate Lisa Ma­son Ziegler rec­om­mends a ra­tio of 40% flow­ers to 60% vegeta­bles to pro­vide enough food for pol­li­na­tors. She says that it’s better to plant flow­er­ing an­nu­als rather than peren­ni­als be­cause they’re more pro­duc­tive, com­plet­ing their flow­er­ing and fruit­ing cy­cle in one year and give you the op­por­tu­nity to try some­thing new each sea­son, and ad­vises mass plant­ing of the same types of flow­ers to make them easy for pol­li­na­tors to find. For a con­stant sup­ply of flow­ers, Ziegler ad­vises hav­ing two different plant­ing ar­eas – while one area is in the process 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 of grow­ing, the sec­ond area will be flow­er­ing. Con­stantly har­vest­ing flow­ers is key to en­sur­ing a longer bloom­ing sea­son and Ziegler rec­om­mends cut­ting flow­ers once or twice a week. She also ad­vises suc­ces­sion plant­ing through­out the sea­son so there is con­stantly a buf­fet of flow­er­ing plants avail­able for pol­li­na­tors and ben­e­fi­cial bugs.

What are your favourite flower and vege com­bi­na­tions?

Write to me at in­box@get­grow­ing.co.nz.

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