Time to get those tulips sorted
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?
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