ASPARAGUS CROWNS

Northern News - - GARDENING -

RAISE TOMA­TOES FROM SEED SOWN IN POTS UN­DER COVER

Grow­ing your own toma­toes from seed is eco­nom­i­cal if you want to grow many dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties, or if you’ve saved your seed from last year’s fruit. They do, how­ever, need a lit­tle mol­ly­cod­dling. Sow tomato seeds in plas­tic seed trays or small in­di­vid­ual pots filled with ster­ile seed-rais­ing mix. Don’t sow too deep – a light (1-2mm) sprin­kle of seed-rais­ing over the top is suf­fi­cient. En­sure the mix is moist, but not wa­ter­logged, and cover with a plas­tic sheet or bag. This traps the hu­mid­ity to speed up sprout­ing. Place the trays or pots in a warm spot, such as in­side a hot wa­ter cupboard. As soon as you see signs of ger­mi­na­tion, re­move the plas­tic and move the pots into a brightly lit lo­ca­tion in­doors, such as a sunny win­dowsill. They need as much nat­u­ral light as pos­si­ble or they’ll grow tall and spindly (leggy). Once they are 3-5cm tall, ripe in a few weeks, so spend some time this weekend tidy­ing up es­tab­lished straw­berry beds. Weed (care­fully) around your plants. Do this with a hand-held trowel or fork rather than a push hoe or spade, as straw­ber­ries have wide spread­ing roots that are eas­ily dam­aged when you’re yank­ing out com­pet­ing weeds. Once the weeds are all cleared, lightly wa­ter in fer­tiliser. You can use any gen­eral pur­pose

NPK fer­tiliser, as straw­ber­ries are vig­or­ous grow­ers with a gen­eral hunger for ni­tro­gen as well as the potas­sium in a spe­cial­ist fruit fer­tiliser such as Dal­tons Straw­berry Fert or a tomato fer­tiliser. The fi­nal step is to lay mulch or straw over the bare soil around your plants to Win­ter-dor­mant peren­nial crops of asparagus and rhubarb may not be show­ing any signs of life yet, but they will at least be think­ing about it! (Even though the first lo­cally grown asparagus spears are avail­able in shops al­ready, my first spears don’t emerge un­til early Oc­to­ber.) Re­move any weed growth around both of th­ese crops and mulch them well to stop another rash of weed seeds ger­mi­nat­ing in spring. No weeds also means no place for slugs and snails to hide, while mulching also helps in­su­late the soil, warm­ing it up just a notch.

SOW OR TRANS­PLANT SPINACH

Although it’s of­fi­cially spring, we have a wee way to go yet be­fore our vege gar­dens are back into har­vest mode. Bridge the gap be­tween the last win­ter bras­si­cas and the first sum­mer salad greens with spinach, silverbeet or colour­ful Swiss chard. Plant a row of spinach (or the mild ‘Per­pet­ual’ va­ri­ety of silverbeet) un­der a cloche or plas­tic-cov­ered grow tun­nel to cut the grow­ing time from plot to plate.

PRE­SERVE LIMES WHILE THEY ARE IN SEA­SON

Tahi­tian limes will be turn­ing yel­low by now, a sign they are fully ripe and will soon drop off the branch. If you have more than you need, freeze whole fruit in freezer-safe plas­tic bags. When thawed, there’s no no­tice­able drop in qual­ity of ei­ther the zest or the juice. Limes are cheap and plen­ti­ful right now so put a few on ice for sum­mer; in the lead up to Christ­mas, they cost as much as $39.99/kg.

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