September top & flop CROPS
Lynda’s regular round-up of the best & worst seasonal performers in her Hunua country garden.
When most gardeners think of spring bulbs, they think of tulips and daffodils and other seasonal spirit-lifters. But me? I can‘t get knobbly celeriac and fat-bottomed fennel out of my head – or kitchen. I grew too much of both this year and I‘m officially over them!
Florence fennel is best sown now for late spring and early summer harvesting. When it fattens up, if you cut the swollen bulbs off the stem rather than pulling the plant out, you‘ll be rewarded with a secondary crop of smaller side bulbs, in much the same way that sprouting broccoli sends up side shooters once it has had its head cut off.
If you‘re like me and can‘t resist trying to grow unusual heirloom veges, from black salsify to saw-toothed epazote or shiso, then put this Scottish oddball (above) on your spring sowing list. Hailing from the Shetland Islands,
Mertensia maritima is a frost-hardy perennial member of the borage family with typical bright blue flowers. It also has succulent silvery-blue leaves that can be eaten in baby leaf salad mixes. Common names include sea bluebells, which I think makes it sound adorable, or oyster-leaf plant, which, depending on your taste for seafood, is either an appetising concept or quite a turn off. I don‘t eat oysters so can‘t say for sure if the fleshy foliage of
Mertensia maritima rivals Bluff‘s finest or not, but it‘s certainly a talking point.
Seeds are available from Kings Seeds. Pop the seed packet in the fridge for a fortnight before sowing, and plant in well-drained soil. A gravel garden is ideal.
This lemon/mandarin hybrid is sweet enough to peel and eat fresh in segments, just as you would an orange. Although my five-year-old tree has been attacked by native borer, with telltale piles of sawdust on its lower limbs, it‘s doing well. The fruit gets sweeter the longer you leave it on the branch.
Who‘s already podding peas? Mine aren‘t ready, but thickly sown seedlings, cut as microgreens, are the perfect bridging crop in early spring.
Ever feel like you‘re the punchline to a bad joke? Like, did you hear the one about the gardening journalist who can‘t grow grapefruit? Grapefruit, of all things! It‘s the easiest of all citrus crops in other people‘s gardens, but the shyest to fruit in mine. My ‘Cutler‘s Red‘ (so-named for its glowing orange-red skins, not its flesh) had three fruit last year and this year it has none. Should I start taking it personally? At least grapefruit is cheap to buy from roadside stalls and charity shops; I picked up a bag of beauties (pictured) for 20c each at the Warkworth Hospice Shop. Total cost for 6kg of winter marmalade ingredients: $3.
Apricots rarely fruit well in warm climates as they need winter chill to initiate blossom/fruit development. My trees are a dead loss, yet a friend with a frost-free coastal garden in the Auckland suburb of Beachlands has an amazingly prolific tree. After bottling some of its fruit, I saved the stones to sow; ultimately, I‘d like to try grafting it to my non-productive trees.
In mid-winter, I carefully cracked the stones and soaked only the plumpest kernels overnight before sowing them in punnets indoors. I kept the pots under plastic near our heat pump and it took three weeks for the first seedling trees to sprout. Sadly, this story doesn‘t have an entirely happy ending. After cracking the stones, I discarded the non-viable seeds in the garden, where one of our hens found them. Raw apricot kernels are toxic; the vet could do nothing to save her.