Septem­ber top & flop CROPS

Lynda’s reg­u­lar round-up of the best & worst sea­sonal per­form­ers in her Hunua coun­try gar­den.

NZ Gardener - - THE GOOD LIFE -

FLORENCE FEN­NEL:

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.

OYS­TER-LEAF PLANT:

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.

‘LE­MON­ADE’ CIT­RUS:

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.

PEA MICROGREENS:

Who‘s al­ready pod­ding peas? Mine aren‘t ready, but thickly sown seedlings, cut as microgreens, are the per­fect bridg­ing crop in early spring.

GRAPE­FRUIT:

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.

APRI­COT TREES:

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.

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