100 tips on veg­etable gar­den­ing

Lynda Hal­li­nan goes back to ba­sics to re­veal her veg­etable gar­den­ing tricks of the trade.

NZ Gardener - - Contents - PHO­TOS: ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY/STUFF

From com­post to seeds and herbs, Lynda Hal­li­nan’s rules to grow by.

This is my 12th year of shar­ing my top and flop crops each month in NZ Gar­dener so I can say with some au­thor­ity that no-one is bet­ter qual­i­fied at suc­ceed­ing – or fail­ing – in the veg­etable patch than me. There are very few edi­ble crops I haven't tried to grow in that time, and what I've learned along the way is that what works in one gar­den doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily work in an­other. In my for­mer city gar­den, I grew an em­bar­rass­ment of huge, juicy, or­ganic ‘Black Krim’ toma­toes – so many that even the black­birds couldn't keep up, and dozens rot­ted on my potager path – whereas in al­most a decade of coun­try gar­den­ing, I'm yet to grow a sin­gle full-sized tomato to ma­tu­rity. Mine all get blight here in Hunua‘s wet­ter cli­mate. In the city, I couldn’t grow parsnips, leeks or Brus­sels sprouts, but in the coun­try – thanks to the hard frosts that linger in my low-ly­ing veg­etable gar­den – these win­ter favourites flour­ish.

You can’t win them all but there are some tried-and-true tips that make veg­etable­grow­ing eas­ier re­gard­less of the size of your plot and your lo­cal mi­cro­cli­mate. These are the rules I grow by.

START­ING FROM SCRATCH?

1 PUTTING IN A NEW VEGE PATCH? Deal to the weeds first. This is con­tro­ver­sial ad­vice but I be­lieve it’s bet­ter to whack back peren­nial weeds, espe­cially per­sis­tent grasses such as couch, kikuyu and twitch, with one good spray, then mulch heav­ily and build up the soil on top. Oth­er­wise you’ll be for­ever in­vaded.

2 THE BEST SOIL IS SO-CALLED “VIR­GIN” SOIL. Just dig over a patch of lawn turf and you are good to go. En­rich with com­post and just start plant­ing: in the first year, freshly dug-over lawn soil pro­duces the big­gest pota­toes, the best sweet­corn, the finest toma­toes, the fat­test gar­lic bulbs. Trust me. You will never eat so well again.

3 DON’T BUILD RAISED BEDS. Un­less: your soil is heavy clay, you have mo­bil­ity is­sues that make bend­ing and dig­ging dif­fi­cult, you keep them low (less than 20cm high), you have a short grow­ing sea­son (cool springs and early au­tumn frosts) or you want a posh-look­ing potager. Raised beds are ideal for get­ting a jump­start on spring sow­ing and for ex­tend­ing the au­tumn har­vest sea­son, but in sum­mer the soil over­heats and can dry out and be­come hy­dropho­bic (re­pels wa­ter, even when you’re hos­ing it on). In sum­mer, crops such as radishes, spinach and co­rian­der bolt to seed in sunny raised beds. Also, the deeper your beds, the more ex­pen­sive they will be to fill.

4 COM­POST IS HERE FOR A GOOD TIME, NOT A LONG TIME. If you fill your raised beds with a com­post-rich mix, that com­post will break down and half your soil will mys­te­ri­ously van­ish by the end of the sea­son. That means ev­ery year you’ll be fork­ing out for more soil. The so­lu­tion? Build up your store-bought soil by trench­ing (see com­post sec­tion), dig­ging in fine grade mulch, fallen leaves, grass clip­pings and other home-sourced or­ganic ma­te­rial through­out the sea­son.

5 Site your vege patch in full sun, within reach of your gar­den hose or tap.

6 USE LOW TIM­BER OR CON­CRETE BLOCK EDGES, no higher than 10-20cm, to re­tain your vege beds, and keep the lawn and path ma­te­ri­als at bay. This keeps the costs of store-bought soil down, but still achieves a de­signer look.

7 MAKE YOUR PATHS WIDE ENOUGH TO FIT a fully loaded wheel­bar­row. Aim for 80-100cm wide. Grass, gravel, bark or mulch paths are a mat­ter of per­sonal pref­er­ence. Don’t lay shell un­less you don’t mind walk­ing on it in bare feet.

8 HIRE A RO­TARY HOE to work over new ground and break up com­pacted soil to im­prove aer­a­tion. Dig it over, then shovel on com­post and work it in. (This will hor­rify ad­vo­cates of no-dig gar­den­ing, but a de­cent no-dig gar­den takes time to achieve and ro­tary hoe­ing is a fast-track to soil suc­cess. So is plant­ing pota­toes as your first crop in a new gar­den, as their roots are nat­u­ral cul­ti­va­tors.)

9 FEED YOUR SOIL AN­NU­ALLY. I ap­ply Nitrophoska for fast growth in spring, but oth­er­wise any gen­eral slowre­lease NPK fer­tiliser will do. Sweet­corn is a pretty good in­di­ca­tor of soil fer­til­ity; if your cobs are smaller than you’d like, your soil is get­ting hun­gry for nu­tri­ents.

10 BUY ONE TYPE OF TOMATO FER­TILISER and use it on all your fruit­ing crops, from toma­toes to egg­plants, cap­sicums and beans. If you’re grow­ing edi­ble crops in pots, opt for a liq­uid fer­tiliser.

COM­POST

1 COM­POST BUILDS HEALTHY SOIL for bet­ter har­vests. Dig in com­post prior to plant­ing, or use it as a mois­ture-re­tain­ing, weed-sup­press­ing mulch to keep the roots of fruit­ing crops such as toma­toes and beans cooler in sum­mer. Lay it on thick.

2 THINK BIG. Com­post is much eas­ier to make in bulk than in small quan­ti­ties be­cause small heaps can’t gen­er­ate as much heat, and there­fore break down, as quickly as large ones. Keep small piles chug­ging along by cov­er­ing them with a plas­tic tar­pau­lin, or lo­cat­ing them in a shel­tered, sunny spot.

3 ALL GAR­DENS HAVE AN ABUN­DANCE OF GREEN WASTE. Stock­pile car­bon to bal­ance this out. Use the plain pa­per and card­board boxes oth­er­wise des­tined for your re­cy­cling bin, bag up fallen au­tumn leaves and hire a mulcher once a year to deal to fruit tree prun­ings and small branches.

4 A TRIPLE BIN SYS­TEM WITH RE­MOV­ABLE SLATS be­tween each bay is ideal. Make each bin roughly one cu­bic me­tre, or ad­just to suit the size of your gar­den. As a rule of thumb, each bay needs to hold at least one month’s worth of gar­den waste. When the first bay is full, fork or shovel the semi-com­posted waste into the sec­ond bay, mix­ing well to com­bine. Re­fill the first bay at your leisure. When you run out of room again, fork the con­tents of the sec­ond bay into the third. Once the sys­tem is work­ing well, you’ll have com­post at three stages: start­ing, pro­gress­ing, and ready to use.

5 Cultivate the soil un­der your com­post heap. En­cour­age earth­worm ac­tiv­ity by dig­ging in a cou­ple of bags of store-bought com­post be­fore you be­gin. Don’t build com­post heaps over con­crete or com­pacted soil.

6 A COM­POST HEAP NEEDS warmth, wa­ter, aer­a­tion and roughly equal quan­ti­ties of green (ni­troge­nous) and brown (car­bon) waste. Dry com­post won’t break down. Nor will overly wet com­post. If your com­post heap reeks, it’s prob­a­bly anaer­o­bic (lack­ing oxy­gen). Heavy lay­ers of grass clip­pings can of­ten smother a com­post heap, caus­ing it to stink. Layer grass clip­pings no thicker than 5cm.

7 DON’T BUILD A HEAP UP, DIG IT DOWN. This is trench­ing and it’s the best no-fuss, no-smell, com­post-as-you-go so­lu­tion for large and small gar­dens. Dig a trench at least as wide and deep as your spade head. Roughly chop up your green waste and food scraps (in­clud­ing meat, onions and eggshells), fill­ing up to one-third of the trench, and cover with soil. Plant straight on top. Ei­ther work one trench at a time, back­fill­ing with the re­served soil, or fill in the first trench by dig­ging out a sec­ond. Note: don’t plant deep root crops on newly buried scraps as they may not have rot­ted down suf­fi­ciently.

8 EX­TEND YOUR FAM­ILY with a few thou­sand tiger worms to bung into your com­post bin. You can or­der com­post­ing worms from gar­den cen­tres.

9 WEEDS CAN BE COM­POSTED. Well, most of them. Chop the seed­heads and rot down peren­nial nas­ties such as wan­der­ing trades­cantia, ivy and con­volvu­lus in a bucket of wa­ter for a cou­ple of weeks first, then tip their slimy re­mains into your heap.

10 WILT GREEN WASTE in the sun be­fore you com­post it. Pile it up on a con­crete path for a cou­ple of days to re­duce their vol­ume by as much as half. That means you fill your bin at half the pace.

SOW­ING SEEDS

1 SOW DI­RECT wher­ever pos­si­ble at this time of year. They might take a lit­tle longer to ger­mi­nate, but you save all the has­sle of car­ing for them in trays or pun­nets. It also elim­i­nates plas­tic waste and trans­plant shock, is much quicker (sow a whole packet in min­utes), makes for easy spac­ing and all your plants grow at a pace that suits them.

2 HOW DO YOU KNOW when the soil is warm enough to sow di­rect? Watch for weeds. When bare soil starts to sport a green stub­ble of an­nual seeds, that’s a sign the grow­ing con­di­tions are right. Also, when the woody crowns of peren­nial ‘Scar­let Run­ner’ beans burst back into growth, the time is right to sow an­nual and dwarf bean va­ri­eties.

3 THINK LIKE SANTA: make a list and check it twice. Write a wish­list of what you want to grow, then check which seeds you al­ready have. Use up open pack­ets from the pre­vi­ous sea­son. Ig­nore the best-be­fore dates. Swap and share too – no-one needs a whole packet of zuc­chini seeds!

4 ARE OLD SEEDS STILL VI­ABLE? Do a ger­mi­na­tion test. Fill a shal­low saucer with wa­ter and soak a sam­ple se­lec­tion for a day or two. Vi­able seeds will swell up and a small tad­pole-shaped tail will emerge, or a full sprout. If noth­ing hap­pens af­ter 3-4 days, buy a fresh packet. Note: parsnips are best from fresh seed.

5 USE SEED-RAIS­ING MIX when sow­ing in pots and trays, espe­cially when sow­ing ex­pen­sive or tem­per­a­men­tal va­ri­eties. Seed-rais­ing mix is ster­ile, free-drain­ing, less likely to pro­mote fun­gal growth and has just enough starter fer­tiliser to see your seedlings through to the trans­plant phase.

6 FOR STUR­DIER SEEDLINGS, sow seeds in trays that aren’t made of black plas­tic. Black plas­tic pots and pun­nets en­cour­age faster ger­mi­na­tion in cool weather, but can also stress those tiny roots in hot weather, re­sult­ing in weaker plants.

7 SLOW STARTERS such as toma­toes and egg­plants will ex­haust the fer­tiliser in seed-rais­ing mix. They might be in your seed pots for 6-8 weeks be­fore it’s warm enough to trans­plant them, so re­pot af­ter a month into larger con­tain­ers.

8 PRO­TECT DI­RECT-SOWN SEEDS with net­ting, espe­cially if you’ve cleared a large area for mass sow­ing. Cats, dogs and birds will scratch out seedlings oth­er­wise.

9 IF YOUR SEEDLINGS ARE STRESSED by drought, damp, heat or cold, you can undo all your good work in ger­mi­nat­ing them in trays. If seedlings get lanky or leggy, wilt in the sun, or end up root­bound from spend­ing too long in trays, cut your losses and start again. Cab­bages, broc­coli and cauliflow­ers will pro­duce minia­ture but­ton-sized heads if they get too stressed in trays.

10 BUY SEEDLINGS in pun­nets or pots when your seeds fail to come up, when you only need a few of each plant, you want to re­duce the time from plot-to-plate (by as much as a month) or you want ac­cess to hy­brids that aren’t oth­er­wise avail­able to home gar­den­ers.

PLAN­NING POINT­ERS

1 PRE­FER PUN­NETS TO SOW­ING SEED? Make your vege beds up to 1.5m wide to al­low for six seedlings spaced out at 20-30cm in­ter­vals.

2 HOW LONG ARE YOUR ARMS? En­sure that you can com­fort­ably reach into the mid­dle of your raised beds from all sides, so you can work the soil and trans­plant seedlings with­out hav­ing to ac­tu­ally climb in and stand on the soil.

3 CIT­RUS TREES ARE SHAL­LOW-ROOTED and re­sent hav­ing those feeder roots dis­turbed by fre­quent cul­ti­va­tion. If you’re in­clud­ing cit­rus trees in a vege gar­den, ei­ther plant at the back of beds, or in the mid­dle, and mulch the root­zone, or plant spread­ing peren­nial herbs such as oregano, mint and thyme, rather than plant­ing an­nual veges up to their trunks.

4 BIRDS STEAL BERRIES. Work out how you’re go­ing to beat the birds be­fore you plant straw­ber­ries, rasp­ber­ries and blue­ber­ries. Is a fully cov­ered berry bed or cage fea­si­ble, or will a frame with net­ting sta­pled to the lid do the trick? Berry cages and net­ting cloches can be re­ally or­na­men­tal as well as prac­ti­cal.

5 KEEP SOIL HEALTHY by ro­tat­ing crops. A four-bed gar­den (if space al­lows), with a sep­a­rate bed for peren­nial crops such as straw­ber­ries and rhubarb, al­lows for a sys­tem where no crop is grown in the same spot for more than one

year in a row. Plant root crops one year, fol­lowed by leafy crops, then fruit­ing crops, then give your soil a break with a cover or green ma­nure crop, and start again.

6 FANCY SAV­ING YOUR OWN SEED? Re­serve a bed for that. When trans­plant­ing seedlings, tuck a cou­ple of each va­ri­ety into the seed bed and leave them un­til they’ve set and ma­tured their seed. The bed dou­bles as a feed­ing sta­tion for bees to col­lect nec­tar and pollen.

7 Grow in rows run­ning from north to south, so each plant gets max­i­mum ex­po­sure to the sun re­gard­less of the height of its neigh­bours.

8 AVOID THE WIN­TER RAIN, HAIL AND MUD by plant­ing up pots of salad greens and herbs to keep at the back door. No-one wants to go for­ag­ing by torch­light on win­ter nights.

9 NA­TURE AB­HORS A VAC­UUM. Beds left empty soon fill up with weeds. If you have a bed sit­ting idle, sow a green ma­nure crop to fix ni­tro­gen, foil the weeds and pro­vide a handy source of or­ganic mat­ter for soil im­prove­ment. In spring/ sum­mer, sow buck­wheat as a filler. In au­tumn/win­ter, opt for broad beans and en­joy a bonus edi­ble crop, as the fo­liage can also be steamed like spinach.

10 BUILD OR BUY FANCY FRAMES for climb­ing crops. Wo­ven obelisks, wrought-iron arch­ways, trel­lis and te­pees are prac­ti­cal and dec­o­ra­tive, adding height and ex­tra grow­ing room to a small space. Make sure they are se­cured with sturdy stakes and ties.

GROW­ING HERBS

1 GROUP HERBS ac­cord­ing to their drought-tol­er­ance level. Mediter­ranean stal­warts rose­mary, thyme, sage and oregano don’t need as much wa­ter as leafy herbs such as co­rian­der, mint and basil. An­nual herbs need more wa­ter, so keep these in your vege gar­den along­side let­tuces and beans.

2 AL­MOST ALL HERBS PRE­FER FULL SUN, so site your herb gar­den accordingly. Note: co­rian­der and pars­ley tol­er­ate shade, and mint, le­mon balm and chervil ac­tu­ally rel­ish it.

3 SOW CO­RIAN­DER FROM SEED. It doesn’t like be­ing trans­planted and pre­ma­turely bolts to seed. Co­rian­der lasts longer in spring, early sum­mer and late au­tumn; in the heat of high sum­mer, it runs to seed. For this rea­son, sow fornightly in a semi-shaded spot, from now on.

4 KEEP TWO CLUMPS OF MINT ON THE GO in dif­fer­ent parts of your gar­den. In sum­mer, mint in­vari­ably gets rust so when one clump shows those tell­tale or­ange spots, cut it right back to the ground and give it a deep daily soak, while con­tin­u­ing to har­vest from the other. When the pruned plant pops back up, deal to the other clump.

5 SAGE IS A TEM­PER­A­MEN­TAL SOD. It hates wet win­ter feet. If, like me, you rou­tinely mur­der sage in your soggy soil, just pretend it’s an an­nual and buy a new plant each spring, so it’s a de­cent size by the fol­low­ing au­tumn.

6 EV­ERY­ONE PREFERS ITAL­IAN FLAT-LEAF PARS­LEY TO ITS CURLY COUSIN. So grow more of the for­mer and less of the lat­ter. I’m par­tial to Par-Cel too; this flat-leaf pars­ley/cel­ery hy­brid is eas­ier to grow year-round than ei­ther cel­ery or pars­ley.

7 HERBS AS MICROGREENS: Gen­er­ously sprin­kle seeds of co­rian­der, chervil, rocket, basil, bor­age, chives, cress, kale and mus­tard in con­tain­ers of pot­ting mix on your kitchen win­dowsill. Keep moist; they’ll be ready to eat within 2-3 weeks.

8 DILL DOES BEST in the cool days of spring. It runs rapidly to seed in sum­mer, but those seeds, young or ma­ture, have the same mild aniseed flavour, so don’t fret. Dill flow­ers also bring in the bees.

9 THE BIG­GER THE LEAF, THE BET­TER THE BASIL. If you are grow­ing basil to make pesto, sow ‘Gen­ovese Gi­ant’ (Kings Seeds). Keep well-wa­tered, espe­cially in pots, and nip out the grow­ing tips to keep it leafy and bushy.

10 SU­PER­MAR­KET POT­TED HERBS are pam­pered princesses. Buy them when you need heaps of herbs in a hurry, but don’t plant these hy­dro­ponic soft­ies out­doors. Trans­plant soil-grown herb seedlings from gar­den cen­tres in­stead.

CROPS IN POTS

1 PLANT­ING VEGES IN CON­TAIN­ERS? Big­ger is bet­ter. Aim for con­tain­ers no smaller than a stan­dard plas­tic bucket. In fact, plas­tic buck­ets make bril­liant low-cost portable planters. Tuck them in­side glazed dec­o­ra­tive pots.

2 IN SUM­MER, POTS GET VERY HOT. To keep the roots of plants cool, try to po­si­tion your pot­ted plants so the con­tain­ers are shaded for part of the day.

3 POT­TED CROPS NEED MUCH MORE WA­TER in sum­mer and all that ex­tra ir­ri­ga­tion has a habit of leach­ing the nu­tri­ents out of your pot­ting mix, so di­lute liq­uid fer­tiliser to your wa­ter­ing can. In the early part of the sea­son, use a liq­uid fer­tiliser with more ni­tro­gen to pro­mote leaf growth, then switch to a flower/fruit for­mu­la­tion to fos­ter crop­ping.

4 Large con­tain­ers filled with pot­ting mix are bulky to move. Do your back a favour and pot up in situ.

5 MAKE YOUR OWN STINKY BREWS OF LIQ­UID FER­TILISER. In a large plas­tic bar­rel (prefer­ably with a tap fit­ted), rot down fish guts, horse ma­nure, sheep pel­lets, chook poo, sea­weed, com­frey, weeds and finely chopped green waste. Stir or shake the bar­rel once a fort­night. Af­ter a few months, di­lute (1 cup­ful to a buck­et­ful) to ap­ply.

6 WHEN RE­PLANT­ING LARGE POTS, re­place up to one-third of the ex­ist­ing pot­ting mix with a fresh bag. Fork in mois­ture-re­tain­ing gran­ules and, af­ter plant­ing, cover any ex­posed soil with mulch to re­tain mois­ture.

7 SIT POTS ON SAUCERS OF WA­TER IN SUM­MER. This not only acts as a reser­voir to catch drips, it stops ants mov­ing in through the drainage holes in the base of pots. Wa­ter pots twice a day in hot weather.

8 QUICK CROPS, prefer­ably of com­pact or dwarf va­ri­eties, are best in pots. Di­rect sow microgreens, rocket, spinach, herbs, dwarf beans, baby car­rots and beets, ‘Golden Nugget’ pump­kins, bok choy and let­tuces.

9 BABY SALAD MIXES, such as kale or spinach blends, or Ital­ian mesclun salad, are far eas­ier to grow in pots than stan­dard full-sized let­tuces. Sprin­kle and snip at the baby leaf stage, 3-4 weeks af­ter sow­ing.

10 YOU’LL NEVER GO WRONG WITH A ‘SWEET 100’ cherry tomato in a con­tainer.

BEST VALUE VEG­ETA­BLES

1 SOW OR PLANT CROPS THAT ARE EASY TO GROW but ex­pen­sive to buy, such as as­para­gus, new sea­son’s spuds, herbs and salad greens. Gourmet baby ‘Jer­sey Bennes’ cost up to $10 per kilo­gram be­fore Christ­mas, whereas you can grow your own for as lit­tle as $1-2 per kilo­gram (that’s just the cost of the seed spuds).

2 GRAFTED TOMA­TOES ARE WORTH THE EX­TRA EX­PENSE, espe­cially if you live in an area with late spring/early au­tumn frosts and cool sum­mers. Grafted toma­toes hit the ground run­ning, start pro­duc­ing ear­lier and are more dis­ease-re­sis­tant due to their vigour.

3 POTA­TOES ARE AL­WAYS A GOOD IN­VEST­MENT. Plant ‘Rocket’ and ‘Swift’ for speedy crops of waxy ear­lies (they‘re ready to dig in 70-90 days) and ‘Agria’ or ‘Red Ras­cal’ for win­ter keep­ing. If you want huge tu­bers for chip­ping or bak­ing, ‘Sum­mer Beauty’ is an im­proved ver­sion of the al­ready-im­proved ‘Sum­mer De­light’.

4 HEIR­LOOM ZUC­CHINI are harder to grow than pro­lific mod­ern hy­brids. De­pend­ing on how much you like zuc­chini, this can be a bless­ing in dis­guise. Once the plants are fruit­ing, ease up on the wa­ter for zuc­chini or you will soon have huge swollen mar­rows.

5 PUMP­KINS ARE EASY TO GROW and keep for months. In small gar­dens, sow the non-ram­bling, bush va­ri­ety ‘Golden Nugget’ (Yates

Seeds) for 6-8 base­ball-sized fruit per plant. I can’t rec­om­mend this highly enough; it’s fab­u­lous in a pot and the fruit ma­tures in Fe­bru­ary when most pump­kins are yet to ripen. For win­ter stor­age, stick to the tried-and-true Crown types. 6Cold- hardy Asian greens take a third of the time from plot to plate as their clas­sic bras­sica cousins. Sow tat­soi, bok choy and gai lan.

7 ALL BEANS ARE BONZA. My favourites in­clude dwarf ‘Top Crop’ and but­ter beans; climb­ing ‘Blue Lake Run­ner’, ‘King of the Blues’ and ‘Shiny Far­den­losa’, peren­nial ‘Scar­let Run­ner’, plus speck­led red bor­lotti beans for dry­ing. Climb­ing beans pro­duce big­ger crops over a longer sea­son than dwarf beans, which tend to have one big flush then a smaller sec­ondary crop.

8 HOME­GROWN SWEET­CORN is a must-have. Al­ways sow corn in square blocks, rather than long rows, for bet­ter pol­li­na­tion (it’s wind-pol­li­nated). Keep corn well-fed and wa­tered for juicy, suc­cu­lent ker­nels.

9 CLIMB­ING PEAS are eas­ier to grow, and har­vest, than dwarf peas. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, dwarf peas are more sus­cep­ti­ble to fun­gal dis­eases. Sow ‘Sug­arsnap Climb­ing’ for plump pods.

10 IF YOU’RE A FAN OF SPICY FOOD, grow your own chill­ies. A sin­gle ‘Wild­fire’ or ‘Ser­rano’ plant pro­duces hun­dreds of hot chill­ies. Plant in a pot and you can bring your plant in­doors at the end of sum­mer and keep pick­ing chill­ies al­most year-round.

PEST & DIS­EASE CON­TROL

1 PHYS­I­CAL BAR­RI­ERS are ef­fec­tive for all crops that don’t need bees for pol­li­na­tion. Fine-grade in­sect mesh can be bought by the me­tre from gar­den cen­tres and sta­pled to a sim­ple wooden frame to sit over your vege bed. Grow­ing pota­toes un­der in­sect mesh elim­i­nates psyl­lid dam­age to the tu­bers and, tri­als at Lin­coln Univer­sity have shown, seems to make the plants less sus­cep­ti­ble to blight as well.

2 IN­VEST IN A POPADOME to fit over a whole bed. These pop-up tents come with a range of cov­ers from plas­tic to frost cloth and bird net­ting. Move them around to pro­tect rasp­ber­ries from birds, bras­si­cas from white cab­bage but­ter­flies, pota­toes from late frosts and so on. See tru­lux.co.nz.

3 BE KIND TO BEES. If you are go­ing to use sprays, wait un­til dusk on a still day, when the bees are back in their hives, and never spray plants that are in flower. This is true of both chem­i­cal and or­ganic pes­ti­cides.

4 USE YOUR KNOWL­EDGE OF PEST LIFE CY­CLES to foil them. The tomato-potato psyl­lid, for ex­am­ple, over­win­ters on night­shade weeds and tamar­il­los. If you love toma­toes and pota­toes, get rid of your tamar­il­los. Also, the cab­bage white but­ter­fly is at its worst in sum­mer, so don’t grow bras­si­cas then and cater­pil­lars won’t be a prob­lem.

5 POW­DERY MILDEW is a fact of life in late sum­mer. Don’t worry about it. When cu­cum­bers, cour­gettes and pump­kin vines suc­cumb, they’re usu­ally near­ing the end of their life any­way.

6 FUN­GAL DIS­EASES are far worse in small, shel­tered gar­dens that lack air flow through them. Keep this in mind when de­cid­ing where to site your veg­etable gar­den, and whether to hedge or fence it.

7 SLUGS AND SNAILS cover more ground on wet nights. Keep num­bers in check with a noc­tur­nal pa­trol with a bucket of salty wa­ter. If you want to use a store-bought bait, Tui’s Quash – made from iron – is the kind­est op­tion, espe­cially if ac­ci­den­tally con­sumed by pets. Al­ways lay slug baits in pet proof con­tain­ers.

8 EARLY IN­TER­VEN­TION is the best pre­ven­tion. Squash aphids and green vege bugs be­fore they get out of con­trol.

9 THROW THE BUG-IN­FESTED FO­LIAGE OF OLDER CROPS TO YOUR CHOOKS. They’ll deal to them quick-smart. They’re also pretty par­tial to slugs and snails.

10 FO­LIAR FISH FER­TILIS­ERS, SUR­PRIS­INGLY, DOU­BLE AS NAT­U­RAL PEST REPELLENTS. Use fish fer­tiliser to foil white­fly on cit­rus and green­house crops, and de­ter pos­sums. The smellier, the bet­ter.

WORK WITH THE SEA­SONS

1YOU CAN ONLY PUSH MOTHER

NA­TURE SO FAR. Don’t try to get too far ahead of your­self by trans­plant­ing toma­toes or sow­ing pump­kins out­doors be­fore Labour Week­end.

2THINK

AHEAD. As well as plant­ing all your sum­mer favourites now, get crack­ing and di­rect sow parsnips, leeks, cel­ery and cele­riac for next win­ter. All these crops take at least six months, and up to 10 months, from seed to plate. 3Now’s the time to plant and sow pretty much ev­ery­thing, with the ex­cep­tion of bras­si­cas (the white cab­bage but­ter­fly will nail them). Get busy!

4SILVERBEET GROWS YEAR

ROUND but who wants to eat it year-round? Sow spinach for the shoul­der sea­sons of early sum­mer and early au­tumn, or ‘Per­pet­ual’ spinach, which is ac­tu­ally a mild sil­ver­beet va­ri­ety. All beets can get a bit spotty (a fun­gal dis­ease called cer­cospora) in sum­mer but the leaves are still edi­ble. 5RADISHES SHOULD BE REPEATSOWED OVER SUM­MER, prefer­ably in a spot that gets some af­ter­noon shade. If your radishes bolt to seed with­out form­ing round bot­toms, you can still eat the flow­ers and im­ma­ture seed pods for the same pep­pery flavour in sal­ads.

6FROM APRIL TO SEPTEM­BER,

growth slows dra­mat­i­cally as the soil tem­per­a­ture drops. The old adage that it’s bet­ter late than never doesn’t hold true in a veg­etable gar­den. Seedlings trans­planted af­ter Easter, espe­cially of slow ma­tur­ing cel­ery and bras­si­cas such as broc­coli, cab­bages and cauliflower, won’t come to any­thing un­til spring, so it’s bet­ter to con­cede de­feat and sit out a sea­son if you’re run­ning re­ally late.

7ALL IS NOT LOST IN A HARD

FROST. Some plants taste bet­ter with frost­bite, in­clud­ing parsnips, swedes, Savoy cab­bages and Brus­sels sprouts, which all taste sweeter af­ter a freeze.

8STAGGER YOUR HAR­VESTS,

rather than your plant­ing and sow­ing sched­ule. By this I mean plant as much as pos­si­ble in one go, then eat what’s ma­ture, when it’s ma­ture, be­fore mov­ing on to the next (slower grow­ing) crop. In my vege patch last sum­mer that meant eat­ing lots of spinach and radishes in Novem­ber, early pota­toes and sprout­ing broc­coli in De­cem­ber, an abun­dance of zuc­chini and beans in Jan­uary, car­rots and beet­root in Fe­bru­ary, and so on.

9CARROTS

AND BEET­ROOT are a good in­vest­ment as both store well in the soil with­out bolt­ing. Two sow­ings of each, one now, the other in late sum­mer, should keep you sup­plied year-round.

10KEEP IN MIND HOW MUCH SEA­SONAL PRO­DUCE

FLUC­TU­ATES in price when choos­ing what to plant. If it’s out of sea­son, you’ll al­ways pay more for it (cap­sicums in win­ter, straw­ber­ries in au­tumn). On the other hand, although home­grown, sun-ripened heir­loom toma­toes are scrump­tious, they take a long time from seed to fruit, take up more room than beans or salad greens, are sus­cep­ti­ble to a range of pests and dis­eases… and are com­par­a­tively cheap to buy by the time yours ripen.

10 FI­NAL THOUGHTS

1WORK OUT A WEED­ING STRAT­EGY BE­FORE YOU PLANT. In a small gar­den, you might want to re­duce the spac­ing be­tween in­di­vid­ual vege seedlings, and crop rows, to crowd out com­pet­ing

weeds. In a larger gar­den, take the op­po­site ap­proach and open up the gaps be­tween rows to ac­com­mo­date a push hoe, so you can whip up and down the rows to quickly knock out emerg­ing weeds.

2 PLAN­NING TO BE FULLY OR­GANIC, or use per­ma­cul­ture prin­ci­ples? In­vest in a soil test to see if there are any de­fi­cien­cies that need rem­e­dy­ing with trace el­e­ments. Home­grown com­post — even trail­er­loads of it — can only re­turn what’s al­ready there to the soil.

3 SCHED­ULED A LONG SUM­MER HOL­I­DAY? Plan your vege gar­den around your ab­sence. If you’re go­ing to be away for three weeks, de­lay di­rect sow­ing of quick ma­tur­ing crops, such as radishes, dwarf beans, spinach and mesclun salad, un­til the week be­fore you de­part, so you don’t waste any­thing. Don’t sow seeds in pots or trays if you’re not go­ing to be home to cos­set them along prior to trans­plant­ing.

4 TAKE A SHOP­PING LIST TO THE GAR­DEN CEN­TRE, just as you would when go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket. Then stick to it! This way, if the seedlings you want aren’t avail­able, you can sub­sti­tute for seeds, or vice versa, rather than just buy­ing what­ever hap­pens to be look­ing good (or un­sold) on the day.

5 IF YOU MUST USE SPRAYS, seek out low-tox bio­con­trols over chem­i­cal in­sec­ti­cides. Fight na­ture with na­ture. For in­stance, white cab­bage but­ter­fly cater­pil­lars, guava moth and codling moth lar­vae can be con­trolled or­gan­i­cally with Ki­wicare’s Or­ganic Cater­pil­lar Bio-Con­trol, which is BioGro-cer­ti­fied and uses the nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring soil bac­te­ria Bacil­lus thuringien­sis kurstaki to give cater­pil­lars a fa­tal gut ache. It only hurts cater­pil­lars and has no with­hold­ing pe­riod. (In­ci­den­tally, thin­ning ap­ples so they aren’t touch­ing sig­nif­i­cantly re­duces fruit dam­age from codling moth lar­vae.)

6 MORE FER­TILISER DOESN’T MEAN HEALTH­IER PLANTS. Stick to the guide­lines on the packet. Over­feed­ing en­cour­ages leaf growth at the ex­pense of fruit and flow­ers. Lush, leafy fo­liage also needs more wa­ter in sum­mer and at­tracts sap-suck­ing bugs like aphids.

7 MULCH, MULCH, MULCH! Healthy plants are less sus­cep­ti­ble to at­tack than stressed plants. Mulch edi­ble crops as well as or­na­men­tal trees and shrubs. Fruit­ing crops such as toma­toes ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­tra soil mois­ture and in­su­la­tion from tem­per­a­ture ex­tremes pro­vided by a gen­er­ous layer of mulch in sum­mer. Lay mulch af­ter heavy rain, or af­ter a long, slow soak­ing of the soil.

8 WA­TER­ING IS CRU­CIAL IN SUM­MER. With­out a con­sis­tent level of mois­ture, let­tuces turn bit­ter, beans stop pro­duc­ing pods and toma­toes, egg­plants and zuc­chini are sus­cep­ti­ble to blos­som end rot (a cal­cium de­fi­ciency ex­ac­er­bated by fluc­tu­a­tions in wa­ter flow). A good deep soak once a week, and mulching, does a world of good, whereas a daily light shower only serves to en­cour­age shal­low root­ing, mak­ing plants sus­cep­ti­ble to drought stress.

9 BE RE­AL­IS­TIC about both what you grow and what your fam­ily will eat. If you don’t like sil­ver­beet, don’t plant a whole bed of it (un­less you have chooks; they love it). Ditto cour­gettes and cu­cum­bers in sum­mer. If your gar­den is hit by hard win­ter frosts, av­o­ca­dos aren’t for you. And by all means, plant a pome­gran­ate for its nov­elty value, but don’t ex­pect it to ever fruit!

10 Share your sur­plus or freeze it. As a guide, if it’s avail­able in the frozen sec­tion at the su­per­mar­ket, it’s worth do­ing at home. Rinse, pat dry and pack (raw or blanched) into fam­ily-sized por­tions in freezer-safe plas­tic bags. Crops that don’t thaw out well can still go in the freezer to add flavour to soups and stews.

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