Pea predators are out on the prowl
SOW DWARF & CLIMBING PEAS
Peas prefer to crop in cool weather, so sow them now for spring harvesting. The seeds will germinate even in frosty soil, but be vigilant for birds and rats. Rats will dig the seeds out before they sprout and birds will zero in on the first hint of succulent greenery when it shows through the soil. For this reason, it’s often more convenient to start peas off in punnets or trays, then carefully transplant them when they’re 5cm high. Other ways to beat the birds include sowing them through chicken wire pegged on the ground (so the birds can’t scratch them out) or making little A-frames over them by poking short sticks along the row.
I generally prefer climbing peas to dwarf varieties for ease of picking (no bending once they’re up a frame) and because they’re less susceptible to mud splash and fungal disease than those grown at knee level. I use the same steel reinforcing frames that I grow runner beans on later in summer. You do need to tie them to give them a leg up early on; after that their tendrils seem to find each other for support.
If you fancy a really cute crop of potted peas, sow ‘Tom Thumb’ from Kings Seeds. This English heirloom only grows to 25cm high – it was bred for window boxes originally – but has full sized pods that can be eaten as a flat snow pea or left to swell for shelling.
WATCH OUT FOR INDOOR INVADERS
It must be the season for mealybug on indoor plants as three people have asked me for eradication advice this week. This pest shows up as cottony white tufts on the leaves and stems that, on closer inspection, have legs and a slater-like armour.
They must have a reasonable incubation period because you can have happy, healthy houseplants for months, only for them to suddenly succumb to a plague.
They are hard to combat because they live in dry potting mix as well as on the plant, so soaking the whole thing may be necessary. Spraying oil penetrates their waxy skins and smothers them, but a two-pronged defence using a pyrethrum spray or insecticide such as Confidor may be required for severe infestations.
According to Wikipedia, if your indoor plants aren’t frosttender, you can put them on a windowsill at night and the bugs will migrate away from the cold, making them easier to muster and kill!
If all else fails, compost infested plants and buy new ones, like these lovely lime-green phalaenopsis orchids.
SHOVEL MULCH TO STOP WEEDS
There’s less than one month until the official start of spring, which means there’s only a few weeks left before the inevitable invasion of annual weeds. If you have vacant beds, cover the soil now with a thick layer of compost, fine bark, tree mulch, pea straw or newspaper to suppress weed growth. As a bonus, it’ll help warm the soil prior to spring sowing.
START CHITTING SEED POTATOES
Chitting’s just another word for sprouting. Lay seed spuds out in a tray or box in a warm, well-lit spot. Over the next few weeks, the eyes will bulge and, when the sprouts are 1-2cm long, you can pop them into the soil knowing that they will hit the ground running. If you have a glasshouse, tunnelhouse or sunny conservatory, you can plant seed potatoes in pots or buckets now. But don’t plant outdoors yet as frost kills them. 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
BOTTLE CITRUS CORDIAL
This is a great recipe from the Community Fruit Picking charity. First, squeeze enough citrus to yield 500ml juice. Strain. Then make a sugar syrup by boiling 500g-750g sugar in 500ml water. (Use more sugar for sour juice such as grapefruit, lemon or lime and less for mandarin, orange or tangelo). Add the citrus juice and return to a simmer, then take off the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon each of tartaric and citric acids (available from supermarkets). Pour into bottles and seal. Dilute to taste, or use as a soda syrup or drizzle for citrus cupcakes. Store in the fridge once opened.