Weeds, weeds and more weeds

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING - LYNDA HALLINAN

1) EXTERMINATE WEEDS AND FILL BARE SPOTS WITH FLOW­ERS

My top crop this month? Weeds! I’m not sure if the wet spring is to blame for the in­creased num­ber of weeds in my gar­den, or whether, be­cause I’m open­ing it to the pub­lic this week­end, I’m sim­ply more aware of them. Usu­ally, if I con­duct one ma­jor weed­ing op­er­a­tion in early spring it keeps the weeds at bay un­til sum­mer, when it’s too dry for th­ese op­por­tunis­tic in­ter­lop­ers to cause too much trou­ble. But this year they just keep com­ing. Creep­ing but­ter­cup is the worst of­fender: it loves wet soil and has spread rapidly in my lawn and paths. That means hours on my hands and knees hook­ing its creep­ing stems out.

Get on top of weeds now be­fore they have a chance to (a) flower and set seed and (b) com­pete with your prized plants for sun­light and soil nu­tri­tion.

You can win the war on weeds if, ev­ery time you pull a weed in, you put a de­sir­able plant in its place. Why not splurge on some flow­ers for pick­ing? (This is my new pick­ing gar­den, which is start­ing to look spiffy!) If you’re not ready to re­plant after weed­ing, put down a thick layer of mulch to stop weed seeds ger­mi­nat­ing.

2) PLANT & SOW MORE SUM­MER SALAD GREENS

My favourite spring let­tuce is the Ice­berg-style ‘Great Lakes’, which is just as well be­cause the only time I can grow it well is in the cool of spring. In sum­mer, it gets tip burn or rots from the in­side out after rain. For that rea­son, from now on I switch from plant­ing tra­di­tional heart­ing let­tuces to hy­brid ‘Salanova’ let­tuces, and I sow an­nual rocket rather than pep­pery peren­nial rocket. Some let­tuce va­ri­eties are much more heat-tol­er­ant and drought-re­sis­tant than oth­ers. When I lived in the city, the speck­led red and green ‘Canasta’ (from Kings Seeds) was my favourite, be­cause even in my sun-trap of a front gar­den, it never went bit­ter de­spite be­ing grown in raised beds. (The soil in raised beds can get too hot for ten­der let­tuces.) If your vege gar­den gets very hot and dry, it’s worth grow­ing salad greens un­der a large fab­ric cloche for a lit­tle shade. This can slow their ten­dency to bolt to to seed. Reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing is also vi­tal, and mulching is ben­e­fi­cial.

3) TAKE PHO­TOS OF YOUR GAR­DEN EACH SEA­SON

How of­ten do you point a cam­era at your plot? Not just be­fore and after pho­tos of ma­jor land­scap­ing projects, but sea­sonal snaps? Tak­ing pho­tos is a great way to record all the nat­u­ral progress in growth.

It’s also amaz­ing how much vari­a­tion there is, year after year. This year, the huge pur­ple rhodo­den­dron on the edge of my lawn is still in bloom, a full fort­night later than it was last year. And three years ago (we had a very warm spring), my roses had fin­ished their first flush by now, whereas this year they’re still in tight bud.

Stand in the same spot and take a photo each month to re­mind you of what looks good at which time of the year (and ar­eas need­ing im­prove­ment).

I’ve made a lot of changes to my gar­den this year, break­ing it up into rooms and putting in more per­ma­nent plant­ings in an at­tempt to make it less work in fu­ture. (Or at least that was the plan!) I’ll be in­trigued to see what it looks like by sum­mer.

4) SOW BEETROOT

Whoever it was that first thought to pair beetroot with goat’s cheese was a culi­nary ge­nius. It’s such a de­li­cious com­bi­na­tion that I’m tempted to get a nanny goat to milk (just kid­ding; my hus­band would have con­nip­tions).

We’re never short of beetroot as it’s so easy to grow from seed, and it holds well in the soil if the plants don’t get too hot. If you find your ma­ture beets end up sit­ting com­pletely proud of the soil, add a thick layer of mulch to cool their heels. Reg­u­lar ir­ri­ga­tion while the roots are swelling is im­por­tant too.

Sow beetroot di­rect, spac­ing the corky clus­ters 5-10cm apart, and keep moist un­til the seeds ger­mi­nate. You can also care­fully trans­plant seedlings in pun­nets. Harvest from 8-10 weeks for baby beets for boil­ing or roast­ing, or let them grow to the di­am­e­ter of

a burger bun for pre­serv­ing in jars.

Heir­loom va­ri­eties, such as the striped ‘Chiog­gia’ (pic­tured) are fun to grow but I think the hy­brid deep red ‘Detroit’ va­ri­ety has bet­ter flavour.

FEED YOUR TOMATOES WITH POTASSIUM

As soon as tomato plants start to pro­duce flow­ers, they need less ni­tro­gen (for leaf growth) and more potassium for fruit set. Feed fort­nightly with a liq­uid tomato food or sprin­kle with a slowre­lease tomato fer­tiliser and water it in well. You can use the same fer­tiliser for all sum­mer-fruit­ing veges, from cu­cum­bers to egg­plants.

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

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