Weeds, weeds and more weeds
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