Scarlet runners just keep on running
SOW DWARF & CLIMBING BEANS
It doesn’t matter what type of bean you favour, just make sure you’ve sown enough of them to provide a constant summer supply. Climbing ‘Scarlet Runner’ beans are one of my favourites because they are true perennials, which means they come back year after year. The ‘Scarlet Runners’ I sowed last year at our wee bach, for example, are already flowering at the top of their climbing frame – and you can’t ask for more than a bean that does all the work for you. However, if you prefer posh French green beans, sow annual ‘Blue Lake Runner’ now, or dwarf beans such as ‘Top Crop’. I find it better to sow dwarf beans every six weeks, rather than waiting for your plants to flower again after their first main flush, as you never get as many beans the second time around. Sow beans direct, in full sun, spacing the seeds 20-30cm apart. Keep well-watered once they start to pod up as fastgrowing beans are the most tender.
WATCH OUT FOR TOMATO BLIGHT
I don’t use any sprays in my vege garden so I’m forced to take the wins with the losses, and never more so than when trying (and inevitably failing) to grow organic tomatoes. Because my edible garden is enclosed by a tall, dense hornbeam hedge, it’s very sheltered in summer, which is great for ripening heat-loving crops like eggplants and chillies, but not ideal for avoiding fungal diseases such as blight on tomatoes and spuds.
There are two main types of blight that attack tomatoes: early and late, and both are more prevalent during humid weather. They are two distinct species (early blight is Alternaria solani and late blight is Phytophthora infestans) but their names are confusing as it’s late blight – albeit
it arriving early! – that my plants have succumbed to.
Early blight causes leopardlike spots on the foliage and rotten spots at the bottom of the fruit. This blight can be kept at bay by improving air flow around the base of the plants by taking off the older foliage during the season, whereas late blight comes on rapidly and instantly ruins your crop. Late blight sees blackened areas on the stems, wilting foliage and fruit rotting from the stem end. In humid weather, the whole plant can wither, turn yellow and turn up its toes in less than a week.
If you regularly lose your tomatoes to blight, consider growing them in a completely different part of your garden, one that’s open to the wind.
To avoid (or lessen the impact of) blight this summer, you can also spray with fungicides, such as Fungus Fighter or Copper Oxychloride as a preventative. Spray once a fortnight during the growing season. When spraying, don’t overdo it: applying these chemicals at higher concentrations than stipulated on the pack can damage the tender foliage.
To improve your chances of a good crop of tomatoes, thin the lower leaves (do this on a dry day using clean secateurs) and be careful when watering to soak the soil, not the foliage. Mulching after heavy rain also traps soil moisture, keeping the plants’ roots nice and cool.
Some varieties of tomatoes are more resistant to blight than others, so experiment with a mix of hybrid and heirloom types. And don’t be disheartened by the occasional lousy crop: some years the weather simply conspires against tomato growers!
Keep tomatoes well fed from now on too, using a liquid fertiliser that’s potassium-enriched for fruit quality. Regular watering is essential as well, or you’ll end up with blossom end rot.
PROTECT YOUR BRASSICA CROPS
Those flittery white cabbage butterflies are out in force, laying eggs on the undersides of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and radish leaves, which means it’s only a matter of time before their chubby caterpillars hatch and make a meal out of your plants. However you deal to them, get on with it now, be it through a cleverly timed swipe with a badminton racquet, a sprinkle of Derris Dust, a spray with Kiwicare’s Organic Caterpillar BioControl (this only kills caterpillars so is handy for codling moth and corn ear worms too) or draping your beds with second-hand net curtains or fine grade insect mesh. All are effective.
DON’T PANIC OVER BLOSSOM END ROT
If your first tomatoes, courgettes or baby eggplants are rotting off at the base, don’t fret. Blossom end rot, a calcium deficiency, is always more prevalent at the beginning of the season, and only affects individual fruit. Just remove any afflicted fruit and make sure your plants are watered regularly from now on.
SORT OUT YOUR IRRIGATION
Check your hose (and fittings) for leaks or cracks, invest in a water timer and make watering a priority or all your efforts sowing and planting will come to nothing!
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