Plenty to do dur­ing Jan­uary

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING -


All your sum­mer crops of toma­toes, cu­cum­bers, pep­pers, egg­plants and cour­gettes will ap­pre­ci­ate a boost with liq­uid fer­tiliser to keep them strong and healthy. Liq­uid feed­ing each fort­night, or even weekly, will pay div­i­dends.


Make small batches of jam and dec­o­rate the jars for a handy sup­ply of standby gifts for un­ex­pected guests. Bring 1kg of cher­ries, straw­ber­ries or rasp­ber­ries to the boil – add a lit­tle wa­ter to stop them stick­ing – then add 1kg of jam-set­ting sugar (avail­able in su­per­mar­kets). Stir un­til the sugar has dis­solved, then boil hard for 5 min­utes. Take off the heat, stir in 1 ta­ble­spoon of brandy, berry vodka or kirsch (this in­ten­si­fies the flavour), then pour into warm, clean jars and seal.


It’s easy to ne­glect new fruit trees if you’ve planted them a fair dis­tance from your house. Out of sight, out of mind. But fruit trees, es­pe­cially those planted in win­ter as bare­root trees, need reg­u­lar ir­ri­ga­tion to get them through their first sum­mer. Wa­ter at least twice a week, aim­ing for 10 litres per tree each time. And if you haven’t staked your trees, do that now too.


They’re easy to grow, easy to har­vest and easy on the taste buds, plus their mild onion flavour livens up baked spuds, cheese muffins and cream cheese sand­wiches. Even their pretty pink flow­ers are ed­i­ble so scat­ter the del­i­cately flavoured flo­rets in your sal­ads or use to flavour herb vine­gars. Chives re­quire al­most no at­ten­tion once es­tab­lished, other than wa­ter when con­di­tions are dry. Pro­vide a lit­tle shade dur­ing long, hot sum­mers or plants may be­come stressed and get at­tacked by black aphids.


The green vege bugs are back and breed­ing. You’ve got to keep on top of these sap­suck­ers (ditto aphids) as not only do they drain the life out of beans and toma­toes, they can spread dis­ease. Squash them by hand. It’s very ef­fec­tive (and quite sat­is­fy­ing) for keep­ing the num­bers down early in the sea­son. Keep slugs and snails in check too. The best time to catch them in the act is on a wet night.


Zuc­chini, beans, peas, radishes and let­tuce are now in full swing. Pick daily to keep those crops com­ing on. It’s not too late to put in a late crop of dwarf corn. Plant in blocks, rather than long rows, to aid pol­li­na­tion. It’s not too late to plant toma­toes ei­ther. Most gar­den cen­tres are still sell­ing large-grade plants, of­ten al­ready in flower, so you can pot them up in large con­tain­ers or sim­ply plant them in the sun­ni­est cor­ner of your gar­den.


Don’t let your pas­sion for gar­den­ing leave you at risk of skin cancer. Wear ap­pro­pri­ate cloth­ing if you know you’re go­ing to be spending most of the sum­mer out­doors, reap­ply sun­screen ev­ery few hours and wear a light­weight, com­fort­able, wide-brimmed hat.


Don’t let your sum­mer gluts of fruit and veg­eta­bles go to waste. Shar­ing your ex­cess har­vests is a great way to get to know your neigh­bours or just add a lit­tle com­mu­nity spirit. Jars of pre­serves, flow­ers and bak­ing are al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated too.


Car­rots must be sown di­rectly where you want them to grow (rather than in seed trays) as, like all roots crops, they re­sent be­ing trans­planted. It’s es­sen­tial that they have deep, lump-free soil to grow in and don’t sow car­rots in com­post-rich soil or where ma­nure has re­cently been dug in as that causes forked roots. Car­rot seed is very fine so take your time care­fully sow­ing the seed. Try not to sow it too thick, as you’ll need to thin out the seedlings later. And if you have cats, you’ll need to cover the seed row to stop them dig­ging the seeds up be­fore they sprout. Use bird net­ting or get a 30cm wide piece of chicken wire, as long as your row, and bend it in half to make a tri­an­gu­lar-shaped cover to lay over the top. Sow car­rots be­tween rows of onions to help con­fuse the car­rot rust fly, which is at­tracted to the smell of car­rot fo­liage.


Make sure all your tomato plants get a con­sis­tent sup­ply of wa­ter while the fruit is de­vel­op­ing. Too much wa­ter and the skins will split or the plants will de­velop blos­som end rot (brown patches at the base); too lit­tle and they’ll fail to de­velop at all.

Feed your toma­toes with liq­uid food ev­ery week if pos­si­ble for the best crops. You might no­tice that the old­est leaves on your toma­toes (the ones at the bot­tom) are start­ing to turn yel­low and look un­healthy.

Don’t panic. Just use a sharp, clean pair of se­ca­teurs to snip them off. Re­mov­ing the lower leaves also lets sun­light in to ripen the fruit and im­proves air cir­cu­la­tion around your plants, re­duc­ing the risk of blight. Don’t take off too much fo­liage though. If toma­toes are fully ex­posed to the sun, their skins can burn (re­sult­ing in sun scald).

Sow an­other crop of beans and salad greens (beans pic). Sow an­nual herbs like Ital­ian pars­ley, co­rian­der and basil ev­ery fort­night too. That way you’ll have a con­stant sup­ply right through sum­mer and well into au­tumn.

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