Get­ting on the ants trail



Ants can be a real nui­sance in the gar­den, but be sure to carry out a lit­tle de­tec­tive work be­fore you deal to them. If you no­tice an ant trail climb­ing a stem or scouting ants ex­plor­ing a leaf, check to see where they’re go­ing. Ants feed on the sweet hon­ey­dew ex­creted by sap-suck­ing in­sects, so fol­low­ing th­ese trails will of­ten lead you to well-hid­den pests – like the aphids hid­ing un­der an egg­plant leaf (pic­tured).

Soapy wa­ter, a squirt with the hose or squash­ing with your fin­gers will con­trol the aphids, which re­pro­duce partheno­genet­i­cally and viviparously, mean­ing that a sin­gle fe­male can pro­duce off­spring with­out a male and the ba­bies are born live, rather than hatch­ing from eggs. Keep check­ing to see if the in­fes­ta­tion has re­turned, as aphid pop­u­la­tions can build up rapidly.

Track the ant trail back in the other di­rec­tion to ground zero, the nest, as well.

Com­mer­cial prod­ucts for ant con­trol in­clude Ki­wicare’s NO Ants Gel Bait or NOAnts Liq­uid Bait, Yates’ Neverong or di­atoma­ceous earth from


A fre­quently asked ques­tion ev­ery year is, ‘‘What’s hap­pened to my pota­toes?’’ ac­com­pa­nied by pic­tures of tatty look­ing leaves and with­er­ing stems. The an­swer is, noth­ing’s wrong, it’s sim­ply a sign that your pota­toes are ready to be har­vested.

An old gar­den­ing rule of thumb was that pota­toes were ready when the plants had flow­ered and set seed and the fo­liage had died down. This doesn’t ap­ply to all va­ri­eties, es­pe­cially the fast-ma­tur­ing, early types, which of­ten don’t flower at all. If you’re not sure whether yours are ready, gen­tly poke your fin­gers into the soil around the edge of a plant. This is called bandi­coot­ing or tick­ling pota­toes. New pota­toes have fine skin that rubs off eas­ily. They don’t store well and are best eaten as soon

as pos­si­ble. Three chit­ted ‘Swift’ pota­toes planted at the end of Septem­ber pro­duced this haul (pic­tured) of evenly sized, waxy pota­toes har­vested on Christ­mas Day. Pota­toes are one of my favourite crops to grow. They don’t take up too much space when grown in con­tain­ers and har­vest­ing them is like a trea­sure hunt.


Keep an eye on your worm farm. If it gets too hot or the con­tents be­come too dry, the worms will

die. Rodney Dunn from Just Add Worms sug­gests sit­ing your worm farm un­der trees and out of di­rect sun­light. Add a layer of wet cor­ru­gated card­board, news­pa­per or a piece of old car­pet to in­crease in­su­la­tion from the heat. Keep the top layer damp with a light sprin­kle from the hose, how­ever don’t overdo it and make sure drainage is ad­e­quate as worms can drown if their bed­ding ma­te­rial be­comes sat­u­rated.


I of­ten use a lad­der to prune the climbers on my fences, tend the plants grow­ing in pock­ets on a high re­tain­ing wall and clean cab­bage tree leaves out of the roof gut­ters. But I gave my­self a fright when I stepped off the sec­ond step think­ing it was the bot­tom one. I did an un­grace­ful pirou­ette into a bag of prun­ings and col­lected a mas­sive bruise on my hip.

Don’t fol­low my ex­am­ple, but re­mem­ber th­ese safety pre­cau­tions. Don’t use a lad­der that’s dam­aged or the wrong height. En­sure the base is se­cure. Don’t over­reach or climb too high. Re­mem­ber the three points of con­tact rule: two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand while climb­ing, and two feet and one hand when work­ing.


A drib­bling hose at­tach­ment wastes an alarm­ing amount of wa­ter, but a new washer of­ten fixes the prob­lem eas­ily. Pack­ets of wash­ers can be found along­side the hose fit­tings at gar­den cen­tres and hard­ware stores. Slip off the old washer and re­place with a new one of the cor­rect size.

Use a joiner to fix cuts or splits in a hose. Re­move the dam­aged sec­tion and make a clean cut at each of the ends to be re­joined. Slide on the screw rings, care­fully push the hose end un­der the prongs of the joiner piece, screw to­gether firmly, then con­nect the two join­ers to­gether. If the ends of the hose are stiff, soften them in very hot wa­ter. They’ll be much more pli­able and eas­ier to fit into the slot un­der the prongs. A goodqual­ity hose is a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment, so it’s worth ex­tend­ing its life by look­ing after it care­fully.

GAR­DENA rec­om­mend stor­ing hoses out of di­rect sun­light when not in use, to pre­vent sun dam­age and un­nec­es­sary wear. Hoses should be stored in­doors dur­ing freez­ing con­di­tions for the same rea­son. Never leave a hose un­der pres­sure when not in use (con­nected to a trig­ger gun or stop valve) and turn off the tap after each use to pre­serve the hose and con­serve wa­ter. Avoid run­ning heavy ob­jects over a hose, such as loaded wheel­bar­rows or cars. If pos­si­ble, pick up a hose and carry it rather than drag­ging it across con­crete or around brick­work, and don’t drop the hose end – with a trig­ger gun or fit­tings at­tached – onto con­crete as the im­pact could dam­age the fit­tings. Avoid con­tact with harsh chem­i­cals and caus­tic sub­stances too.

The GAR­DENA team say that coil­ing a hose prop­erly will help to pro­long its life. Here’s how to do it. Turn off the tap. Take hold of the hose a few me­tres from the tap con­nec­tor and bend it into a large loop, us­ing about 1m of hose. Mov­ing 30-40cm fur­ther away from the tap, form an­other loop and stack it on top of the first. Re­peat un­til the hose is coiled. GAR­DENA also sug­gest us­ing a hose reel or hanger for stor­age. 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: get­grow­

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