Getting on the ants trail
FOLLOW ANT TRAILS TO UNCOVER PESTS
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 www.DENZ.co.nz.
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.
WORM FARM CARE DURING SUMMER
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.
STAY SAFE WHEN USING LADDERS
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.
WATER... DON’TWASTE A DROP
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: getgrowing.co.nz