Time to prepare winter crops
SOWING BRASSICAS FOR WINTER
Most brassicas – from cabbages to broccoli and Brussels sprouts – take 120 days from seed to harvest, so start sowing winter crops now. Sow the large seeds in deep trays (to insulate them from the drying sun), or if you have a seed bed you can cover, sow direct and gently transplant your seedlings when they’re the same size as those in garden centre punnets.
Brassica seedlings sprout in seven to 10 days while it’s warm, although they won’t appreciate drying out in full sun, so keep the trays moist by standing them in a shallow dish of water until the seeds germinate.
Cover seed trays with very fine mesh netting or a polytunnel or cloche to stop them being eaten by white cabbage butterfly caterpillars. Once transplanted, continue to protect your seedlings with loosely draped mesh or Kiwicare’s Organic Caterpillar Bio Control, an
eco-friendly alternative to chemical insecticides (it’s made from a naturally occurring soil bacteria and has no withholding period).
FROM PLOT TO PLATE... OR TO PIGGY BANK?
I had to chuckle at a story in the Guardian newspaper this week about bribing kids to eat courgettes – with cash. British obesity campaigner Tam Fry has suggested that coughing up a few coins per mouthful of healthy vegetables could help win the war against childhood obesity. It follows another study last year published in the American Journal of Health Economics that found that the number of children who ate at least one serving of fruit or veges doubled when they were rewarded with 25 cents each time.
My children, Lucas (5) and Lachie (3), love mucking about in my garden, sowing seeds and pulling carrots, but it’s still a battle to get them to eat any vegetables other than French fries with tomato sauce (that still counts, surely?) They like freshly podded peas, corn on the cob and potatoes, and will eat carrots under duress. But they flat out refuse to eat any sort of salad green and they seem to develop an instant case of lockjaw if I serve them cauliflower. Like many parents, I’m pretty crafty at concealing vegetables in baking, casseroles and pasta sauces: our spaghetti bolognese always contains onion, fresh tomatoes, capsicums, finely grated carrots and courgettes, though I’ve given up adding parsley, basil or any other herbs, having been forced to pick out every visible shred of green stuff before either of my boys would eat it!
How do you get your children (or grandchildren) to eat veges? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your sneaky tips and tricks.
When your berries have finished fruiting for the season, they’ll send out long tentacles from the crown, with a tuft of greenery at the end. Peg down these runners in loose soil around your plants and they’ll soon develop roots. Or bury recycled plant pots around your strawberry patch and peg runners into the pots, so that when they’re established you can simply snip off the umbilical cord-like runners and grow the rooted plants on prior to transplanting early next spring. Propagating strawberries from runners means you can rejuvenate your berry beds at no cost; replace a third of your older plants each year.
WREST CONTROL OVER THE SEEDY AND THE NEEDY
Summer’s no time for pampering weaklings, or turning your back on the overly enthusiastic. When resources – water, fertiliser and your motivation to work hard in hot sun – are limited, save your effort for crops that will actually feed you. If you have crops such as rocket, silverbeet, dill and celeriac that have gone to seed, pull them out now (if not saving their seed to resow), especially in areas with watering restrictions. Don’t waste a precious drop on weeds either. Cover bare soil with newspaper, then pile grass clippings and compost on top as eco-friendly weedmat.
PRUNE FRUITING GRAPE VINES & NET OUT BIRDS
Most grape varieties are still a good month or so away from ripening, but now’s the time to put some effort into tidying and tying up vines, and protecting the developing bunches of fruit from sun scald, botrytis, mildew and thirsty birds.
Cut back excess foliage – that’s any leafy growth 20-30cm from the last bunch of fruit on each trailing vine. This prevents the plants wasting their energy on unnecessary extra leaf growth, and also lifts some of the load (it’s so disheartening when fully laden vines snap). Add extra ties too. You can also trim off large leaves under the hanging bunches, to improve air flow and reduce the risk of fungal diseases. But don’t hack too much of the top growth off, as this shades the fruit as it ripens.
If you’ve lost your grapes to botrytis or bunch rot in the past (these fungal diseases cause the almost-ripe bunches to wither and shrink on the vine), it’s worth applying a preventive spray of fungicide, such as liquid copper or Yates Fungus Fighter now. Don’t leave it any longer however, as many sprays can’t be used within a month of harvest. 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