Time to bring out pickling jars
KEEP PICKING CUCUMBERS
By mid-summer, all of those heat-loving crops such as cucumbers and zucchini will have burst into full production. These plants can be so prolific with fruit that seemingly goes from tiny to massive overnight that it can be a struggle to stay on top of picking.
I haven’t grown any zucchini this summer, opting instead to plant four ‘Iznik F1’ cucumbers in pots, which I’ve been harvesting like mad since returning from my Christmas break. These delightfully tiny cucs are ‘‘single-serve’’, so it’s a lot easier to get through eating them all than some of the larger varieties. There’s no need to peel them either – the skin is sweet with no bitterness and the seedless flesh inside is crisp, crunchy and thoroughly delicious.
To keep cucumbers in good health, feed regularly and lay mulch under the vines to conserve moisture. To keep fruit coming on, harvest daily and pickle or preserve any excess.
GROW ONIONS IN CONTAINERS
Although it may not be practical to grow large onions in pots, there’s nothing to stop you sowing their smaller siblings. I’ve just started harvesting a crop of ‘Pearl Drop’ cocktail onions from Kings Seeds.
I sowed the seed in November and apart from some thinning and watering, they’ve been the easiest edible I’ve grown in ages.
To grow onions in pots, fill a container (at least 20cm deep) with soil such as Daltons Vegetable Mix. Firm down gently and scatter a few seeds on top; if you have the patience, space them 5cm apart to avoid having to thin them out. Thinned seedlings can also be transplanted into the garden or another container.
Seeds take a fortnight to germinate and need watering throughout their growing period. For best results, place your container in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun each day. Ensure the pot has clear drainage holes and keep plants weedfree.
These onions mature 70 days after sowing, although they’re perfectly edible at any point. Other fast-growing onions perfect for pots include mini red ‘Purplette’, spring onions and chives.
Nothing beats the (almost) instant gratification of growing your own sprouts. They’re ready to eat in minimal equipment needed, there’s no real reason not to give them a go.
There are many types of sprouts you can grow at home: mung beans (pictured), chickpeas, lentils, alfalfa, radishes, peas, fenugreek, broccoli, oats, barley and clover, to name but a few. You can usually find untreated or organic seeds in the bulk bins at health food stores, in packets at garden centres and online at Kings Seeds. Then all you need is a jar, a mesh lid or piece of muslin and a sturdy rubber band or length of string to secure the top. You can use any type of jar, and a jam jar will do if you don’t want a lot of sprouts.
To grow, add some seeds to the jar; aim for about a tablespoon of very small seeds like alfalfa, and double or triple that of bulky seeds like lentils, chickpeas, mung beans or peas.
Fill the jar with cold soak for a few hours or overnight. The next day, drain well and leave the jar in a warm place, but not in direct sun as it will be too hot.
Every day, give the seeds a thorough rinse with fresh water then drain and shake seed back to the bottom.
Once you see signs of germination, you can start eating them, but they can be left to grow bigger if you prefer more greenery. Once they’re at the size you like, transfer into an airtight container or resealable bag and pop in the fridge. Sprouts keep well for up to a week, so don’t make more than you can eat or they’ll only end up in the compost.
BREW A BATCH OF SEAWEED FERTILISER
Give your plants a boost with some homemade seaweed fertiliser. After a storm, seaweed can often be found strewn far and wide, and it makes for a fabulous free tonic to use on your garden. Take a trug to the beach and collect it from the high-tide line (never pull live kelp out of the water), then take it home and rinse off the sand and excess salt. If what you’ve gathered is tough and dry from days spent baking in the sun (like the kelp pictured above), take out your spade and chop it into smaller pieces to help speed up decomposition. You can also run your lawnmower over those bits to reduce the size even further. Avoid damage to your mower blades by removing the holdfast (the anchoring root structure that glues the kelp to the sea floor), as it’s very hard and can be full of stones.
To turn seaweed into liquid fertiliser, simply place it in a barrel or large lidded bucket and cover it with water. Leave it for a few months to break down, then strain, dilute with fresh water and spray on your plants.
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