Time to bring out pick­ling jars

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING - RACHEL OLD­HAM

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.

GROW SPROUTS

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

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