All about soil and sow­ing TRANS­PLANT LEEK SEEDLINGS

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING - LYNDA HALLINAN

Leeks used to be a big source of frus­tra­tion for me. Ev­ery year I’d sow the seeds, painstak­ingly trans­plant all those blade-of-grassthick seedlings, thin du­ti­fully and wait pa­tiently... but for what? If I was lucky, I’d end up with clumps of what looked like chubby spring onions, but they never grew stalks thicker than an inch. So a few years ago I gave up sow­ing and started trans­plant­ing leek seedlings in­stead – and just look at the re­sults.

I buy bulk bun­dles of seedlings by mail or­der from Awa­puni Nurs­eries. You get at least 50 plants for $7.99, which isn’t as cheap as a packet of seed but I know that ul­ti­mately I’m go­ing to har­vest 50 big fat leeks for 16c each, com­pared to at least $2 each in the su­per­mar­ket.

From seed to har­vest, leeks take at least six months – and up to a year – to pro­duce stalks with a gen­er­ous girth. They’re slow starters but they hold well in win­ter soil and you don’t have to worry about them bolt­ing to seed un­til the in­creas­ing day length trig­gers flow­er­ing around Oc­to­ber/Novem­ber. Even then, the sculp­tural ball-shaped flow­ers look neat so I’m never par­tic­u­larly sad to see the last strag­glers go to seed.

If you want to sow leeks di­rect, or in trays, you need to start in late spring or early sum­mer. Pre­pare your soil with gen­eral gar­den fer­tiliser and cul­ti­vate a sow­ing trench. Space the seeds at least 5cm apart and lightly cover; they will even­tu­ally need to be spaced at least 15cm apart but you can eat the thin­nings later on as baby leeks. Or scat­ter seeds in a tray for prick­ing out when they’re

8-10cm tall. You can still sow leeks now but they won’t be ready to eat un­til mid-spring.

When trans­plant­ing leek seedlings, plant deeply. Use a bam­boo stake or dib­ber to make 10cm deep holes, and drop a seedling into each one. Cover with soil and wa­ter in well. Keep the soil as moist as you can for the first 7-10 days af­ter trans­plant­ing.

Check trans­planted leeks ev­ery few days af­ter plant­ing as cats and birds most likely won’t spot the seedlings and have a habit of ac­ci­den­tally scratch­ing them up.

Once your seedlings thicken up, you can mound up the soil around their stems for blanched white bases, but be care­ful not to mound it up too high or you’ll end up with soil em­bed­ded be­tween the pale lay­ers at har­vest.

START STOCKPILING SOIL IMPROVERS

We all know that the best way to im­prove soil over time is to dig in bucket-, bar­row- or truck­loads of com­post. But while most gar­dens pro­duce heaps of green waste, it’s not as easy as it sounds to turn that into rich, black, crumbly com­post.

At this time of the year it’s clear which parts of your gar­den have soil in need of im­prove­ment – the ar­eas you can’t dig be­cause the clay has turned to con­crete, or the dusty soil that’s so dry it ac­tu­ally re­pels, rather than soaks up, wa­ter. Open, ex­posed soil al­ways suf­fers more in sum­mer than soil that’s partly shaded, mulched or even weedy!

While it’s still scorch­ing hot, it’s too hard to sort your soil, but you can start build­ing up au­tumn re­sources. Use your lawn mower as a mini-mulcher for green waste, layer grass clip­pings with dead leaves (ev­er­greens drop them all year round), clear out your chook coop and stock up on cow and sheep ma­nure. Af­ter heavy rain, this can all be dug straight into the soil, forked in lightly or buried in trenches to slowly break down.

DIG MAIN CROP SPUDS AF­TER THEY DIE DOWN

Main crop pota­toes for win­ter stor­age, such as ‘Agria’, ‘Nadine’ and ‘Rua’, can be dug once they have flow­ered and their leafy tops have died down com­pletely. This takes any­where from 100 to 140 days, de­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety. It’s im­por­tant to wait for the tops to die down be­cause, by then, the skins on the sub­ter­ranean tu­bers will have fully hard­ened, so they will keep bet­ter. Eat any blem­ished tu­bers, and any you ac­ci­den­tally spear with a fork. If your plants suc­cumb to blight, cut the tops off and dis­pose of them, then dig and eat the tu­bers as they won’t keep

SOW SWEDES FOR BABY VEG

Swedes grow big­gest in the south... but in the north they grow the fastest, so you can still sow them di­rect now for a win­ter crop of sweet baby swedes. Sow ‘Cham­pion Pur­ple Top’ (pic­tured) and har­vest at the ten­nis-ball 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 stage.

SOW KALE

Kale is de­pend­able in au­tumn and win­ter. Trans­plant pun­nets or sow di­rect for baby salad kale. Kale never fails, is nu­tri­tious and frost-hardy. Sow Tus­can kale (cavolo nero), curly kale (pic­tured above) or ‘Red Rus­sian’ (all from Kings Seeds) un­der net­ting to pro­tect it from cab­bage but­ter­flies.

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