Bridge the gap with mi­cro­greens LEAVE FERNS ON AS­PARA­GUS

The Tribune (NZ) - - GARDENING - RACHEL OLDHAM

When you’re short on space – or time – grow mi­cro­greens. These mini salad bars are ready to eat in much less time that it takes for let­tuce and other salad veges to ma­ture. They are also a great way to save money while the cost of bagged salad greens are so high.

To grow your own, find a pot or tray that’s at least 10cm deep and fill with seed-rais­ing mix. Scat­ter your seeds thickly over the top, firm down gen­tly then cover lightly with more soil. Wa­ter gen­tly and put the tray in a sunny spot out­side or tucked away in a tun­nel­house or con­ser­va­tory. Keep mist­ing with wa­ter every day. Har­vest when they have pro­duced (at least) their first true set of leaves. Seeds that will per­form well now in­clude kale, ‘Rain­bow Light’ beets, cress, rocket, mizuna, peas, mus­tard, co­rian­der, radish and pak choi. Buy mi­cro­green seeds from www.kingsseeds.co.nz or gar­den cen­tres.

If your as­para­gus bed re­sem­bles a fern­ery, never fear! These tall, wispy ferns are formed from un­picked spears and their pur­pose is to pro­vide the crowns in the soil be­low with en­ergy (through pho­to­syn­the­sis) for the fol­low­ing sea­son’s spear pro­duc­tion.

While the ferns are not par­tic­u­larly pretty, they have a vi­tal func­tion so don’t be tempted to cut them back un­til they have turned brown and dried off around mid win­ter. When it’s time, cut the ferns back at ground level and add to the com­post.

This is also a great time to lay down thick mulch to help sup­press weeds.

There’s no need to feed as­para­gus dur­ing win­ter – wait un­til it bursts back into ac­tion in spring, when the spears start emerg­ing.

If you want to start an as­para­gus bed, now is the time to start build­ing up the soil. Dig in loads of well-rot­ted ma­nure, sea­weed or blood and bone, com­post and pea straw. Let it break down un­til plant­ing time in spring.

You can buy dor­mant twoyear-old as­para­gus crowns dur­ing win­ter, but the best time for plant­ing in the gar­den is when the soil tem­per­a­ture reaches 12°C – around early spring. In­stead, bed these crowns into a tray of pot­ting mix to save risk­ing them rot­ting in the wet, cold win­ter soil and plant once con­di­tions are more suit­able. Crowns are fairly ex­pen­sive but they will save you sev­eral years of wait­ing un­til you can har­vest, which is their ad­van­tage over seed-sown plants. How­ever, if you’re pa­tient and have time, as­para­gus grown from seed can pro­vide many more plants for a frac­tion of the cost.

As­para­gus is slow to es­tab­lish, but once it is, a well-nour­ished bed will keep you in ten­der spring spears for at least 20 years. As­para­gus beds can also take up a lot of space, so you may end up de­cid­ing to move them to a more suit­able spot out of the way. The best time to do this is dur­ing late win­ter or early spring – de­pend­ing on where in New Zealand you live. The crowns will need to be care­fully lifted and re­planted in deep trenches of rich, weed-free soil. Avoid the temp­ta­tion to pick any spears in the first sea­son af­ter they’ve been moved to let the crowns build up their re­serves again.

GET YOUR SPRING BULBS PLANTED

Time is run­ning out for plant­ing spring bulbs. If you haven’t done so al­ready, pre­pare the area for plant­ing with a thor­ough weed­ing and dig­ging over of the soil. Ex­ist­ing bulb beds should be weeded (care­fully) now too so when the es­tab­lished bulbs spring back into life, they won’t have to com­pete with heavy ground­cover. Spring bulbs are still avail­able in gar­den cen­tres and on­line stores such as NZ Bulbs (www.nzbulbs.co.nz) but don’t de­lay – time is run­ning out to get them in the ground.

HAR­VEST JERUSALEM AR­TI­CHOKES

If you’re lucky enough to be grow­ing these peren­nial sun­flow­ers, har­vest time will be soon ap­proach­ing – if it hasn’t al­ready. Jerusalem ar­ti­chokes (Helianthus tubero­sus) are grown for their earthy, tuber­ous roots that are ready to eat when the plant dies down in late au­tumn or early win­ter. It’s not a crop to har­vest all at once as they don’t keep well, so just dig up as many as you need each day leav­ing the rest tucked in the soil. Give them a scrub, then roast or turn them into soup. Look for tu­bers at markets and plant them in a 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

sunny spot. Plants reach 2m tall so are best grown to­wards the back of your plot. Any tu­bers left be­hind will re­sprout the fol­low­ing spring.

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