Bridge the gap with microgreens LEAVE FERNS ON ASPARAGUS
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.