Homegrown tomatoes worth the effort
RAISE TOMATOES FROM SEED SOWN IN POTS UNDER COVER
Growing your own tomatoes from seed is economical if you want to grow many different varieties, or if you’ve saved your seed from last year’s fruit. They do, however, need a little mollycoddling. Sow tomato seeds in plastic seed trays or small individual pots filled with sterile seed-raising mix. Don’t sow too deep – a light (1-2mm) sprinkle of seed-raising over the top is sufficient. Ensure the mix is moist, but not waterlogged, and cover with a plastic sheet or bag. This traps the humidity to speed up sprouting. Place the trays or pots in a warm spot, such as inside a hot water cupboard. As soon as you see signs of germination, remove the plastic and move the pots into a brightly lit location indoors, such as a sunny windowsill. They need as much natural light as possible or they’ll grow tall and spindly (leggy). Once they are 3-5cm tall, move them under a cloche or to a tunnelhouse for better light. The seedlings will need repotting into larger pots of potting mix after a month. They will be ready to transplant at Labour Weekend.
WEED & FEED STRAWBERRIES
The first strawberries will be ripe in a few weeks, so spend some time this weekend tidying up established strawberry beds. Weed (carefully) around your plants. Do this with a hand-held trowel or fork rather than a push hoe or spade, as strawberries have wide spreading roots that are easily damaged when you’re yanking out competing weeds. Once the weeds are all cleared, lightly water in fertiliser. You can use any general purpose NPK fertiliser, as strawberries are vigorous growers with a general hunger for nitrogen as well as the potassium in a specialist fruit fertiliser such as Daltons Strawberry Fert or a tomato fertiliser. The final step is to lay mulch or straw over the bare soil around your plants to suppress weed growth and keep the developing fruit clear of the soil. Later, when the fruit is ripe, it will be less susceptible to rotting on the undersides or getting grey mould if it isn’t sitting on damp spring soil. Get your bird covers sorted now too. Plastic netting does the trick.
MULCH RHUBARB & ASPARAGUS CROWNS
Winter-dormant perennial crops of asparagus and rhubarb may not be showing any signs of life yet, but they will at least be thinking about it! (Even though the first locally grown asparagus spears are available in shops already, my first spears don’t emerge until early October.) Remove any weed growth around both of these crops and mulch them well to stop another rash of weed seeds germinating in spring. No weeds also means no place for slugs and snails to hide, while mulching also helps insulate the soil, warming it up just a notch.
SOW OR TRANSPLANT SPINACH
Although it’s officially spring, we have a wee way to go yet before our vege gardens are back into harvest mode. Bridge the gap between the last winter brassicas and the first summer salad greens with spinach, silverbeet or colourful Swiss chard. Plant a row of spinach (or the mild ‘Perpetual’ variety of silverbeet) under a cloche or plastic-covered grow tunnel to cut the growing time
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 from plot to plate.
PRESERVE LIMES WHILE THEY ARE IN SEASON
Tahitian limes will be turning yellow by now, a sign they are fully ripe and will soon drop off the branch. If you have more than you need, freeze whole fruit in freezer-safe plastic bags. When thawed, there’s no noticeable drop in quality of either the zest or the juice. Limes are cheap and plentiful right now so put a few on ice for summer; in the lead up to Christmas, they cost as much as $39.99/kg.