The Dominion Post
Cover up for winter salad planting
Look after your brassicas
Hardy brassicas are the mainstays of the vege patch and some TLC now will help them reach their full potential.
Feed brussels sprouts. Crack the whip on these mini cabbages with regular doses of growth-promoting liquid fertiliser, or mulch with compost and sheep pellets. The bigger the plants are going into winter, the bigger their sprouts will be.
Like it or not, curly kale is a cracker of an easy winter crop and, like parsnips and swedes, tastes much better after the first hard frosts. Incidentally, the thicker leaves of ‘Blue Ridge’, ‘Squire’ and ‘Scotch Blue Curled’ (all from Kings Seeds) seem less afflicted by white cabbage butterfly caterpillars than the more delicate raggedy foliage of ‘Red Russian‘ or ‘Cavolo Nero’.
White cabbage butterflies are still on the wing in warmer areas and their caterpillar offspring can turn brassica leaves to confetti in just a few days.
Prevention is better than spraying after the damage is done. Look under the leaves for eggs if your brassicas aren’t already safely tucked under horticultural mesh.
Flicking the eggs off the underside of relatively smooth broccoli and cabbage leaves is easy enough with one finger. It’s a bit harder with super crinkly kale leaves, but a small paintbrush does a good job of fossicking into every corner for eggs and newly hatched caterpillars.
Keep sowing under cover
Use DIY cloches for late sowing. April days can still be fairly balmy, but the mercury plunges when the sun goes down and cool nights quickly rob your soil of its lingering warmth.
To extend your direct-sowing season, cover your seed trenches with a simple cloche made from bent wire hoops under clear polythene. Peg down the sides and ensure the ends are firmly tied in too.
Use cloches to start hardy salad crops including red lettuces, perennial rocket (arugula), corn salad and miner’s lettuce.
Plants that shine in the rain
Leaves that accumulate raindrops take on a new look in the rain.
The lime green leaves of little Alchemilla mollis glitter and droplets on the deep purple foliage of Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ shine like silver.
Large leaves, such as alocasia, can hold quite a bit of water. Sparkling droplets of rain accumulate in the curves of the leaves until the weight becomes too much – the water tips out suddenly and the process starts all over again.
The puckered leaves of blue-grey hostas can look like wet sand when the tide has gone out, an illusion heightened by the ability of these densely textured leaves to hold on to raindrops for some time after the clouds have cleared.
Some flowers look good with a coating of moisture too. The scarlet blooms of Erythrina bidwillii dazzle when the sky is blue and the sun shines but when the rain comes it is still bright and cheerful, despite the gloomy sky.