Each month we provide simple planting tips for your home garden and veggie plots. It’s another way of helping you build a more sustainable lifestyle, eat healthier foods and save money by growing your own.
We would like to thank Hannah Zwartz, Green Gardner, Kapiti Coast District Council and Dominion Post Organic Gardner Columnist for providing us with these planting tips.
The Wonderful Feijoa
Here in Aotearoa we tend to take feijoas for granted - especially at this time of year. But this remarkable fruit should be savoured and celebrated.
Feijoas were brought to New Zealand from eastern South America in the 1920s, and came to thrive in our temperate climate, enjoying the summer warmth and winter chill. Though tough, surviving neglect and wind, they will fruit best when given shelter and plenty of compost and water.
If you’ve only got room for one feijoa, `Unique’ is one that doesn’t need cross-pollination (though fruits are smaller than other types.) If you have space, growing a few different varieties not only improves pollination but provides a longer cropping season, from early `Gemini’ and `Kakariki’ to mid-season `mammoth’ and late `Triumph’ and `Wiki Tu’. Each also have their own distinct flavour - some sweeter, some tarter. These named varieties are grown from cuttings. Un-named seedlings are cheaper but a bit hit-or-miss on fruiting.
If you have too many fruit, they freeze well whole or peeled and chopped.
Pruning is not essential but anyone who’s tried to pick from an old 3m tree will see the value in keeping plants compact. When all fruit have dropped, thin out any old twiggy wood from the inside and shorten the longest branches (they can break under the weight of fruit.) Don’t leave pruning too long after fruiting or you’ll lose the new growth. Take the chance also after harvest to give trees a good layer of compost. Feijoas are shallow rooted, so they love being mulched- and a good cropper has easily earned it.
Sow: There’s a small window left for sowing carrots and beetroot but you can sow lettuce, coriander and broad beans, and onions in trays to plant out in late winter. Grow microgreens on a sunny windowsill. Snow peas and Chinese greens are more cold tolerant than their relatives fat-pod peas or cabbages.
- Lawns: Now is the time to rejuvenate lawns, as new seed will sprout well before the soil gets too cold. Fork over tired areas to aerate, rake on compost for top dressing. Look for drought-resistant types.
- Shelter: It’s a good time to plant hedges or shelterbelts. Sometimes seedlings of natives such as taupata (Coprosma repens) have popped up- especially under trees where birds congregate – and these can be moved to suitable positions before they get too big.
- Garlic and Strawberries: Both can be planted over the next couple of months; getting them in early means earlier crops. Fork in a 5cm layer of good compost before planting. Pine needles or leaves make a good mulch for strawberries.
- Broad Beans: These are one of the few vegetables whose seeds will germinate at low temperatures. Sow a row every week or two to stagger your crop.
- Mulch: Check the soil is wet at a spade’s depth before mulching. Even though we’ve had some heavy rains, they can take a while to sink into parched ground.
Plant: Fennel, garlic, beetroot, winter greens- bok choy, lettuce, miners lettuce, land cress, silver beet.
Autumn in the garden:
Things are slowing down in the garden. Winter crops like carrots, beetroot, silver beet and the cabbage family should already be in (get them in pronto if not.) Carrots and beetroot make the most of warm soil and autumn rains. Don’t add any new compost for these crops or you’ll end up with all leaf and no root. Sow in rows, keep
moist (a piece of old carpet can be laid over sowings for a week, but no longer or it will stunt the new plants.) Thin after about a month, then again at about 8 weeks- these should be edible as baby beets and carrots.
Otherwise, it’s all about compost and looking after the soil so it’s ready for next spring. Beds that aren’t being used over winter can be cleared (avoid growing a winter weed crop) and sown with green manure like lupins or mustard. Or make a compost heap on top of the bed- this means less barrowing in spring.
Plant: Garlic, lettuce, silver beet, beetroot, celery, strawberries.
Sow: Broad beans, carrots, beetroot, miner’s lettuce.
An ever-popular crop with children. Strawberry beds can also be planted in spring, but planting now gives them time to bulk up over winter, for earlier fruit. Strawberry plants usually give their best fruit for about three years, after which they will produce less fruit and may be best replaced by new plants.
The good news is, they put out 'runners' with new plants on them. Use these and you won’t have to buy new plants.
- Each string of `runners’ can grow up to five plants. The first one in line, closest to the mother plant is the strongest. Ideally, cut the others off as they appear over summer, pegging down the first one so it can form roots. If you have done this, the new plants just need moving in autumn.
- If you haven’t done this, peg the first runner down now and cut off the others. You can use a metal tent peg, a piece of wire, or even a stone, to hold the plant firmly against the soil so it produces roots.
- Once roots are formed, maybe in about a month, dig up the new plant and replant in a new area. If you make a new row (or two) of strawberries each autumn, then after three years the oldest plants can be dug up and discarded, with plenty of new ones to take their place.
- Strawberries like lots of compost. If your soil is clayey, plant them on little hills to stop roots rotting. They also love mulch - pine needles are good to keep the soil acid.
- They need sun but can handle shade for part of the day.
- Strawberries also grow well in tyres- make a stack with three tyres on the bottom and one on top. Fill with compost and pop a plant into each pocket.
Planting in May means garlic should be ready before Christmas. As well as being used in cooking around the world, garlic is a strong antibiotic and antiviral. If you feel you are getting a cold, eating three cloves or so will stop it in its tracks (do this with an apple in the other hand, alternating bites, to take away the sting!)
- The better your soil, the better the crop. Add compost and a dusting of lime and potash.
- Choose the fattest, healthiest bulbs you can find – spindly ones will never come to much.
- Space them at about 20cm apart. Poke a hole with a stick and pop in the bulb so its tip is just below the surface (make sure you get them the right way up).
- Mulch with a light airy mulch like pea straw to keep weeds away.
- Liquid feed with seaweed once a month.
- Don’t let the stalks completely dry off or your garlic will have separated off into cloves and won’t keep so well. Instead, feel around under the soil to tell when they are fat enough to harvest.
The late summer garden is starting to look dried out and tired- it’s time to rip out the old and put in some winter vegetables.
It seems strange that in the height of summer, we’re thinking about winter crops, but if planted too late they will sit in the beds as if in cold storage, neither dying nor growing.
They need to ideally be planted by March at the latest, so autumn rains and warm soil can give them a good head start. This means some protection from white cabbage butterflies for the brassicas – hoops with netting, or an organic bT spray.
The problem for me is finding room.
Kamokamo, zucchini, pumpkins and beans are in full growth while tomatoes are just starting to bear fruit; I’ve managed to find space for a patch of leeks but I have no idea where the broccoli will fit in. This embarrassment of riches continues on the grapevine over the deck. Not having tied the vines high enough early in the season means tall visitors are in danger of knocking off the heavy hanging crop.
There are always gaps once you look, however. Potatoes are due to be dug, parsley and lettuce have gone to seed. While leaving the best ones to save seed for next year, the others can go to make room for cabbage, kale and broccoli, and a few carrots and beetroot – more of these root crops can be sown in autumn. Root crops don’t need extra compost added at planting time. Too much, and they’ll grow all leafy but not develop big roots.
It’s at this time of year that you really appreciate the value of thick mulch. Those areas with thick layers of straw are surviving well even watered once a week, long after the bits I didn’t get round to are wilting.
Plant: Brassicas, silver beet, lettuce and other salad greens, red onions, leeks, fennel.
- Find some room for winter crops and plant into composted soil.
- Keep picking summer crops – left even a few days, the beans and zucchini can overwhelm.
- Summer-prune stonefruit trees to avoid silverleaf spores that can infect pruning wounds in winter.
- Warm weather brings out all sorts of weevils, beetles and caterpillars. Watch for early signs and try to hose off or destroy before populations build up.
Sow: Carrots, beetroot, coriander, rocket, calendula, peas, green crops (direct); alyssum, lettuce, spinach, silver beet, peas (in trays). Also kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower (in trays, protected from white butterflies.)
This bit is directly pinched from last march OTI but may be useful:
Spotlight on brassicas: Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, mustard.
- They love lots of good compost and seaweed. Add plenty of nitrogen (eg manure) for leafy cabbages and kale, with extra potassium (eg wood ash) for `headers’ like caulis and broccoli.
- Plant a variety, for different harvesting times – you may not be picking sprouting broccoli until spring, but you’ll be glad of it then. Purple frilled kale, or purple caulifowers, add some colour to the bed. If you’re not growing from seed, the newspaper parcels at the supermarket are good value, but don’t leave them sitting round- get the bed ready first, then buy them.
- Sometimes it’s hard to find space for the winter crops when summer ones are still growing, but getting in brassicas early (March at the latest) is crucial if they’re not to stay accusingly small all winter. Make new beds if needs be.
- Plant seedlings lower than they were in punnets, firming them in `up to their necks’ (ie right up to the lowest set of `leaves’ - actually the seed leaves or cotyledons.) This reduces wind rock, a common reason for crop failure - it’s hard to grow big when you’re being shaken back and forth by every gust. Compost can also be piled up around brassica stems as they grow.
Keeping fruiting plants like zucchini and tomatoes on the dry side has its advantages, writes Lynda Hallinan in ‘Get Growing’ e-zine. “Starving courgettes of water is actually a cunning plan: the fruit develops more slowly (and thus is less watery/has firmer flesh) and you’re less likely to end up overrun with massive marrows. It also means that, when grating flesh for zucchini fritters, there’s no need to squeeze out excess moisture.”
Leafy greens, on the other hand, need water to stay crisp so plant them partly in shade at this time of year.
I’ve now harvested garlic and my first potatoes. We are also picking zucchini, beans, silverbeet, spreen, cucumbers and the first tomatoes.
Tomatoes are originally from über-dry Mexico and humid weather or rain bring fungal blight problems, so keep an eye out and remove affected leaves early. Bin or burn them rather than adding to the compost heap.
Some gardeners pinch out all laterals (the shoots that grow from the `armpits’ of leaves) to concentrate on one strong fruiting stem, while others avoid any pruning as the open wounds are an entry point for fungal spores.
Choose a dry, sunny and windy day each week to tie in new growth and nip out unwanted lateral shoots. Cut off yellowing lower leaves (choose a dry day again) to keep airflow and sun around the fruit.
Did you plant your tomato seedlings far enough apart? I plant mine further and further apart each year as I realise how large they can grow. Ample airflow between them helps prevent damp leaves and fungal disease.
Liquid feed (seaweed or comfrey) can be watered onto leaves once a week or so. Otherwise, water the soil (if needed) as wet leaves cause blights.
Spring was dry, and as we move imperceptibly towards a predicted hot summer, the issue of watering the garden starts to loom.
For me, watering will never be something that can be totally automated – it always involves getting your fingers into the soil, feeling how damp the soil is below the surface.
A bed can look parched but, if you poke in a finger and feel moisture, watering can wait for another day. Keeping the top layers of soil wet encourages shallow rooted, needy plants that collapse if neglected for a day or two.
That said, my soil is pure sand and actually repels water if allowed to totally dry out. It takes time to build up good soil on the dunelands. The best vege beds are full of damp organic matter – compost, rotted manure and seaweed – and thickly mulched with straw.
They will need minimal watering, perhaps a deep soak after a week without rain. Shrub beds have been mulched with a deep 10cm layer of Getting water right down to where it’s needed, at the roots, means watering deeply and slowly and adding more organic matter on top. – a mulch layer that stops water evaporating. Lay soak hoses along the surface of the bed as you plant. Later in summer, when watering is needed, it’s just a question of clipping on a hose, setting a timer and walking away, knowing that you’re using precious water in the most efficient way possible.
I’m still planting summer vegetables but anything else, like shrubs or trees, will have to wait until autumn, when the rains can help water them; I have no desire to spend all summer on the end of a hose!
Net strawberries – and other berries – to stop birds getting the best of your crop.
Early summer in the garden:
Plant out: Tomatoes, cucumber, beans, peas, potatoes, corn, lettuce, silver beet, pumpkin, squash, red onions, leeks (for winter), basil and other herbs.
- Keep planting summer vegetables … like tomatoes, beans, cucumber, zucchini and pumpkins. Things are still growing fast.
- Mulch as you plant, to keep weeds away … and stop plant roots from drying out. Lay soak hoses and watering bottles through beds at planting time too – it gets harder later.
- If you can’t get around all the weeds, slash down those that are going to seed.
- Slashed annual weeds can be smothered with newspaper/cardboard and mulch – you don’t always need to dig out every root.
- Make liquid feed by soaking comfrey or seaweed in a bucket of water. Water it on every week or month; you’ll notice a big difference in the health of your plants.
- Keep making compost – even if you never get around to turning it, it will be ready for autumn plantings.
- Enjoy the garden! Long evenings and early dawns are made for being outside. A few minutes of planting or watering make great stress relief over the silly season.
Sow seeds: Salad greens, carrots, beetroot, radish, zucchini, pumpkin, cucumber, corn, beans, peas, silver beet, sunflowers.
Berm Busting: Streetside berms or verges make great gardens. As well as producing food, they can brighten the neighbourhood and provide biodiversity for bees, birds and lizards. Residents are responsible for maintaining the berms outside their own houses and can choose to plant gardens there instead of lawns.
- Choose species carefully so they won’t block the footpath or lift paving
- Visibility: don’t block views for cars going in and out of driveways
- Services: don’t plant huge trees that will interfere with wires or underground services. Check the location of services first
- Allow for access for people opening their car doors, and for pedestrian safety crossing roads.
- A streetside strawberry patch in Paekakariki
Jobs for October
If you want to grow from seed, this month is very busy. (If you miss sowing, plan B is buying some seedlings, and sowing for later crops.)
- Keep weeding and mulching. You’ll be so glad later in summer (when the soil is rock-hard and the weed seeds are blowing everywhere) if you can get on top of things now. A thick 10cm mulch layer around shrubs and trees means less weeding and watering over summer.
- Gimme Shelter: Good shelter makes plants grow faster as they’re not stressed out by root rock or water loss. For seedlings, use plastic bottles/twiggy hurdles/existing plants (a few brassicas and lettuces left to go to seed also provide shelter), and low herbal hedges around your beds. Bricks or rocks next to new plantings stabilize roots and provide thermal mass.
- Compost: It’s great rotting weather and there are lots of weeds and grass clippings at hand to recycle. Pile up new heaps, and turn older ones to find the black gold at the base.
- Stake tomatoes, beans and peas at planting time to prevent root damage from shoving in stakes later. Tomatoes need 2m ish tall, strong stakes. For cherry tomatoes, which have a more sprawling habit, try cage-type support such as a ring of netting or tripod of canes. Beans can climb up a pole (or sunflower, or corn stalk) by themselves while peas’ smaller tendrils need more intricate, twiggy support.
- Pull off flowers from newly planted fruit trees. For the few years, you want all their energy to go into making roots and leaves. Pulling off flowers is much easier than pulling off baby fruit!
- Make mounds of compost and old manure in sunny corners for your cucurbits- pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers and kamokamo, while you start off the seeds somewhere warm. I use old egg cartons – one seed per cup – which can then be planted out cardboard and all.
Sow in trays: Lots of salad greens, parsley, spring broccoli and cabbage, spring onions, peas, beans, lots of companion flowers.
Sow direct: Beetroot, carrots, radish, coriander, rocket, peas, lettuce.
Sow under glass: Tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumber, zucchini, kamokamo (Wait until it’s reliably warmer to plant these out, unless you have a cloche, but get beds ready with compost and manure).
Plant: Citrus and feijoa trees, passionfruit; yams, potatoes; greens (lettuce, spinach, silver beet, cabbage), dahlias and other companion flowers.
Feed: Lay seaweed or compost around rhubarb and fruit trees. Pebbles make a long-lasting mulch in open areas away from falling leaves.
Yams do well in loose sandy soils. Use the biggest you can find, and cover them with mulch.
October Plant of the Month has to be the tomato in all its shapes, colours and sizes. Plant now.
Who says you need a big garden?
Originally from: South America, reached its present form in Mexico.
Loves: Warmth, warmth, compost.
Support: With a sturdy stake, or a cage of netting for the more rambling cherry types. Allow ample airflow to prevent fungal diseases.
Favourite drink: Comfrey and seaweed tea.
Weaknesses: Fungal blights later in the season. Planting in different ground each year helps prevent these.
What you may not know: Planting tomatoes deeper (burying the stem up to the first set of leaves) makes for a stronger root system.
For more from the Green Gardener, see www.kapiticoast.govt.nz
Early Spring Jobs
Plant and sow: Peas, broad beans, carrots and beetroot, onions, spring onions, lettuce, spinach, silver beet, early zucchini and pumpkins (under cover/cloches), early potatoes, herbs and wildflowers (see below).
- Plant early potatoes (be ready to protect them with frost cloth or old curtains etc, if late frosts strike)
- Very last chance for winter pruning of roses, grapes, apples – the sap is rising.
- Mulch fruit trees. Under plant with herbs and flowers to attract beneficial insects.
- Sow and plant spring crops to make the most of the warm, wet months ahead. Plant peas now to be eating them at Christmas. It’s still cold for early courgettes and pumpkins but they can go in under cover (eg a cloche or upside down large plastic bottle).
- Prepare other beds with compost, or start cutting down green manure, in preparation for summer crops like tomatoes. Don’t get too carried away and plant warmth-lovers like tomatoes, beans and corn too early- they won’t put on much growth until the soil warms up.
Establishing an orchard herbal ley:
It sounds kind of mystical but it’s actually … very simple. Under planting fruit trees with a living mulch of herbs and flowers will nourish your trees, keep away pests and attract beneficial insects. Whether your orchard runs to acres or consists of one backyard fruit tree, now is the time to do it.
This underplanting mainly applies to deciduous fruit trees – evergreens like citrus and feijoas are shallower-rooted, so pile on a nice thick layer of compost and mulch instead to feed them and hold moisture over summer. Light scramblers like nasturtiums or kookihi/NZ spinach are OK as they won’t compete too much for root space.
Comfrey is the number one plant to have under deciduous fruit trees. Deep taproots brings up minerals like potassium and calcium, while large leaves shade the roots and keep away weeds, eliminating the need for weed-eating around your trees if they are in mown grass. Once it’s growing strongly, comfrey can be harvested for composting or making fertiliser tea. Plant it around the dripline, where the branches will eventually spread. In spring, finger-sized pieces of root will quickly sprout if buried 5-10cm deep.
For bees: Have flowers in season as long as …. possible. Early flowers like borage, blooming in sync with your trees, attract bees to increase pollination and improve crops. Try chicory, borage, echium, alyssum, salvias, lemon balm, lavender, catmint, dahlia, marigolds, clover, sedum, wallflowers, oregano, rosemary.
Attracting beneficial insects: For many predators and parasites such as hoverflies, parasitic wasps and lacewings, it’s the larvae who eat aphids and caterpillars, while the adults feed on nectar. They have tiny mouthparts so attract them with flowerheads made up of many small flowers - mints, thyme, oregano, lemon balm, lavender, alyssum, calendula, buckwheat, phacelia. They especially like the daisy family – eg calendula, Echinacea, chrysanthemum – and the Umbellifer or carrot family – angelica, parsley (going to seed), wild carrot, fennel.
Repelling pests: I’m making no promises, but try strong scented plants likewormwood, tansy, lavender, mustard, peppermint.
Building soil: Diggers and miners like comfrey, chicory, parsnip and horseradish have deep tap roots that bring minerals from the subsoil. Other fastgrowing plants like lupin, borage and calendula can be cut or left to die back as green mulch.
Protecting soil: Living mulch, aka ground cover, protects soil from drying or erosion, keeping roots cool and sheltering worms. Try nasturtiums or kookihi/ NZ spinach.
How do you establish an under planting? Plant perennials now, or divide up existing clumps. Mulch well with compost, and sprinkle around seeds of annuals. Choose your favourites from the list below or buy a ready-made seed mixture. Many of these will self-seed year after year if they are happy.
Annuals: Borage, phacelia, buckwheat, echium, alyssum, marigolds (both calendula and tagetes), lupin, sweet peas, peas, nasturtium, angelica, wild carrot, parsnip.
Perennials: Lemon balm, mints, thyme, salvias, lavender (in sun), kookihi/NZ spinach, Echinacea, chrysanthemum, dahlia, catmint, sedum, wallflowers, rosemary, wormwood, comfrey, chicory.
And it’s not just about fruit trees- all these plants work equally well in a border or hedgerow round your vegetable patch.
Winter can be a quiet time in the garden, once you’ve got on top of your weeding and mulching. It’s a great time to assess the garden’s bone structure of paths and evergreens. If you do decide something needs changing, winter is also a good time to deal to tree pruning or hard landscaping jobs like building paths, walls or fences, without breaking too much of a sweat.
It’s also a good time for planting trees and shrubs, as you won’t have to spend hours watering them. And it’s a time to make plans. Draw up a map of your garden and make a few photocopies. Put your feet up, read some seed catalogues and plan next season’s plantings, so you can hit the ground running in Spring.
Water is of course on many people’s minds. A DIY rain barrel system can be put together for very little money – we are working on a video demonstrating how to do this, which will be on the Kapiti Coast District Council website shortly. If you want a bigger system, perhaps your council can offer a retrofit scheme as our does whereby they pay for your rain tanks or grey water system up front, and you can pay it off on the rates bill, interest free, over ten years .
And, of course, soil can be the best water storage device for plants if it’s got enough organic matter. Mulch, mulch and compost over winter to store water over the dry months.
Jobs and handy hints for July:
Sowing: It’s getting too cold for many seeds, but you can sow broad beans, and onions in trays to plant out in late winter. Grow microgreens on a sunny windowsill.
- Prune grapes and roses
- Mulch up around the stems of brassicas (eg broccoli, cabbage) with compost, especially if they’re rocking around in the wind
- Leaves on the lawn? Mow over them to get a great mix of shredded leaves and grass clippings in the catcher. Perfect for composting; pure grass clippings go slimy, but the leaves add air as well as the carbon needed for the breakdown process. Leaves break down quicker too with a bit of grass
- Mulch citrus and feijoas with good compost. After fruit has dropped is also your chance to trim feijoas. Pruning isn’t essential but a light yearly trim, and cutting out dead wood inside, keeps fruit in pickable reach
- Avoid a snail population explosion next spring by hunting them down, early mornings, in any damp crevice – pots, sacks, under logs….
- Look around for any gaps in your shelter and plant now. Small plants (20-30cm) soon catch up in growth with larger specimens, which experience more transplant shock
- Plan new paths to deal with any boggy areas
Plant: Garlic (see last month’s On To It), beetroot, winter greens- bok choy, lettuce, miners lettuce, land cress, silver beet.
Building a no-dig bed:
With lots of leaves (and weeds) around, now is a good time to build a no-dig bed that can rot down over winter to be ready for planting in spring.
1. Prepare the area: If it is grassy, scythe or trample the grass; if there are pernicious weeds like dock or kikuyu, dig them out. You can make a no-dig bed on top of gravel or concrete. Edgings are good, though not essential - driftwood, sleepers or decramastic roof tiles are good.
2. Gather materials:
3. Create: Completely cover the area with wet cardboard/ newspaper or carpet.
- Cardboard, newspapers or old carpet to lay under the bed.
- A pile of greens for nitrogen: grass clippings, manure, vege scraps, green leaves, green weeds (without seeds), blood and bone.
- Roughly twice as many dry browns for carbon: hay, dead leaves, old ponga or bracken fronds, seaweed, straw, lupin or tagasaste branches.
Layer materials, starting with a thick layer of twigs and branches, (even logs, for a hugelkultur bed that will hold moisture all summer) Follow with a thinner layer of nitrogen and so on. The higher the better, as it will lose height as it settles. End with a carbon layer, sprinkle with lime and water well. Cover with sacks or an old blanket or sheet, leave about 2 months to break down.
4. Plant: Make holes in your no-dig garden, fill with compost or garden soil. Plant seedlings into these pockets of soil. Gather the carbon material back around the seedling to mulch. Water well and watch it grow!
Happy New Year! It’s ironic that now, when many people finally have time off work to garden, it’s not the best time to plant or weed. If you got busy planting in spring, you’ll be reaping the rewards now. If not, there’s still time to plant late beans and zucchini, and leeks for winter harvest also need to go in soon.
Warmer weather also brings insect infestations. The secret here is vigilance- also known as an evening stroll in the garden. A few aphids, caterpillars or shield bugs can easily be squashed by hand or washed off by hose before they reach plague proportions. Using sprays, even organic ones, creates a vicious escalating cycle as it kills the pests’ predators as well.
The gardens with least pests are those with plenty of flowers - especially small ones like yarrow, alyssum, daisies, hebes or Queen Anne’s lace (as well as carrots, parsley and brassicas that have gone to seed.). Hoverflies, parasitic wasps and lacewings, whose larvae feed on aphids and caterpillars, have tiny mouthparts, so small-flowered plants help attract them to your garden.
Use flowers, instead of poisonous sprays, to manage insect pests in your garden.Summer in the garden:
Water on Fridays. Help keep your rates down, and protect the community water supply, by reducing peak water demand on weekends.
Mulch everywhere to keep weeds away and stop plant roots from drying out. Mulch on top of wet soil. Soak hoses laid under mulch get water where it’s needed, to roots.
Zucchini, beans, corn, lettuce, silver beet, beetroot, pumpkin, squash, red onions, leeks (for winter), basil and other herbs.
Brassicas for planting out in March, salad greens, carrots, beetroot, radish, beans, silver beet, zinnia, sunflowers.
Take the tips out of fig trees, and cut grape vines back to just a leaf or two beyond the last bunch of fruit. Cut back excessive leafy growth on fruit trees.
Berries and fruits may need protection from birds. Use netting, or try hanging up old CDs (or Christmas decorations).
Lettuce and salad greens need shade at this time of year, if they’re not to dry out and bolt.
Pile up grass and weeds for compost. Water, and cover it to keep it damp. Even if you never get around to turning it, you’ll have some ready for next spring.
Beans, pumpkins and tomatoes planted now will be ready to harvest in February, March and April.
Keep building up the soil with mulch and compost to hold the moisture that’s around at the moment. You’ll be glad of this in late summer when things get dry. Lay soak hoses under the mulch if possible.
Mulch as you plant to keep weeds away and stop roots drying out.
Make compost now to use on autumn plantings.
Make liquid feed from comfrey or seaweed in a bucket of water (a good excuse for a walk on the beach.)
It can be a very busy time of year – but gardening is a good way to wind down and you can achieve a lot from just ten or twenty minutes here and there.
Tomatoes, cucumber, beans, peas, potatoes, corn, lettuce, silver beet, beetroot, pumpkin, squash, red onions, leeks (for winter), basil and other herbs.
Salad greens, carrots, beetroot, radish, zucchini, pumpkin, cucumber, corn, beans, peas, silver beet, sunflowers.
Each month we look in more detail at crops that can be sown or planted now – this month, the pumpkin family.
Cucurbits: Pumpkin, cucumber, gourds, kamokamo, squash, zucchini.
This family can produce a lot of food over summer. To grow well they need plenty of food and water.
Sun is important. Roots in the shade are OK as long as the plant can scramble into the sun. Pumpkins and cucumbers are great to fill unused corners or climb fences or hedges. Zucchini are more compact, needing about a metre square.
Plant November/December for harvest Feb-April (depending on type).
Pumpkin seedlings often pop up in the compost heap and that’s a clue about how to grow this family- with plenty of compost.
Make a small mound of sticks and/or turf covered with compost. The sticks keep the soil loose. These mounds can be made on a bed, or on rough ground or grass (dig up the grass under the mound).
Sow a few seeds (or put a plant) into a pocket of good soil or potting mix atop the mound. Surround it with a watering trench so water soaks down, preparing the plant for summer dry spells by encouraging deep roots. A watering bottle next to each plant is good too.
Or use a tyre or pot filled with pure compost- this works even on concrete. Pumpkins and cucumber can climb fences or shrubs, so there should be room for them in even a small garden.
Once the young fruits form, they can be carved gently with names or initials. Harvest pumpkin and gourds only when the stalks are fully brown and dead.
Mildew: can strike, usually later in autumn if plants have dried out at the roots. Spray with a mixture of milk and baking soda, or just let the plant die off naturally if the fruits are already large enough.
Spring is in full swing: Plants are making rapid growth. Planting now makes the most of the season, getting Mother Nature to do some of the watering for you.
Sow seed: Salad greens, beans, peas, beetroot, tomatoes, basil, zucchini, kamokamo, pumpkin, cucumber, leeks, red onions, carrots, rocket, coriander, parsley, sunflower.
- Compost- It’s great rotting weather, and there are lots of weeds and grass clippings at hand. Pile up new heaps, and turn older ones to find the black gold at the base.
- As you weed an area, follow up with mulch it to keep weeds away and keep the ground moist over summer. Materials for mulch include twiggy prunings, tree lucerne (tagasaste) and seaweed, as well as hay, straw or cocoa husks if you have the budget.
- Raw wood chip or bark make long-lasting mulches, but can be like trying to eat a raw potato. Always add a sprinkling of something nitrogen-rich like chicken manure or blood-and-bone if using raw wood chip, to stop nitrogen being drawn from the soil during the breakdown process.
- Despite the rain, prepare for summer watering. Lay soak-hoses along a bed or sink plastic bottles, lid off and bottom cut off, beside plants to funnel water down to the roots. Doing this at planting time saves root disturbance later.
Plant out: Beans, tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, peas, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, all sorts of herbs.
Each month we’ll look in more detail at crops that can be sown or planted now – this month, tomatoes and beans.
Where: Tomatoes need lots of sun to ripen, and they are quite hungry feeders, doing best on good soil with extra compost, ideally forked into the bed a few weeks before planting time. They also grow well in tyres- one tyre, filled with one barrowload or bag of compost, per plant.
When: Plant from September or October to harvest in January. In a school situation, plant in November or December for harvest in February, March and April.
How: Tomato seed needs warmth and darkness to germinate. If you don’t have a glasshouse, put the whole pot inside a zip-lock plastic bag. Cover the pot with damp newspaper until you see the first green sprouts, then take out the newspaper and put the bag into full sun. It creates a mini-glasshouse that shouldn’t need extra watering; if it feels dry, water gently by spray bottle.
When seedlings have a few leaves, pot them into bigger pots. Allow about four weeks before planting outside. (Alternatively, buy seedlings.)
Cherry tomatoes: are a great child-friendly crop, sweet and easy to share. Plants are bushy and need support from a cage of netting, or tripod of canes, rather than a single stake as for taller types of tomatoes.
Stake: at time of planting so as not to damage roots by driving in a stake later. Plant about 50cm apart, or a metre apart for cherry types. Tie in new shoots every week or so with soft stocking ties, pinching out unwanted shoots. Mulch well with straw, seaweed, hay or a mixture of these. Once flowers appear: give extra liquid feed - seaweed or comfrey tea contain potassium which supports fruiting.
Pests and disease: Tomatoes originate in Mexico so are prone to blights in our damper climate. Try to prevent these by not growing them in the same place year after year. Good ventilation and airflow also helps, and good watering practice (water the soil, not the leaves, with a deep soak once a week.)
Insect pests include aphids, caterpillars and shield bugs; digital control is best (squashing between finger and thumb.)
Good companions: Mustard (attracts shield bugs away from tomatoes), basil, calendula, lettuces, chives, alyssum (attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids).
What: Beans can be climbing or dwarf, green, yellow or purple. Scarlet Runner beans are perennial (living for several years), but most are annual (living just one season.)
Where: Climbing beans need the support of poles, strings or trellis, so are good against a fence or shed, while dwarf types form a lower bush. Both prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade. They need soil that’s well drained but doesn’t dry out - having their feet in the shade, but heads in the sun, works well. Beans, like other legumes, fix their own nitrogen from the soil so don’t need lots of fertilizer.
How: Sow directly into moist soil, about 1.5cm deep and 15-20cm apart. Don’t water again until seeds have germinated as there’s a danger of rotting. You can sow some into egg cartons at the same time to fill any gaps (slugs and snails love the baby seedlings).
When: Can be sown from November right through until March.
Harvest: 8-12 weeks from sowing. Pick beans when pods are young and tender. Harvesting every 2-3 days prolongs production. Beans left on the vine become tough and stringy, and the bush also stops producing new beans as it thinks it’s reproductive purpose in life is fulfilled!
Good companions: Lettuce, cabbage, potato. Grow climbing types up corn stalks or sunflowers (let these get a head start to 5-10cm before planting beans). Cucumber or pumpkin grown along the ground beneath beans shade the roots preventing drying out, while benefitting from the beans’ shade.
Make the most of your space: Beans (like this borlotti) can grow up living stakes (like this maize). Cucumbers or pumpkins can scramble along the ground below, providing a living mulch to shade the roots.
Things are growing fast, so make the most of spring planting conditions by getting your garden set up for summer. (Handy hint- seeds don’t grow when they’re still in their packets on the shelf.)
Gardening is not an exact science, so it’s never easy to choose the right time to plant summer vegetables like tomatoes. Labour weekend is traditional, but surely that’s partly because busy people have a bit of extra time. If in doubt- go ahead and plant!
Our climate is so unpredictable that I tend to hedge my bets with planting times. Some summers (not many, if I’m honest) start in November; other years, it’s not until February. I’ve already got some tomatoes, beans and zucchini in the ground, and I’ll be putting in more every fortnight or so until the beds are full.
Young seedlings need daily care – it only takes one hot, dry day for their shallow root systems to dry out. Shade or protection from larger plants, or from plastic bottles filled with water, or strategically placed bricks (especially for warmth-lovers like zucchini) will help - check for slugs lurking underneath though.
The advantage of planting at this time of year is that Mother Nature can do some of the watering for you. By the time dry weather comes around, roots will hopefully be deep enough not to need so much watering. Plant on a grey day if possible, not in the heat of the sun – super keen gardeners even love to plant in the rain. Sunny, windy days on the other hand are perfect for hoeing, mowing, weeding or pruning.
We can still expect some stormy weather. Mini-cloches (e.g. upside down plastic bottles) can be handy if there’s a really cold snap. Take them off on a hot day however or things can quickly dry out.
- Stake tomatoes, beans and peas at the time of planting, to prevent root damage from shoving in stakes later. Tomatoes need 2m ish tall, strong stakes. For cherry tomatoes, which have a more sprawling habit, try cage-type support such as a ring of netting or tripod of canes.
- Beans can climb up a pole (or sunflower, or corn stalk) by themselves while peas’ smaller tendrils need more intricate, twiggy support.
- Plant comfrey from root cuttings (pieces of root). Around the base of fruit trees is the ideal spot, as they will grow to form a living mulch that shades roots while supplying mineral-rich leaves for compost and liquid teas.
- Compost- It’s great rotting weather and there are lots of weeds and grass clippings at hand. Pile up new heaps, and turn older ones to find the black gold at the base.
- As you weed an area, follow up with mulch it to keep weeds away and keep the ground moist over summer.
Salad greens, beans, peas, beetroot, tomatoes, basil, zucchini, kamokamo, pumpkin, cucumber, leeks, red onions, carrots, rocket, coriander, parsley, sunflower.
Beans, tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, peas, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, all sorts of herbs.
Spring is a great time to mulch, to keep away weeds and retain moisture over summer. What to use depends on your individual garden situation, muscle power and budget.
Thick straw mulch on tomato beds at Kath Irvine’s Edible Backyard, Ohau.
- Compost: good for vege beds, best nutrition, short-lasting.
- Straw or hay: good for vege beds, light to carry, not cheap (unless you find a friendly farmer).
- Seaweed: Good for vege beds. Chop it up if possible (or run the mower over it)
- Bark or wood chip: For trees and shrub beds. Let raw wood chip sit for a few months if possible before using. Non-nutritious – a bit like a human trying to eat a raw potato. Sprinkle on blood-and-bone or manure when applying raw mulch to avoid it pulling nitrogen out of the soil in the breakdown process. Long-lasting – a nice, heavy, moisture-retentive layer.
- Twig mulch: from landfill green waste recyclers. Half-rotted: better than raw wood chip for shrubs, trees or mixed borders. Nutritious and long-lasting.
- Cocoa husks: Light and easy to carry, fine-textured around perennials and seedlings, long-lasting. Not cheap. Can be delivered.
- Newspaper/cardboard/ old blankets/carpet : Over a large area, or around trees, laying these under mulch helps suppress weeds and makes the mulch last longer.
- Garden prunings, dried out weeds and grass clippings: Free, low nutrition. If possible, mix with sheep or chicken manure, or compost them before using as mulch.
- Any mulch is better than none!
September GardenGeneral gardening
Now is a great time to set your garden up for the rest of the year. Gather as much organic material as you can find- straw, leaves, grass clippings, seaweed, manure – and either lay it directly on your beds or pile it up, to rot into compost. The more organic matter in your soil, the better it will hold water over the summer, meaning healthier plants and less watering for you.
Sow cool-weather crops: Peas (good started off in egg cartons), carrots and beetroot (directly into rows), lettuce, coriander and rocket (or a mesclun mix). These all enjoy the cool, wet spring conditions.
Get ready for warmth-lovers: If you have a good cold frame or glasshouse-type situation, start these off under glass: tomatoes, zucchini, beans, cucumber, kumara (set it to sprout in a tray of damp sand).
Potatoes: An early crop can be started off for Christmas spuds.
Carrots: Each month we look at crops that can be sown now, the first is carrots.
Spring carrots grow fast – you’ll be thinning out baby carrots within a couple of months and hopefully harvesting good sized a month after that.
Where: Carrots love light, sandy soil. Ideally, grow them after a crop like brassicas or tomatoes that were heavily fed, but add nothing extra. Too much compost or manure makes for big leaves but small roots. If you have heavy clay soils, choose a shorter, fat carrot (e.g. Paris Market). Good companions are radishes, leeks/onions, lettuce or peas.
When: Spring or autumn are good sowing times as it’s easier to keep babies damp, but carrots can be sown every month from September through to April (autumn sowings sit in the ground over winter for spring crops).
How: Seed is tiny. Mix with sand or radish seed to reduce the need for thinning. Water the bed, sprinkle seed in rows or blocks, cover with 1cm or less of potting mix or fine soil, firm down and mist with water. Cover with a damp sack to keep it moist…check daily and remove the sack when seedlings appear (2-3 weeks).
Thin: and weed when the leaves are about 1cm high (about 4 weeks), watering well before and afterwards. Thin again at about 8 weeks- these thinnings will be baby carrots.
Harvest: When the colour is rich orange or the shoulders are above the surface.
Peas: It’s a rare child who doesn’t like fresh-picked peas.
When: Cool, moist spring conditions are ideal for the juiciest peas.
Where: Roots like to be moist but not wet (or they will rot). Leaves and flowers need sun. Peas don’t need rich soil but compost and light mulch helps hold moisture. Give beds a dusting of lime.
How: Make the support before planting- wire netting is ideal, or bamboo and string. Make it taller than you think you’ll need to.
Peas don’t like their roots disturbed so sow directly where they are to grow, or into egg cartons or toilet rolls which can be planted whole.
What: Try a few different types. Sugar snap can be eaten pods and all- snow peas are the flatter ones and handle colder temperatures.
General Summer Garden
These tips are from January but are still valid Water on Fridays: Help keep your rates down, and protect the community water supply, by reducing peak water demand on weekends.
- Mulch everywhere to keep weeds away and stop plant roots from drying out. Mulch on top of wet soil. Soak hoses laid under mulch get water where it’s needed, to roots.
- Summer prune: Take the tips out of fig trees, and cut grape vines back to just a leaf or two beyond the last bunch of fruit. Cut back excessive leafy growth on fruit trees.
- Berries and fruits may need protection from birds. Use netting, or try hanging up old CDs (or Christmas decorations).
- Lettuce and salad greens need shade at this time of year, if they’re not to dry out and bolt.
- Pile up grass and weeds for compost. Water, and cover it to keep it damp. Even if you never get around to turning it, you’ll have some ready for next spring.
February Planting Tips by Hannah our KCDC Green Gardener
Plant: Late beans, basil, zucchini, lettuce, red onions, leeks.
- Once pumpkin vines have set several fruit, or outgrown their allotted space, you can pinch out their tips to concentrate energy into the fruits.
- Watch for blight. Remove affected lower leaves from tomatoes and burn or bin, to stop them spreading. Avoid watering onto the leaves of plants - water the soil instead.
- Add liquid feed like seaweed to your watering can, especially for plants that are fruiting. Keep sacks in the car so you can bring home seaweed from beach trips.
- Enjoy the harvest! Zucchini and beans in particular need constant picking to keep producing.
- Summer-prune grapes (back to two leaves beyond the bunches of fruit), and stonefruit trees once the fruit are gone. Pruning stonefruit in late summer avoids the risk of silverleaf spores infecting wounds.
- Plan your winter garden and sort out where you will put garlic/leeks/brassicas/carrots/beetroot/green manure crops. Start sowing brassicas (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc.) from seed.
- Take stock of your garden and note any changes you want to make in autumn.
Sow: Carrots, beetroot (direct), calendula, alyssum, lettuce, leeks; kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower (in trays, protected from white butterflies.)
Things are slowing down in the garden. Winter crops like carrots, beetroot, silver beet and the cabbage family should already be in (get them in pronto if not.) Two crops can go in now- broad beans and garlic (more about these later). Otherwise, it’s all about compost and looking after the soil so it’s ready for next spring. Beds that aren’t being used over winter can be cleared (avoid growing a winter weed crop) and sown with green manure like lupins or mustard. Or make a compost heap on top of the bed- this means less barrowing in spring.
Plant: Garlic, lettuce, silver beet, beetroot, celery.
Sow: Broad beans, carrots, beetroot, miner’s lettuce.
Broad beans are pretty bombproof and make a great beginner’s crop from seed. They’re also enriching the soil by 'fixing' nitrogen from the air. When it’s time to plant spring crops, leave the roots in the ground for maximum benefit.
- Add a light dusting of wood ash or potash to the broad bean bed to encourage a good crop, while helping to keep away rust diseases like chocolate spot.
- Plant seeds 5cm deep, 15-20cm apart, in rows 30cm apart.
- Pinch tips out when plants are about knee high (to an adult).
- They need some support like a tipi of canes, or strong stakes at each corner of the bed around which string can be wrapped. Add levels of string as the plants grow taller.
- Companion plants are carrots, brassicas, celery, calendula.
- Leaf tips can also be pinched out and eaten over the winter (great steamed, in bean salad, or boiled and mashed into potatoes to give them a green hue). I like to pick the beans while they’re still small and sweet enough not to need skinning. They’re lovely in salads, with pasta, or as a dip with plenty of lemon, olive oil and garlic. Or you can leave them to grow full size and dry out (they can store this way for months) and use them to make falafels.
Planting in May means garlic should be ready before Christmas. As well as being used in cooking around the world, garlic is a strong antibiotic and antiviral. If you feel you are getting a cold, eating three cloves or so will stop it in its tracks (do this with an apple in the other hand, alternating bites, to take away the sting)!
- The better your soil, the better the crop. Add compost and a dusting of lime and potash.
- Choose the fattest, healthiest bulbs you can find – spindly ones will never come to much.
- Space them at about 20cm apart. Poke a hole with a stick and pop in the bulb so its tip is just at the surface (make sure you get them the right way up).
- Mulch with a light airy mulch like pea straw.
- Liquid feed with seaweed once a month.
- Don’t let the stalks completely dry off or your garlic will have separated off into cloves and won’t keep so well. Instead, feel around under the soil to tell when they are fat enough to harvest.