Gardening Tips

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Gardening Tips 2020-05-28T15:50:10+00:00

Gardening Tips

May In The Vegie Patch

Old sacks protect direct sown greencrop seed for faster germination and bird protection

Direct sow

  • Greencrops – lupins, broadbeans, phacelia, wheat, oats, mustard or barley. Kings Seeds Autumn Manure Mix is awesome. Grow as many greencrops as you can fit. Here’s how to sow a greencrop.
  • Corn salad and miners lettuce – sweet little winter/ spring cut and come again greens. Sow them once, let them self seed and have winter greens every year.
  • Broadbeans, peas, snow peas, spinach, bok choy, rocket, kale, coriander, radish.
  • In the greenhouse sow salads, leafy greens, beetroot and plant potatoes.
  • Good companions like calendula, poppies, cornflowers, larkspur and sweetpeas (must have sweetpeas!)

Tray sow

  • Onions. If you get the chance to play with growing onions – go for it! There’s no greater sense of pride than in your home grown onions.
  • Salads. Plant them under cover where they’ll grow nice and quickly. Use a cloche, a bit of frost cloth, an old window, a greenhouse or on the porch.
  • Broccoli and cabbage. Even though growth slows right down from now in its still worth it to keep planting brassicas.

Plant

  • Strawberries if you raised your own plants from runners. Plant into raised ridges if you have heavy soil. May plantings have all winter to grow lovely big roots. Big roots = bigger plants = more cropping. For big juicy fruits use rotten manure in your soil preps.
  • Garlic. My garlic is already in, but May is still a great time to plant out. Part of our rust prevention strategy is going to be finding varieties that are less prone. Heritage is going to be a big player here. Hardneck garlic’s are hardier than softnecks though they don’t store as well. If you team them up with an early garlic you’ve got your season covered.
  • Lettuces – under cloches or in the greenhouse.
  • Brassicas for spring eating.
  • Lots of silverbeet, perpetual beet, chard, kale and parsley – our kitchen cornerstones.
  • Lots of flowers like stock, primula, tulips, snapdragons

Feed + Mulch

Homemade buckwheat + weed mulch

Mulch everything. For a strong worm count, protection from cold, wind + rain and to help slow weed growth down, cover your soil with mulch. Make your own by mixing together prunings, spent crops and weeds from the paths.

Liquid feed broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery and leafy greens to boost them along.

Get Composting

Make lots of compost, here’s my easy peasy ways. Finished summer crops/ flowers/ perennials provide a bounty of ingredients for compost. Chop them down, cut them up and toss together. Pour on some liquid seaweed or EM and leave nature to make magic. There is nothing cooler than starting your spring crops off with the rotted remains of your summer crops.

An autumn compost pile is a strong start to a spring bed. Make it right on the spot where you want your new bed to be – spring planting has never been so easy!

Odd Jobs

Weed and thin carrots, kohlrabi, fennel, parsnips for good sized crops. Pour a watering can of liquid feed over afterwards to disguise scent and prevent carrot fly. If carrot fly’s a problem at yours, cover the crop with insect mesh.

Fresh new kale leaves sprouting from a stump

Refresh tired old kale or chard plants by cutting the tops off back to a 20cm-ish stump. Use the big old leaves to make chips, dry them for smoothie powder or use to mulch a bed with. The stump will re-sprout and if you pick it regularly will supply lots of small, sweet leaves.

Gather OM (organic matter) It makes our gardens sing, it’s shopping free, plastic bag free and all around us. Use this slower pace of life to get collecting – hay, sawdust, leaves, manure … whatever your neighbourhood yields. Make piles about the edge of your garden where its handy and the benefit will spread to your vegie patch as biology come for a feed.

Harvest kumara. If you haven’t already done it, get those kumara up! The rules say you’re supposed to wait till the tops die off, but in all these years I’ve never got to that stage. This instruction is for hotter climates I think. It’s more important to get them up before the frost hits it. The gamble is yours!

Lay Your Asparagus Down

When the ferns are nearly all brown, the asparagus has come to the end of its run. All the carbs have gone to the roots and it’s time to lay it down.

  • Chop down the dry stalks
  • Weed the bed
  • Cover with a generous amount of compost and manure and/or seaweed. Go nuts here and make it as deep as you can. It will after all rot down over winter, back to ground zero.
  • Top with the chopped up stalks.

Ready for a bumper spring crop 🙂

April In The Vegie Patch

Keep January planted beans, zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers crops jogging along with a daily harvest – don’t let energy get wasted on the big old bean at the bottom! A daily harvest keeps fresh flowers coming on. Trimming off old leaves also does wonders. Get new crops going at their feet.

Whip out any crops that are past their best and recycle them into compost or mulch, unless they are covered in a dreaded disease. Use the space for new sowings or plantings.

  • Leave corn roots in the ground to stabilise soil. Sow or plant around them.
  • Pull tomatoes out whole and hang them upside down to finish ripening.
  • Chop corn and sunflowers off at the roots. Leaving the root, strengthens soil
  • If zucchini and cucumbers are still providing, reorganise the vines onto the paths or out of the way so you can use the space. Snapping off old ratty, mildewy leaves further increases your room.
  • Crunch up bean vines and use them to mulch the following crop.
  • Out with the old and in with the new – now! today! or you’ll run out of grow time

Maximise leafy greens

  • Salads planted at the base of broccoli. Harvest 1 or 2 of the older leaves from each plant to keep fresh, new growth coming on.
  • Get the most out of your leafy greens (salads, silverbeet, kale, chard) by harvesting the older, outside leaves first. If you haven’t been harvesting this way and have lots of old, ratty, gooey foliage, do a clean up and pick it all off then lay it down as mulch. From now on keep up by removing the outside leaves regularly to keep fresh growth coming on.
  • Leave a core of 5 or 6 leaves.
  • Take 1 or 2 leaves from a few plants, rather than alot of leaves from one.
  • Boost growth with a weekly liquid feed.

Quick turn around greens

Kale leaves sprouting from an old kale stump

  • Refresh tired old kale, silverbeet or chard plants and regrow a fresh lot of leaves by chopping off the top and leaving a 20cm ish stump.
  • Donate a bit of soil food like compost or rotten manure at the base, pour on liquid feed + mulch – a low travel miles use for the tops you chopped off.

Pretty soon you’ll have a delightful harvest of little leaves.

Patient harvesting – pumpkin, yams + potatoes

Be sure of ripe perfection before harvesting. Pumpkin and squash are ripe when the stalk is dry, and not before!

Main crop potatoes store best if you harvest once the tops have died down. Yams are fatter and sweeter after the first frost.

Kumara harvest is nigh

Today marks 120 days since I planted my kumara. I usually harvest them after 130 days This timing suits my place because nights and soils start to cool mid April + we’ll be getting more rain this month. Cold, wet soil is kumara’s least favourite, so harvest them before everything cools down – that way you catch them in their prime. Somewhere between 120 – 150 growing days is ideal. The longer its warm at your place, the longer you can leave them.

Fabulous brassica

Brassica are an amazing health food when fresh picked from your garden. Market gardeners spray the heck out of them – up to 14 pesticide/ herbicides sprays during their life. Makes me so sad. You and I are lucky – we can grow our own.

If you don’t have much room, get your winter brassica fix with quick turn around Asian greens like bok choy, gai lan or chinese cabbage. You can sow or plant these every month around the edges, under fruit trees, in banana boxes even. Kale is a no brainer and broccoli gives and gives.

Each month from January through May, I plant a mixture of brassica for a super handy staggered harvest. Here’s my daily winter harvest plan.

January planted cabbage, nearly ready!

Boost broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages along

  • Weekly liquid feeding
  • Cabbage white control. If your brassica aren’t tucked up under insect mesh then be sure to flick off the eggs beneath the leaves and squash the caterpillars or spray with Kiwicare caterpillar killer. It’s not for much longer, they’ll be disappearing soon.
  • A deep water once a week (if there’s no rain).
  • Keep topping up the mulch.
  • A side dressing of rotten manure or compost when the plants are at 30cm. A gob beneath the mulch, beside each plant will do it.

In the next two weeks

  • Plant out lots of salad greens and loads of leafy greens – parsley, kale, silverbeet, perpetual beet or rainbow chard to ensure plenty of fresh greens through the winter… best food!
  • Plant another mixed lot of brassicas for late winter eating.
  • Plant celery into a lovely pile of muck. Avoid leaf spot and rust by growing in the greenhouse or under cover.
  • Plant garlic
  • Plant companion flowers like calendula, stock, larkspur, cornflower, primula, poppy to keep your spirits up and your beneficial insects fed.
  • Direct sow peas, snowpeas, sweetpeas, broadbeans, corn salad, miners lettuce, mesclun mix, rocket, spinach, coriander, beetroot, radish and onion.
  • Avoid chocolate spot and rust in broadbeans by sowing in spring if like me, you live in a high rainfall zone. A generous side dressing of wood ash is a big help at planting and again at flowering.
  • Direct sow greencrops in any gaps – phacelia, oats, lupin, broadbeans, wheat, mustard.
  • Tray sow another lot of brassica.
  • Tray sow globe artichokes and onions.
  • Thin root crops for good sized crops (note to self 🙂 )
  • Save seed

Get your creative eye on the job when finding room for new crops.
Use the space beneath fruit trees, create space in flower or herb gardens by trimming back finished plants, use the space under older crops that will soon be coming out. There’s always boxes and buckets!

Be chill about the pests

Theres plenty of pests in a warm autumn. Don’t panic about them ok! They’ll be done when the cold hits and toddle off to hibernate or die. Then sure as eggs will come again next year. Add a new practice each year to strengthen your garden and soon enough you’ll have less to deal with.

  • Keep squashing shield bugs when you see them.
  • Aphids and whitefly can be sprayed with Neem.
  • Passionvine hoppers are in a league of their own and untouchable as adults. Look ahead to next year and plant catch crops and Neem them when they are young, vulnerable “fluffy bums”.

Recycle corn and sunflower stalks

20 years ago I used to chop corn stalks and bash them up and add them to compost. So much energy!

A pile of cornstalks in the herbal border

Now a days I’m brainier and get nature to do the hard work. My big chunky bits get roughly chopped with loppers and either go into a big pile around the edge of the garden or I toss them under the avocados – subtropicals love a mixed deep mulch.

If you’re a neat and tidy type just poke them under something droopy, out of sight. If like me you garden on the wild-side, you’ll have no shortage of spots.

Whatever you do, use them. Don’t toss them out! Every bit of decaying organic matter adds to the overall fertility and strength of your garden.

March In The Vegie Patch

Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, anenomes – March is so vibrant!

Clear starry nights, cool, dewy mornings and that special golden hue in the evening sky are all signs that Autumn is moving in. Those cool mornings and nights slowly begin to cool the soil, which in turn slows soil life + plant growth.

May plantings take much longer to mature than April plantings, taking longer again than March plantings. The moral of this story is to plant some winter stuff today.

Finding room

Beneath the seeding parsley is the perfect place to plant leafy greens and saladings, nicely protected from the Autumn sun. In a month or so the parsley will be brown and I’ll crunch it down in situ as mulch for the greens.

Finding space to sow and plant winter crops takes lateral thinking when all the beds are full of summer stuff. With a bit of creativity, you’ll be amazed at what you can fit in. Keep things flowing – as soon as a crop is finished, plant/ sow the new.

  • Prick brassica seedlings into a bigger pot and grow them on a bit more to buy you some time. I like to plant them out at 4 – 6 leaf stage for better luck against slugs and snails.
  • Make pockets amongst greencrops to plant seedlings into – they’ll perform so well with a bit of protection especially if its still hot at your place. As the new crop grows make way for it by chopping and dropping the greencrop.
  • Use the space underneath or around finishing crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, courgettes, flowers and squash. Prune them back as much as you need to let light through, and sow or plant in the space.
  • Plant leafy greens and herbs beneath fruit trees and along the edges of flower beds.
  • It’s a homecoming for seedlings to grow up under the shelter of older plants and trees – it’s what they know.

Sow

If like me, you’ve yet to sow rootcrops – make this the week to get it done. Direct sow carrots, parsnips, beetroot, turnip, florence fennel – whatever your favourites are. Direct sowing is key for rootcrop success! If you struggle with fine motor skills buy seed on a tape rather than seedlings – rootcrops sown from seed are better by far. Here’s my carrot sowing ways. Use this same style for all your rootcrops.

Direct sow red onions, broadbeans, peas, mizuna, salads and kale.

Let coriander go to seed and you wont need to ever buy coriander seed again!

Direct sow coriander and rocket. Don’t buy a 6 pack and transplant them – they’ll shoot off to seed on the next hot day. Spend $4 on a pack of seed with 50 potential plants in it and sprinkle a few seed each month directly in the garden. Thereafter let them self-seed of their own accord and never buy seed again 🙂

Sow miners lettuce this month along the edges, under flowers and tall crops – such a useful winter salad green – you cant sow enough of it!

Direct sow miners lettuce and cornsalad. Sow them along the edges for easy picking with veggies, flowers, shrubs, fruit trees or even in pots – so verastile! Sow quite thickly to create a patch – they’re such sweet little things they’re easily out competed. If you let them flower and go to seed they’ll come up every Autumn/ Spring year after year = solid gold!

Anise hyssop, lettuce and parsley all going to seed in the edge of my veggie patch. Self seeders are such winners! Heartier plants by far and save the gardener effort + the planet packaging.

Sow lots of flowers to help the bees, beneficial insects and your good self get through winter. I’ve got stock in trays and have scattered bishop flower direct. So many wonderful self seeders now at play that I dont have to do anything about – chamomile, calendula, borage, cornflower, cosmos, larkspur, anise hyssop – they’re cycling round and round themselves. For a better life let as many flowers, herbs and leafy greens go to seed as you can.

Autumn sown oats, cut down in spring for a really useful, homegrown mulch

Winter greencrops like oats, wheat, lupin and mustard should all be going in this month.

Mustard is a biofumigant, make best use of it after diseased crops. I sow it in my greenhouse in Autumn before the chooks go in. Because it’s part of the brassica whanau, so don’t sow it before or after other brassica.

Oats and wheat are magic for heavy soils – those big root systems open soil up, and at the other end of their life they make the best mulch. They are prone to rust though, so if its is an issue at your place, stick to lupin. I really like kings seeds Autumn manure mix greencrop.

Tray sow onions and another lot of broccoli, cauli, cabbage for planting out next month.

Plant

Plant another lot of broccoli, cabbage and cauli. Go for a mixture to create a continuity of harvest. Here’s my planting plan

Plant salads or sow beetroot beside the brassicas. They’ll grow fast in the rich soil, and finish by time the brassicas begin. A quick and slow crop planted together is a cool way to fit more crops in and plug harvest gaps.

Parsley, celery and silverbeet are the backbone of my winter kitchen and all need to be planted this month. It’s too late (down this end of the island) to sow them now and get a winter crop. If you don’t have the seedlings raised, go buy them. Plants heaps and heaps of parsley and silverbeet/ chard! So easy and so good.

Plant early garlic. If there is one thing we can do to beat rust, it’s get in early. Here’s some excellent advice from Sethas seeds about managing rust.

February In The Vegie Patch

Summer has been an up and down affair in Horowhenua. To be fair it’s not that unusual in our neck of the woods. For us, summer proper generally starts when school goes back. The thing is to match what you plant and sow in your vegie patch to the season that you are having. If its roasting hot and dry you’d be smart to delay the planting of your carrots and winter brassicas for instance.

Do all you can to support new plantings in this hot, hot weather.

Direct sow

  • Greencrops – phacelia, lupin, buckwheat, red clover or mustard to give your soil a rest between crops, to provide a living mulch for autumn plantings.
  • Basil. Little and often sowings of basil are super useful. Basil is at its best when fresh and young – such a beautiful summer herb. Let the old plants flower for the bees or snap the branches off to use for mulch
  • Dwarf beans. Another row sown now will take you through autumn.
  • Rootcrops – beetroot, kohlrabi, carrot, parsnip or radish. I sow my winter carrots and parsnips later this month. Such good carrots these ones, sown in the heat and harvested in the cold.
  • Companion flowers like calendula, chamomile, larkspur, wallflower, cornflower, snapdragons, love in a mist and borage to keep your garden blooming.

Shade loving herbs and greens like coriander, parsley, saladings, bok choy, kale, rocket beneath taller crops or flowers. Parsley sown now will supply your kitchen  autumn through spring – kitchen essential!

Tray Sow

  • Start autumn brassicas off now in a little, gentle fashion. A few each of cauli, cabbage and broccoli makes a useful mixed and staggered harvest. Generally speaking – broccoli are ready first, then cabbage then cauli.
  • Tray sow silverbeet, spring onion, onion, celery

Plant

Prepare

  • A simple shadecloth bivvy above new seedlings keeps them growing onward when the sun beats down. Without shade they wilt in the heat and waste precious growing energy recovering from dehydration. Remove the cloth after a few days or when they’re bold enough to handle it.
  • Prepare for May brassica plantings with a lupin greencrop.
  • Manage cabbage whites on your new brassica plantings to prevent them getting gobbled up.

Old crops nursery

Those dry brown stalky plants dotted about my garden are providing seed for another round of crops, harvesting carbon and making little nurseries for new seedlings. Protected from birds, sun and rain seeds or seedlings flourish. Then its a simple matter of crunching up the old crop to use as mulch, once the new crop is ready to stand on its own two feet. It’s the natural order of things don’t you agree – the old giving life to the new. Not only does this save us alot of time and effort, our soil and crops do best when we leave things be. When we pause, and clip into natural cycles.

Save seeds

When a crop does well ie no disease, abundant, great flavour, no fuss – its a very smart move to save the seed. Your own saved seed grows in strength every year, more disesase resistant + better adapted to your garden – worth its weight in gold. Having your own little seed bank is solid and it avoids disappointment when the seed company stops stocking your favourite.

I generally save my own peas, beans, salads, flowers and tomatoes. Self fertile plants like these are easy to seed save for the home gardener.

The cross pollinators, however are a different story – these I buy in. Promiscuous families like cucurbits (cucumber, zuchinni, pumpkin, squash) require isolation for the seed to grow true to type. I prefer to grow a mix, so leave these to the experts. Genetic strength is the other key factor here – for example corn needs a minimum of 100 plants (inbreeding never ends well) and that’s a bit tricky my end.

Carrots don’t sit around in the heat, so as soon as they have sized up – get them up, washed and stored away. For best storage do this in the cool of the morning. Don’t feel sad if they are a bit pale and not so sweet – summer carrots aren’t the greatest.

Avoid bitter green shoulders by keeping carrots below ground – its the sun that turns them green. Keep them covered right up to the base of the foliage with dense mulch or scrape the soil up around them.

January In The Vegie Patch

January is an opportunity to extend our summer crops. To create a lovely continuity after our current crops call it quits. Successional planting/ sowing is the proper name. Let’s just call it – not going hungry, little and often planting, or production plus 🙂

And while we’re at it, let’s think about dinner in Autumn. Let’s get some new long term stuff planted to keep your vegie patch abundant all the way from Summer through Autumn. Not in an excessive, big mission way. But a regular, little way.

What to sow and plant in January

  • Plant out another lot of dwarf Beans and Basil. Another one or two Tomato, Cucumber and/or Zucchini. Really useful crops these.
  • Direct sow Salads (choose heat lovers like Tree lettuce, Merveille de Quarter Saison, Drunken Woman, Oak Leaf, Summer Queen), and another lot of Rocket, Radish and Coriander. All on the shady side.
  • Direct sow Beetroot. Use your edges for this, unless you need a heap to pickle/ bottle you don’t need a whole bed. Such a small efficient crop, they can be squeezed in anywhere.
  • Tray sow Winter leeks and Autumn brassicas.
  • Make compost for Autumn plantings.
  • Toss another lot of flower seed about to continue the fodder for the bees et all, and for the sheer pleasure flowers bring your good self. Stock, snapdragon, calendula, borage, primula, and chamomile … so many options here! Choose vigorous self-seeders as opposed to fussy, fancy things. This way you only need sow once, and enjoy them ever more. Self-sufficient plants we love and adore.

Find garlic seed

My darling friends – it’s no good coming to me in May or June asking where to get garlic seed, by then all the good stuff has sold out. Start the hunt now! Mid January brings cured garlic to the farmers markets, use this for planting. For good quality, heritage garlic seed get on the email lists at Sethas Seeds or Country Trading.

Manage pests + weeds for peace of mind

Little pest and weed infestations are a doddle. Do yourself the biggest of favours and keep a daily eye on things to avoid overwhelming, and quite frankly depressing infestations.

Should you be going away, do these three things before you head off

  1. a Neem spray (or whatever you use) to keep pests in hand
  2. a seaweed liquid feed
  3. mulch everything

Get ready for hungry brassica’s – two ways:

  1. Sow a legume greencrop (+ lime if you are on clay soils). Cut it down in about 6 weeks – right about flowering time, then aerate the bed, spread compost + minerals + mulch with the greencrop. Leave to settle before planting out.
  2. Or aerate the bed, give it a good water if need be (for best do this on a rainy day) and cover the whole bed in rotten manure. Mulch generously and leave it to percolate for 6 weeks or so.

I start planting out brassica’s late January/ early February and sow a mixed tray (2 or 3 each of cauli, cabbage, broccoli) every 3 or so weeks for regular harvests Autumn through Spring.

A few fruity bits

  • Trim your espaliers as they do another shoot up
  • Trim off strawberry runners to keep your strawberry plants energised. You can of course pot these up.
  • Feed citrus and thin fruits on young trees.
  • Pluck fruits off 1 or 2 year old Avocado trees. It takes alot of carbs to produce flowers and new leaf buds – a big ask for a little tree. At the same time give it a feed with a full spectrum mineral fertiliser. Let your young Avo put its mojo into new shoots instead of fruits, to build a strong canopy.
Check out previous gardening tips…