December In The Vegie Patch
A daily stroll is your secret garden weapon this December. Catching problems when they’re small makes for simple solutions = a peaceful easy life.
- Pinching little laterals off your tomatoes and peppers leaves tiny wounds that heal in a flash and prevent viruses and bacteria getting in.
- Squashing little groups of aphids or a few shield bugs each day can stay an epidemic.
- Liquid feeding at the first sign of a fading plant picks it up and boosts it along before it craps out.
- Sprinkling slugbait as soon as the carrots germinate prevents a mollusc midnight feast that leaves you empty handed.
December to do’s
December is all about succession crops – plant a few more of your favourites to keep the harvests flowing in.
Direct or tray sow another row of green beans and corn, and 1 or 2 more cucumbers or zucchini. Beware rats and mice with direct sown corn seed.
If you can’t be bothered erecting bean frames or live in a windy spot, grow dwarf beans instead of climbers. All you need is a stake at each end of the row and a bit of twine about the middle to hold them upright. The trick is to sow a new row every fortnight, cause they grow their little hearts out in a live fast, die young type style.
Direct sow dill, basil, chervil, saladings, magenta spreen, beetroot, carrots, coriander.
Sow as many summer greencrops as you can find spaces for – phacelia, buckwheat, mustard, marigold or lupin. These begin as a much-needed rest for your soil, become nectar for the beneficial insects and end up as mulch or compost.
Plant out a few more tomatoes, basil and parsley plants. Read about my favourite tomato frames and tomato prep here.
Because I’m on a base of clay, I grow watermelons in mounds of homemade compost. Mulch with whatever you have – plants, old blankets or sacks – it makes all the difference. You don’t want these guys to dry out.
If you only have a short season like me choose melons to suit, sugarbaby does well for us. I grow a few outside and a few in the greenhouse to hedge my bets.
Keep the flowers coming on – they are such an important part of the whole. A succession of flowers not only makes your garden pretty for all seasons but more importantly, keeps our friends the beneficial insects fed.
Scatter some autumn flower seed about in December either direct or in a tray. Zinnia, gaillardia, cosmos, sunflowers, anise hyssop, cleome, mignonette, marigold – whatever your favourites are.
Summer compost = autumn supply
Make a pile or four of compost for Autumn plantings. So satisifying! And if you haven’t tried my easy peasy compost out yet – give it a go. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make a good brew.
Bring in the onions + garlic!
The first onion and garlic harvest will be upon us this month. Be sure to have a supply of greencrop seed at hand to sow into the bed straight after emptying it.
Once the bulbs are formed on your garlics, get them up and curing. Test them by digging one up. If they are heading off to seed get them in right away – the bulbs wont fatten anymore from here. Here’s how (and when) to harvest garlic.
It’s been another year of garlic rust at my place and my harvest is pathetic to say the least. I may save myself the heart ache and leave it to our friends on the east coast to grow. Rust, it seems, adores the conditions here.
Mint, thyme, lemon balm, roses, chamomile and oregano are lush and ripe for harvest right now. Catch leaf herbs before they head up to flower, and flowers when they are at their height of perfection. Pick them in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun burns off their oils. I dry them in my dehydrator. They will dry perfectly well, hanging in small bunches or laying them flat on trays, somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight.
Jars of homegrown herbs are super useful for winter cooking, medicine and herb teas. They make lovely christmas pressys too.
Look after your soil
Its hot, its dry and its hard yakka growing all that produce – keep your soil in good nick for now and ever more with these three things.
Proper watering makes a big difference to the health of your soil. Get into the habit of checking your soil first, before you water. There is no point in randomly swishing water automatically every evening. Especially if your garden is heavily mulched and fully planted, all you do is get the leaves wet.
Poke your finger into the soil to see if it needs watering or not. As long as its moist at your finger tip its fine to go another day. Unless were talking seed or new seedlings, in which case it needs to be moist at the very top. The combo of strong soil + mulch holds onto moisture longer than you think.
Water until your soil is nice and moist. Like barely moist. Never soggy.
Keep a nice rhythm of moist, letting it just dry out, then get moist again. Not only will your crops be better but you’ll use less water.
I’ve written a whole blogpost on it already, you can read it here.
I’m a big fan.
After a feed of seaweed the garden perks right on up that’s cos seaweed contains all essential minerals – the full spectrum. A balance of minerals is key to a thriving soil life which in turn is key to an abundant garden – you can’t do better than seaweed.
Nourishing yarrow, fennel and parsley mulch
Mulch is your soils shelter. It keeps the moisture in, provides a roof over the worms heads, and drip feeds the soil life. What a difference that layer makes! If all your mind can conjure at the word mulch, is pea straw then have I got news for you! Mulch is so much more than pea straw.
Mulching also doubles as weeding. When the weeds are too big for the hoe, just pile mulch on top. The weeds will return to the soil a la nature’s way, delighting the worms/ soil life beneath. You also are delighted not having to put your back or knees out.
The very best mulch, the one that gets the soil life humming and keeps the moisture in is a mixed mulch made up of garden debris. Homemade mulch knocks it out of the park. Failing that, any mulch is a good thing. Stretch your mind to sacks, old blankets or clothes that are no longer decent and hanging together by a thread.
November In The Vegie Patch
Await the perfect planting moment
Every garden has it’s own microclimate, and the better you understand yours, the better your garden be. When your microclimate, and the needs of your crops meet is your sweet spot of abundance. This is the moment to hold out for. When conditions for each crop are perfect – boom! We’ve got our grow on people.
If you’re up north you’ll be planting kumara and tomatoes outside already – lucky you! My soil has only just landed on 15 degrees. A week or so here and I’m good to go for sowing beans. +3 more degrees and tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, kumara and pumpkin will be in their happy place. Patience is rewarded.
It’s easy for me, this waiting when my greenhouse is full of all our summer goodness – tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, dwarf beans, cucumbers, melons, basil, zucchini – all the heat lovers growing great guns.
Without my greenhouse, I’d never achieve all our food growing needs. If you’re into growing your own vege and live somewhere cool, you need a greenhouse too!
What I’m sowing and planting this November
The seedling operation really amps this month, then tails off to a steady hum come December. Here’s my take on raising really good seedlings.
Growing your own has many advantages. You can grow 2 or 3 or whatever you need each time, and you get to choose from a wide selection of varieties. This takes time and space though, so if it isn’t for you, check out Awapuni nurseries online shop. I love their good selection and newspaper-wrapped plants – no plastic pots hurrah!
Direct sow and plant
Easy peasy saladings
- Little and often patches of quick greenery like rocket, spinach, coriander, lettuce and mesclun. Check out my easy peasy salad growing ways.
- Direct sow root crops of beetroot, radish and the last lot of carrots.
- Direct sow cornflowers, cosmos and calendula. Think of your flowers like your crops – a steady succession to keep your garden buzzing.
- Once the soil is steadily sitting at 15 degrees direct sow your first lot of green beans and my favourite of all – shell-out beans.
Shoots ready to be peeled from the Kumara mother
- Kumara slips are about to go in (any day now!) I’m waiting for the soil in my kumara bed to hit 18 degrees – it’s getting a gee-up under plastic as we speak.
- Yams can be planted out if not already done.
Parsley heading off to seed
- Perpetual beet and parsley are heading off to seed. Let them go! They’ll feed the beneficial insects on the way to providing a new generation of plants for you late summer. Meantime plant new seedlings out and you’ve got a self-care cycle of plants to eat and new plants coming on for a year-round supply. These humble guys are the backbone of the gardener’s kitchen. Full of minerals and goodness and always there in the background for dinner whenever there’s a lull or gap in cropping.
High nectar phacelia – a must-have summer greencrop!
- Direct sow phacelia and buckwheat in any gaps for living mulches beneath and beside plants that need bees for pollination.
- Harden off seedlings before planting out. Give them a few days outside and then a few days and nights before planting to adapt them well for a smooth transition.
A few important jobs
- Weeding begins! Don’t let them get a grow on my friends or you will create a big horrible mission later. Make life easy and get them while they are small. Buy a hoe (I love my hula hoe) and whip around once a week or dollop a thick layer of mulch on top of weeds.
- Check your garlic. Dig one up to see if its forming bulbs. Fresh garlic – hurrah!
- Be sure to thin out earlier sowings of beetroot, parsnip and carrot to 10cm as they hit four leaf, for good size crops.
Tomato frames are up
- Set up awesome, robust frames for growing on.
- Protect all potatoes you plant from now on in with wondermesh, or other cover of choice, to keep the psyllids out.
- Have Neem on standby to easily manage sucking insects. They will come. And if it’s warm at yours maybe there already. Like weeds, you must get on top of them at the first sign. Don’t let them get a strong foothold – it’ll wreck your crops and your peace of mind. Here’s why my favourite is Neem.
Wondermesh keeps my spuds psyllid free
Brassica free = cabbage butterfly free!
You will notice there are no brassicas on my November planting list. That’s cos cabbage white butterflies start-up soon and I’m not that keen on managing them. Besides which we’ve just had 8 solid months of eating broccoli and cabbage – it’s time for summery things!
If you are growing spring cabbage or broccoli get ready with some insect mesh, the same fine mesh that keeps psyllids out will keep the butterflies from laying eggs on your precious cabbages, thereby preventing the caterpillars in the first place. Although the moths look haphazard, they are brassica seeking missiles, so cover your crops in an obsessive no holes way. Any little gap and they’ll be in there laying up a storm.
Derris dust alert! Let’s stop with the Derris Dust. I know its easy. I know Grandma used it. But it’s super toxic! Rotenone, the active ingredient in Derris dust is a neurotoxin (why would ya go there) and fatal to many of our important beneficial insects – parasitic wasps, ladybirds and dragonflies to name a few. Canada has outlawed the use of it on gardens and looks like USA is going the same way.
In the greenhouse
A greenhouse is a high-stress environment, all that plastic and heat makes it so. It needs a bit more TLC to get through the summer. Start it off strong with big healthy seedlings and hummus rich soil.
- A weekly spray with high-quality seaweed feed keeps cells strong, boosts nutrient uptake and both of these things together prevent sucking bugs. The very best seaweed feed in NZ is Oceans Organics. Buy it in bulk through Agrisea if, like me, you got a bigger sized garden. Add Neem or EM or other herbal brew like stinging nettle if need be.
- Leave a bit of wild in your greenhouse to provide an ongoing mixed mulch – the very best soil conditioner! Sow greencrops/ companions in every gap (apart from the north side), and let them flower away to entice the bees. I use nasturtium, borage, mustard, lupin, African marigold and shoofly. Chop them back when they encroach on the crops and pile on the soil.
- Tomatoes, dwarf beans, zucchini, melon, eggplants, chillies, basil and cucumbers are growing like rockets in the warmth. Keeping an eye on soil moisture hits the job list.
- De-lateraling the greenhouse tomatoes is in. I do this to create single leaders that’ll grow up strings. The airflow is important for disease prevention, and it makes spraying and picking a dream.
- Tray sow another lot of summer companion flowers like zinnias, sunflowers, marigolds and cleome.
- Tray sow outside basil, zucchini, cucumber, corn, beans and tomato
Give your seedlings the best start
A strong start makes all the difference. So much depends here on what the soil and climate are like at your place. Whether the wind whistles through, whether you get 10 – 2 sun or not, whether your soil is warm, but lacking in nourishment (sand) or is heavy and wet, lacking warmth and air (clay). Mitigate whatever unfavourable factors exist at yours.
- Planting a puny two-leaf seedling in the garden is like kicking your 4-year-old out of home – too vulnerable! Leave seedlings in their pots until they have 4 – 6 leaves and their roots fill the container out. Now plant them out. Grown-up and ready to handle it.
- Make the transition from the cosseted world of the pot to being planted in the garden a gradual one. Leave them outside in their pots for a few days and nights to get acclimatised.
- Build a shelter around summer crops if the weather is still up and down at your place at planting time. Use an old window, some clear plastic stapled to stakes, or a clear bucket with its bottom cut out.
October In The Vegie Patch
October is when seed raising peaks. It makes it easier, this busyness, when you know it’s just for a short burst. It settles down again come December when all the long term crops are well and truly in and we go back to little and often sowing for continuity of supply. There’s a bit of extra effort too, as we do our best to create the right conditions for long term crops like kumara and pumpkin. Get them in as soon as conditions are right for best ripening.
October checklist and things to do
- Get your zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin, corn, tomato and pepper beds ready to grow. These are all heavy feeders and need a 2cm layer of lovely compost.
- Be sure of robust stakes and frames for beans and tomatoes
- Tie broadbeans to keep them upright through spring winds. A stake at each end of the row and a row of twine wrapped around in the middle and again at the top of the stakes is how I do it.
- Make a compost pile with all your spring clean up (or four).
- Thin September sowings of beetroot and carrots to 10cm spacings to be sure of good sized crops. If you are careful you can transplant the spare beetroots in any gaps.
- Plant out chives, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, lavender and any other perennial herbs you need.
- Get everything mulched before the weeds get away
- Keep your eyes out for OM (organic matter) waste in the community and forage it and stash it. Cardboard, spoiled hay, manure, seaweed…
- Protect all new shoots and seedlings with slug bait and bird netPrick on seedlings in trays as soon as they have 4 leaves.
Seed to Sow and Seedlings to Plant
Under Cloches, Old Windows, On the Porch or in the Greenhouse
Direct sow another lot of dwarf beans.
Direct sow basil, cucumber and zucchini. Cruise it here. Remember you can tick away with these guys over the next 4 months, planting out a new one each month for regular supply.
Plant out tomatoes, peppers, chillies, eggplants, basil, zucchini and cucumbers into warm soil. Hello summer!
Pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, melons, corn, salads, basil, tomatoes and companion flowers like sunflowers, gaillardia, calendula, zinnias and oodles of marigolds.
Direct Sow Outside
Radish, daikon, coriander, carrot, beetroot, florence fennel, dill, peas, sno peas, rocket, salads, spinach, leafy greens, calendula, borage, sweet peas and cosmos. Greencrops after heavy feeders.
Once the soil hits 15 degrees you can direct sow beans.
Once it hits 20 degrees zucchini, cucumber, pumpkin, melons and corn can be direct sown.
Plant out salads, red onions, celery, silverbeet, perpetual beet, asparagus crowns, potatoes, yams, rhubarb and parsley.
Beware the seed eaters!
Mice, rats, slugs, snails and slaters are about at this time of year. It’s worth managing them cos one night visit from any of these guys sets your food garden back.
Rodent management is essential for a food gardener, and I think, a cool thing for all of us to pitch in and do. No matter where you live – you have rats! Food gardens are a rodent hotel – cosy homes (compost piles) and food supply (corn + sunflower seed nomnom). Make trapping part of your regime.
Slaters love newly sprouted seed, nibbling the newly germinated shoot off and completely ruining your day. Make a trap by putting a spoon of yoghurt in a small container. Top it up with water. Bury it in your seedtray or garden so the edge is at ground level. Slaters love this stuff. Or sprinkle Tui Quash slugbait about to deter them.
Slugs and snails are getting going too. Asparagus, peas, carrots, echinacea – some things they love especially, but really you must protect every new shoot from them in spring or you’ll be re sowing. At this time of year I pop out on moonlight evenings and do a big old snail squash and slug capture. I sprinkle Tui Quash round all newly sown seed and transplants.
Last minute preps for heavy feeders
In an ideal world, prep for a heavy feeder crops begins with the preceeding crop – nothing beats a lupin or pea and oat greencrop to condition and build the soil. But the world isn’t always ideal is it! Here’s how you can last minute it.
- Broadfork the bed so the roots can get down straight as an arrow – this almost makes more difference than the compost I reckon!
- Add a fine layer of compost + gypsum + a full spectrum mineral fertiliser to keep the 101 potential tomato problems at bay. Lightly mix it all into the topsoil.
- Put up stakes and frames
- Mulch thickly with a delicious herbal mulch
Pumpkin and Melon Preps
- Create raised mounds made of 50/50 compost and soil. Add a few dollops of well rotten manure or seaweed.
- Cover deeply in mulch for best biological activity and leave it be. Do what you need to, to warm things up.
- Either direct sow into this when the soil is 20 °or tray sow and transplant at 4 – 6 leaf stage. Because they are low growing, pumpkins are well suited to starting out under a cloche. They need a long season to ripen so get them in as early as you can manage.
- Aerate the bed if heavy clay is yours
- Add a fine layer of compost + minerals
- Mulch generously
- Direct sow once soil hits 18 – 20°.
- For staggered harvests sow a few corn each month until December
- I get better results when I direct sow corn. While you await warm soil, sow corn in toliet rolls for a head start and to avoid transplant shock. Fill loo paper rolls with seed raising mix and sow the seed. Jam the rolls together in a container so they don’t fall over/ collapse and keep in a warm, rodent free place. Plant out toilet roll and all for no transplant shock.
September In The Vegie Patch
So much cool stuff to do in the food garden at the mo. So much prettiness to soak up and enjoy. I am out there every spare moment!
In the Vegie Patch
Take your cropping success next level and check your soil temperature before planting or sowing anything. Align your crop choices with it. Nature is finely tuned to temperature.
Plant out celery, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, silverbeet, parsley, salads, onions, leeks, potatoes.
Direct sow carrots, kohlrabi, beetroot, turnip, parsnip, rocket, chicory, endive, spinach, mesclun, miners lettuce, corn salad, salads, bok choy, kale, snopeas, peas, broadbeans, fennel, dill, coriander, shallots, spring onions.
Tray sow celeriac, salads, silverbeet, parsley, chervil.
Companion flowers Direct, or tray sow, or plant as many as you can cram in! eg: calendula, cornflower, poppy, nasturtium, borage, sweet pea, snapdragon, aquilegia, viola, wallflower, larkspur, hollyhock.
In the Greenhouse (or under cover)
Tray sow tomato, chilli, pepper, aubergine, zucchini, cucumber, melon. Because I live at the foothills of the Tararuas, these will all be grown in my greenhouse.
Depending on how the season rolls out I’ll be sowing outside crops of zucchini, cucumber, tomato next month for planting in November.
Don’t jones out and rush into summer crops if you live somewhere cool. Patience grasshopper. Planting heat lovers when its hot means less stress, less pest, more crops, happy gardener.
Direct sow dwarf beans, salads, courgette. Love my greenhouse for providing a warm place to grow these guys in this early on.
Begin your kumara shoots.
Here Comes The Asparagus!
Blimmey, could it get more exciting! Asparagus is popping up and soon to be part of dinner. Hopefully your patch is weed free, composted, mulched = ready for a productive season. If you’ve yet to weed be ever so careful – the spears are super fragile and break off with the slightest knock.
Happiness Is Homegrown, New Potatoes For Christmas
Having spent a good portion of my life coaxing vegetables from soil, I’m weather wary. Between now and the arrival of summer there will be days for shorts, days for raincoats, and days for beanies. I’m cautious with the planting out of tender crops like potatoes – such a waste when they get bowled over by late frosts.
So my first lot of spuds go into buckets – a great use for cracked, broken buckets (sacks are another good option).
Choose fast growers like Rocket, Swift, Liseta or even Cliff Kidney.
Make holes in the bottom for drainage and line with about 10cm of compost. Homemade compost is best – no where near as rich as bought stuff, and no where near as fine. Those undigested bits make air and worm pockets. Bought stuff is too dense, too rich – so mix it with something to bring air – pumice, soil or straw or some such.
Lay your seed potato in (one per 10litre bucket), on top of a few bits of seaweed if you’re lucky enough to be seaside. Top the bucket up with compost/ or straw/ or old hay or a mix of the above to bury the spud – and you’re off!
When it starts to heat up you’ll need to move the bucket amongst shrubs to keep the soil cool (leaving the tops in the light).
This is never going to produce the same amount were the tubers in the ground, but it gives those of us on heavy wet ground the opportunity for early potatoes.
If you stagger plantings, you’ll stagger the harvest. Little and often is achievable, and so very useful.
August In The Vegie Patch
Here’s what I can plant in my Levin garden, given that at the mo. my soil is 10 degrees and night temps range from 3 to 13. Another key thing is my soil, which is easily workable from all those years of care. If you are on heavy clay and your soil is soggy as, best to plant into pots and boxes until its workable.
Meantime keep building and converting clay to soil, you’ll get there!
If you’re a beginner and unsure what suits your place just take the plunge and have a go – it’s simply the best way to learn. Its how us old gardeners know stuff, by all our flop crops!
Direct sow outside: peas, snow peas, broad beans, mustard, lupin or phacelia greencrop, miners lettuce, corn salad, spinach, radish, kohlrabi, parsnip, rocket, spring onions.
Miners lettuce is one of our winter/ spring favourites! Cut and come again – juicy and yum.
Direct sow under cover: coriander, saladings, beetroot
Tray sow: broccoli, cabbage, lettuces, onions
Plant outside: asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kale, onions, shallots, spring onions, perpetual beet, silverbeet, rhubarb. Strawberries can go in now, but May really is the best time!
Plant under cover: sprouted potatoes, lettuce.
Good Companions: Direct sow heaps of companion flowers like calendula, cornflower, borage, stocks, larkspur, love in the mist, poppies, heartsease and divide up herbs and perennials to build your beneficial insect fodder and habitat.
Lupin greencrops sown this month will be pre-flower and ready to cut down come October. A perfectly timed precursor to mid spring plantings of heavy feeders. Think corn! tomatoes! squash!
Chit potatoes and get some lovely stocky sprouts – ready for planting this month or next.
Lots of Onions in a Small Space
Three times as many in fact – I’ve got x 102 in a 2m x 1.2m space using my 3 onions in 1 hole trick. Or rather, Eliot Coleman’s 3 in 1 hole trick (honour where honour is due).
The onions pop up kind of sideways as they grow and fill the space nicely.
They seem happier this way. Such flimsy seedlings for so long, it must be nice, tucked up with their mates, rather than flailing about on their own.
Trim the roots and tops before planting for plumper bulbs at the end. Plant at 20cm spacings.
Preventing garlic rust
Keeping our garlic weed free is putting our best foot forward in the rust prevention game – let there be airflow! A monthly liquid feed also does wonders especially if it includes slow ferment NZ seaweed and/ or EM.
I’ve put my garlic under high hoops covered with insect mesh as an experiment to see if that will stop those airborne fungal spores. Watch this space.
When to get started raising tomatoes, peppers and aubergines from seed…
Tomatoes, aubergines and peppers are ready to transplant 6 – 8 weeks after sowing. If you have a greenhouse or live in the winterless north then you can get on the job this month. I will be sowing mine this Saturday – the moon is just right. At this cold time of year you need a heat pad or hot water cupboard or hotbox to get the soil in your seed raising flats 20 degrees. Otherwise your peppers wont get out bed for you.
Without these things I suggest you wait until conditions are right. Summer crops flourish in summery weather – funny that! Forced to contend with cold nights, chilly mornings and heavy soil, they stumble, trip and flop.
With so many cool things to sow and plant right now, there’s no need to force it. Besides, moving with the seasons is the whole point right.
July In The Vegie Patch
Yams are at their best after a frost and store beautifully in cold soil
Even when its cold and frosty there’s plenty of food to be had from the garden. Here’s a quick round up of what we’re harvesting to inspire you to a four seasons vegie patch. Leafy greens abound – chard, spinach, parsley, kale, chickweed, cress, miners lettuce and rocket. Bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage ripen at steady intervals and we pick away at the stash of leeks, carrots, parsnips and yams that store so well in cold winter soils. Celery, beetroot, coriander and salads galore grow in the protection of the greenhouse. Yip, I’d say July’s pretty bountiful. Worth a bit of late summer/ autumn legwork don’t you think!
A pile of organic matter prepares the way for more Artichokes
Create new gardens. Make it easy on yourself with a no dig beginning – there is no better start than a big pile of organic matter.
Sort your seed stocks and make sure you have plenty of greencrops, flowers, greenhouse crops and spring crops because next month we get back into seed sowing.
Direct Sow peas, snow peas, broadbeans, spinach, mustard, parsnip, turnip, kohlrabi, radish and poppies.
Renew your soil and sow legume greencrops after brassicas.
Get out your hoe (as long as your soil is not soggy) to weed and aerate. Winter soil looses it’s omph, translating to plants loosing their oomph. Air brings life, it does wonders.
Plant trees deciduous fruit trees and shelter trees because the world desperately needs more trees. If you don’t have room for trees then perhaps you could join a local tree planting group or donate to the wonderful Trees That Count programme.
June In The Vegie Patch
My Favourite Winter Greens + Yams
I’m not the only one who loves winter – some legumes are good with it and so are alliums, brassica’s, chard and spinach. Salads survive it, but very slowly so best get them under cover to keep them growing and providing leafy goodness to keep you strong.
What to Sow and Plant and Do in June
- Direct sow mustard or lupin greencrops. Yes to greencrops! Our soils have worked hard through autumn and all the work they’ve done has gone into our tummies. Give 100% back to the soil with a greencrop.
- Direct sow peas, snowpeas and broadbeans, spinach, corn salad, miners lettuce, mesclun, gai lan (my new favourite asian green), onions and radish.
- Plant bok choy, tatsoi, collard greens, kale, broccoli and cabbage. Even though the ground is cold and growth slows these guys don’t mind. Sure they’ll grow slowly but when it warms up in spring – boom!, they spurt away and finish off. A super handy spring crop.
- Plant silverbeet or chard, shallots and garlic, strawberries.
- Plant salads under cover (in a greenhouse or under a cloche or in a box on the deck).
- If you’re planning on planting out onions next month put some thought into your bed preparation. I’ll be chopping my pea and oat greencrop down, adding a fine layer of compost and leaving it to settle for a few weeks.
- If you haven’t done it already, chop asparagus canes down this month. Cover the bed with a generous layer of rotten manure +/ or seaweed + prunings from herbs and spread the chopped up canes on as mulch.
- Increase your beneficial insect/bee fodder by planting out more herbs and companion flowers. They’re our secret weapon!
Hibernating ladybirds abound at our place
The Patient Wait For Yams
I’m so grateful to yams because they’re ready in winter – not busy old autumn. And there’s no preserving required either. Just patience.
Yams fatten up threefold in the cold. Guaranteed big fat sweeties after a few frosts and the tops have died off. If you’ve rushed in to harvest and been disappointed with your crop – it may just be that you were too impetuous, young at heart perhaps. You’ll be amazed at what happens in the yam patch after cold. Patience my friends.
Winter provides an opportunity to do all the stuff you wish you had time for through those busy growing/ preserving seasons. Moving plants, making new beds, planting trees, building fences, setting up irrigation – all the stuff that makes our gardens better.
Indulge yourself. Re-organise your patch, give those improvements wings while there is sod all to do in the vegie patch.
May In The Vegie Patch
Things To Do In The Vegie Patch This Month
- Leave nothing bare! Soil prefers to be growing stuff – a crop or greencrop preferably. If weeds is what you’ve got and you’re just too busy – then let it be weeds. Yes, truly – weeds! Roots keep your soil happening. When you get around to it pile up a thick layer of mulch on top of those weeds and let it all rot down natures way. This saves your back, leaves your soil in peace and adds a heap of goodness. Not all soil building is arduous.
- Make lots of compost. 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. Cover (my favourite cover is a fadge/wool sack), and leave nature to make magic. There is nothing cooler than starting your spring crops off with the rotted remains of your summer crops.
- Greencrops – lupins, broadbeans, phacelia, wheat, oats, mustard or barley. I really like Kings seeds pea, oat, lupin mix. Grow as many greencrops as you can.
- Corn salad and miners lettuce. Desert island saladings these. Sow them once, let them self seed and have winter greens every year.
- Broadbeans, peas, snow peas; spinach, bok choy, rocket, kale, coriander; radish.
- Good companions like calendula, poppies, cornflowers, larkspur and sweetpeas (must have sweetpeas!)
- 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 to plant under cover (cloche, cold frame or greenhouse), when ready.
- Strawberries. 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.
- Silverbeet, perpetual beet, chard, kale, parsley – our kitchen cornerstones
- Lots of flowers like stock, primula, tulips, snapdragons
- Thin and weed carrots, kohlrabi, fennel, parsnips to give each due space. What a difference good spacings make to your crops.
- Liquid feed broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower and celery and all other leafy greens too. This is a powerful way to keep biology active and working, so make it a regular part of your garden care.
- 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
Winter draws ever closer, and tough choices need to be made. Do you have enough room for all your winter crops or does something have to give. Is it time for summer crops to go? And time is of the essence people, the nights are cooling and mornings are dewy. Those cool nights set the scene and everything slows down.
(Man doesn’t that sound good – everything slows down…)
So, rouse yourself dear gardeners and whip out crops that are hanging on for dear life (hurrah compost!). Pull tomatoes out whole and hang them upside down to finish ripening. Plant new seedlings amongst older plants that still have more to give. Zucchini, cucumber and squash can be reorganised a little to fit things better. However you do it – get planting the new – now! today! or you’ll run out of grow time.
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.
The only harvest you need your skates on for is kumara. If nights are cooling off at your place, get it up now.
Brassica are an amazing health food when fresh picked from your garden – its worth the effort to grow a few of your own. 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, cabbage and cauli not so much.
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.
Boost broccoli, cauliflower & cabbages along
January planted cabbage, nearly ready!
- Weekly liquid feeding
- Cabbage white control – either flick off the eggs beneath the leaves and squash the caterpillars or spray with Kiwicare caterpillar killer, it’s not for much longer – hurrah!, they’ll be disappearing soon.
- A deep water once a week (if there’s no rain).
- Mulching up around the stalks as they grow. They’ll peg new roots down in this mulch giving them extra resilience.
- 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, spinach, coriander, beetroot, radish and rocket.
- 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 flowering.
- Direct sow greencrops in any gaps – phacelia, oats, lupin, broadbeans, wheat, mustard.
- Tray sow globe artichokes and onions.
- Thin root crops for good sized crops (note to self)
- Save seed
Be chill about the pests
There’s 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
What do you do with all your corn and sunflower stalks? 20 years ago I used to chop them 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 my loppers and either go into a 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
Autumn is here! The nights start cooling off and soon the soil follows. Those cooler temps slow growth right down. May plantings will 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.
- It’s getting eleventh hour to be sowing winter rootcrops (carrots, parsnips, beetroot, turnip, florence fennel). Make this your very next garden job if you haven’t sown them in yet.
- Direct sow broadbeans, mizuna, salads and kale.
- 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
- Tray sow another lot of broccoli, cauli, cabbage for planting out next month.
- Winter greencrops like oats, wheat, lupin and mustard should all be going in this month. Mustard is a brassica so rotate it as such. Oats and wheat are magic for heavy soils – those big root systems open them up, and at the other end of their life they make the best mulch.
- Direct sow miners lettuce and cornsalad. Such great winter/ spring saladings these and best of all if you let them flower and seed they’ll come up year after year = solid gold!
Sow lots of flowers. This is really important to feed the bees through winter and spring and to keep your spirits high when it’s cold and yuk.
- Plant another lot of broccoli, cabbage and cauli.
- Plant salads or sow beetroot beside the brassicas. They’ll grow fast in the rich soil, and finish by time the brassicas begin.
- 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, so if you don’t have the seedlings raised, go buy them.
Plant garlic. If there is one thing we can do to beat rust, it’s get in early. Setha’s seeds still has some early garlic left – better get in quick though! And while you’re at it read her latest newsletter for the best garlic rust advice in town.
Feed + water
- Liquid feed brassicas and leafy greens weekly to grow them fast before the cold hits. Take care when planting on hot days
- Protect brassicas from cabbage whites with a fortnightly squirt of Kiwicare Caterpillar Killer or Yates Natures Way Caterpillar Killer or cover with insect mesh to stop the cabbage whites decimating your seedlings.
Keep up with watering. Its easy to forget once the weather cools off. Check your soil and water seed and new transplants as required.
Top up your dung heap
Back in the day everyone had a dung heap. Before there were blue pills for gardens, there were cow do’s. And the cow do’s win (though don’t be poo-ist, whatever do’s you can get your hands on are great!) Rotten manure grows the best soil, the best vegies and the best roses.
A dung heap is simply a pile of manure. Leaving manure to rot before using is the key.
- Put it somewhere where the runoff will be appreciated eg near a rhubarb or around the edges of your vegie patch.
- Keep it covered.
- Add fresh do’s to the pile as you collect them.
- Scrape out rotten do’s as you need them to prepare a bed or for side dressing heavy feeders like leeks or brassica.
A dung heap will improve your garden like you wouldn’t believe. Poo is THE BEST.
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.
February seedlings: brassicas, leeks and flowers
- Tray sow silverbeet, spring onion, onion, celery
- Direct sow basil. Little and often sowings of basil are super useful. Basil is at its best when fresh and young. Such a beautiful summer herb.
- Direct sow another row of dwarf beans to take you through autumn.
- Direct sow 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.
- Direct sow companion flowers like calendula, chamomile, larkspur, wallflower, cornflower, snapdragons, love in a mist and borage.
- Direct sow (in the shade) coriander, parsley, saladings, bok choy, kale, rocket. Parsley sown now will supply your kitchen autumn through spring – kitchen essential!
- Tray sow a few each of cauli, cabbage and broccoli. A mix is better when it comes to dinner don’t you think?! Its also useful having staggered harvests. Generally speaking – broccoli are ready first, then cabbage then cauli.
- Direct sow greencrops – phacelia, lupin, buckwheat or mustard to give your soil a rest between crops, and to provide mulch for autumn plantings.
Prepare and plant
- A simple shadecloth bivvy above new seedlings will keeps them growing onward. Without shade they wilt in the heat and waste precious growing energy recovering from dehydration. Remove the cloth when they’re big and bold enough to handle it.
- Prepare for May brassica plantings with a lupin greencrop.
- Plant out broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, silverbeet, parsley, celery.
- Manage cabbage whites on your new brassica plantings or they’ll get gobbled up.
- Plant out your last zuchinni (if you haven’t had enough already!)
- Plant out leeks for spring
- I’ve heard a rumour that we’ll have an Indian summer so I planted out 3 sweet pepper seedlings in the greenhouse. If it’s consistently hot, I may get a late crop. Fingers crossed!
Check your soil
How to rehydrate + repair dry, wounded soil
Before you rehydrate your soil, you need to open it up and break the crust that’s formed. Do this by pushing your fork in, pulling it back towards you, then sliding it out (aerating, not turning over) all over the bed.
Water it in the cool of the evening with a sprinkler or soaker hose for a goodly length of time. Then cover it over (mulch, cardboard, shadecloth) and leave it until the following evening. Water again. Depending on how dry it is and what your soil base is as to how long this will take. Perhaps 2 or 3 or 4 goes at it.
Once your soil is nicely moist you need to build it back up again and entice the microbes back. Add a fine layer of compost. Up the anti by trenching food scraps/ fish waste up the centre of the bed, spread vermicastings or seaweed on top, or if a heavy feeder comes next dollop well rotten manure about. Pour on some liquid feed or EM to inspire life and cover with a lovely deep mixed mulch. Leave it for a few days to regroup.
A mission aye. Make it your gardening goal to not let your soil get so parched.
Old crops nursery
Those dry brown stalky plants dotted about my garden are part of my cunning plan – well natures really – I’m just a copy cat. They create little nurseries where I can direct sow or plant crops that prefer shade (eg: carrots, broccoli, coriander, rocket).
Once the new plants are up and running, the old crop is crunched up and used to mulch them. It’s the natural order of things don’t you think – the old giving life to the new. Round and round we cycle.
When a crop does well ie no disease, abundant, great flavour, no fuss – its a very smart move to save the seed. 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 no drama 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.
3 months until Autumn hits! At the risk of not being present to summer – let’s think about dinner in Autumn. Let’s get some new stuff planted to keep your vegie patch abundant. Not in an excessive, big mission way, but a regular, little way.
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.
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 (a january zucchini is such a useful thing.)
- 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 al, 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
Should you be going away, do these three things before you head off
- A Neem spray (or whatever you use) to keep pests in hand
- A seaweed liquid feed
- Mulch everything
Get ready for hungry brassica’s – two ways:
- Sow a legume greencrop (+ lime if you are on clay soils). Cut it down in about 6 weeks – right about flowering time, then broadfork the bed, spread compost + minerals + mulch with the greencrop. Leave to settle before planting out.
- Or Broadfork/ aerate the bed, give it a good water (or 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 if you wish.
- 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.