Spring, what a mix of summer and winter!

Spring, what a mix of summer and winter!

Blossoms bursting out.

 

So lovely – and starts me wanting to plant all sorts of veggies for us to eat. Maybe you do too?

Yet the ground is so cold, cold, cold and wet. Seedlings struggle, then they get eaten by snails, slugs, caterpillars and everything else. That’s depressing and we feel we’re not good gardeners.

How DO we get great veggie harvests?

“Where” is important. Veggie seedlings need:

  • warm soil. Feel it – if it’s cold to your skin, it’s cold for seedlings.
  • lots of sunlight. Look and see if the bed is in sun or shade each day.
  • well-fed – lots of organic matter
  • wind protection.
  • protection from beasties – blackbirds, dogs and cats scratch out seedlings; slugs, snails, caterpillars etc, eat them.

 

“When” to plant?

Later is often much better.

Early spring plantings often give poorer harvests than later ones.

Warm the soil with clear plastic tunnels and bags over early plantings [which also give protection from wind, birds and animals]. And remember to remove them when the sun shines brightly or they cook.

 

“What” to plant?

Early spring is a good time to plant leafy greens (lettuce, endive, rocket, silver-beet, parsley, etc), and peas in the open. Snow peas, snap peas, tall peas, dwarf peas, sweet peas. [protect from slugs as they love peas]. Carrots, beetroot, radish seeds can go in now. Sow some seeds monthly to give a longer season.

 

Beans like ground really warm so we plant an early variety under a plastic tunnel soon and wait to plant other varieties in late spring.

Beans growing in winter under a plastic tunnel 20170529
Beans growing in winter under a plastic tunnel 20170529

Sow seeds of summer crops in trays or pots and keep them somewhere protected until the ground is warm before transplanting them. Pumpkins, squash, zucchinis, cucumbers, tomatoes, capsicum, chilies, melons, herbs etc like it hot. Our patio gets covered with pots in early spring.

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Corn, beans and sunflowers are easiest to grow after November when the ground is warm.

 

Give yourself permission to play with your garden,

investigate its ‘micro-climates’,

enjoy signs of life and

forget ‘perfect’ images – each garden is different and wonderful in its own way.

And each year is different, so different varieties thrive.

Plant an assortment and enjoy those that do give great harvests this year,

and know that next year maybe others will instead.

 

Best wishes with your spring veggie garden and may you have great harvests!
Heather 

PS

For more ideas about what to sow and when in NZ, have a look at  http://gardenate.com

 

PPS

For more about planting by the  moon phases,

If you like experiments about when to plant for best results, a great one is to plant the same seeds in rows right beside each other [so all other conditions are identical], and label the rows with the date of planting. Then sow seeds from 1 packet at weekly intervals, each week in a new row.

This way you can see how the recommendations for best/worst seed sowing outcomes from moon-planting guides work for you. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t.

I enjoy experimenting with such ideas – and if only I can rescue the rows from the snails and black-birds, I might even get some results to share!

Here’s a post I wrote about planting by the moon phases if you like more information and reflections on it.

Moon planting guides remind me to plant SOMETHING, plan a little, and help me have a continuous supply!

 

Chokos and the ‘look-alike’ Moth Plant pest – which have you got?

Chokos and the ‘look-alike’ Moth Plant pest – which have you got?

It’s choko time again! A-n-d the pest moth plant is fruiting too. As the seeds of moth plant are apparently poisonous, please know a real choko from the poisonous alternative.

 

So how to tell the delicious from the noxious?!

Which is choko and which is Moth Plant?

 

The fruit look ‘sorta similar’ from the outside so people can easily confuse the two. Yet the leaves, flowers and seeds are different. 

Here’s how:

The Leaves

Choko

 

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Choko leaves are similar to grape vine leaves, whereas Moth Plant leaves are different.

Moth Plant:

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Moth Plant leaves and fruit

The Fruits

Here are piks of a choko fruit cut in half. One seed in the middle of the fruit.

 

Here’s a pik of a Moth Plant fruit cut in half – showing the many, many seeds in the center.

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See also the flesh is different – harder, and has a milky sap which can be really irritating so best to not touch it at all [if you must pick this plant, use gloves].

 

The Seeds

The single seed of the choko sprouts a little root and shoot from the fruit.

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Whereas the Moth Plant splits the old, shriveled fruit and releases millions of fluffy seeds [so its also called ‘kapok plant’] to fly on the wind far and wide.

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The flowers

Chokos have 2 types of flowers – the little white-petaled  male ones grow in a long group. The female one [which  forms the fruit we eat] is a single one.

 

Moth Plant flowers look very different:

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Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article on Moth Plant [also known as Kapok plant, Common moth vine, Cruel vine, and White bladder] for more info.  Also, here’s a Weed Busters article.

 

I hope this post makes clear the difference between the delicious, edible choko and the noxious, pest Moth Plant.

 

For more about the delicious chokos:

 

 

See the post for how we grow the plants and also for recipes using the fruits too.

Enjoy!

 

 

Cabbage white butterfly pest solution experiment

Cabbage white butterfly pest solution experiment

Cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, and all the wonderful other brassicas are targets for Cabbage White Butterflies in warmer weather.

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In past years, we gave up on growing these crops as the caterpillars which hatch from eggs laid by these butterflies chomped them so badly we got little return for any planted to mature in warmer weather without a lot of effort.

Spring arrived and the butterflies appeared here in Auckland.

I was intrigued to see posts about using decoy white butterflies as deterrents.

So, I decided to run my own experiment as to how imitation female white butterflies would work for our garden.

Seemed simple enough:

The female cabbage white butterflies are territorial. If they see another female then they go off elsewhere. [Male butterflies have different markings to female].

Put fake female white butterflies around susceptible crops

and the real butterflies go elsewhere.

 

So, first make some imitations of the female butterflies. Some nice people have put together a template with lots of correct size images:

Here’s the link to their single page template with decoy representations of the butterfly which you can download

which looks like this..facebook_1506320708019

I printed it then followed the instructions in http://goodseedco.net/blog/posts/cabbage-butterfly-decoy:

  • Cut out the individual butterfly images. 20171011_121723 [which took me back to kindy ‘cut and paste’]
  • Collect string, scissors, clear packing tape. 20171011_123859
  • Use wide, clear packing tape and lay it flat, sticky side up. Lay string on tape then place a white butterfly image on top. [I lay out a number along the tape]
  • then cover the lot [2 sets of hands would help!] to stick more packing tape over the top to hold it all together [sticky side down onto the paper image]
  • Hang above susceptible crops to flutter in the breezes, just like real butterflies do. Movement is apparently important too.

 

So, the important parts:

  • Image must be of FEMALE white butterflies with their markings.
  • Decoy image must flutter in the breezes.

I love experiments! I wonder how effective these will be?

 

RESULTS and UPDATE:

How amazing – the first year we have had minimal caterpillar damage to broccoli and kale! There are white butterflies around, as in past years. But far less damage from caterpillars!

So we will in future hang these lovely little decoys about the broccoli etc and look forward to better crops than previously – what a wonderful simple solution to a pest problem!

 

May your brassicas be ‘munch-free’ so easily too
cheers

Heather

7 Solutions for slugs munching seedlings

7 Solutions for slugs munching seedlings

Spring time – out come the slugs and snails – big time – and hungry! Small seedlings can disappear over-night. Big slugs and snails can polish off a row in a few bites.

Solutions?

Encourage predators to eat them?
We do this as much as possible in suburbia. Diverse plantings, encourage predatory insects and birds – thrushes are great for snails – we see shells on pavers where the thrush ate the soft parts out from inside the shell.

I love our resident garden helpers! I avoid hurting them and encourage them as much as possible as they are tireless workers for us too.

 

Barriers

Surround newly-planted seedlings with their own ‘mini-greenhouse’/cloche.
Plastic containers/bottles with the bottom cut out can make a great barrier so seedlings have a chance. Sometimes our garden looks like we’re making patterns with containers!

The bottles need to come off when the weather is warm or seedlings can cook. Hasn’t been much of a problem yet this year! Or when seedling grows so big it needs more space.

 

Sometimes the pests reach plague proportions – then what?

 

Night hunting with a torch and a bucket of boiling water?

We have spent many evenings wandering about garden beds looking for slugs and snails. This is effective for big ones [but we miss small ones I think]. Night hunting tends to be unattractive in wind and rain – which are OK for slugs and snails.

Worth continuing.

[PS – some people use a bucket with salt or salt water to kill slugs and snails they catch. This seems a prolonged way to die so we use quick options]

 

Pellet baits?

The blue ones are toxic to many other animals too – dogs included.

The green ones based on an iron compound are more acceptable to us so we do use ‘Quash’ around new seedlings when there are plague-proportions of slugs and snails – usually also under a bird-net so the pellets are unavailable to other life forms above the surface of the ground [kids, dogs, cats, hedgehogs, birds etc].

 

Traps?

How effective are traps for slugs?

I’ve tried beer traps before and found few were caught – maybe there weren’t many around? So I thought I’d try again this year as there are SO MANY slugs. Maybe some types of beer maybe more attractive too – I read that more yeasty brews were preferred.

So I set simple plastic dish traps [re-used yogurt container here] into the soil where I thought they hid and near seedlings I planted. The top of the trap was at ground-level.

Here is one night’s catch – yes, beer works!

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Hmm, we do have a lot around just now! Gee there were some big slugs!

‘Collateral damage’?

I was concerned beer traps might be attractive to other soil-living life.

This trap also caught a slater [‘pill-bug’ or ‘roly-poly’] curled up in a ball. So far, the only other types in any traps was an earwig and a few ants.

The ‘collateral damage’ so far has been small and I will continue with such traps.

Outcome

So, yes, beer traps are working to catch slugs just now.

They haven’t caught snails yet – either we have collected most or they aren’t as partial to beer as slugs. I wonder which.

 

Further experiments

It will get expensive feeding slugs beer each night. Either I learn to make home-brew [unlikely] or I trial a solution of dried yeast, sugar and water – like making bread starter. When the out-of-date beer runs out that will be the next option. The next experiment to come!

 

Citrus traps?

I read that snails like grapefruit so tried that means of trapping snails/slugs.

Apparently ours don’t. 1 tiny slug and lots of ants instead.

Also, anything hiding under the citrus halves/skins have to be collected or they happily go out munching next night.

Labor intensive for us so other methods are now preferred.

 

Copper tape

Slugs and snails avoid copper as their slime reacts with it to give them a shock.

I bought some copper tape as it sounded a great idea to deter these pests. Only thing is our garden beds can’t be separated from elsewhere easily so I couldn’t work out how to use it best.

Maybe it would work for raised beds or pots?

Another issue is when plants grow and overhang the bed and tape so there is a highway up and over the tape. I’m sure it’s a good idea for someone somewhere.

 

In summary:

We will continue to night-hunt, use barriers and also Quash where necessary.

Hope this helps you get a harvest from your seedlings!

May you and your garden flourish
cheers

Heather

Grow great tomatoes – picked our first tomato in late Spring!

Grow great tomatoes – picked our first tomato in late Spring!

Here’s a story I think is like ‘Jack and the bean tomato stalk’: or also called an update in our experiment to grow great tomatoes.

So far:

In early spring this gardener’s family were looking wistfully at the tomatoes bought from shops – solid chunks of red which looked like a tomato but didn’t taste of much at all. So, I decided to aim high – for something better – quality, taste, and an abundant harvest.

I planted seeds early [over a heat pad so they were warm enough to decide to sprout – tomatoes are warmth-lovers]. I planted seeds from varieties which had grown well in past years.

And I also bought an early seedling cherry tomato from a garden shop – you know the ones – where the little seedlings are shivering in September cold winds? I know it’s too early and they struggle when they are cold but thought ‘we can only give it a go’ so home it came with us.

To sit on the back-patio pavers, in a nook protected from the cold winds blowing through, where the sunlight encouraged it to grow, and was surrounded by a clear plastic bag to make its own ‘mini-greenhouse’. It liked this place.

20161009_171710And grew, and grew, and out-grew its plastic hot-house – and its pot.

 

It was still very early, well before traditional time to plant tomatoes out into the garden.  So, we improvised. For the details of what we did, see post Joy in growing and eating early tomatoes

 

And, in the garden, it grew, and grew, and out-grew its plastic hot-house in the garden too. So, I slit the top of the plastic-bag and let the new shoots grow freely up, up and away. I made more holes in the bag for air flow.

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And still it grew, pushing new shoots outwards, trying to grow through the bag. So, next, I folded the bag down, rescued the shoots, encouraged them to go where I wanted rather than out onto the patio, over the parsley, the beans and anything else. Cherry toms growing well make a rampant, large vine! In fact, we have a hedge of tomatoes now.

 

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Traditional wisdom says to remove lateral shoots to increase air flow so disease pockets are minimized. I find this a challenge!

The little plant I nurtured lovingly is now growing wonderfully, happily and I like watching happy plants. How could I hurt it by taking parts of it away? I leave it to grow as it will.

I do keep a watchful eye on plants. If/when I see diseased leaves or stems I remove them. Removing sources of infection, reduces the spores floating around the plants. Diseased leaves with blight have black patches or streaks, so these are taken far from tomato plants pronto quick when I find them.

Yellowing leaves, mottled leaves, dead, black or oddly curling leaves, I remove.

I also remove leaves from the lower stems so there are none resting down onto the ground where they would be closest to disease spores.

Keeping a covering of clean newspaper and mulch over the ground which could have spores present, seems to have greatly reduced the potential for damage so far.

Having plants close to the back door and patio means I see them frequently, so it’s easy to care for these ones. The other plants are scattered around gardens further away and get far less attention. These others went in around late October and are growing much more slowly than the cherry varieties near the patio. Most are 20-30 cm tall at present, and just starting to flower.

The experiment to grow early, great tomatoes is so far, a resounding success, providing our first [red] tomato of the season in late November – woo hoo!

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I’ll do a review after harvests finish next autumn, so if you are interested, keep a look out, or join our mailing list to receive it to your inbox.

The technique we used this year has already given far better plant growth and harvest than last year’s efforts where we added compost and planted sort-of ‘normally’. We’ll certainly consider this for crops in future years.

 

Our exploration to grow healthy, vibrant kumera [sweet potato]

Our exploration to grow healthy, vibrant kumera [sweet potato]

Kumera [sweet potato] is usually a tasty, easy-care vegetable that grows readily in warm climates.

It’s great steamed, boiled, baked or even fried. We use the tuber sliced/diced/chunks in curries, baked meals, even stir-fries.

The challenge now is growing great tubers!

Over the years we’ve grown different types of kumera – with variable results.

Last year we even grew 4 varieties but got disappointing results.

The growing plants looked terrific, with plenty of leaves and vines. The harvest seemed OK. But when we came to eat the tubers, many were corky, the skins were rough and broken and these tubers tasted yuk.

So this year we are keen to get clean shoots to plant [called slips]. We want to grow tasty, edible, nutritious tubers which also store well.

Light-bulb moment – do some research on better methods!

With thanks to ‘Aunty Google’, we found a great post from the Koanga Institute which hopefully solves our problem.

Growing Kumara

Next: do an experiment

Use starting stock already growing on our kitchen bench.

kumera [sweet potato] growing slips on our kitchen bench
Kumera [sweet potato] tubers sitting in jars of water to grow slips for planting
CUT the slips off in the new growth and leave old growth on the tuber.

Any fungus/disease on or in the tuber stays there and is [hopefully] not transferred to the new slips. If any part of the tuber is taken with the slip then so may disease infection too.

Place cut ends into water to see if they form roots.

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Cut kumera slips in a jar of water – day 1

Wow – by  day 3 – yes, they do form roots! See the tiny white rootlets growing from the red-brown stems?

kumera [sweet potato] slips in a jar of water
Cut kumera slips – day 3
We’ll leave these roots develop more and soon we will plant the slips into ground which has not grown kumera for some years – hopefully free of disease.

So, hopefully this year we will grow lovely disease-free tubers.

 

PS  Here’s a close up of the tubers root growth in the jars of water.

Kumera tubers on jars of water to grow slips for planting

See the difference in root growth between the two?

I was intrigued that one tuber grew heaps of roots and heaps of strong, healthy-looking shoots. These are the shoots I cut off and used for slips.

The other tuber has grown no roots and its shoots are also small – both tubers started at the same time.

From this, I’ve realized it’s a good idea to set out a number of starter tubers and pick the best. If I set out just 1 tuber to grow slips, it might be like the good, healthy one – or not!

 

Joy in growing and eating early tomatoes!

Joy in growing and eating early tomatoes!

Growing tomatoes so they fruit in spite of cool temperatures takes some creativity and ingenuity!

Each year we plant some tomato seedlings in early spring –

  • in a place which is protected from the cold southerly winds
  • beside the patio of pavers
  • near the brick house so they have a thermal mass behind them.

The ground warms up faster here than anywhere else on our place.

 

This year we gave them compost and, in the planting hole below them, we placed some milk powder to supply the calcium they need to grow beautiful tomatoes.

We put a frame around them which is just the right size for a dry cleaning bag – my favourite wind protection as it is really tough and clear. It is the perfect size to go around the frame.

Tomatoes really seem to love being protected in these mini hot-houses.

 

As the weather warms up I cut the top of the bag completely open and make holes around the side so there is airflow. The long staking varieties grow out the top – up, up and away!

 

These three cherry tomato plants went into small pots in early spring- when they were tiny. Then transplanted into the garden bed –  and now they range up to 1 m (3+ft) tall and really seem happy and healthy. They have flowers and one also has a tiny, green tomato already.

We like cherry varieties as they are often prolific, hardy and produce over a long season. This is a staking variety so keeps on growing long and lanky. These cherry tomatoes have strong skins so resist disease better than many other varieties.

 

The weather prediction for Auckland this summer:
warmer and more humid than normal.

Conditions when molds, rusts and other diseases thrive.

 

Many diseases leave spores in the ground which splash up onto plants when it rains – to then grow and spread. Think blight type problems.

So we are experimenting with covering the ground around the tomatoes with newspaper then wood shavings mixed with blood and bone (for nitrogen which would otherwise be taken from the soil as the shavings break down). All new and with no spores so hopefully disease will be minimal.

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We leave the plastic bags around the plants for the whole season. We’ve had great success using this technique in other windy marginal sites in past years. Let’s see if it helps grow great crops here too.

The frames are too flimsy for strong winds so will be tied to star pickets (strong sturdy metal posts) when I get around to it!

The bird net goes up and over the whole lot – bed, plants, frames, the works – so the very active black-birds don’t dig the lot up immediately! They are very interested whenever we work in the garden – they know there are worms and interesting things in these garden beds.

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We have also planted some varieties with larger fruit. Previous years we had success with Moonglow orange ones and another year it was Oregon Spring so some of these are now in too. (Later and still very small)

We’ll also plant seeds from our diverse collection.

Then there are the many seedlings popping up from the compost! Who knows what they are! Often they grow more strongly than those I coddle so I leave some to grow wherever they pop up.

If you’re interested in the results of quality, quantity and disease resistance experiments we have run in the past here’s a link.

Each year conditions change and so the tomato varieties we have most success with also changes.

I wonder which variety will do best this year?

 

Best wishes with your explorations growing crops outside their climatic comfort zones too!

To your flourishing garden

Heather