How we grow tender food seedlings – in spite of gale winds!

How we grow tender food seedlings – in spite of gale winds!

Auckland has gale winds just now – gee this is tough for seedlings!

Ingenuity is needed to grow tomatoes, chilies, eggplants [aubergines], pumpkins, zucchinis [courgettes], peppers, cucumbers, etc in howling gale winds.

Here are some creative ways we tried.

 

Each year we plant some seedlings in 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.

 

Then we run out of space and plant elsewhere – gee the winds are strong and cold here in South Auckland near the Manukau Harbour! So new seedlings are given a shelter of some sort.

Any clear[ish] plastic bags over some sort of frame can protect baby seedlings until they are big enough to withstand adverse conditions. These are on wire frames.

Here we are trying for early zucchinis – and they still have whole leaves in spite of gale winds – I love shelters like this in Spring! In years past, before we made these shelters the large leaves of zucchinis would be shredded by winds – really set them back. We are looking forward to new season zuccs now – its been a long winter since we grew any so we give them shelter to grow and produce for us.

These zucc seedlings are growing so fast they will need a wider frame and bag soon.

 

For tomatoes, we have taller frames

– 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. We save them from year to year. [I’m thinking of asking local people who use dry-cleaners to save bags for us!]

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

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These frames are ‘tomato frames’ from hardware/nurseries. They have clip on horizontal supports which work we for us. Some of ours are years old.

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 tomato varieties grow out the top – up, up and away!

 

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 now.

The frames are too flimsy for strong winds so are tied to star pickets (strong sturdy metal posts) with rope.

Our garden looks like we are growing plastic shelters and bird-netting!

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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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Bird netting also helps reduce wind speed we have found. Every bit helps!

Also the real wind-break stuff – we use it around new baby trees when planted – seems to help too.

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

 

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

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

For more on how we grow early tomatoes, here’s the link.  If you’re interested in the results of quality, quantity and disease resistance experiments we have run in the past here’s a link.

 

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!

Got a favorite tomato you’d like to grow again next year?

Got a favorite tomato you’d like to grow again next year?

Here’s how to save the seed to do so.

Tomato seed is great to save – you can have your tomato to eat and save the seed too.

Choose the tomato

Take some of your best tomatoes and put them aside until absolutely ripe.

Now you get to eat them at their best.
Cut in half across the middle. Notice how amazing the seed-producing part is – even beautiful.

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halved tomatoes

I use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds surrounded by their jelly and leave the pulp/flesh.

 

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What’s left after seeds removed

Eat the tomato flesh now the seeds are removed. [Raw/cooked/turned into sauce or paste  etc.]

Separate seeds from pulp

Tips seeds and jelly into a jar. I like using a clear jar so I can see when the seeds are ready for the next stage.
Add water until the jar is half full.

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fermenting seeds

Place somewhere warm where you will see and remember them. We use the kitchen window sill.

Leave for a few days to ferment [and go moldy]. As the mass ferments, gas is produced which bubbles the mass (mess?) up to the surface of the liquid.
Let it ferment longer until the seeds drop to the bottom.

Tip off the water and the fermented mess which is on the surface. Take care to leave the seeds still in the jar.
I use a sieve so the water and mess tips through it and I catch any seeds. Then I tip the mess out of the sieve into the compost.

Now add more water to the jar with the seeds, give it a shake, and tip the seeds and water into the clean sieve.
Rinse seeds and pulp under the tap until all debris has gone – leaving clean seeds in the sieve.

Drying the seeds

Now the seeds need to be dried to store for next season.
I tip the whole lot from the sieve onto a piece of paper towel on a plate. I label the paper towel with the type of seed and the date.

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In this picture, the jar on the left has just had water added to seed-jelly-pulp mix. The plate on the right has tomato seeds drying. The plate in the middle is a ‘ring-in’ as it is drying pumpkin seeds.

I put the plate on the bench to let the seed dry for a few days.
Then I put paper towel and seed all together into a recycled envelope which I leave open so the seed can continue to dry for some weeks.

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The seeds stick to the paper towel and eventually I plant pieces of paper towel with seeds still attached. You can separate them if you wish.
Label the envelope the same as the paper towel.
After some weeks place the envelope with paper towel and seeds into a safe long-term seed storage container.

What is a safe long term seed storage option?

To keep seeds for more than a few months they need to stay dry, cool and protected from all the creatures that like to eat them – rats or mice, weevils or ants, even possums.

Check every so often that the seed is still drying, has not gone moldy and is not being eaten.

A metal tin in a cool spare bedroom can work well. [As in the pik above]

 

My grandparents used glass jars with metal lids. Their seed was kept in the garden shed so really needed strong protection from rodents. We use strong plastic lids too.

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Our seeds are stored inside the house and I use a cardboard box and envelopes. This works well for us.

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If you store seed in a garage make sure it’s well protected from heat, humidity and rodents.

 

True-breeding seeds – how to get next year’s crop the same as this year’s

For seed to produce next year’s crop the same as the fruit this year – there are a few important points.

The fruit must be able to breed true – hybrids can’t. Hybrids are a cross between two different varieties and the fruit contain genes of both parents so you get a mixture of offspring if you plant those seeds.
Heirloom or heritage varieties are planted because they breed true.

The plant that grows the fruit you’re going to get seed from is also important. It must be isolated from insects bringing pollen from other plants to fertilize the flower or you don’t know where the pollen has come from so you don’t know the genetic material of the seeds produced.

Tomatoes are pretty good at self-pollinating so

  • Separate varieties growing in the garden by few meters. The distance apart can be far less than plants which a wind pollinated such as corn.
  • Or cover them with the insect mesh so they are protected from any foreign pollen.
  • Or only plant one variety this season. [Which I don’t do as different varieties perform well in different years and I can’t predict it in advance! So, I grow many varieties]
  • Or plant one variety early to set seed and another later to flower after the first is already growing fruit – and remove any later flowers from this plant so it can’t cross-pollinate.

Last

Enjoy the fun of saving seed and the anticipation for next year’s crops!

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.

 

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.

20161009_171502

 

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