We can’t start our post this month without acknowledging the devastation caused by recent weather events – loss of homes and lives and livelihoods of people all round the North Island. Our hearts go out to you ❤️
With the expected shortage of fruit and vegetables and price increases as a result, we know more than ever before, now’s a good time to be or become a food gardener.
After the summer that never was, there’s definitely a tinge of autumn in the air now. It’s a time of transition. Our garden is messy as we take the last of the tomatoes off the vines, the sweetcorn has one cob left on it. The second zucchini and cucumber are pumping out the fruit. Eggplants and capsicums are on stream.
We’re sowing the first of our winter brassicas. These vegetables do well in cooler climates, so you can pretty much choose any variety you like the look of. In warmer areas, we have to be particular about varieties. Best heading broccoli for us is ‘Marathon’, and Kings ‘Tasty Stems’ is a good sprouting one. ‘All Year Round’ cauliflower is pretty much the only one that heads up well in warmer temperatures. Cabbage grows fine in all climates – we like Kings ‘Red Express’ and ‘Green Express’ because they’re certified organic. We’ll sow these in the New Moon phase again in April and May for a continuous harvest over winter.
We wash our used punnets out in white vinegar to sterilise them, sieve potting mix to make seed-raising mix (I’m adding a little bit of Dave’s Humate to the mix this time round for a boost), create rows with a bit of dowel, label rows with the name on one side and date of sowing on the other, sow seeds, cover over and gently press down. We sit our punnets in a tub of water with a little bit of liquid seaweed added, until they’re completely damp, then onto the windowsill on a tray.
Our silverbeet needs replacing…
… and the parsley will run out of steam soon too, so I’m sowing those directly into the cell containers, so they will go directly from here to the garden. I put 4 or 5 parsley seeds in one cell because not all will come up and the plant is more bushy and prolific this way.
I’m also putting in more lettuces, those that can withstand slightly cooler temperatures (which we’re sometimes experiencing at night now). They are Canasta and Reine des Glaces (an Iceberg type).
In the last week or so we’ve had enough biomass piled up to make a hot compost. Other ingredients are freshly mown grass clippings, egg cartons, used coffee grinds, chicken manure, some of our Morganics fertiliser, and soil (I’m using some of the vermicast from our Hungry Bin).
Layer it all up lasagne-style. I’ve done it in this order – grass clippings, egg cartons, biomass, chicken manure and Morganics, vermicast. I do another two layers like this, and in between each layer, water the pile really well. Cover over with a tarpaulin, or I use some black polythene. Not only does it tidy up the garden, but it means everything is recycled and re-used, and new plants love it. See Rob making compost in this video.
The onion and leek seeds all germinated well.
Rob has lifted his (sown 3 weeks before mine) and put them in an outdoor container. The point of this was to boost them along so they were bigger before planting out individually. His look great and are ready for planting.
I did mine last week, into the garden proper in clumps, and while they look droopy now, I have a reasonable amount of confidence they’ll come good. If you do decide to do this middle step, learnings from my experience are – grab hold of a clump from the top and do small clumps at a time. It depends on how advanced the root system is, but mine weren’t that developed and have taken a bit of a knock
It’s worth doing a crop rotation plan now as we head into the next phase of the year. Ideally it goes nitrogen-fixing (beans, peas and cover crops) to root crops to fruiting crops to leafy greens. Often that’s hard to achieve. Main thing is that with crops like the solanums (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, capsicums) and brassicas that you leave 4 rotations in between these crops.
Lastly, plum pruning time. We have a Luisa which is a small grower. I didn’t prune it last year, but this year there is growth that needs trimming. Master pruner Rob dropped by to give me a hand.
Remember to dip your tools in methylated spirits to sterilise them before starting.
Firstly, we take out two new branches. You only need 4-5 main ones and these new ones don’t add anything to the tree.
There’s one down low too which is just a nuisance for mowing around the tree.
Then we start a tidy – taking off any new little branches growing inward, or growing across another branch. The aim is to create a long branch, pretty much going in one direction – outwards, creating a vase shape. This little branch has cicada damage and is crossing another branch, so is a good example of what to cut out.
Some little branches can stay if they’re going in the right direction and not crossing another branch, as they will be fruit-bearing.
Once it’s all tidied up on the inside, you can trim the tops of the branches to a uniform height. Rob makes it about 20cm above his head, as that’s a good height for easy picking.
For more on pruning, see this video.