Two citrus pests you need to act on now

How to rescue your citrus trees from pests and disease

As citrus are ripening now and over the next few months, I thought it would be a great idea to talk about a few of the pests associated with these plants, and most importantly, what you can do to protect your citrus from them.

Enemy number one: Scale

Scale are sap sucking insects that are found on the leaves and branches of your citrus trees. If your tree is looking unhealthy, inspect the branches for ants climbing up and down your tree. This can be a sign of scale, as they secrete sugar which attracts the ants.

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There are different types of scale, from the hard shelled brown ones to the soft white ones.

Scale insects attach themselves to the leaves or stems of your citrus and start to suck away at your plant. They excrete honeydew that is attractive to ants, which in turn creates sooty mould. When your plant is infested with scale, the leaves usually turn yellow. Also if you have cracks in your bark, scale can live in these, which are quite hard to see. It pays to examine your tree thoroughly.

If scale is left unchecked, your tree could become very weak and unhealthy.

Remedy number one: Fight scale organically

To treat scale, spray with a good oil. I use EnSpray 99, as I have had great success with this. Spray the infected areas and this will suffocate the scale and cause the scale to die. When you touch it, it will fall off the tree or you can rub off with a cloth. Repeat spraying if the infestation is bad. This year, I have found scale on many, many plants – even natives – so it is not really specific to tree varieties.

Enemy number two: Borer

How do you know if your citrus tree has borer?

The tree will lack vigour and have holes along the branches. In some cases, you will even be able to see mounds of sawdust.

Remedy number two: How to remove borer

Borer grubs are dormant for the next couple of months, so it is an ideal time to cut out and remove any borer. This is your time to act! Really, when it is dormant is the only time to cut it out, otherwise the grub will lay egg on new cuts and then they will bore into the new growth of your tree.

It is SO IMPORTANT to remember to either burn or dispose of your infected branches. The totally organic way of dealing with borer is to insert a G string from a guitar down the hole to pierce the grub, however this could take some time (and patience!). At Grow Inspired, we typically use a squirt of CRC down the hole, as this smothers the grub and causes it to die, without harming the trees. Following this, apply pruning paste over the holes or wounds to protect them from further infestation.

Last year, I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to see three borer grubs and I was shocked to see the size of them. Fat and juicy, and half the thickness of my pinky finger!!!

borer grub

Borer can kill citrus trees if left untreated. Also you can keep your tree alive by removing the dead wood and keeping an eye on your tree, looking for new sawdust trails. Over the past year, I have had a client lose a huge branch from their lemon tree due to borer, where the wood was completely eaten through.

Take action and save your trees.

If you inherit land with an old lemon tree full of borer, you might well be wise to invest in a new one in case the old one is not able to be brought back to life.

Sign up to my newsletter for tips, tricks, and to access even more learnings as I launch my new weekly ‘Knowledge Bed’ to answer your questions direct.

Happy gardening

 

The three game-changing lessons I learned from Myanmar’s top Bokashi experts

In my final blog on my trip to Thailand and Myanmar, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the amazing people that touched my life and allowed me the honour of touching theirs. There are three enormous lessons I’ve come away with – shifts in both my mindset and my actions that will help me to be a better director of Grow Inspired and a better citizen of my community and the world. I want to share them with you too.

Myanmar has been such a humbling experience for me – to be in a country where most people live from hand to mouth, and there are no proper streets or systems for processing rubbish of any kind. We can only reflect on what vast opportunities we have in our own countries already, and how we can better utilise them, working together to make a better place.

The kindness and smiles of the people of Myanmar have touched my heart and soul in such a special way that it has become my second home. What inspired me most though was their innovation – their ability to look at a problem and see the solution.

INNOVATION

How incredible the way things come together when you are building a soil revolution like Bokashi Myanmar, using all available resources.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, Myanmar doesn’t have soil to grow food – all they have is sand. Some of the projects I participated in were finding ways to develop soil beds from nothing and with minimal cost, so that these passionate and self-sufficient people can grow food to sustain themselves from what is around them.

The skills and innovation of the people are even keeping traditions alive – I loved watching as a bamboo shelter for the Bokashi bins was built by just using a machete (and a very skilled hand!).

Waste products like coconut husks, sugar cane fibre and leaves that are normally burnt were instead collected and recycled with food waste to make deep, rich compost to grow fresh food.

It is inspiring and innovative that you can simply rent a piece of land and create a soil factory there – innovating somewhere from nowhere – a place that can now be used to process food waste and teach people how to grow food. This is so much more advanced than New Zealand, where local councils have been saying it will be against the law to collect food scraps from another place and process them!!!! Narrow-minded madness and an example of where an existing system or institution gets in the way of innovation, rather than supporting it.

ATTITUDE

One of the things I loved most was teaching at the Yangon international school about Bokashi and how to grow food. The kids were enthralled – to see their eyes light up when they learned they could eat all kinds of food from the garden! Something we take for granted, but for them, it was a gift. It was a change in attitude for this next generation, as most of them have grown up thinking of food scraps as dirty trash. Remember that a simple change in attitude can start a revolution. If only we could inspire more kids to understand what value our waste has and how to grow their own food from scraps with Bokashi.

I have taught in New Zealand schools too and held children’s workshops from time to time, but would love to see schools putting this on the national curriculum. I can’t think of a life skill more worthy than learning how to grow our own food and use our own food waste to do it.

In Myanmar, a #soilrevolution has started and hotels, companies, expats and the locals are all in support of this and willing to be part of it for the greater good. They are making soil where there is sand and growing clean healthy food. Life is simple and beautiful. It is turning attitudes from ‘everything is trash’ to ‘this trash has value for a better life’.

SHARE TO CHANGE AND CHANGE TO SHARE

I have never met people more open, willing to share and to welcome you into their fold. The people of Myanmar and Thailand that I spent time with were so excited to exchange knowledge, share their time and passion with me, and offer their skills.

We can learn so much from this open exchange – we have lots to offer one another; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The more you give, the more you get. Why have we unlearned these ways?

Part of my journey was spent surrounded by the leading experts in EM (effective microorganisms) and Bokashi at the Kyusei Nature Farming institute, located in Thailand’s Saraburi. This deeply special place has enriched my world and helped me to make global connections with those that share the same passion and knowledge of growing clean food with microbes.

I cannot express the feeling you get when you arrive somewhere that you know you can both learn from and share with – a community that are ready to listen without judgement, without competition, without hierarchy. They are ready to change based on what they learn. They have no arrogant assumptions that they will know best. They want to share knowledge with you too, so that you both walk away changed for the better and richer with knowledge and know-how.

It has filled up my cup to overflowing. To be surrounded by people as passionate as me in EM and Bokashi has been truly inspiring.

My heartfelt thanks to the beautiful, kind, caring, passionate people I have met on my journey, those over the past two years at Saraburi, Bokashi Philippines, and especially to Jenny Harlen, Inda Aung, Aye Aye Aung, Stefania Cao, Tracy Morgan, Kaing Wai  Hnin and Hans Nordstrand – the Bokashi Myanmar team. Part of my heart will always be with my Myanmar family.

Pruning: what you need to know before you start

With the pruning season and winter dormancy of most fruit trees approaching, now is the time to get prepared to prune.

Pruning is a topic that can get complicated, so – as ever – I want to break it down for you and tell you what you need to know to get started.

For many people, pruning your fruit trees can seem such a daunting task that you worry so much about it and then end up not doing it, for fear of doing it wrong! Then you might think about it all year through the seasons, until a year has passed and you are still in the same place you were the year before! If this is you, my Grow Inspired challenge to you is to prune at least one tree yourself this year… I promise you it will give you a feeling of achievement!

I used to be equally daunted in the past, until I simply took the plunge and started. In my first year, I only pruned the fruit that grew on first year wood. The reason for this was that I would only have to wait a year for my trees to recover and provide me with fruit again! I enjoyed my successes and learnt from my mistakes. I have found over my years of pruning that mistakes can always be learnt from and trees are very forgiving, eventually righting themselves.

How do I know what to do?

Observing your fruit trees over all the seasons is the key to understanding what they are telling you they require. For example, was your citrus full of white fly this season? Did you get scale? Was your fruit diseased? Did you have as many fruit as flowers? Have you left snapped branches on your tree? Were your leaves full of holes? Did you pick up your fruit? Did you feed your trees? Did you put pruning paste on the wounds?

What is the best pruning schedule

From experience, I know that it pays to prune your trees for its health and production of fruit. My personal pruning schedule is to prune my trees in years 1-3; then prune year 5, 7, 9 and so on. I have found this to be beneficial, as years 1-3 are all about establishing good roots for the tree, in order to produce a strong structure to hold the fruit it will bear. Then letting it grow every other year will give you the chance to replace any damaged branches or non-fruiting branches.

The importance of health with your fruit trees is unsurpassable – healthy trees produce healthy fruit.

At Grow Inspired, we have teamed up with Grosafe to bring Bio-gro certified products to you. In the past, I haven’t been able to find an organic copper or a good organic oil or pruning paste, so I have been unable to previously use and test these products until last year. I am pleased to report that all my trials with these products has been extremely successful. With so much pest and disease around, I feel that this time of year is a good time to spray with copper and Enspray 99;  the oil helps the copper stick to the tree and will also help kill off the last of that stubborn white fly, or smother a disease that is lying dormant.

Below are my go-to products for the upcoming season.

As a special bonus for my followers, for this week only (until 7th June 2019), receive $10 off my special pruning pack with my essential organic products.

 

Copper – What is its purpose in pruning?

Copper will smother fungal spores and bacteria that cause diseases like leaf curl, leaf spot, diseases in the bark, botrytis and citrus diseases. It is also great for roses to control black spot, bacterial spot and blight. When you smother the disease, it will mean there is less chance of reinfection when the tree comes into blossom and leaf next season. When applying this, it is best to saturate the tree, including the trunk and branches. I spray the ground too if I have come across a particularly diseased tree. Repeating this in spring can also help.

What is Enspray 99 oil?

Enspray is a mineral oil that is great to control insect infestations, thrips, aphids, mites and caterpillars. It has many uses and comes highly recommended by Bill Brett who is an authority on pest and disease. I use this oil year-round and it can be combined with copper, kelp and  EM (effective microorganisms) when spraying for health and growth, especially if there is pest activity.

Who needs Organic Prune and Paste?

The trials I have done with this product have been hugely successful. It helps seal and protect all cuts, wounds and pruning areas of fruit trees and ornamentals, and it comes in an easy to use bottle with a brush applicator. It is a pine-based product that helps create a natural barrier against fungal and bacterial disease.

 

Using these potent organic products together in pruning season can create a three-pronged defence system for your trees and plants over winter, enabling them to thrive next season. My passion for organics is so profound and I simply cannot express my happiness when I can find a product I believe in and recommend, which successfully meets the practical needs of the garden whilst harmoniously working with nature.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks, and we’ll continue our focus on pruning to get your trees ship-shape.

Grow Inspired everyone!

What are you breathing in? How to protect against air pollution

This is my second blog on the life changing events I experienced during my trip to Myanmar and Thailand last month. If you missed last week’s blog and lessons, check it out here.

Myanmar is such a delicate and beautiful place that I feel it creates an environment where the negative effects of the modern world are most crudely and rapidly demonstrated – the toxicity of the way we live now and how we consume resources has destroyed it in such a short space of time.

It demonstrates the path the rest of the world is on – unless we decide to make a change.

Whilst in Yangon, Myanmar I used to listen to expats complaining that the air pollution was so bad. To be honest, I didn’t really notice it as much as I did in other states of Myanmar, maybe because motorbikes were banned from the city which makes a huge reduction in noise and air pollution. As I write this, Yangon is judged to have the eighth worst air quality in the world, with Dehli in India coming in at first place.

Learn more here about a wonderful project to help clean up Yangon’s air

You read all about air pollution all over the world, but I now know that, until you really experience bad air pollution, it’s impossible to imagine what it really feels like.

My last stop with Bokashi Myanmar was the Inle Lake sitting at the bottom of the Shan mountains.

The Inle lake is one of the top four tourist destinations in Myanmar. It is the second largest freshwater lake in Myanmar and has a population of around 170,000 people. I had been there less than 24 hours and noticed that the air pollution was affecting my physical wellbeing and all my senses. There was a PROBLEM that needed investigating. Why did I feel like this? It didn’t take long to find the source.

Whilst wandering round the town, Nyaung Shwe, I could see there was smoke billowing on almost every street corner and upon further investigation, I discovered the locals were burning plastic and sometimes plastic with raked up brown leaves. It was a toxic mess that was severely affecting my health. Immediately my bubble of excitement to be at the lake burst.

The motorbikes roar around creating dust clouds due to the 40+ degree heat, and because the lake sits so low below the mountains, the air just gets thicker and thicker, trapped by the oppressive haze of pollution which suspends over the people of this area. Whilst out on the lake, I noticed hectares of floating tomato gardens where they would regularly burn off spent crops.

Everywhere I went, there was that awful smell of toxic smoke from burning plastic and the heaviness of the suppressing air pollution. I am convinced people will die young from inhaling the fumes and living in that much air pollution if no action is taken.

After only 24 hours in this environment, I was truly poisoned and wasn’t well enough go out the next day. I felt very grateful that I only had to spend 72 hours here. It took me three weeks to feel normal after I came home and feel so grateful for the clean air of Waiheke Island.

The problem I feel stems from lack of systems and education. KNOWLEDGE is POWER. The Shan people have never been taught how to dispose of the introduced plastics – there are no systems in place for such products, so what do they do with them??? Throw them in the river, drop them on the street and burn them.  The air pollution has come about from years and years of burning plastics and their health is suffering. What once was a beautiful place is now losing its beauty and purity.

Concerningly, it is only getting worse with the building of hotels and increase in tourism, which will serve only to destroy the eco system of the lake. Education and systems need to be implemented to save such a beautiful place full of beautiful people.

One of our missions of going to the Inle lake was to meet an amazing man called Tauk Tauk who owns the Chillax Restaurant. This young man was a true inspiration – he has no plastic at his restaurant; he uses Bokashi for his kitchen scraps and his raked up leaves for his carbon to create a garden; he serves only bamboo straws and has the only working Worm Farm I have seen in Myanmar.

At his restaurant, we met with his team and talked to them about the pollution and the state of the lake, suggesting ways that they could process their own food waste, clean up the lake and create systems to make compost. I am really happy to say that these people are in real action and are coming for training at the Bokashi Soil factory in Yangon.

This will really help to make a difference in getting things moving in the right direction for Nyaung Shwe and Inle lake.

We must remember that all it takes to make an impact on the world is to share knowledge from one person to the next in a positive way and I am very proud to be part of the Bokashi Myanmar Team in spreading this message.

If you would like a solution that works for your food waste and to learn how to set up a soil factory, please get in touch.

Similarly, if you know of a way that can help me to spread this message, I’d love to hear from you!

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The life-changing takeaway from my seven weeks in Myanmar that we can all do at home…

Those of you that have followed me for a while will know that I am a woman on a mission. Here at Grow Inspired, I aim to inspire others and show them how easy it is to grow their own nutrient-rich food.

I want to connect with people and businesses ready to make a difference to the world by eliminating the useless rubbish they send to landfill and instead, putting goodness back into the soil to complete nature’s healthy cycle.

The circular economy of food waste (CEOFW) is simple. Grow the food, eat the food, compost the waste with microbes and return to the soil full of microbial life, which will in turn create nutrient-rich food. Surely this is a no brainer!

With these missions in mind, I recently spent seven weeks in Thailand and Myanmar on a life-changing trip and I want to share with you what I learned.

Invited back by Jenny Harlen of Bokashi Myanmar, I went to continue the volunteer work I had started in September 2018, teaching how to deliver Bokashi composting on a large-scale.

Discover more about my first trip here

During my time in Myanmar, I was met with the kind of confronting images you only see online. I saw back streets where plastic waste is knee-high and you physically have to wade through it to get by. Waterways that are so littered with plastic, they can only be described as plastic rivers. Plastic blocking drains, plastic choking wildlife. I saw these scenes throughout this beautiful country and they gave me a life-changing shock.

My biggest horror of all was going to a landfill in Ngapali, in the Rakhine state, with a modest population of 137,000. We had a private tour of the landfill, and my jaw dropped as I saw plastic rubbish stretching out as far as the eye could see and piled higher than me sitting at 5ft 4inches. The landfills aren’t pits, but merely vacant land that rubbish is dumped on. Imagine what the landfills look like in the big cities.

This is what happens when you introduce plastic to a country without any systems to process it, nor education on what to do with it.

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It forced me to reflect on how much plastic I have and use in my life, and the whole life cycle of that plastic. It is everywhere – it’s impossible to keep it out of our lives, and it’s convenient and useful.

I am not an eco-warrior and I am not a preacher. I am a mindful citizen like you, who cares about the planet and wants to support its future. So it got me to thinking – what can you or I do to make a difference?

The problem feels so big, and we are so small. But we can all play our part.

I am most grateful that in Ngapali, we were hosted by Oliver Essa at the Laguna Eco Lodge, where I met an inspiring man on a mission all over the world, who participates in Chefs Without Borders.

During our time in this region, we were able to make a difference through our work by educating chefs, restaurant owners, municipals and hotels on how to separate their food waste from their plastic, and why it is important not to throw plastic on the streets or into the sea.

The Laguna Lodge make an impact by clearing beaches of plastic every day and now recycling is starting to become part of their focus. Now with large-scale bokashi, they will be able to grow their own food onsite from their food waste, as well as leading the way forward with all the surrounding hotels and municipalities. Such an inspiring man.

Some of our supermarkets here in NZ are now making a difference by inviting you to bring your own containers and by not selling vegetables that are wrapped in plastic.

We can make a difference as individuals by changing our mindset. Our everyday lives have been bombarded with plastic over the past 40 odd years, and now the world is changing so we need to change with it. Remember every little bit helps.

So here are some tips on how you can reduce your plastic today:

  • Refuse drinks with plastic straws
  • Use paper mushroom bags in supermarkets for your vegetables or take a string bag with you
  • Monitor your plastic use each week and set yourself a goal next week to have just a bit less – just be mindful
  • Don’t support big chains that are full of plastic – the likes of Starbucks for example
  • Invest in a ‘Keep Cup’ for your coffee and tea
  • When there are recycle bins, compost bins and landfill bins, take the time to look at these and sort your rubbish properly.

If you’ve made it to the end of this week’s blog, you care as much as I do. So thank you. Together, we can do our bit for our little corner.

Working with companies to audit and improve their waste systems, recycling and composting is an area of my business that I’m growing, so if you are interested in learning more about the systems you can implement at your company, please get in touch.

Happy gardening!

The three methods of composting – which do you need in your garden?

Composting is at the forefront this week with the celebration of International Compost Awareness Week, so I thought it would be the perfect time to discuss the difference between the three most common types of composting and what is the best way to utilise each of them in your garden.

Three bin composting, compost bin, or free standing compost

These types of composting are regarded as ‘aerobic compost’ which means there is airflow creating the compost.

WHAT Aerobic composting is where organic matter is decomposed using microorganisms that require oxygen. The microbes in this type of composting occur naturally and live in the moisture that surrounds the organic matter.

HOW In this type of composting, you can process your food scraps, but it is not the best way as they tend to rot before they break down and can create smell and also attract vermin.

I use the above systems to process all my garden waste, greens and browns. Bokashi can also be added to these types of composting as a nitrogen layer.

TOP TIPS It is important to have a layer of sticks at the bottom layer of your compost, as this will create airflow from the bottom. The most important fact to remember when making an aerobic compost is the ratio between carbon and nitrogen.

For beginner gardeners, carbon is the brown matter, leaves, paper etc and the nitrogen is green material, manure, green grass clippings and food. The ratios are usually 25-30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. If there is too much carbon it can slow down the decomposition of the compost.

Remember also, if it is the height of summer, to water each layer – a compost that is too dry won’t break down. Keep your compost bin in a place that gets at least half a day of sun, as the heat will speed up the breaking down of materials into compost.

You can also spray each layer of the compost with EM (Effective Microorganisms) to help speed up the process, remove any smell and add extra microbes

Worm farming

This is an easy, no-hassle way of composting your food scraps and paper.

WHAT The normal worm farm can usually cope with food scraps from a family of 2 to 3. If you like worm farming and have a big family or produce a large amount of food waste, i.e. if you juice every day, you might want to consider making a worm farm out of an old bath.

The juice that comes out of a worm farm is called worm tea and is really valuable in the garden; just like taking a good herbal medicine, it helps the health of your plants. The worm tea won’t burn your plants and can be applied neat or diluted as much as you like. I have found over years that the dilution ratio doesn’t matter. I use a stronger dilution ratio if my plants have been battered by the weather, as it really does improve the cell structure.

HOW A new worm farm can take up to a month to reach an optimum working capacity. Worms in the bin love paper, especially shredded paper, the inside of toilet rolls, handi towels and cardboard that is used in the home.

Please don’t put into your worm farm liquid, shells, fish bones or too many onion or citrus skins. The worm farm can process citrus and onions, but not heaps at once, i.e. if you were making chutney or lemon curd.

TOP TIPS If your worm farm becomes too dry, add some wet paper. Worm farms like to be kept in the shade and above 8 degrees. If you live in a place where you have really cold winters, either wrap your worm farm in cardboard or bring inside the garage or shed.

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Bokashi

WHAT Bokashi is a closed fermentation composting system so is anerobic meaning NO air. Bokashi is the most productive, efficient, restorative form of composting in my experience.

Planting in Bokashi has many great benefits for the garden, as it will hold moisture in the ground, increase root structure, give plenty of food for the plants producing nutrient-dense food, which will have a good complex carbohydrate structure, essential for the human body.

HOW Food scraps are added to a bin that either absorbs the juice or the juice is drained. As food waste is added, a bran inoculated with effective microorganisms (EM) is sprinkled on each layer, before firmly closing the lid to seal off the oxygen.

After the bin is full, it is left to ferment for two weeks and then either put into the soil, raised bed or traditional compost. It requires just two weeks in the soil before you are ready to plant in.

TOP TIP If you are planting seeds, you can plant these straight away, as it will take over 2 weeks for the roots to reach the Bokashi. The waste food then turns into soil and you have the added effect of EM in the soil which then will multiply and restore the goodies in the soil.

Personally, I have all three systems as I enjoy the benefits of them all for different uses – aerated compost for my garden plants, prunings and leaves; worm farms for my paper and Bokashi for my food scraps.

Most importantly, how do you compost? I hope this blog inspires you to start composting if you don’t already, or to try another method. And if you have any further questions on composting, please get in touch for the Knowledge Bed in my weekly newsletter when I’m happy to answer your queries.

 

Happy compost week!

 

3 things you need to do in your garden now to protect it over winter

After being back a couple of weeks on NZ soil and experiencing a few days of rain, I am remembering how soggy and cold our gardens can get.

  1. Get planning for the water flow after the rain starts

Drains and channels for water flow are a really important part of design when creating your gardens, for two main reasons:

  • To stop your garden being flooded in the winter and
  • To capture water in the hot summer months.

The way I design my garden is using raised beds, as I live in a high rainfall area, with it falling hard and fast sometimes.

I have drains around each bed with an outlet at one end. In the summer, this captures the rain which then soaks in under the bed keeping the soil moist under the plants, and in winter it enables the water to escape to prevent flooding, as crops can rot (especially garlic) from too much water.

  1. Prepare your garden to survive the upcoming winds

To protect from strong winds, I put wind cloth around my garden or drape netting over my plants and secure with rocks or pin into the ground. However, I advise you shouldn’t pin too tightly as the plants won’t be able to grow.

I also recommend putting a good thick mulch around your plants to help keep the roots and stems of your plants protected, remembering to leave a small gap around the stem of each plant.

  1. Get planting some winter crops

With full moon just past, and the shortest day just over a month away, it is time to think about planting the last of the winter root crops. Not much really happens in June, and I look at this time of year as a rest period in the garden for the crops.

I find by planting in May, you at least achieve some growth before the shortest day and it gives the plants a good start, though this also depends on which part of the country you are in.

My focus will be on planting beetroot and leeks to enable me to have a good late winter crop for those hearty roast dinners. Roasting beetroot is easy and delicious – I just give mine a scrub, chop in half and place in the roasting pan with the rest of the veggies, yumo.

Beetroot is a hungry plant and loves to have good compost, bokashi or rotted manure incorporated in the soil. I grow mine from seed in rows 10cm apart. Beetroot comes in all types of colours; from orange, red, white and yellow, and this is the beauty of growing from seed as I find these plants usually aren’t available in your average garden centre.

Top tip: When buying beetroot seedlings, it is better to buy a punnet with smaller plants as you will find these easier to separate and the roots will stand a much better chance of not being damaged when pulling apart.

If you are a new gardener, the idea when planting beetroot is to make sure the punnet is sufficiently watered and then pop the seedlings out and tease the plants apart from each other and plant individually, making sure you plant them in the soil right down to where the leaves have started to form. This will give them a good hold in the ground and help protect the forming root from wind damage over the winter months.

Growers of seedling punnets supplied to garden centres tend to put 3-4 seeds into each cell these days, which makes it much harder to transplant and if you are a new gardener you might tend to plant the whole clump together which will result in tiny beetroot. Pre-Roman times, did you know that the only part of the beetroot that was eaten was the leaves? These are delicious chopped into a salad or in a stir fry, which add a vibrant colour, so please don’t overlook them!

Beetroot can take anywhere from 45-65 days until harvest time, depending on your variety and growing conditions. Beetroot can be grown in containers, pots, raised beds as well as gardens. Remember in dry spells to water every week or so, until they take off by themselves.

Leeks like very similar growing conditions to beetroot, so I tend to plant these next to each other in the garden. They both like rich soil and it also serves as a good rotation for leafy producers after harvest.

Last year, I experimented with leeks to see how they would best grow. Some I pulled apart and grew individually with a spacing of 5-7cms and others I planted in clumps of 4 to 5 to see if they would grow in much the same way, but take less time to plant.

The result of this was the ones planted in clumps of 4-5 grew just a bit smaller than the individual ones, but saved much more time and space… Hurrah!

Top tip: When planting leeks, make sure you make the hole nice and deep with your finger or a stick, as the roots are usually long and like to go in straight-ish rather than all clumped together.

I plant my leeks quite deep into the soil up to where the leaves divide into a V. I usually put my mulch on the soil first and plant through this as it can be quite time-consuming putting mulch around individual plants. The beauty of growing leeks is they can stay in the ground until you need them. You can pull them when they are young and sweet or wait until they fatten up when they are delicious for soup. Leeks take anywhere from 70 -120 days to mature, making sure you harvest before they go to flower as this will take all the energy upwards and leave a very hard centre in the leek.

Mmmm it is making my mouth water just writing this thinking about roast beetroot and leek and kumara soup!

Happy winter gardening

Three must-knows before planting garlic…!

Time has whizzed past again, if I am already writing about planting garlic! Autumn is here and the seasons are changing.

In my experience, it is best to get the ground prepped for garlic planting ahead of time, so it is all ready when you go to pop the bulbs in.

My experience of growing garlic spans nearly 30 years, however sadly over the last 4 odd years it has proved a very difficult plant to grow up here in the warmer areas of New Zealand, with bulbs not forming to capacity and the dreaded attack of rust due to humidity. These must surely be the signs of global warming.

Gone are my days of planting 500 bulbs and having the ritual of planting at Winter Solstice (shortest day) and Harvest at Summer Solstice (longest day), where celebrations would be big with a fire, and friends, and usually a feast of some kind.

Now for me the only type of garlic I dare grow is Elephant garlic, which isn’t really garlic; more a bulbing leek with a mild flavour, as this seems to be rust resistant.

Sowing times have also changed, with myself and many fellow gardeners planting mainly in May, and just a few experiments in June and July. Garlic is a member of the Allium (onion)  family and takes about 6 months to mature.

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  1. Preparing your ground for the garlic crop

Garlic prefers a sunny, well-drained spot, and it likes soil that is rich in organic matter (humus).

When preparing my bed, I tend to use this as a great opportunity to empty my worm farms of their vermicast and incorporate this into the soil. I also like to add my leaf mould from the previous season.

It is always good to think ahead in the garden. So this year when all the leaves are falling, collect them up in a pile and cover and they will be great leaf mould for the following season, which in turn will create rich humus in the soil and a better biological life.

Garlic likes rich, friable soil, so that is why it is good to work it ahead of planting time. Make sure you crumble down the bigger lumps, which require more watering and feeding, as there is limited space for the roots. If your soil is poor you could always sow a quick green manure crop now like mustard, which will fix nitrogen and give you good organic matter for your biological life in the soil.

 

  1. Soft neck or hard neck garlic?

One of the biggest differences between soft neck and hard neck garlic is their appearance. However, your choice may also be strongly dictated by the climate within which you are growing.

Hard neck garlic has a long flowering stem that grows from the centre of the bulb and therefore cannot be plaited. Also they form bulbils around the bulb, which can be planted the following year but will take two years of growing to form proper cloves. The number of cloves that form on hard neck garlic are usually between 4-10. Hard neck garlic is better suited to a cooler climate where it is very hardy and seems to thrive in the cold.

Soft neck garlic is suited more to a warmer climate and forms smaller cloves. There can be between 8 – 20 cloves in each bulb. In stressful conditions, soft neck garlic can bolt and sometimes produce bulbils on the top of the bulb. Soft neck garlic generally stores better and can have a storage life of up to 9 months, whereas hard neck sometimes only stores for 4 or so months.

 

  1. Choosing your bulbs for planting

A word of caution when choosing your bulbs for planting. Do NOT buy any old bulbs from the supermarket. Most garlic is grown in China and will have been heavily sprayed, and is then bleached before it reaches our market. Yuck!

An experiment I did a few years ago was to peel garlic that was grown in China and soak it in oil for a month. The oil turned blue(!!!) from all the chemicals oozing out. Furthermore, what is imported is usually dipped in a substance to prevent it from sprouting, to give it a better shelf life.

Healthy bulbs are important – bulbs free of mites and that have been properly dried from the season before. Trade Me is actually a good place to look or some organic suppliers online.

 

Now is the time to order your seed garlic and prepare your beds, so let’s get cracking! Next month, I will explain the best ways to plant your garlic and the care it needs over the six months in the ground.

 

Happy gardening!

What to sow now for winter feasting

With full moon upon us tomorrow, it is a great time to be sowing your garden with above green manure crops for winter feasting.

Broad beans are a versatile crop to plant for winter, as they have many uses. They can be planted as a green manure crop to fix nitrogen to the soil and a soil conditioner, or they can be planted for their delicious beans.

I love them young and raw, popped into a salad, or you can let them get larger and either add them to stews or make delicious falafels out of them! Yum!

Remember broad beans can get pretty high, so it is best to plant them at the back of your garden to prevent them shading other smaller crops. If you plant broad beans close together, they will support each other.

Broad beans are an excellent source of fibre and protein and are rich in folate and B vitamins, which the body needs for nerve and blood cell development. All in all, broad beans offer such benefits – even if you don’t like to eat them, your soil will thank you for their nitrogen-fixing properties.

Top tip: When sowing these seeds, you will find they germinate quicker when soaked overnight then you can either direct sow or plant into seed trays for pricking out later.

Now is also a great time for planting silverbeet, rocket, endive, peas, parsley, coriander and celery. If you are not a winter gardener (why not, I may ask? You’re missing out!) it is best to dig over your beds and sow with green manure crops of lupins, broad beans, wheat, oats and for a quick green manure crop, sow mustard.

The above green manure crops must be cut down before they go to flower to keep the nitrogen in the soil. I either pull mine or chop them down before flowering, then they can be dug into the soil. So not only do they fix nitrogen to the soil, but add much needed carbon to our soils, and their nitrogen fixing root aerates the soil and encourages worm activity.

If your soil is still too hard, don’t despair, you can plant green manure crops right up until June.

 

Happy gardening

The reason your plants attract insects – and how to repel them without chemicals

Did you know that insects sense vibrations? Rather than looking at your plants and thinking ‘mmm, they look tasty’, they instead feel the vibration of your plant to determine whether it is healthy or not.

If your plant is struggling, weak or diseased, it will have a much lower frequency vibration than a plant that has great health and a strong cell structure. When insects feel the lower vibration, they will lay their eggs on that plant and the plant will become a host for their eggs to grow. This is why infestations can occur at hatching time. They are attracted to the lower vibration. Nature always preys on the weak – it is nature’s way.

So how do you ensure your plant has a high-frequency vibration that repels insects? With great soil health – which in turn nourishes your plant and supports production.

It all starts in the soil, HEALTHY SOIL = HEALTHY PLANTS.  Also remember what grows in your area at each given time of year, with the given climate you have to work with. Now as the climate changes, we are seeing we must adapt what plants we grow. Some plants may no longer be suitable for your areas due to climate change, so it is better not to fight against nature with this and suffer disappointment – change the mindset and embrace the new things you will be able to grow.

Top tip: If buying a plant from a nursery or garden centre, it is imperative to check the plant carefully and really look into the plant itself and under the leaves for any sign of disease or insect presence. You don’t want to make the mistake of introducing a problem you didn’t already have by choosing the wrong plant, so this is really critical. Plants are typically weakened by travelling from their nursery to the garden centres and so it is easy for them to fall prey to one of these along the way…

It is also good to check to make sure the plant isn’t root-bound in the pot. By this, I mean that the roots are growing out of the bottom of the pot or round and round in the pot which is an indicator that they have been in the pot way too long and they have become stunted in growth, thus making them more susceptible to pest and disease.

I strongly encourage you all to get to know your plants. Over this summer period in NZ, I have received many messages about whitefly infestations in kale and what to do about it.

My advice would be to use nature. This is a host plant in summer for your whitefly and they will stay on this plant, so simply let it become a sacrificial plant. The ladybirds will love you forever – they lay their eggs in here and their nymphs will munch their way through about 1,000 whitefly per day.

Learning to understand nature is very, very important to the organic gardener and remembering that there is a reason for everything.

Over the following months I will be sharing advice on beneficial plants and insects with you and how they can revolutionise your garden. I am very keen to hear from you if you live outside NZ about your beneficial plants and insects, so please drop me a line.

 

Happy gardening!