Learn how to sow seeds with my 12 steps to success!

With all the seedlings available in the shops, people have forgotten the art of sowing seeds.

Whether due to convenience or lack of knowledge, we’re missing out on this cost-effective gardening ritual. In this blog, I’m going to share the basic art of seed sowing with you. I encourage you to go out and give it a try this spring and reckon you won’t go back once you do!

Why should I sow my own seeds?

I prefer to sow most of my own seeds as it gives me the control of my own environment. Though we don’t always realise it, many pests and disease arrive on the plants that we buy in the stores. You literally pay to introduce problems to your own garden!!

These seedling plants also get extremely stressed, especially with the warmer weather coming and pest and disease on the move – not a great start to life for them. How many times have you visited the garden centre and they are watering in the middle of the day or overhead watering? This is a sure-fire way to cause disease and plant stress!

How do I sow my own seeds?

Let’s imagine you know nothing of seed sowing. Follow these simple 12 steps and you’ll be on the garden path to success!

Step 1: Buy good organic seeds. This is going to be the fundamental basis to set you up for a great season ahead. My own unbiased recommendations include Kings Seeds, who have a good range of organic seeds; Running Brook Seeds, which is fantastic; and local seed banks are also a great place to start looking.

Step 2: There are usually heaps more seeds than you will need, so think about talking to other people and see if they are keen to share a packet. Seeds are the most cost-effective way of growing food or plants, and you can make it even more so!

Step 3: Open the packet and tip a few seeds into your palm, observing the seeds’ size.

Step 4: Smaller seeds need less depth to sow in than larger seeds. I usually sow small seeds into a container that is a depth of 7-10 cm and larger seeds in a container that is 14-20 cm deep. The benefit of this is to avoid wastage of the growing medium.

Step 5: Select a good organic seed raising mix for the finer seeds and an organic potting mix for the bigger seeds. Fine seeds need a fine mix to germinate.

Step 6: Pour the mix into the container and pat down to remove the air.

Step 7: Water, leave, water, leave, water, leave, water. This will enable the mix to absorb the water all the way through and not just on the top layer.

Step 8: With fine seeds, I tend to use a twig to make a depressed drill across the container, east to west. Sow the seed about 3-4 times the diameter of the seed, cover and press lightly. I also recommend that you label your seed to help keep track. You can sow many seeds in the same tray.

Step 9: For really fine seeds, you can sprinkle these on the surface of your mix and pat gently.

Step 10: Larger seeds get pushed into holes 2-3 times the size of the seed. I make my indentations with a finger, then drop the seed in, cover with soil and add my label.

Step 11: Protect your seeds from the bizarre weather we are having lately by either starting them off indoors or covering them until they have germinated.

Step 12: Water with a gentle spray every couple of days. The exception to the rule is beans, which should be watered only when they have germinated.

Next week, I will share my top tips on pricking out your new seedlings. Give seed sowing a go this spring, and let me know how you get on!

Happy gardening!

How to organically treat and prevent whitefly in your garden

It pays at this time of year to focus on pests as they get started for another season. Following last week’s blog on citrus, it’s a great time to talk about whitefly and how to keep your lemons – and all your other delicious plants – safe from this pesky insect!

We will learn how to treat an infestation and – even better – how to prevent them.

So what are whitefly?

Whiteflies are tiny, white, sap-sucking insects that are only 1-2mm long. The nymphs (babies) and the adults both suck the sap of a plant. This makes the plant weak, and whitefly can also spread disease which arrives when the plant lacks the immunity to fight it off.

When the weather is warm and humid the pesky whitefly breed like rabbits! The female lays her eggs, anywhere from about 250 – 500 eggs on the underside of the leaf. They are cunning little creatures, so it always pays to look under the leaves on your plants regularly, as you won’t see the damage until it has taken hold and weakened your plants.

The eggs hatch into crawling, sap-sucking nymphs anywhere between 4 and 12 days. They crawl away from the eggs and flatten themselves onto the underside of the leaves and stay there until they become adults. They go from egg to adult in approximately 25 days.

When whitefly feed on the sap of your plant, they excrete honeydew which, if left on the plant, can cause sooty mould to grow on the leaves, which in turn can prevent photosynthesis and create poor health.

If you’re not familiar, photosynthesis is the process used by plants to gather energy from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (gases that are in the air) and out of this, they make glucose which is what every plant needs to survive.

So how do I treat whitefly organically?

Whitefly that live in a greenhouses are different from those that live on outside plants, which is important to be aware of when you’re treating it.

I use Enspray 99, Kelp and EM all together as a combined  secret weapon to protect against whitefly. Enspray 99 is a bio gro certified organic product I sell, which is effective by sticking to the leaves when sprayed. It then suffocates the whitefly and also acts as a deterrent for more egg laying. I add Kelp and EM (Effective microorganisms) to it for optimum plant health.

When spraying, tap the plant first and spray in the air as whitefly will naturally fly upwards. Give the plant a good soaking on the underside of the leaves. Within a week, if you rub the underside of the leaf, the whitefly will come off. Usually, I will repeat this process on a monthly basis, but if it is really bad, I will spray every two weeks. Remember to always rinse your sprayer out and pump some clean fresh water through the hose and nozzle to prevent build up.

In a greenhouse, hang up yellow sticky traps – you can even make them at home with yellow card smothered in Vaseline and a hole punched in them and hung up.

How can I prevent these pests?

A good diverse range of beneficial insect plants will help, as these will bring in lacewings that feed on the whitefly – harnessing nature to take care of your problems.

Sacrificial plants are a great organic method to prevent whitefly – essentially these plants will become the host plant of the infestation, and could eventually die, as this is its purpose.

Calendula officinalis, Nasturtium and Nicotiani are all great sacrificial plants. When you have these in the garden and observe the flowers, you will see early warning signs of whitefly as they love these plants.

Plants that whiteflies particularly like are citrus, brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower and kale) and in the greenhouse, they seem to love a lot of plants!

In the summer months, I don’t eat my kale as I use it for a host plant for the whiteflies. This means they will all gather there and lay their eggs rather than on my other summer plants. Nature working in harmony!

Sign up to my newsletter to receive extra tips and tricks and check out my products page if you’e on the hunt for some solutions. I’ve launched my Essential Spring Summer Bundle this week with a special discount exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, so sign up to access discounted prices!

Happy Gardening everyone!

Top Tips to Give Your Lemons Some Love Right Now

In this week’s blog, let’s take a look at citrus, lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins and kefir.

If you have these citrus trees in your garden or on the patio in a pot, you will notice that now they are in flower as well as bearing fruit.

Citrus trees are gross feeders and like a good fertilize at least 3 times a year. They have a lot going on for them right now with using energy to grow flowers and energy to hold fruit, and the ground is also drying out right now, creating extra stress.

If your trees are yellowing, this will mean they are hungry. They are a bit like a growing teenager – they need fuel!

Also at this time of year, you may see their leaves curling, which is a sure sign there are bugs underneath the leaves sucking away at the plant’s goodness.

If you have ants going up and down your tree, this is a sure sign you have a scale infestation. This is because scale secrete sugar, which then attracts the ants. A quality oil and some liquid kelp combined in a sprayer will help sort this out, remembering to spray under the leaves and around the base. Apply this weekly until the problem has gone.

A good mulch around the drip line (the outer branches of your tree) and the tree in general will help with the dryness. Citrus really need this as they have very close to the surface-feeding roots.

If you have a young tree and it gets laden with fruit, please remove some of the fruit as too many fruit will cause the branches to get stressed and even break. My advice would be to do this for the first 3 to 5 years while your trees grow to maturity. This will help the branches to become stronger and the roots to become sturdier. 

Now is the time to take a really good look at your trees. What you hope to see are trees looking lush, with uncurled leaves that are a good, dark green. Please check under the leaves – as soon as the weather turns warmer, this will bring the white fly, among other pests, and they just love weak citrus trees!

Next week, we will talk about citrus pest and diseases and how to take preventative action now ready for the summer growth before the start of the pest and disease cycle.

Happy gardening!

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How do you know when to plant for summer?

It’s that time of year again when I get asked a lot about sowing and planting summer seeds and plants.

When you go into the plant shops, they are already brimming with the tantalising summer plants; tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and even chillis.

For a novice gardener, this can be very confusing, as they are sitting on the shelves saying “buy me now”.

Maybe you will think to question “is it warm enough?”, but the sheer fact they are on the shelves surely indicates that it must be… right?

Over the past few years, I have experimented in many ways and particularly with timings; sowing seeds from now until November and also planting seedlings from now until December across many common varieties. I want to share these invaluable learnings with you, so that you can decide for yourselves!

Below are some of my findings over the past few years, and I hope this will help you with your decision.

Fast facts

Growing seeds is all about temperature.

Seeds like a consistent heat and, when transplanted to either a bigger pot or into the ground, they will require that same heat to ensure steady, even growth.

Yes – you can sow seeds now, either indoors or in a greenhouse, and they will germinate if it is warm enough and they will slowly grow.

If your greenhouse is heated, then you have the luxury of being able to determine your own climate. If you can consistently maintain a good, warm, healthy environment until the ground warms up, you can create success.

It is worth remembering that the summer plants you see in the garden centres right now have been grown in a temperature-controlled hot house, and then pricked out and put into a hardening off area to give them some strength. Next, these plants are shipped in a truck and put on the shelves.

They have never really been outside or exposed to a natural environment.

Once you pick them off the shelves, they travel home with you and, more often than not, get put straight in the garden, exposed to all sorts of weather and inconsistent temperatures. These plants can become stunted and die, or grow really slowly, due to the ground being too cold.

The biggest danger in gardening as far as I’m concerned at Grow Inspired is disappointment, despondency and doubt. Imagine this – you have sprouted your seeds and pricked them out. You’re feeling quite chuffed with yourself and excited that you might have tomatoes by Christmas! Then you plant them into the ground and a strong southerly wind comes along, dropping the temperature by 5 degrees. Your plants suffer and start to weaken, prone to disease, and so you are filled with disappointment and want to give up on growing food, before the season has really even started.

This is not what we want here at Grow Inspired.

My advice would be to wait until the next moon’s cycle to sow your summer seeds, unless you are going to protect them when they go into the ground and mulch them heavily.

Here are my top tips when you get started:

Top tip #1: A good thing to do when buying plants is to check under the leaves and along the stems for any pests or disease, and to make sure that too many roots aren’t coming out of the bottom, as this could mean that they are root bound with no soil to grow in.

Top tip #2: When you take them home, leave them outside but in a protected place for a few days to give them a chance to climatise to your area. Only then should you plant them into your garden.

Top tip #3: I have found that if you put microcloth over early plantings, it will increase the temperature of the soil, keeping it warmer so that your plants will grow much better until the summer really arrives.

Top tip #4: A good way to test if your soil is warm enough is to plant a bean seed. Beans like warm soil and will only germinate when the soil is above 16 degrees. They much prefer a consistent 20 degrees. Tomatoes, corn, zucchini, chilli, capsicum, eggplant, melons and pumpkins all prefer the higher temperatures.

From my experiments, I have had much better results with sowing and planting later, as the growth rate is nearly double as the soil warms up. You could buy a tomato in September and pot it up ready to plant in October just as an example. Summer plants will grow rapidly when the weather and soil are warmer and will usually overtake the earlier planted ones.

Last year, my best tomatoes grew from a fruit that dropped on to the soil in December and were producing by late January and lasted until June 2nd. These were healthy and disease free, with little care at all. Also my cucumbers planted in early January overtook the ones I had planted in November.

Gardening is all about trial and error and it is good to experiment to help us learn about our own soil, so I challenge you to plant one variety each moon cycle from now until December and see what happens. My belief is the learning comes in the doing!

Happy gardening!

How to plan your garden for Spring with six simple questions!

Spring is around the corner!

With Spring fast approaching and the days getting longer, now is the time for the all-important planning for your Summer garden.

Many are put off by thinking that a plan is over-complicated, but it’s easy to do! Here are my six simple questions to ask yourself:

  • What do I want to eat?
  • What flowers do I want to grow?
  • What companions do I need?
  • What does my soil need in order to grow good food and hold maximum water?
  • Where are the sunniest and shadiest places in my garden in summer?
  • What do I need to make my preserves?

When to plant:

When I decide on what fruit and veggies I want to eat this season, I put them into groups to sow and plant by the moon. On the waxing moon, it is time to plant leafy crops (above ground) and flowers and on the waning moon, it is the root crops and transplanting herbs etc.

Flowers play such an important role in the veggie garden – they attract bees, beneficial insects and create a blooming smile. I plant mainly edible or cutting flowers.

Where to plant:

For best results, I always plant my vegetables with their companions as these enhance their growth and also help deter pests and disease. For example cabbage planted near thyme helps repel the white cabbage butterfly. My ethos is that it is always more about working with nature and not against it.

Different plants require various nutrients and levels of food available in the soil. Preparing your soil the right way for your plants requirements not only saves time but, in the long run, can save on disappointment with poor crops.

It is a myth that all food plants like full summer sun. Here in New Zealand, the temperatures can soar, so be sure to plant the heat-loving plants in the all-day sun. Plants like tomatoes, chillis, eggplants, basil and beans. Plants that love being in the shade are mint, rocket and coriander.

If, like me, you absolutely love making chutneys and preserves, I advise you to consider this when planning your summer garden. I also love making my own pizza sauce or my tomato and basil paste for winter casseroles from my fresh summer crop. I choose tomatoes to grow specifically for this purpose and always make sure I have loads of basil, so that there’s always enough to have fresh and preserved as well.

If you’re finding it hard to make time to plan your garden or you’re stuck on what to plant and where, please get in touch!

Help your garden flourish by attracting this one tiny insect…

Right now is a great time to think about the beneficial insects your garden needs, including the plants they are attracted to and why it is good to have them in your garden.

Developing an understanding of how your garden could live in harmony with insects and bugs is essential for every gardener. Now is the perfect time to get to know what the good guys look like and why they are beneficial!

Gardens take time to develop and grow – honestly, I would estimate a good three years until it’s thriving. Gardening is an education, and plants and flowers take time to establish and regenerate themselves year after year. But, when this starts to take place and creates a momentum of its own, Mother Nature truly takes her natural course.

By growing beneficial plants, you can start to bring a balance into your garden, which means letting nature take care of itself in many ways. These plants will attract beneficial insects, who are the good guys that eat the bad guys.

One of the best pieces of gardening advice I can give is a reminder that gardening and growing food evolves as time goes by – there is no overnight fix – and it pays to take the time to be still in your garden and just observe.

Beneficial Insects: The Ladybird

lady-bird.jpg

Why does my garden need ladybirds?

The ladybird is a beautiful insect and my heart lights up when I see them. Last year, they were my saving grace in protecting my plants against whiteflies, which they like to feast on. They also prey on Colorado potato beetles, aphids and scale. The 7-spot ladybird’s lifespan is about a year and in this time, it can consume up to 5,000 aphids!! Even ladybirds in the larval stage eat whitefly and aphids.

The exception to this general rule (doesn’t Mother Nature always have exceptions to every rule??) is the ladybirds you will see on your zucchini plants. They in fact feed on the powdery mildew and can even spread this from one plant to another. Not quite so helpful.

The ladybird is a very smart insect and will usually lay its eggs on the underside of leaves in clusters of up to 30. It’s a good indicator, as they choose to lay their eggs where there will be an ample food supply, i.e. where there are whitefly and aphids, so this is a sure sign your plants need some natural protection. The eggs hatch anywhere between 4- 12 days. The larva are, in my opinion, prehistoric-looking and can move around a plant very quickly, consuming many insects along its way.

See what I mean for yourself in this video I captured in my garden!

After this stage, the ladybird becomes a pupa and transforms over the next two weeks. It emerges as a ladybird and, within the first couple of hours, its wings harden and spots develop. The spots on the ladybirds back are a defence mechanism to deter predators. If there is a scarcity of food, the ladybirds will eat each other; the older eating the young in order to survive.

How do I attract ladybirds?

Plants that attract ladybirds are Calendula, Chives, Coriander, Cosmos, Dill, Fennel, Feverfew, Static, Alyssum and Yarrow.

I am sure we can all plant at least one of the above in the vicinity of the plants that are affected by whitefly, scale and aphids. Go on, your garden will love you for it.

Happy gardening everyone!

To dig or not to dig?

This is a subject that gets so much press on the internet and, in my experience, there is no right or wrong way. It often comes down to whether you have raised beds, soil or are an urban gardener growing in a smaller confined space. 

 

As with all of my blogs, this advice is based on my own personal growing experience. 

 

What is a no dig garden? 

 

As the name suggests it means no digging. Instead of turning the soil over between crops, you just pull out the spent crop without turning.  

 

What are the benefits of a no dig garden? 
A no dig garden doesn’t disturb the microorganisms or the earthworms. When left to themselves, the earthworms will continue to improve the drainage and structure of the soil.  

 

The other organisms naturally break down organic matter that the earthworms have created, which in turn forms good humus in the soil, releasing food for the plants. 

 

Of course, there will be some soil disturbance when pulling weeds, removing plants and creating space for new plants. The upside to this is that the soil structure will stay intact and you will retain more moisture which, these days, is very important due to drastic climatic changes. 

 

It is also more effective in maintaining the balance of nutrient requirement. A good mulch (top layer) creates less surface weeds too, keeping the soil warmer in winter and protecting from the intense heat of the sun in summer. 

 

What are the drawbacks of a no dig garden? 
The soil can easily be compacted, which can stunt the growth of your plants and the water retention of the soil. Pests and disease that linger below the soil aren’t exposed to their natural predators and also drainage can become an issue. 

 

What are the top tips to make a no dig garden? 
I have found the best way to do a no dig garden is to layer it like a compost and use some soil with structure to start with. This will enable water to be suspended and available to your plants.  

 

A good layer of scoria or stones in the bottom can help with drainage and also can help prevent compaction. 

 

I found that if you are making your no dig beds on top of the soil, it is always best to do a one-time dig to remove troublesome weeds and wake up the biological life below the soil. I then tend to layer with thick cardboard to start, as this will promote worm activity.  

 

I spray each layer with EM (effective microorganisms) to enhance the microbial life and to stimulate the soil activity. You can build them solely with layers of carbon (leaves, paper) and Bokashi, finishing with a layer of carbon or old spent soil.  

 

It is advisable with any new bed you make to let it sit for two weeks to enable it to start working in unison below the soil. 

 

 

What is the digging method in your garden? 

 

This is the traditional way of preparing soil and, in the days of my grandfather, a no dig garden would have seemed a ludicrous idea, due to the ritual and tradition of gardening in that era. 

 

What are the benefits of digging? 
One of the benefits of digging out your top soil is that the organic matter is introduced right where the subsoil begins. It can increase the depth of the top soil, as the worm activity begins high as they work to bring the organic matter lower into the subsoil, thus creating more new topsoil.  

 

These days with lots of development, the top soil is stripped away and most people are left with clay as a base to start, and the only way is up. 

 

Digging and breaking up the soil into a crumb allows much higher levels of oxygen for the plants and easier water absorption, creating better drainage. 

 

Hard pans of soil that are inhospitable to growing can be broken up by digging to create usable soil. 

 

Other benefits of digging and getting your hands in the soil and crumbling it between your fingers is that it is therapeutic for the mind and good endorphins are released, making for a happy gardener. 

 

What are the drawbacks of digging? 
By disturbing the soil, it is enabling germination of weed seeds and, in the blink of an eye, the weeds in your garden can take over the new plantings. 

 

It is also true that all the top soil layer microorganisms can become unstable and have to regroup. 

 

I have found over my years of growing plants in both of the above ways that my root crops have grown much better in the ground of a dug garden as opposed to a raised bed.  

 

My advice would be to do what suits you best and what you most enjoy and have time for. Remember that if you have a raised bed these will need replenishing every season because, as the organic matter breaks down, your garden will lose a third of its capacity. A raised bed garden will need more access to nutrients, as these are depleted easier in this type of growing. 

 

To dig or not to dig?  
What is your answer to that question? 

 

Happy gardening 

 

Three tips you need to know about nitrogen fixing in your soil over winter

This week we will talk about how the planting of legumes helps fix nitrogen to your soil.

Why do I need to fix nitrogen to my soil?

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient that plants need to grow. During a season of growth, plants will be consuming this nutrient so, at the end of the season, you need to replace it ahead of your next crop.

What will fix nitrogen to my soil?

Peas, beans, broad beans, buckwheat, lupins, vetch, and clover all fix nitrogen to the soil and are sometimes grown as cover crops or green manure crops in over-wintering beds.

The legume family contain symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia in the nodes of their root system. These produce nitrogen that helps the plants to grow and also helps them to compete with other plants. When the plant is spent, the fixed nitrogen is then released into the soil making this essential nutrient available to follow-on plantings, along with nearby plants, and in turn helps to fertilise the soil.

We could get really technical here however, sticking true to my principles of keeping it simple, I will explain only the basics to you the average gardener.

How does it work – what do I need to know?

Legumes release organic compounds from their roots which attract rhizobia to them. The rhizobia is attracted to the root hairs of your plants and the hairs curl around the rhizobia which create a pathway for it to travel into the root cells.

nitrogen fixation

Rhizobia is an important bacteria in the soil that has the ability to make the nitrogen that is in our atmosphere available to our plants. In exchange for the nitrogen, the plant provides carbohydrates to the bacteria. They form nodules attached to the roots of your legumes.

The nitrogen fixing bacteria can also help to increase the soil fertility for all plants. This is why it is so good to do your crop rotation with any of the above plants. After harvest, you can leave your roots in the soil and, when they break down, they provide nitrogen to the next crop.

Nitrogen top tip #1: If you pull your plants out, be sure to cut off the roots and dig back in otherwise you will lose all the valuable nitrogen from these plants.

Nitrogen top tip #2: It is always good to interplant with other crops – even in between rows – as this will help keep your soil restored of nitrogen and enable you to have a healthy garden without your plants stressing out.

Nitrogen top tip #3: Please remember that all legumes also like plentiful supplies of phosphorus and calcium, which can be added with the addition of lime, rock phosphate or gypsum. So if your crop didn’t do so well last year, take these factors into account before your late spring / summer sowing.

4439_Legume_based_cropping_system_graphic.jpg

With the daylight hours getting longer next week, we will talk about preparing your soil for spring/summer. To dig or not to dig…? That is the question!

Happy gardening!

 

 

 

What you need to know before planting peas and beans this week 

This week, let’s talk about the nitrogen fixers in our soil and when and where to plant them in our early spring garden. 

 

I love to plant an early spring crop of peas and a late crop of broad beans that will be ready in time for my first spring salads. I find these crops such fun to plant, as they really don’t need much care and they give me immense joy at the end when I open the crunchy pods or eat young peas in their shells. 

 

Peas and broad beans can tolerate the cold and produce the first flowers of the season for the bees. Depending on your area, it might be time to plant them this week or next – so here are my top tips before you start…! 

 

Tips for growing peas and sweet peas 

 

I tend to sow my peas in the months of July, August, September and October. However, if you are in an area that gets snow or hard frost, I recommend pushing these sowing times out by one month.  

 

With the unpredictability of the weather all over the world, the way that we grow food and the seasonal window within which we can have success will no doubt continue to change markedly with each and every season ahead of us. I am certain that we will need to learn the art of patience for continual trial and error until we hit that magic window of time for success in our region. 

 

When I am nearing my first planting in late winter / early spring, I tend to cover my areas with thick cardboard weighed down with a rock to enable the soil to warm up slightly. This is a nifty little trick for raised beds especially! Be sure that this cardboard then goes in the compost after planting. 

 

Peas like to have something to climb up, like chicken wire or netting, as the tendrils that come out of the peas hook around the netting and hold the pea firm, enabling it to grow much quicker.  

 

It is always best to do this prior to planting – otherwise if you decide to do it when the peas are growing, you can too easily damage and snap the plants. They are delicate, especially in the early stages of growth. 

 

Peas like to be direct sown into the soil, about 5cm apart. I recommend pushing the seeds into the ground about 2cm deep. You can sow seeds when your soil temperatures are above 6 degrees and they should take approximately 21 days to germinate. 

 

Top tip: If you want to speed up the process, I advise soaking them and sprouting them indoors first, before you plant them. However, be very mindful not to damage the sprouted part when you plant them. 

 

You can soak the seeds for 24 hours in water or – with the helping hand of Nature’s Secret Ingredient – soak them in water and a few drops of EM (Effective Microbes) before planting, which will aid even faster germination. 

 

Peas like to be continually picked so – I encourage you – please don’t be shy in picking them! You can even eat them when they have hardly formed any peas, and they are sweet and delicious – devour the entire thing, shell included! 

 

The more regularly you pick them, the more peas they will continue producing for you. This is exactly the same for sweet peas, which will produce more fragrant, sweet-scented flowers the more you pick them.  

 

Top tip: Remember, peas are of great value in your garden, as they fix nitrogen to the soil. So when your peas are spent, cut them off and use the top parts as a pea straw to mulch around your plants and dig the roots up and turn them under the soil. 

 

Peas contain copious amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, fibre, manganese, vitamin A and folate. Go on plant some peas today…! 

 

Growing broad beans 

 

I like to plant a late winter crop of broad beans as well. Don’t you?  

 

I do this for the young pods with the tiny sweet beans inside, as I just love to eat these raw. 

 

Or you could let them grow big and fat and make delicious falafels out of them. If you’ve never tried them yourself, check out this online recipe for inspiration! 

 

I also use the above ground part of the plants as a summer mulch for my tomatoes and cucumbers. 

 

 

Next week, we will talk about how the nitrogen gets fixed to the soil by these wonderful crops called Legumes. In the meantime, pop some peas and beans in your garden for spring harvest! 

 

Happy Gardening

Compostable packaging: putting our coffee cups to the test

Following my theme of Plastic Free July, this week we will talk about compostable coffee cups, lids and PLA.

Are they really compostable in your normal compost, worm farm or Bokashi?

Can I process compostable coffee cups at home?

Some compostable coffee cups will break down in the compost and Bokashi, but by far the best method for these is to rip them up and put them in your worm farm, if they are indeed compostable. After a few months, they will have all but disappeared – or so we are told. The ones I tested in my very active worm farm took between 7 and 9 weeks for the paper component to break down, and in the traditional compost there were still traces after 3 months.

To my horror, what I was left with was a plastic film. So they are not home compostable at all! After doing some research over the past few days and quizzing cafes, they tell me that they pay a higher premium for these products, so that they are seen to be doing the right thing. Yet in fact most of these compostables are not home compostable at all.  Also most countries do not have facilities to process these so, yet again, they end up going to landfill!!

Compostable coffee cups, lids and PLA really need to have the words ‘Hot Compostable’, which is where you have a compost heap that is consistently over 60 degrees. Here on Waiheke, we have a commercial hot compost trial going that has been successfully run over the past 18 months processing the PLA and compostable cups and lids. For this to work successfully, we have found that the hot compost needs to be sitting consistently at around 70 degrees and all products need to go through a shredder first.

What is PLA and can I compost it?

PLA is polylactic acid, which is derived from fermented plant starch such as corn, sugarcane and beet pulp.

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These cups are only hot compostable after shredding. I have read reports from companies claiming that you can just throw them in a normal compost, but my trials have shown that after 3 months in a normal compost, it still resembles a cup. Really we need to be labelling these cups as ‘biodegradable’.

The definition of biodegradable means an item that can break down into natural materials in the environment without causing harm, but it doesn’t specify how long this will take. Some products break down easily, like various paper items, but some products will take years to eventually biodegrade.

Can I process compostable coffee cup lids at home?

Most of these lids are made from PLA and are charged at a premium price to cafes looking to offer their customers environmentally-friendly alternatives. However, most of these still end up in landfill because, across the country, there are not enough facilities of commercial HOT composting that makes this a viable option.

In my opinion, the answer comes back to us as the consumer and that is to get a ‘Keep Cup’ for our coffees and take these with us to events to drink our beverages from.

Sadly, it is a very confusing world out there with ambiguous wording – perpetuated by the industry – so that, as a consumer, you don’t know if you’re buying a product that helps or hinders the environment! When you have been composting in various forms like me over the past 30 years, you can guarantee I will put them to the test.

Next time you go out, read the wording on the product and see what it says. If it’s compostable, put it to the test in your home compost and share the results with us here at Grow Inspired.

Over the next few days on my Facebook page, I will be sharing some more interesting links on these products.

Next week, we will be back in the garden and talking about growing juicy peas and broad beans.

Happy gardening!