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Calendula: The one plant your garden needs most for summer success…

This week I’d like to share with you the magic and wonder of the flower, Calendula Officinalis.

For me Calendula Officinalis is a wonder plant – it is medicinal, edible, sacrificial, beneficial and a great companion plant, as well as a deliciously edible addition to any salad. What’s not to love! I think it’s an example of Mother Nature at her most generously creative.

What you need to know about Calendula and why I love it

Calendula grows most of the year round in New Zealand and self-seeds easily in most soils and conditions. If it starts looking a little scraggy, you can cut it almost all the way to the ground and it will grow again.

Top tip: Remember to always cut on an angle to enable the wound to heal and to prevent water sitting on the cut and causing the plant to rot.

You can either choose to leave it to go to seed; harvest the flowers at the appropriate time for making oil or cream; scatter the petals in a salad; or dead head the flowers as they die off. Calendula is not fussy about soil type and is pretty drought-tolerant too, as long as your get your plants established by December.

Calendula is of great benefit to all gardens.

Calendula as a sacrificial plant

In late spring and over summer, Calendula can attract numerous pests and trap them away from your garden. The petals, leaves, and centre of the flower are quite sticky, which cleverly traps pests like whitefly, blackfly and greenfly, keeping them away from your vegetable garden. Thanks Calendula!

They also attract green shield beetles, in turn also keeping these away from your tomatoes.

When using Calendula as a sacrificial plant make sure to plant at least 2 metres away from your producing garden to keep the pests a safe distant from your plants. The pests will therefore infest your Calendula and stay away from your precious produce.

Leave the Calendula plant alone whilst it performs its martyrdom; observation is the only action necessary. Eventually the plant will lose its life force and die. This is OK.

The pests will hang on to your Calendula for the rest of the season; some living and some dead – this too is OK.

Top tip: It is best to space your plantings out for maximum effect over the summer months. Plant every two weeks or every month. Remember that you are planting for this purpose – the plant could die and that is OK. It is nature’s way of taking care of itself.

Calendula as a companion and beneficial plant

Calendula is an amazing companion plant – it’s your garden’s best friend. Calendula attracts a wide variety of beneficial pollinating insects, such as butterflies and bees, and the pests that get trapped in the flowers attract ladybugs, lacewings and hoverflies.

Win-win!

I told you it was a magic plant!

Its roots are very beneficial for the soil, repelling soil nematodes and asparagus beetles, whilst opening up the soil with its vigorous root. Calendula is the plant that keeps giving, as it will produce new flowers over the whole season.

Top tip: Companion planted with carrots, chard, parsley, thyme, peas, cucumbers, asparagus and tomatoes will greatly increase the health and vigour of these plants. Healthy plants are not attractive to pests – they would rather go for the weaker ones.

Calendula as an edible flower

Calendula is a great addition to any salad, cake or muffin. Just pick a good-looking flower and pluck the petals off, then scatter them on top of your salad. They especially look stunning on the top of a beetroot salad!

Similarly in a cake or some muffins, scatter the flowers on top of the mix just before putting in the oven. It is also great as a decoration on top of a rice dish to add vibrancy and colour.

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Calendula as a medicinal plant

In the next blog, I’ll be sharing more about the true potency of this incredible plant, including the benefits for medicinal use. Many of you know about my renowned Organic Calendula Cream that I produce once a year. This wonderful stuff always sells like hot cakes, so I want to give you an exclusive chance to get on my wait list ahead of the next batch…

More next week, but if you want to beat the crowds and get your hands on my Organic Calendula Cream first (your hands will love you for it!) you can pre-order yours now on my website!

Exclusively for my subscribers, I will be offering a code for free delivery of my Calendula cream in my newsletter this week, so sign up if you want to get or gift this beautiful product for less!

You can pre-order your Calendula cream here and orders will be posted at the end of next week, in time for Christmas!

Get growing Calendula and show your garden a bit of Mother Nature’s magic.

Happy gardening!

The top 4 diseases of zucchini & how to protect from them organically

Last week, we talked about powdery mildew which gets spread across your zucchini inadvertently by ladybirds, so this is an ideal time to look at the top four diseases that affect zucchini and – most importantly – how you can protect from them organically.

Zucchini can be plagued by Downy Mildew, Bacterial Wilt, Yellow Mosaic Virus and Botrytis Blight. These four diseases can develop rapidly and once they take hold, they can be pretty challenging to cure, so the best way to deal with these is prevention!

Disease #1: Downy Mildew

What is Downy Mildew and how does it affect my zucchini?

Downy Mildew is a common problem for zucchini from spring to early summer. The disease can stunt your plants’ growth or damage your plant and it is very hard to diagnose. This disease is not the same as Powdery Mildew, so best not to get these confused. Downy Mildew is caused by parasitic organisms that are quite closely related to algae. Downy Mildew requires the presence of water to spread and survive, so if you are in a dry area, you will be less likely to experience this disease.

Downy Mildew can appear as a kind of fuzzy growth that can vary in colour from yellow to grey, white or even purple. It usually starts on the lower leaves and can appear as spots on the leaves.

The difference between Downy Mildew & Powdery Mildew

How can I prevent Downy Mildew on my zucchini?

The best way to prevent this disease is to water your plants at soil level and not on the leaves, as this disease needs water to survive.

Disease #2: Bacterial Wilt

What is Bacterial Wilt and how does it affect my zucchini?

This disease usually appears early in the season and affects melons and pumpkins and squash. It overwinters within the cucumber beetle. When spring is upon us, the beetle starts to feed on the young plants, infecting the stems and leaves as it goes. It starts with the leaves and usually spreads downwards rapidly until the whole plant is affected. It will affect the fruits of the plants, which will either be of a strange shape or wilted. When touched, they can ooze a milky substance that is quite stinky.

How can I treat Bacterial Wilt on my zucchini?

The best thing to do if your plants are affected is to pull them out and dispose of. Do NOT compost as the disease will live on and keep reoccurring. To prevent, try to catch the cucumber beetles when you see them.

Bacterial Wilt

Disease #3: Yellow Mosaic Virus

What is Yellow Mosaic Virus and how does it affect my zucchini?

The Yellow Mosaic Virus is a seed borne disease, which causes slow production of fruit, defectively formed fruit – or even stunts fruit production completely.

How can I prevent Yellow Mosaic Virus on my zucchini?

The best way to prevent this is by purchasing true organically-certified seed. This disease really has no cure and can spread quickly to other plants, so put a bag over it and pull it out to prevent it spreading.

Yellow Mosaic Virus

Disease #4: Botrytis Blight

What is Botrytis Blight and how does it affect my zucchini?

Botrytis Blight is a fungus that really only attacks the tender young parts of the plant when there is high humidity, so when summer really kicks in. The flowers can change colour and wilt and the buds can fail to open. The outer petals of the flowers start to get a browning on the outer edges. Leaves and shoots with this disease have masses of grey spores or brown lesions. Sometimes the leaves can die and even drop from the plants. Fruit will rot and drop off.

How can I prevent Botrytis Blight on my zucchini?

Remove and destroy all infected parts of the plant. Botrytis blight can overwinter in the soil. This disease can be spread by water splashing, wind and high humidity. It can infect plants in their vulnerable areas of broken stems or where a plant has been cut.

Botrytis Blight

Prevention is the key, and the best way is to give your plants plenty of space to enable airflow. Make sure you use hygienic methods with cleaning and storing your tools as spores can easily spread this way too. Clean up dead leaves from around your plants and mulch them to prevent splashes from the soil. Remember – never compost infected plants.

Happy gardening!

Friend or foe for your zucchini and pumpkin?

Illeis galbula – or otherwise recognised as yellow and black ladybirds – are bugs that eat fungi and powdery mildew on our plants. As gardeners, we look at them and they bring joy to our hearts, being the lovely ladybirds they are.

BUT did you know that these ladybirds cause more harm than good on our zucchini, squash, cucumber and pumpkin plants, all part of the cucurbitaceae family?

What’s the problem caused by these ladybirds on my zucchini, squash, cucumber and pumpkin?

They come to the plants infected with powdery mildew to feed and then they proceed to spread the fungus from plant to plant, infecting with the disease as they go.

If you have many zucchini and only one has powdery mildew, WATCH OUT! With these little creatures, they can all be infected by the end of the week!

After the ladybirds are full and sated, they travel on their merry way to the next plant, regardless of whether or not they still want to feed. As they walk along the plant, they drop a few mildew spores on their way thus infecting the plant.

Where do these pesky ladybirds come from?

The females lay small groups of white eggs on the underneath of the fungi-infested leaves, which you may observe are a pointed shape egg. From these eggs, the larvae nymphs hatch and deceptively look nothing like you might imagine would grow to be ladybirds…!

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When hatched, it attaches to the leaf and moults into a pupa. Adults hatch from the pupae and immediately mate.

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The length of time of each life cycle is very dependent on the outside temperature – the hotter it is the quicker they will multiply.

How can I organically control these ladybirds around my zucchini, pumpkin and squash plants?

Interestingly enough, birds are not attracted to these bugs due to their bright colour. More to the point, they are quite bitter, so birds are very wise to not eat an unpleasant meal.

The best way to control these pests is by preventing powdery mildew on your plants.

What is your secret recipe for controlling powdery mildew organically, you ask?

Organic recipe #1

In the early stages of this fungal disease, you can spray the plant with a milk and water mixture (recipe: 60% water to milk, shake well) on all parts of the plant. The milk has natural antibiotics which, when exposed to sunlight, can act as a natural fungicide.

Top tip: Remember to spray first thing in the morning before the heat of the sun, and then repeat on a daily basis until the spores are no more.

Organic recipe #2

Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) works really well too, as it creates an alkaline environment on the leaf and increases the pH by 1 which is enough to kill or prevent all spores.

Mix 3 tablespoons of baking soda into 4 litres of water; add 1 tablespoon of oil and 2 drops of natural dishwash liquid, mix together and spray all over the plant until dripping.

Bonus tip: Cider vinegar and Effective Microorganisms work in very similar ways by altering the pH so the spores can’t live.

Next week, we will talk more about the pests and disease of zucchini so you can protect this delicious and versatile summer crop. And don’t forget to get in touch with any questions, tips or tricks of your own! I love to hear from you.

Happy gardening!

How can I compost at home when I’m so busy?

These days, one would hope that most people compost and don’t throw their food scraps into the bin to go to landfill. Yet, I recently went to visit some friends who still throw their food in the bin…!

#therearenowords #makesmewanttoscream

Needless to say, I can’t support this – so I left my food scraps on their bench and left them to do the dreaded deed themselves and put them in the rubbish bin!

This has got me thinking about the best way to compost for people who either have busy lives, small spaces or who live in rental properties.

Two ways spring to mind, either Bokashi or worm farms.

Let us first look at Bokashi.

Bokashi has many uses if you have a garden or even a raised bed or two. It’s an innovative Japanese fermentation process that ferments your food scraps, ready to add as a nutrient-source to your soil.

It’s simple to use – the fermented Bokashi either needs to be dug into the ground, put into your raised bed, plant pot or compost after fermentation and covered with carbon, leaves, and brown material. You can also extract the Bokashi liquid from the bottom of your Bokashi bin, which is enormously valuable to tip down your toilet or shower or drains, as it is full of beneficial microbes that will clean your pipes, septic system and even the scuzz down your shower. The juice can also be diluted and sprayed back on your plants.

I now stock a great little bench top Bokashi bin in my online store which is a great solution for urban homes or those looking for the most convenient way to introduce this into their daily routine. I reviewed these bench top bins last week – if you didn’t see it, check it out here.

Now let’s look at worms as a method to compost.

For the busy working person with limited space, I would suggest a worm farm. Worm farms are easy and will hold a lot of food waste and process your food into Vermicast.

Vermicast is a wonderful soil conditioner; has really healthy bacteria; grows healthy plants and will never burn your plants.

Once set up, a worm farm is easy to use and hardly ever needs emptying. Worms will process all your food scraps, including bones, with no odour. The juice can be extracted via a tap at the bottom and watered onto any of your plants, including house plants. When ready, the vermicast can be used either in pot plants or small container gardening.

There is no need for anyone to throw food into landfill. Even if you don’t garden, there will be someone who does and is willing to take the amazing goodness a worm farm or Bokashi bin produces.For more tips on composting and how to make it work for you, sign up to my weekly newsletter or get in touch!

Summer Success: How to grow zucchini and what you need to know

Continuing on the summer series this week, we will talk about the zucchini, also known as the courgette.

The zucchini is such a versatile vegetable – delicious on the bbq, chopped in a stir fry, made into fritters, grated in a salad, made into a pasta and even stuffed and baked as a marrow when it outgrows its small stage or gets missed in the picking process.

Zucchini are extremely easy to grow from seed and also available as seedlings in many different varieties, shapes and forms. It all depends which ones you prefer. Personally I prefer the cocozelle variety, leaning into the Italian category, as this variety is consistently of good texture and not too watery.

What do zucchini require to grow in my garden?

Number one on the list of requirements must be space. A zucchini requires 1m x 1m of space to grow comfortably. Many people make this error when first planting their little seedling and tend to plant it too close to other plants or too close to each other. Space is an essential requirement for a zucchini to enable it grow to its full capacity and also to prevent disease.

Zucchini love to be planted in a sunny spot. However, from experience of growing zucchini on a large scale and over many years, I would advise in the NZ sun a preferable place to plant your zucchini is in a place where it gets at least half a day of sun. Sometimes when the NZ sun is at its hottest, it will protect itself and collapse its leaves due to overheating. If this occurs, please don’t panic and avoid watering in the middle of the day, as you are likely to burn the plant. You will find that in the cool of the evening and the night, the plant will recover and return to its perky self in the morning.

A good healthy zucchini plant will produce around 4.5kg of fruit over its growing season – if planted in the right conditions. This is not including the odd marrow that gets away.

What are the soil and food requirements for zucchini? 

Zucchini like to be planted in rich compost and like to have free draining soil, as this plant hates wet feet. If you don’t have rich compost to hand, you can add one bucket of Bokashi to each hole and this will ensure a great start. I also recommend vermicast from your worm farm under each seedling, which really helps, but this won’t be enough to sustain it over time.  A zucchini plant won’t thrive if planted on poor unfed soil, which will leave you frustrated over the whole growing season.

How does a zucchini pollinate and what do I need to know when growing?

Zucchini is a plant that produces both male and female flowers. The male flower has a long thin stem with a big flower on the end and the flower is usually larger than the female. The female flower forms at the base of the plant with a zucchini growing behind it.

For pollination to occur, the bees and insects must visit the male flower and then the female flower, so it pays to take a good look at your plants to ensure they have both before removing any to eat – otherwise pollination won’t occur and this will lead to a gardeners frustration! Usually when your plants start to grow and begin to flower, it will be the male flower that comes first, and sometimes there can be lots of male flowers and no female flowers. Maybe this is nature’s way of luring in the right insects and bees to ensure they will keep coming back when the female flowers appear? 

It is ok to remove some of the male flowers to eat, but please make sure to leave some for pollination. You will be able to tell the female flowers, as they have a tiny immature zucchini at the base.

What do I need to feed my zucchini plant with for success?

As soon as your flowering begins, it is a good time to get into the habit of fortnightly feeding. You can spray with Flower Optimise or comfrey to maximise flowering capacity and to encourage more flowers. 

I recommend spraying is done before the sun hits the plant in the early morning however, if this isn’t possible, last thing at night will do. Please never spray when the leaves are hot from the sun, as this will cause stress to the plant via leaf burn.

How much should I be watering my zucchini?

Zucchinis are made up of water so it is only natural that they require water, and lots of it. The base is the best place to water, as it will get taken straight up by the roots into the plant. Avoid getting water on the leaves as this will be a recipe for disease to start and spread. Water your zucchini three times weekly to ensure good growth, fruit and health. A good thick mulch around the plant will help to keep the soil cool and the moisture in.

Good luck with planting your zucchini and happy gardening!

Tomato Success Series: How to protect from Green Shield Bugs

Beware – these pesky little critters can destroy not only your tomatoes, but your whole garden! Once green shield bugs are present, it is a daily job to deal with them.

This is my last blog in the Tomato Success Series – I hope you’ve enjoyed and found it useful! So let’s conclude by looking at this frustrating tomato pest and how we can control it for the sake of your tomato harvest this summer!

To prevent Green shield bugs, the time is ripe now to be checking under your leaves for egg clusters. Green shield bugs, also called stink bugs, lay around 14 eggs which are generally a yellowy tan colour, sometimes paler.


What are green shield bugs / stink bugs?

Let’s first start by looking at the life cycle of these bugs.

When the Nymphs first hatch, they don’t really eat or have wings. They evolve in their growing process by shedding their skin. They change colour from black, to black and green, and so on until they become an adult. It is not until just before they become an adult that their wings form, then the trouble really starts!

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Young shield bug
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Mating

What problems do green shield and stink bugs present in my garden?

These bugs pierce and suck your vegetables or plants to feed and, unfortunately, they seem to do it right before you’re ready to harvest. This is why, when you pick a tomato that has been attacked by these pests it will be dry inside, and usually with a white ring on the inside close to the skin. Basically they suck the goodness out of your plants.

I remember years back when shield bugs only attacked tomatoes – nowadays they are not fussy at all and particularly like to hide in the bean bush, sucking away out of sight doing damage unseen…

Why are green shield and stink bugs hard to manage?

These damaging pests can overwinter as adults, and they will hide in long uncut grass and shrubs over the cold months until the sun is up for laying their eggs. They prefer to breed on plants that have fruit or seed heads and are particularly fond of berry leaves. They produce several generations in one year and can become prolific very quickly.

Now is the time they start to lay their eggs and each female can lay eggs over an 8 week period. This is crafty, as it is just in time for when your fruit or vegetables are coming ready to harvest. This means that one plant can have all stages of bug development on it at once, from eggs through to adults.

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Hatching

How can I control green shield and stink bugs organically? 

Adults don’t stop laying until around the end of summer, when the day light gets less and the air gets cooler. Imagine how many babies they will have had by then!

It is crucial to try to keep on top of them now. The very best advice I can give, after decades of organic gardening experience, is how very important it is in any garden to take the time to really study your plants; not only at a glance, but to get right in there looking under leaves, down the stem and into the soil.

Observation is a huge part of gardening… When you observe these bugs on your plants, or signs that these pests have been present, you know you need to act quickly if you want to keep any of your own crop for yourself.

If you do find these dreaded insects on your crops, you can manage them by smothering with EnSpray99 – this is an effective and organic method to manage an infestation.

Another organic recipe I’ve tried and found to be successful is to collect the bugs; crush them and put them in water to spray on the plants. I’ll be sharing my organic recipe for this next week in my newsletter as a free printable. Make sure you’re signed up!

Some of the best preventative methods I have found is to plant Calendula officinalis on the periphery of the garden, which acts as a host and a sacrificial plant for shield bugs. I also recommend planting Alyssum, Borage and lavender to attract other beneficial insects that will eat shield bugs.

I wish you luck with these bugs and encourage you to share with me any tips, tricks or observations you may have had success with in the past.

Happy gardening!

Tomato Success Series – The top 3 pests to protect your tomatoes from

Thanks so much for all your positive feedback and support with this Tomato Success Series – I’m delighted you’ve found it so useful and look forward to seeing juicy pics of your tomato harvests this season!

As we all know, tomatoes and tomato plants can be prone to a lot of pest and disease. This week, the Success Series will focus on the pests that can attack tomatoes.

Remember that pests and disease only affect your tomatoes if the soil is not at optimum health or your plant becomes stressed over summer. The first thing to do is to be observant of your plants and identify the disease.

Pests – the top three enemies to watch out for!

Tomato Enemy #1: Whitefly

Whiteflies are tiny flying insects that feed on plant juices and leave a sticky residue behind, which can become a host for sooty mould.

These insects live on the underside of the leaves, as most insects do.

The best way to find out if you have these is to give the plants a tap and they will fly up into the air.

The best way to treat whitefly is by spraying regularly with a good oil or to hang sticky yellow traps up. You can buy these from any good garden centre, or even make them yourself at home with some yellow card, smothered in Vaseline and then hang near the plants.

Whiteflies can be very damaging if you are growing in a green house. Spray the underside of the leaves in the morning with the oil and repeat every two weeks.

Another way to prevent an infestation of whitefly is to plant beneficial flowers that will attract natural predators such as lacewings and ladybugs. These plants will bring the predators into your garden and they will consume up to 1,000 whitefly a day. To learn more about whitefly and companion planting to prevent them, check out one of my earlier blogs here.

I strongly encourage you to check your tomato plants regularly, as these diligent little insects can create a big infestation over a short period of time.

Tomato Enemy #2: Cutworms

Cutworms are the caterpillars of moths that lay their eggs in the soil.

When the caterpillars emerge, they chew on the young, juicy new plants and cut them off at ground level, either eating part of the stem or all of it. You can wake up one day to find your plant suddenly cut off at its base overnight, lying on the ground without a bug or insect in sight!!

The caterpillars can grow up to 4cm long and vary in colour from light grey, brownish to almost black. When they are disturbed they curl up like the picture above.

They only eat at night and hide in the soil during the day, becoming most active after periods of rain.

If you have these in your soil the only way to protect your plant is by putting a barrier around your young plant and sinking it into your soil. When digging or transplanting, please be observant of what appears out of your soil – if you see these, it is a good idea to remove them!

Tomato Enemy #3: Psyllid

Over the past few years, this insect has become more and more rampant in tomatoes, capsicum, chilli and potatoes.

The psyllid first became a real pest in 2006 and originates from central and north America. It is very tiny secretes a toxic saliva that severely damages the plant. This is a pest that commonly arrives with your new plants bought from garden centres.

The symptoms of psyllid being present is a slight discoloration of the top leaves along the rib and the edges. Then the whole plant can turn to a yellowish green.

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These pests are tiny and very hard to see. Yet again, I can’t stress the importance of looking under the leaves of your plants. Most eggs and pests are under the leaves doing the damage before you even know it. They love to feed off your plant by sucking away at its goodness, and this can cause uneven growth of your plants, misshapen fruit and even for the flowers to fall off.

Psyllid breed all your round – just a bit slower in the winter – a female can lay up to 500 eggs over a 3 week period! In Auckland, there can be as many as 8-10 generations a year!

Again, this is an important reminder to have bio diversity in your garden by planting beneficial insect flowers to attract the right predators.

Lacewings will eat nymphs which can help with your infestations. I also recommend that you plant yarrow, dill, phacelia, cosmos, feverfew and sunflower to name a few.

I tend to put a micronet over my young seedlings which stops the eggs being laid, but you need to be sure if you are buying plants that they have no eggs on them otherwise covering them won’t help at all. If I do buy plants from a nursery I always spray them with a good oil when I get them home, and again on a regular basis.

Remember as the weather heats up to be observant at all times!

Good luck with these tomato enemies!

The Tomato Success Series: How to plant your tomatoes for maximum growth

Thanks for all your positive feedback on the Tomato Success Series – it’s great to hear that you’ve been finding it useful. If you are just tuning in, check out my earlier blogs in the series on choosing your tomato plants and preparing your soil.

As I mentioned, I’m on a mission to ensure that all my blog readers have a fantastic crop of tomatoes this season! So let’s dive into my advice on planting your tomatoes – it’s time to finally get them in the ground!

If you have grown your tomatoes from seed, wait until they have four good strong leaves before transplanting them into the garden.

If you have bought yours as a seedling, please inspect them carefully to ensure there are no yellow leaves and also check under leaves to make sure there are no egg sacks of nasty insects hiding.

Don’t be the reason pests or disease are introduced into your own garden!

If you have leaves that look a bit suspect, nip these off with your fingers and dispose of them. The idea is to have a happy healthy tomato plant go into the ground at the start.

Tomatoes can tolerate being planted deep, and my recommendation is to plant in the soil right down to the first two leaves. This will give it a fine start in life, and give it more stability in the long run.

Put your stakes next to your plant as soon as it is planted to avoid going through the roots later on and damaging them. The stake will then be ready to give your plant stability as soon as it is tall enough.

I tend to make a bamboo frame, either in a tepee shape or, at the back of a bed, I put the stakes into the soil and then tie stakes across in a grid. This is a particularly great shape as, later on in the growing season, you can train some of the laterals along these horizontal stakes.

As soon as they are tall enough, your tomato plants should be tied up with a soft tie or an old pair of tights – anything soft and stretchy so as not to rub on the tomato and damage the stem. Tie at every possible opportunity to protect your plant in its rapid growth and prevent it from getting top heavy and falling over onto the soil.

If you are growing normal tomatoes, not dwarf or bush, then they like to be a minimum of 40cm apart. This will give them good space to grow and enable airflow when the humidity comes.

For sweet tomatoes, plant them in an area where they will get at least 6-8 hours of sunshine a day.

Regularly check your plant for signs of early blight, especially if there are long periods of rain and humidity.

As your plant grows, it will produce laterals which appear next to the stem and above a leaf join. These look like miniature tomato plants and will produce tomatoes, however you will find that you won’t need all of them. I tend to nip mine off in the first 50cm or so to give my plant more strength.

There is a lot of debate around removing leaves of the tomato plant.

My advice from years of growing is to remove as many leaves as possible, as your plants grow, to enable good airflow. As long as your plant has a third of its leaves, you can remove the rest. The best way to do this is by snapping them downwards. I never use anything metal near a lot of my plants especially tomatoes, as this can cause a negative reaction within your plant.

My top tip for you is to collect all these leaves and put them in a bucket and pour water over them, leave for a day and then pour the water back on your plants and discard the mushy leaves. Honestly, your tomatoes will love you for this as it is like a special tonic for them.

Next week, the Tomato Success Series continues and we will start to look at pest and disease and trouble-shooting the problems you encounter. As ever, feel free to get in touch with me to share your questions or concerns – I’m always happy to help!

Happy gardening!

The Tomato Success Series: How to prepare your soil for growing delicious organic tomatoes

Welcome back to our Tomato Success Series – my challenge here at Grow Inspired is to ensure that all my blog readers have a fantastic crop of tomatoes this season! Did you see last week’s blog on choosing varieties and when to buy? If not, check it out here!

This week, we’re looking at preparing your soil. This is simply critical – tomatoes do have quite a few particular requirements and having the right balance of nourishing nutrients in your plant bed is one of the greatest opportunities we have as gardeners to all but guarantee success.

There is no point going to buy your plants if your soil is not prepared, otherwise they will sit in their pots until you get round to it.

Where should I plant tomatoes?

To plant your tomatoes, I find that a spade depth of friable soil in the garden or a deep pot or container works best. Tomatoes have very strong roots and will spread rapidly under the soil. Did you know that the stem of the tomato is also able to grow roots? So if your tomatoes bend over in your garden, they will spurt roots from along the stem if it’s touching the soil.

What soil type do tomatoes need?

Tomatoes love sandy loamy soil above all others. If you are stuck with clay soil like me, it will require some extra work to prepare. Well-rotted compost or sheep pellets are a must, plus sawdust and Bokashi to create the perfect mix for tomatoes.

Tomatoes turn their noses up at dry soil or water-logged soil, as they much prefer a balance in between, with moisture-retentive soil. Tomatoes like a neutral pH of close to 7, so not too acidic or alkaline. Most garden centres sell a pH meter if you’re keen to test your soil, or I actually picked up a few recently on 1-day.co.nz for a very reasonable price that work well, so keep an eye out elsewhere too. If your pH is too low, you can add a couple of handfuls of lime and this should do the trick to raise the pH, but be sure to water it in.

What nutrients need to be in the soil for growing tomatoes?

Tomatoes are a high potassium vegetable, therefore require higher potassium in their soil than a lot of plants. This is the number one nutrient you need to focus on increasing in your soil.

Good amounts of potassium produce a juicier tomato with higher acidity. A lack of potassium can cause uneven ripening.

Potassium maintains balance and water within your tomato plant. It is also essential for the production and transportation of sugars in the plant and synthesis of proteins, along with enzyme activation. Clever stuff!

Did you know that potassium is required for lycopene, which is the reason your tomatoes are red?

High levels of potassium have been proven to give much higher yields, so it is really a no-brainer – if you do nothing else, remember to add your potassium!

If you are still having fires, save your wood ash (known as potash), as this is fantastic to incorporate into your soil to boost this key nutrient, and continuing later on in the tomatoes’ growing life, as a side dressing of potassium.

IMPORTANT NOTE… If you have kidney problems, please avoid fruit and veg that contain high potassium.

Calcium and magnesium are also essential for your tomato growth. For calcium, I tend to use Nano-cal from Environmental Fertilisers, which is available from Kings Plant Barn. Magnesium can be obtained by watering with Epsom salts, which is really known as Magnesium sulphate. This is available in 20kg sacks from any good farm shop. Remember to add a good balance of these and apply them regularly throughout the growing season, especially when the flowers form.

One nutrient to watch for is nitrogen – tomatoes require lower levels of nitrogen in your soil, as too much can cause rot.

It’s a fine balance and this is why getting your soil profile right in the beginning can really set you up for success. Best of luck in preparing your soil and then heading out to choose your plants! Next week, our Tomato Success Series continues with planting!

Happy gardening!

The Tomato Success Series: Is it time to buy your tomato seedlings?

Welcome to the Tomato Success Series! Over the next few weeks we will do a series of blogs on tomatoes; from growing, feeding, soil requirements and pest and disease prevention so that you can grow and harvest your best crop to date!

We’ll kick off with choosing your tomato varieties and knowing when to buy…

These are often over-looked, but crucial steps in creating success.

As gardeners in an ever-changing climate, we must pay close attention to the conditions around us and choose the time we plant and the varieties accordingly.

With tomatoes everywhere in the garden centres at the moment, (why do they always have to stock them so super early and confuse their customers!) people are reactively buying them, as they assume the time must be right if they’re available, and no one wants to miss out.

My advice? Waaaaaaaaaaait.

My climate here on Waiheke Island is still way too cold and wet, with only the odd hot day. There have been hail and thunder storms across the North Island this week, so the weather has yet to settle towards a summer-like pattern. Wait for the right conditions in your area and for warmer soil. Did you know that tomatoes like at least 16 degrees to even begin to grow outside?

And if that didn’t convince you, did you know that some of the negative consequences of planting too early can be very slow growth, and tomatoes that are prone to pest and disease, especially early blight?

So – the climate is right and you’ve decided it’s time to choose your tomatoes for the season. How do you decide?

If you are growing from seed, you will likely already know what varieties you like, but if selecting seedlings from the nursery, it is good to do a little bit of research first on the types of tomatoes that you and your family prefer to eat. After all, isn’t this why we grow them?

Are you growing tomatoes to make sauce, paste or chutney?

Do you want low acid tomatoes?

Do you prefer the small cherry tomatoes?

Do you want organic heirloom tomatoes?

What colour tomatoes do you desire?

Black, yellow, red, green, orange, striped, normal, pear shaped, oval, round…. So many decisions.

Please go prepared, as it is easy to get distracted in the shop. Only buy what you need and maybe even stagger the planting so all your tomatoes don’t ripen at once.

Some tomatoes take longer to mature, so make sure you do your homework before you buy.

Once purchased, leave your seedlings in a sheltered position at home for a few days to get your plants acclimatised to your area. Remember most of them have never been outside in their growing life, so they could become shocked and vulnerable to disease.

Next week, our Tomato Success Series continues and I will be advising you on preparing your soil to create the optimum conditions for your newly selected tomato plants. Until then, this is the first ever blog that comes with homework!! Get researching and as ever, feel free to contact me with your questions if you need help in choosing your varieties!

Happy gardening!