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Murder Mystery in the Garden: Are your Brassicas being destroyed by a super villain?

As gardeners, we get so excited when we plant our seedlings, tucking them into their garden beds and whispering sweet promises of the growth they will see. It’s only to be expected, then, that we get downright disheartened to find holes appearing, and are forced to stand by and watch as the plants we so lovingly nurtured are assassinated before our very eyes.

The culprits for this chain of criminal destruction? Two white butterflies – one small and the other rather large, producing two different kinds of cunning caterpillars. These butterflies are vagrant wanderers, and will happily lay eggs on all brassicas. The eggs can be hard to spot, especially on the green varieties, but are easier to detect on red cabbage.

Watson! Pass me my magnifying glass!

The caterpillars from the small butterfly are the general green variety, whereas the large butterfly caterpillars are hairy, yellow and black. I wouldn’t be surprised if you notice both on your brassicas!

Like many pests, the butterfly lays its microscopic yellow or white eggs underneath the leaves. The sneaky tactic of this villain is to camouflage them by also laying along the stem, which makes them almost invisible to the eye.

Vigilance is imperative, with regular inspections on the underside of brassica leaves to identify any potential eggs before they hatch. These scoundrels work fast and will evolve into very hungry caterpillars before you can even whip out your spray gun! Run your finger along the leaves and wipe the eggs off to scupper their plans.

If you buy your seedlings, I must also remind you here that it is vital to inspect your plants before you purchase them. In my 30+ years of experience, I have found around 80% of these seedlings bring pests or disease from the garden centre to YOUR garden. Don’t unwittingly make it so easy for the baddies.

How to stop this criminal mastermind from destroying your brassicas

There are two ways to successfully grow brassicas without falling victim to caterpillar carnage.

  1. Bring in some protection:

Net your plants when they go in the ground. A micro mesh is better than bird netting, as the cunning butterflies can make themselves small enough to slip through to achieve their dastardly end goal of laying eggs. 

  1. Enlist the help of a true heroine: Mother Nature herself

The other way is to craftily balance nature out by attracting beneficial insects, most specifically the mighty parasitic wasp, who are known to penetrate the butterfly larvae and suck the goodness out.

There are many plants that attract parasitic wasps – take your pick from Yarrow, Zinnias, Fennel, Dill, Queens Anne Lace, Alyssum, Cosmos, Statice and Thyme. Now is the perfect time to plant Alyssum, Fennel, Yarrow and Thyme, and in the spring months, you are able to plant the remaining ones. 

You will discover for yourselves, as you combine your vegetables with beneficial flowers, that Mother Nature truly is the only heroine you need on your side. When nature starts to balance out in your garden, the pests begin to take care of themselves, and so you can go back to watching your favourite crime series…

Remember when the flowers go to seed, just let them do their thing and they will start to repopulate themselves.

Happy Crime Solving – I mean, Happy Gardening!

How to conquer your impatience with the winter garden-to-table gap 

Us gardeners are a resilient bunch. We boldly face the changing weathers; we shrug off the plants that never took; we learn the lessons from battling pest infestations. 

We take note, we grow wiser and we get ready to plant once more. 

We even courageously embrace the sadness as summer slips away and the darkening days creep in. We get busily planning and planting, ready for the next cycle of homegrown food in our winter gardens.

And then comes a peculiar plight that affects many a gardener.

The impatience of the winter garden-to-table gap.

It can plague even the most accepting of us growers with a frustrating impatience, while we wait and wait for our next harvest. Winter veg can admittedly take a while to grow – but so can some summer crops. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunshine fraying our mood, or the challenge of adjusting from summer growing to winter ‘slowing’.

Over my 30+ years of gardening, I have found that there is a way to transition from summer to winter without enduring the irksome winter garden-to-table gap.

It can be tricky to plan, further complicated by the weather and a lack of space in the garden, so here are my top tips for managing this like a pro!

  1. The key is in the variety you choose to grow, paying particular attention to the timespan from sowing to harvest. Choose at least some veg that are quick to grow and produce like asian greens, bok choi, pak choi, rocket, miners lettuce and coriander. This helps fill the gap of garden-to-table while the others are maturing. 
  1. Commit to growing beyond your comfort zone this winter and try growing something new! Do you like casseroles or stews? If so, why not plant swedes and turnips, which are easy veg to grow. Florence fennel is easy too and so delicious in a salad or lightly sauteed. Peas make another good option, which will produce over autumn-winter if you live in warmer parts of the country. 
  1. As ever, you will need to choose depending on your climate. Think a little creatively into the future gaps you may have. For example, if you are in a subtropical area, a winter starting crop of potatoes will be delicious by spring to go with fresh picked peas.
  1. It is important we grow crops that will keep in our pantry and can feed us throughout the year, as well as crops that keep coming up year after year. Shallots and garlic are pretty easy to grow and give you a crop at the end of the season that you can eat over the next 9 months. If your family is small, shallots might be just the ticket instead of onions. One shallot plant will give you between 4-6 in return and they will keep for 9 months if stored correctly. The same applies to garlic.
  1. Aside from vegetables, it is vital to grow flowers, providing food for the insects and bees over the winter months too. Pansies, poppies and calendula add that extra pop of colour to your green garden, as well as a food source for insects/ bees.

The key is to only grow what you will eat, otherwise it is a waste. Whatever you choose to grow, I urge you to plant something at least and enjoy fresh food over winter. Eat well, eat in season and give thanks to the garden for its abundance!

Happy gardening!

How to get ready for a winter garden in four easy steps

With the daylight hours on a rapid decline, it is time to think about planning for winter. A winter food garden can be just as rewarding as a summer garden and, with food prices up 7% already, it is definitely worth having a garden all year round.

Growing in winter can be a lot easier than in summer too, as there is no stress about water and definitely not so much stress about pests, because most of them like to overwinter until the following spring.

Juicy heads of broccoli, that perfect cauliflower, leeks for a hearty winter soup, delicious sweet carrots and roasted beetroot. What’s not to love? Yum yum!

Step one – take time to plan your bed rotations

Before clearing your summer garden away, make a note of what has been growing there and if it did well or not. Then plant the next rotation plant in its place.

If you have had leafy producing and above-ground plants, it would be great to plant roots next, like beetroot, carrots, and garlic. Garlic particularly likes to go where tomatoes have been.

Remember if planting carrots, they will not need any more compost or fertiliser, as this will cause them to grow in mysterious shapes.

Also, if you have planted beans this year, remember they are a legume and will have fixed nitrogen to the soil for you, which will affect what you decide to plant next.

Want to know more about the importance of crop rotations? Discover my blog on Five reasons why you should be rotating your crops.

Step two – clear and dispose with care and consideration

When clearing your garden, make sure you dispose of infected plants and do not put them in the compost. This will only spread disease – unless you are making super-hot compost or processing via bokashi.

Fungal diseases will not die in your compost pile, so I urge you to be careful in particular with blight on tomatoes and potatoes. I completely avoid putting any tomato or potato plants in my compost, just in case they take disease with them. I ferment everything via bokashi in barrel with a lid and then, after 30 days, I add this to a compost heap where it will go through another process, just to make sure. This is my second year doing this and, so far, it has been working well.

As an aside, I have had a pretty good year for tomatoes with minimum blight, especially given a La Niña climate. My tomato plants went in the ground in November, after my return from overseas, so they didn’t have to suffer the weather of the early spring. I did experience a bit of blossom end rot, for which I have fed liquid calcium and the plant has come right and is producing greatly.

Step three – plan ahead to replenish your beds

Take the time while planning your winter garden to decide which beds you will rest over winter. Also decide which beds you will plant with a green manure crop to replenish their soils.

With the beds that have suffered serious fungus like powdery mildew, I would always recommend planting a quick mustard crop as this cleans the soil of harmful fungi.

If you choose to be a summer gardener only, take notes on where you have planted this summer to enable a good rotation next summer, and remember your garden will benefit from a green manure crop over the winter period.

Learn more about green manure crops in my past blog, Focus on green manure crops – what are they and why do they benefit my garden.

Step four – don’t let anything go to waste!

I urge you to gather and enjoy every single fruit and vegetable that your garden blesses you with. For example, a glut of tomatoes can be a marvellous thing and I am just about to embark on making my green tomato chutney with the tomatoes that were blown off in the cyclone. Waste not want not, as food security has never been more important! Put some love into your garden gluts and make sauces and chutneys that can continue to feed you all winter long.

You can give my green tomato chutney recipe a try if you like! Discover it here.

Happy gardening!

Help! Green shield bugs are everywhere this summer! How to prevent and tackle an infestation

If, like me, you have also noticed a huge surge of green shield bugs this summer, beware and take action! These pesky little critters can destroy your whole garden! Once green shield bugs are present, it is a daily job to deal with them.

Why are Green Shield Bugs all over my garden suddenly?

Green shield bugs 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.

To prevent green shield bugs from taking hold in the first place, spring time is best to be checking under your leaves for egg clusters.

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.

Let’s first start by looking at the life cycle of Green Shield Bugs

Green shield bugs, also called stink bugs, lay around 14 eggs which are generally a yellowy tan colour, sometimes paler.

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!

Young shield bug
Mating

What problems do green shield bugs create 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…

Hatching

How can I control green shield and stink bugs organically? 

Adults don’t stop laying until around the end of summer, when the daylight reduces 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 throughout summer. 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 EnSpray 99 – 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 will share my organic recipe for this exclusively to my newsletter subscribers as a free printable. Make sure you’re signed up to receive your copy!

Sign up here to my newsletter to grab your copy of my organic recipe to repel green shield bugs!

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!

WATER IN THE GARDEN: Five practical tips to make water stretch further this summer

In the heat of the summer, and especially if we haven’t seen a drop of rain for some time, water becomes an eternal challenge for every gardener. 

Yet growing your own food is becoming essential; far more than a hobby or loving pastime of days gone by. So how can we ensure an adequate water supply during those dry summer months ahead, when many regions have water restrictions in place to boot?

You may already be aware that different types of soil have different water-holding capacity – clay, sandy loam etc. But more than this, did you know that the more alive your soil is, the better it is at retaining water?

Like everything in gardening, it begins in the soil!

For this reason, and many more, I hugely advocate putting in the effort to build your soil quality from the outset and then maintain a regular feeding programme to keep your soil and your plants at optimal health. For more on the soil sponge, discover my earlier blogs here.

Over the years, I have mastered some great ways to both retain water and make water stretch further; so read on as I reveal these secrets for you now!

TIP #1: HOW YOU WATER YOUR PLANTS MATTERS

Watering plants at the root source means the soil can absorb the entirety. Overhead watering not only wastes the valuable water, it also creates a high rate of evaporation, leaf burn and plant stress, inviting pest and disease.

TIP #2: WHEN YOU WATER YOUR PLANTS IS ESSENTIAL

Always water in the cool of the morning, before the sun gets too hot. Did you know that your plants are ‘awake’ in the day and ‘asleep’ at night? During the sunshine, your plants are busy photosynthesising – the process to convert sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into energy stored as chains of sugar (also known as plant starch). At night, plants burn up this sugar while they sleep, which gives them fuel for continuing their growth the following morning. Therefore, they need a good drink in the morning and it will provide moisture for your plants all day long.

TIP #3: HOW MUCH WATER YOU USE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Watering little and often is much more productive for your plants’ growth, rather than a big drink once a week. Over the summer months, give each plant about a cup of water each day, or three cups every three days at the stem only. 

TIP #4: RETAINING WATER IS THE NAME OF THE GAME

Mulching on top of your plants not only keeps the moisture in the ground by reducing the soil temperature and evaporation from the heat of the sun, it also encourages roots to go deeper into the soil layers, where the water is held. 

Once the topsoil dries out, turning hard and crusty, water will actually run straight off rather than being absorbed. When mulching, be sure to leave space between the plant’s stem and the edge of the mulch – this is the space to apply water.

TIP #5: SAVE WATER FROM YOUR HOME TO USE ON THE GARDEN

There are many ways to save water from the home to water your plants each day if you simply adjust your mindset to consider that every drop you save helps towards the survival of your plants. You’ll be surprised how much water you will save by following these tips:

·       Place a bucket in your shower and catch the water while waiting for it to reach your desired temperature. In some homes, you can save as much as 8 litres per shower!

·       Gather some 10-litre buckets or vessels and place them under every tap in your home to catch waste water! When you turn the tap on to clean your teeth, wash your vegetables, rinse your hands or rinse your dishes, be sure to catch every drop. When the bowl is full, tip the water into your bucket – and be amazed how much you water you can collect.

Be mindful that any waste water containing soap is best avoided for vegetable plants. But if you use environmentally-friendly products, you can use this water for fruit trees.

Happy summer gardening!

Three simple steps to prevent black aphids

As we move into December, aphids are having a festive celebration of their own – at the expense of our plants! If you live in an area of high humidity, this is even more true.

The black spots or bugs you see on your onions, chives and garlic are black aphids. They are merrily multiplying and sucking the life out of your plants!

Look closely and you will observe that some appear bigger than others – these are the ‘mothers’, which have wings. Interestingly, these ‘mother’ aphids do not produce eggs, but simply drop hungry young aphids straight on to your plants to feed.

You will often find them in a long line, as every couple of days more young are laid, and they can produce up to five every couple of days. The fascinating thing is that all their babies are girls!

Where did my infestation come from?

The adults overwinter in the warmest spot they can find in your garden to protect themselves from the cold and frost so, if like me, you have no frosts or snow, your aphid population is likely to be much, much higher than somewhere that enjoys a strong winter chill.

Black aphids really like to overwinter in the thin skins of garlic or shallots and, for the life of me, I have never been able to see them! Yet as soon as the leaves start to sprout, the mother gets ready to lay on the small vulnerable leaves. From here, they pierce the young leaves, full of sweet carbohydrates, and start to suck.

Slow at first, while the temperatures are cool, but as soon as the sun comes out, it is ‘yeehaaa!’ This is it can seem you have an infestation overnight!

How do I control black aphids without harsh chemicals?

When my first leaves appear on my garlic and onions, I spray with Naturally Neem and then use EnSpray 99 oil in the following weeks. I have found that Naturally Neem is the best Neem product you can buy, as many Neem products are not refined enough for edible application. Remember Neem must be sprayed in the cool of the day only.

If you have a large infestation, my advice would be to pull the plants out carefully and submerge them in water to prevent any of them re-infesting elsewhere.

You can still eat the produce, it just may not be as juicy…

As ever in organic gardening, prevention is key. Here’s my advice on how to prevent black aphids in three simple steps:

1. Keeping your plants healthy from day one can really help deter an infestation and I use regular spraying of Liquid Kelp, which keeps the plants strong. Kelp strengthens the cell wall of the plants, making them less attractive to the aphids, who are after the easy prey of weaker plants.

2. If you are buying chives, onions or leek plants at a garden nursery, I also recommend checking the leaves carefully, even in between each leaf, as they can be hiding in there.

3. Beneficial insects can be your friends too – encourage ladybirds into your garden as they will eat aphids and take care of the problem for you! Check out my earlier blog here to find out how.

For more pest & disease control advice, sign up to my monthly newsletter!

Happy gardening and wishing you all a very merry Christmas!

Organic pest control: My three best tips to tackle passion vine hoppers in your garden

It’s that time of year once again – the time to be vigilant as there are fresh bugs and insects aplenty in our gardens, scouting for food sources and places to breed. Let’s take a closer look at one of the peskiest critters that you will be spotting in your garden very shortly, as I reveal how to protect your garden and summer crops the organic way.

What is a passion vine hopper and why are they everywhere?

The passion vine hopper can be prolific in our gardens and people often remark that, all of a sudden, there are so many – where did they come from? In actual fact, the passion vine hopper lays eggs just once per year, from February onwards, but they can overwinter as eggs on host plants.

Nymphs hatch in late spring when the weather warms, and grow into adults over summer. They even stick around into winter, depending on your climate, but a good cold snap can put an end to the adult cycle and kill the eggs too.

Why are passion vine hoppers a problem in my garden?

Both the nymphs and the adults attack new young growing shoots, feeding on the sap of the plants, thus destroying new growth and causing damage to the plants. September to April is their biggest feeding time, so this is the time that the most damage is caused.

Adult passion vine hoppers are about 6mm long and have see-through triangle wings with a slight pattern. Passion vine hoppers are very good jumpers and can fly really quickly – thanks to three pairs of legs and two pairs of wings – making them harder to catch. Adults only take two weeks to mature and, when dusk arrives, this is when they mate. They lay their eggs in the late afternoon/evening, during the cooler temperatures.

An adult passion vine hopper

The female tends to lay its eggs in dead plant matter and garden stakes, but will also lay its eggs in neat little rows in the midribs of new young plants. When the nymphs hatch, they feed straight away on young shoots.

The nymph has five stages of development and the most common one we observe is when they develop their fluffy bums. When touched, these ‘fluffy bums’ jump so quickly, but miraculously seem to land on a plant nearby. Have a look under your plant leaves for clusters of these fluffy bum nymphs.

An egg ready to hatch

The adults have very sharp, piercing mouth-parts, which are pushed into the tender part of the plant to suck the plant juices out. Any excess juice is secreted as honeydew that puts a sticky coating on the plants’ leaves, and it can then cause sooty mould to grow, suffocating your plant.

How do I control passion vine hoppers in my garden organically?

Controlling these insects is extremely hard, unless you can spot where they lay their eggs. Sometimes, we can be fooled into thinking there is nothing to be done in the garden but, in these times, I recommend going around your garden and checking cracks in the bark of your fruit trees and looking on the underside of leaves for eggs and bugs. Another good way to spot these is if your leaves are all curled up – then you can pretty much guarantee that something is happening on the underside of the leaf!

Tip #1: My biggest tip for controlling passion vine hoppers is via observation – check your plants regularly by looking underneath leaves and between young shoots for any sign of eggs, removing the leaf they have laid on.

Tip #2: A good way to start your control of these pests is to grow plants that attract predator insects such as borage, alyssum and lavender. By planting these beneficial plants, it attracts the right kind of insect that will pray on the nymphs and eat them. These insects are hard to kill as they move so quickly, so it’s helpful to leave it to their natural-born predators. Nature always has a way.

Tip #3: I use a potent organic combination of EnSpray 99 oil and Liquid Kelp – my secret weapons! Spray in the evening, as these pests are much less active then. I recommend spraying the air first before you try to spray the plant itself, as they jump or fly so fast that you can catch them mid-air!  I then spray under all leaves and over every part of the plant, as they seem to be everywhere. Repeat the spraying weekly until the infestation reduces.

It is all about breaking the cycle and reducing the numbers.

If you’re looking for more guidance on pests and disease, along with companion planting, you might want to consider joining my membership site, The Grow Inspired Academy. Here, I can teach you how to manage your pests the organic way through a whole host of methods; along with detailed coaching on how to grow food and compost. We’re not accepting new members right now, but you can sign up to be the first to know when we open our doors next! Discover more here!

Happy gardening!

The Grow Inspired secret to preventing frustration with your summer garden

Welcome to spring and summer in your garden! It’s a time when we get to enjoy better weather, longer days and the joy of sunshine! These months are also when all the creatures, birds, bugs, pests and diseases wake up too though, and think that our newly prepared beds or pots are their playground! They seem to think that we provide mulch for them to remove and young plants for them to dig out, destroy or lay their eggs on…!

It is a source of frustration for people in every sector of the growing world. 

But did you know that you can prevent this with prior planning, a bit of effort and time? This is the Grow Inspired way, allowing you to sleep soundly at night or even go away knowing that your garden is protected!

Netting your garden is the key

Net your garden as soon as you have planted – do it once and do it well. There are many different ways of doing this, depending on your budget and what kind of netting you require for your plants.

Make sure you collect the right equipment to start with to avoid frustrations later on.

How do I net my garden or beds?

Personally, I find the easiest way is using hoops with netting laid over the top and fixed with stretchy string. If on a raised bed, I hook it on to nails. You can use re-bar, sticks, fibreglass poles, bamboo etc. The key is to make sure you get some alkathene pipe to slide over your support poles to create a smooth surface for the netting to slide over #toptip

Once your netting is over, you can either pin it to the side of your raised bed, cover it with soil or weigh it down with stones. This will keep birds, rabbits, cats and dogs out of your garden!

What netting do I choose?

There are a few different types of netting on the market now which give you choice. If you are looking to keep general creatures out of the garden, bird netting or old vineyard netting works wonders. 

However, if you are looking to keep whitefly, aphids and psyllids out, you will need insect netting, which has a very fine weave and will protect your garden very well. The fabric is light and easy to use, and really does protect your plants from not only insect infestation but weather extremes too. 

A great place to look for these, apart from your garden centres. is at Redpath or Cosio Plastics. You can order in different widths and lengths and even get end-of rolls.

When should the nets come off?

I generally like to remove my netting when my plants are ripening up, as I love to look at and enjoy my plants. If you have a regular spray programme, then rest assured that you can spray through these types of netting.

Remember, gardening is meant to be enjoyable and by pre-planning and netting your garden, you can avoid many frustrations in the long run.

Happy gardening!

This blog has been featured by Twinkl among their top tips for ”Starting a Kids-friendly Vegetable Garden

Has Spring sprung or is Autumn upon us? My top tips in your garden this month

Spring has sprung in the Southern Hemisphere, with the birds becoming active, flowers bursting forth and buds swelling. 

Preventing pest and disease is a job for Spring

Yet amongst this glory, the rain prevails, creating a humidity in the air that can cause pest and disease to be present early in the spring gardens. 

As most of the southern hemisphere is in lockdown, it is a prime opportunity to enjoy time in our gardens and be vigilant, checking for early rust on garlic, and black aphids on the leeks, chives and spring onions. Let’s get on top of these pests early before they infest our plants! Spray with a good organic oil and feed regularly to boost their health. 

Sow only when the temperature is right!

It is time to start sowing our spring/summer seeds, but I urge you to remember that summer seeds love a constant 20+ degrees for optimal success, so start indoors or in the greenhouse. Remember to prick out when the first true leaves are formed to avoid leggy seedlings that will become problematic later on. 

It is a great time to sow your flower seeds to provide food for the bees and to attract beneficial insects. Turn the compost now, ready for using on the garden when your new beds are formed, or to use as a side dressing for your establishing plants, garlic and leeks. All in all, it is prime time to give love to your garden and plan for the summer months to come.

Heading into Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere

Meanwhile, over here in the Northern Hemisphere, it has been a summer full of pest and disease and a high level of blight and fungal diseases, with torrential rain thunderstorms and then bursts of sunshine. Such a different growing season from last year!

With all this disease around, remember to spray an oil on your plants before pulling them out to help prevent the spread of fungal diseases for seasons to come. Also dispose of your plants, keeping them well away from your compost and sow a crop of mustard to help clean up your soil before autumn/winter planting. 

With those of you with apple and pear trees, please pick up your fallen fruit, as disease will spread to next year’s crop and remember all those chestnuts falling on the ground right now are so delicious boiled up and sauteed with salt. They are full of many vitamins and minerals, such as copper, manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin C, thiamine, folate, riboflavin, and potassium. Did you know they are also a good source of fiber, with 15% of your daily dose for just 10 chestnuts? 

A message to the lockdown cohort of gardeners:

For all those new gardeners that are in their second year of growing, and who may have started in lockdown last year, please realise that this is the way gardening goes… We are subject to the challenges of the weather and sometimes we might not get the crop we desire. 


Never give up hope and rise to the challenge, as growing food is so important in this new world, where food shortages and price rises are appearing everywhere. 

Healthy soil creates healthy plants; it grows nutrient rich food, which in turn gives us good gut health and energy, exactly what we all need right now! 

Take care of yourselves, and your plants and I hope you grow inspired.

Protect your garden with wildflowers: four steps to success

With the moon about to rise, it is the perfect time to sow wildflowers and beneficial insect flowers. If sown now, these will be up and flowering for early summer which is a great time to be bringing beneficial and predator insects into the garden.

How to sow these seeds in four simple steps:

Usually I am a gardener that likes to throw seeds around and leave the rest to Mother Nature.

However, with these types of seeds I have found that ground preparation is important for successful germination. The seeds for these types of flowers can be very fussy, as they are not too happy to compete with weeds.

Here’s my steps for success based on the experiences I have had:

Step 1: Prepare an area of garden you want them to go in and weed thoroughly

Step 2: Scatter some seed raising or potting mix on the areas

Step 3: Then scatter the seeds and cover with a light dusting of potting mix, pat down and water

Step 4: Cover with netting to prevent the birds or cats from disturbing the soil (eating or the other thing…!)

Top tip: I advise you not to put heaps of soil on top of the seeds, as too much will stop them from germinating. You can rake them into the prepared soil if you like, as this works just as well.

These seeds can be up and growing within a few days if planted at the right time of the moon. These flowers are not that hungry so huge amounts of food are not needed. A little lime can help sweeten the soil, but isn’t essential.

I never thin mine out as it gives a great blanket of flowers when fully grown. The flowers tend to germinate at different times, so don’t worry if this happens. They will push their way through to give you a grand display.

Top tip: The key to longevity for some of these flowers is to diligently dead head them, as new flowers will keep coming all the time. Then, towards the end of the season, let them go to seed and collect this for next season’s growing.

I sow lots of these seeds in all different areas of my garden for a few reasons:

#1 to bring beneficial insects in for my vegetable garden

#2 for the pure beauty of the flowers

#3 when planted towards your boundaries, as well as close to your veggie garden, the more insects you will attract.

Top tip: As your seeds grow into tiny plants, make sure you know what types of weeds are in your garden, as these could sprout amongst your seeds and take over.

This is especially important in the first 6-8 weeks of growth. After this time they are pretty self-sufficient and will grow and bloom, bringing both you and the insects much pleasure and benefit.

If you live in the warmer parts of New Zealand, you can start your sowing now and continue sowing for the next few months. This way you will ensure a continuous blooming period.

Beneficial flowers do not require huge amounts of water as, when densely planted, they cover the ground and help to retain moisture in the soil.

My last top tip: If you don’t have time to prepare the soil this week, I advise you to sow them in deep trays and transplant next month. I have successfully done this in the past, as long as you plant them out before they are too big. Alternatively, if you have a container garden, they will go well in this area.

Happy gardening!