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Are you a good neighbour? Lessons from Tauranga…

I have had an incredible week in Tauranga, where I feel privileged to have hosted a workshop on large-scale Bokashi for The Good Neighbour project.

If you’re not familiar with this organisation, I highly recommend you take a minute to find out more – the extent and size of this project is truly humbling. Having just returned from Thailand and Myanmar, where I was enormously inspired by the efforts and collective impact of these communities, it is wonderful to discover something so forward-thinking in our own backyard.

John and Jackie Paine are the amazing driving force behind The Good Neighbour project, putting in endless hours and enthusiasm over 4 years to develop approximately 116 community gardens and rescue now on average 38 tonnes of food from landfill every month.

This food is weighed, recorded and then sorted into boxes to go back out into the community, to support those who need it. Excess food is frozen as required, and they have recently started building a commercial kitchen, so they can process additional food into pickles, jams, juices and pre-cooked meals.

For example, during my visit they had received delivery of bread, pastries, snacks and fruit that they sorted, boxed and distributed for the school holiday programme for afternoon tea. How fantastic is this?!

If we look at each different area in our community and our country, these projects could be duplicated everywhere. We could keep food out of landfill and feed communities in need for free. GENIUS….

There are over 100 volunteers involved in this project, and I want to take a moment to recognise and acknowledge the achievement and efforts of each and every one.

I contributed during my visit by sharing my knowledge of large scale Bokashi and the processes needed to support their efforts from kitchen to compost to garden, including auditing their food waste.

By using this clever system, they will be able to consistently add great value to their soil in the community gardens by re-using their own food waste – which is very much the ethos of their entire project – and this saves them money rather than buying new garden mix every season.

I also gave them an introduction to EM (effective microorganisms), which they can derive enormous benefit from using in their community projects including rearing chickens, cleaning drains and toilets and managing garden pests and disease.

The solution is simple.

Let’s create nutrient rich soil; let’s support the restoration of our land; let’s be socially responsible people as part of this planet and keep our food out of landfill, where it creates toxic gas and destroys our planet.

The way forward is to use EM and Bokashi, together with our food waste, to grow more amazing clean food.

I’m sure you’ll agree, the Good Neighbour is such an inspiring, heart-warming project that benefits the whole community. If you’re working on a project of a similar nature and feel that my expertise could benefit you too, please get in touch – I’d love to see where I can help!

Over the next few weeks on the blog, we will start the focus on summer pest and disease control and what to feed your garden and when for the ultimate results.

For those that receive my weekly newsletter, you’ll be familiar with the Knowledge Bed section, where I answer your gardening questions. This is now growing fast and I have decided to evolve this into a private Facebook group for members, which will enable me to respond quicker to assist you. I’ll be launching this soon and inviting you to join, so stay tuned!

For now though, please continue to contact me with your questions through the website or on Facebook anytime and do keep them short and to one subject at a time to best enable me to answer.

Happy gardening!

 

Share, give, collaborate, learn, respect, help, grow together

I recently returned to New Zealand after an incredible trip to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) to grow and share my knowledge of the innovative composting technique, Bokashi and Effective Microorganisms (EM). In last week’s blog, I shared my experiences with you after attending a mind-blowing four-day forum at the EM (effective microbes) research centre at Kyusei Nature Farm in Saraburi, Thailand.

My next stop on this epic trip was ‘Project Bokashi Myanmar’.

One of the major reasons I founded Grow Inspired is because of my passion for sharing knowledge with others. The second part of my trip took this to an entirely new level and has formed one of the most inspiring, humbling experiences of my life.

The aim of my visit was to share my knowledge of large scale Bokashi to enable the locals to grow food in sand, because they have no viable soil – just a small amount of sticky blackish/white clay under the sand. In addition, Myanmar is in monsoon 4-5 months of the year, so height and good drainage are essential.

What a great challenge.

People in Myanmar have no government assistance and work to eat and live, which is a great way to get your creative juices flowing – you simply must ‘do’ in order to survive.

Bokashi Myanmar is a pilot project in the early stages of set up in Yangon, Myanmar. Jenny Harlen from Bokashi Sweden is the amazing co-ordinator and inspirational driver of this project, with just a small team of locals and a filmmaker from Germany.

The project aims to show that growing food in any kind of environment is possible and to help set up systems for processing food waste to prevent it from entering the rivers. The kind of ground-breaking results that can be achieved in a community where everyone is motivated is just enormous.

coco4

Of course, in Myanmar there are no systems for processing plastic or food waste at all – the plastic is just dumped on the streets and down the far end of the side streets, it can be knee high…!

I began with a project at Bokashi Myanmar HQ to collect food waste to start our Bokashi system, and we literally had to go around the town balanced on the back of a bicycle with these giant bins to pick up the scraps; dust whipping our faces, dodging traffic in the intense heat and trying to hold on tight!

That day we processed over 300 litres in a space 2metres by 1metre using only sand, Bokashi, carbon and expanded EM. This week, they will be planting into this and there will be progress reports from me over the next wee while.

The waste cardboard and newspapers, cans and bottles are collected by locals who get money for these products, so if you want to use cardboard for mulch or newspaper for layering you need to pay for it. Therefore, the greatest mission in setting up the Bokashi system in Myanmar was to find a substantial and, ideally free, carbon source (brown material) to balance out the nitrogen created by making Bokashi.

The people here are so resourceful – if you require something you ask a local and they will know another local who can get it for you.

One day we went to the slums for a project to build food beds for the local community to grow in. We needed to find a reliable source of carbon within the slums, but with no available cardboard or paper, we identified discarded coconut husks as our only option to layer in the bottom of our beds and for the bottom of the Bokashi barrels to absorb the juice.

But, how do we get enough of them, we asked ourselves?

We asked a guy; who then found another local from down the street, who knew someone. Before we could figure out what was going on, a team had been sent to bring some of these coconut husks for us. Everyone down the street started coming out of their houses and talking to one another, joining in any way they could – helping to fetch more husks, digging in the sand, gathering things we needed. Their collective energy swept into a movement that morning and, within a matter of hours and with many hands, this enormous project was completed.

coconut

What we can achieve, build together and create with the powerful techniques of EM and Bokashi are never so profoundly illustrated than in the slums. We’ve all seen slums on TV – maybe many of you have seen them in person too. These communities have nothing and so everything you can give them is a precious gift.

But these communities don’t just want to take a gift hand-out; they want to learn, they want to participate, they want to help. The way this community mobilised to support a common goal and get things done was humbling and heart-warming.

I was blown away.

They showed a beautiful humanity that is sadly absent from the more developed communities we are more familiar with.

It gives me hope for the future, but also taught me that we all need to shift our own way of thinking; our approach to life’s challenges. Share, give, collaborate, learn, respect, help, grow together.

The coconut husks work amazingly well so we’ve even started a trial using Bokashi-soaked coconut husks for sowing seeds directly into and for growing microgreens. You simply have to think outside the square when resources are thin.

By the time I departed Myanmar, we had set up systems, sources and solutions to food growing and waste management that I know will continue to grow and thrive in my absence.

But I can’t wait to go back and visit again – when I have something new to share with them, and when I need to remind myself and reaffirm my beliefs that where there is a will, there will always be a way.

Happy gardening, and I hope you grow inspired

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The 5 incredible lessons I learnt about Effective Microorganisms last week

I have just returned to New Zealand after an incredible trip to Thailand to grow my knowledge of the innovative composting technique, Bokashi and Effective Microorganisms (EM).

For decades now, I have been in awe of these techniques and watched them create incredible result after incredible result. I feel deeply that these technologies are the way of now and the future for our damaged planet and soil and it is my mission to share the knowledge and endless possibilities with as many as I can through Grow Inspired, empowering others to put them to use.

I was one of just 40 from around the world that was invited to attend this mind-blowing four day training and knowledge sharing forum at the EM (effective microbes) research centre at Kyusei Nature Farm in Saraburi, Thailand.

Every one of the attendees from across 14 different countries uses EM and bokashi in different ways and the goal of our conference was to share our knowledge with one another to spread the learning in each of our countries.

Lesson #1

Though I have been using and advocating EM and bokashi for years, there are so many more ways it can be used for benefit than even I knew previously – from making shampoo, soap, washing up liquid, bug sprays, toilet cleaners, aerobic bokashi, super bokashi, activated charcoal and bokashi bran, as well as use in farming to reduce smell and to improve our waterways.

Lesson #2

My experiences have shown me that, in New Zealand as a country, we are much more advanced in the processing of food waste in the home garden than most of the other countries. However, I was surprised to see that others are much more progressive with government support and funding of large scale projects.

For example, in Malaysia they have been granted $1 million in support of cleaning up their water ways using EM mud balls.

These are balls made of clay that get inoculated with EM, then hardened and thrown in to the waterways. Here, they sink into the sludge and the microbes activate, starting the process of sludge dispersal, and eventually creating clean rivers. #genius #inspired #iloveit #tellmemore

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Mud balls inoculated with Effective Microorganisms to go into dirty waterways to clean them

Lesson #3

I learnt how to develop a spray with EM to process unwanted plant matter. Imagine – this could revolutionise the way forward for processing our noxious weeds and keeping them out of landfill!

Amongst our inspiring group, there was idea after idea that we could each take home with us to help solve issues we experience by using these clever natural ingredients! Much, much more to come on this later…

Lesson #4

I observed that, as a country in New Zealand, we are just not thinking big enough or on a large enough scale. We visited a transfer station that was set up just to process food waste using bokashi and, in turn, to create compost which was then sold back to the community. #genius #iwantone

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Fresh, delicious food grown on the farm using Effective Microorganisms

Lesson #5

I have long believed that natural products achieve the best results – both in growing and in cleaning. But two of the most advanced projects we learned about demonstrated these principles on another level entirely! Unicef have been successfully using EM for their ablution block facilities in Africa which were suffering from severe bad odour and poor sanitation – after a few weeks’ use, it removed the odour completely.

Another mind-blower was in Japan, where they are using EM to sanitise, clean and disinfect their hospitals and clean all their surfaces and windows.

#nochemicals #natureknowsbest

There is so, so much more which I am now processing into lectures and courses, that will be available in the new year. It was such a nourishing and inspiring experience to share in. And to have had the opportunity to eat vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, prawns, chicken and rice all grown with EM principles and grown on the very farm where we were learning was a feast to behold.

CLEAN, nutrient-rich food has to be the way of now and the future.

I would like to offer my sincerest appreciation and gratitude to my EM and bokashi fellows for all the knowledge shared and, in time, I hope to visit your projects, farms and tea plantations. I also want to thank everyone that supported my trip and helped make it possible – from the bottom of my heart.

My next stop was project Bokashi Myanmar, which was one of the highlights of my entire trip and I can’t wait to share this with you next week.

For now, happy gardening and grow inspired.

Friend or Foe – How do you know?

When planting your garden, it is important to know which of your plants are friends and can enhance each other’s growth and which are foe and can stunt each other’s growth.

By planning your garden this way, you will enhance your plants health; maximise their growth and give them the best chance to succeed and produce well this summer.

I usually split my garden into a couple of different areas to better facilitate this.

Helpfully, there are some vegetables that are friends with everyone.

As well as companion planting your summer veg, it is also good to think about under planting your taller vegetables with ones that prefer a little more shade. This way, the taller ones give the smaller ones some much needed protection from the intense summer heat and also to know which plants grow well with almost no sun at all.

Let’s look at some good plants I recommend planting together and why.

Corn is a tall plant and can be planted with climbing beans. Not only do these plants like to grow together, the corn also acts as a natural support as the beans start to climb, so no need to put stakes in the ground – less work is always beneficial.

Beans can be planted really close to the corn and, as these are a legume, they will fix extra nitrogen to the soil for the hungry corn!

These can also be inter-planted with lettuce, who like a bit of shade through the hot summer months

Alternatively, plant your cucumbers next to the corn, as these will grow up the corn, in turn keeping them off the ground and preventing rot when the heavy humid rains come.

Within this same bed, you can also plant zucchini, peas, beetroot, pumpkin and squash. These are all friends and get along like good neighbours, enhancing each other’s growth.

Below is a Friend or Foe Chart to give you some idea of what goes together. Generally, the foe plants will either stunt the growth or make them more prone to pest and disease by decreasing the overall health.

Give yourself the best chance for success and know your friends and foes!

Happy gardening!

 

Plant Helped By… (Friend) Hindered By… (Foe)
Beans, Peas, Dwarf beans Cucumber, Strawberries, Celery Fennel, Onion
Pole beans Radish, Corn Sunflowers
Onions Tomato, Capsicum, Potato, Carrots Beans, Peas
Carrots Tomato, Lettuce, Onion Dill, Parsnip, Radish
Celery Bush bean, Cucumber Corn
Corn Beans, Carrots, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Zucchini Tomato, Celery
Cucumber Beans, Lettuce, Carrots, Onions Potato, Aromatic Herbs
Tomato, Eggplant, Chilli, Potato Basil, Marigold Beans, Corn, Fennel, Dill
Potato Beans, Corn, Peas Carrots, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Raspberries, Squash, Sunflowers, Tomato

Four simple steps to write a successful Summer Garden Plan

As I mentioned last week, one of the crucial ways to ensure your have a successful summer garden that produces for you all summer long, you must plan your garden – no matter how big or how small. In this blog, I will teach you how to plan in four simple steps!

Planning well is such an important step in growing food, as we can all get carried away when sowing seeds or buying seedlings. Before we know it, we have way too many for the prepared space and then they sit there in the pots getting stressed and stressing us. I personally struggle with this because, through my work, I am used to growing large scale and now, I am having to learn how much one needs for a couple of people and guests, not a few hundred, or a few thousand!

When you have enough nutrients in your soil, it is amazing how much you can grow, as you can pack them in close together. This is how I like to grow food in my raised beds; eventually the plants cover all the soil and keep it cool, which is one of my tricks. If you have big gaps, that soil will heat up and dry out, pulling the moisture from other parts of your garden, thus in turn depleting the drinking source for your plants.

Here’s my advice to effectively plan your garden in four simple steps:

  1. Draw a rough sketch of your garden – just a simple square, rectangle, circle or whatever shape you have, no artist skills required!
  2. Next measure your area length by width and write it on your sketch. If you don’t have a tape stride it out, usually one big stride is a metre for women, or one average stride for men.
  3. Then work out how many plants you can have. Every seed packet and plant has height and width on it and usually planting spaces. When you have a bed full of the right kind of soil and rich compost or bokashi, instead use the planting spaces below as this will give you the most food production and also cover the soil to keep it cool and more productive. If you prefer to create more space, you can add 10 or so centimetres to all plants except the basil and marigolds.
  4. When making your plan you might want to make a side note to plan the mulch you will require for the top and, if you are netting your garden, the amount required too, as this keeps your notes all in one place. Believe me you don’t want to get to the garden centre and have left that extra piece of paper at home!

In my experience and opinion, some sort of netting is usually required to keep the birds out and protect your young plants, and it is always a good idea to put a thick layer of mulch on to keep the moisture in and the soil and roots protected.

Prior planning and #action make gardening a whole lot easier.

Common summer plants and their spacing and food requirements if wanting to plant close:

Plant Spacing requirements What type of feeder Companions
Tomatoes 20cm Heavy Marigold, chilli, capsicum, basil, eggplant
Chilli 20cm Heavy As above
Capsicum 20cm Heavy As above
Eggplant 20cm Heavy As above
Basil 10-15cm light As above
Marigold 10-15cm Light As above

As basil and marigolds are not heavy feeders, they don’t need any extra fertiliser underneath them when planting. They are very good companions with the above crops – marigolds help to repel nematodes and basil brings beneficial insects to your garden.

Happy gardening planning!

Top tips to get your garden producing all summer

I often get asked: “how do I keep my food producing all summer long?”

The key to having good organic food in your garden all summer long is achieved by being in #ACTION over the next couple of months. It requires a commitment from you to your garden and Mother Nature and, in return, she will give you a glorious summer full of continual picking, nurturing and harvesting.

It’s not as simple as going to the garden centre, buying a few bags of compost and potting mix, grabbing a bag of sheep pellets and the biggest seedlings you can find. This kind of gardening will only produce one crop and those three things won’t feed your garden all summer long; in fact they have a tendency to dry out and turn the soil hard.

The steps to success are to:

  • Plan your garden, no matter how big or small
  • Know what vegetables and herbs are friends or foe
  • Know your plants’ food requirements, i.e. self-feeder, previous season’s feeder, average feeder, or a heavy feeder
  • Prepare your soil for the potentially long, hot summer months ahead
  • Think about water and how easy or hard it will be to water what you plant
  • Think about sun or shade requirements
  • Consider if they grow big or tall

All the above before you even plant, PHEW…!

But, help is at hand here at Grow Inspired! Over the next month, we will cover all these things in more detail to grow your understanding of WHY these steps are so important.

Top tip: Succession sowing and planting are one of the keys to having a thriving producing garden over the summer growing season. It is good to start now and then sow/ plant every month up until the rain dries up.

Last year, my last planting was November, and then I planted again at the end of January which lasted me up until May. If you try to sow or plant anything in the intensity of the heat, it will usually get stressed, attacked by disease and never really produce to capacity.

By committing to sowing/ planting every month between now and the peak of summer, you will ensure success. As each month gets warmer you will see what does best. I find it enormously helpful to jot these down in my garden planner to ensure next year I will remember what the season was like. Listen to what nature is telling you.

Some crops have a quick turnaround, like mesclun, lettuce, radish, microgreens, rocket and coriander. Most of the above I sow every month to keep my supply going but I also keep sowing rocket and coriander to ensure a staggered supply over summer. All the above plants benefit from being in quite a shady place, otherwise some can bolt off to seed as the sun becomes too much for them.

#commitment + #action = #success

This is crucial, and your first step in producing food all summer long…

Happy gardening

Time to sow for summer – here’s what you should be planting now!

Spring has sprung and from Sunday onwards, the moon is rising, so it is time to get sowing your summer seeds! If your region has persistent cold weather, then sowing can still be done, but keep them indoors or in a greenhouse.

For me sowing any seeds is exciting, but for those of you that only sow and plant in the summer, the time to act is now.

What should I sow?

Over the next two weeks is a perfect window to sow any leafy producers like lettuce, rocket, bok choi and coriander. Towards the end of the second week, it is good to sow flower seeds, including sunflowers, cosmos, zinnia, phacelia, marigold and beneficial flowers.

Throughout the next couple of weeks, get sowing the likes of pumpkin, melons, tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, chillis, beans and eggplant.

I find that eggplant, chilli and capsicum seeds can take a long time to germinate. Ideally they should be up within 7 – 10 days, but they require a minimum temperature of 21 degrees.

Top tip for germinating seeds:

I have found one successful way is to put your growing medium (soil / potting mix etc.) into the pot a few days beforehand, water and bring inside to heat the soil up. If you put your seeds into cold soil, they are not going to be happy and may not even germinate.

I have also had great success by putting them between 2 damp paper towels and putting in a zip lock bag in a warm place for 4-5 days; then carefully opening the paper towels to the joy of chilli seeds germinated!

After this stage, be very mindful how you transplant these into pots, as the little root system is very delicate. Always remember the seeds from the fruit-classified family will take longer to germinate as most of them require a higher germinating temperature and are generally harder and bigger seeds than most of the leafy producers.

If you have an orchard or a few fruit trees, this really is the last chance to be sowing your herbal companions underneath before the ground starts to dry out. I know it is hard to believe that our ground will dry out given the state of the saturation of soil right now in some parts of the country, but believe me, it can happen really quick! Give your plants a good start by getting them in before the drying happens.

Remember – growing successful food all depends on your soil, so start preparing your beds ready for spring planting and remember to know your friends and foes in the garden.

Happy sowing!

Creating harmony: Which insect is missing from your garden?

Over the next few weeks, I will talk about different beneficial insects; 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

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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 plant or not to plant? My top tips on when to start for summer!

This week, I thought we would focus on the many questions I have been asked 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!

Please keep your questions coming, it inspires me!

 

Happy gardening

 

Your garden needs wildflowers – here are the 4 steps to success

With the moon rising, 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

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 of some of these flowers is to always 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 you plant them 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.

It 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 NZ, 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, helping 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 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