Gardening is not just a hobby for me, and it’s not just a career. It’s my absolute passion, and every single day I Grow Inspired by the magic that happens in the soil. Read on to hear my tips, insights and upcoming events and please feel free to add your comments – I love to hear what you think!
Spring is around the corner!
With Spring fast approaching and the days getting longer, now is the time for the all-important planning for your Summer garden.
Many are put off by thinking that a plan is over-complicated, but it’s easy to do! Here are my six simple questions to ask yourself:
- What do I want to eat?
- What flowers do I want to grow?
- What companions do I need?
- What does my soil need in order to grow good food and hold maximum water?
- Where are the sunniest and shadiest places in my garden in summer?
- What do I need to make my preserves?
When to plant:
When I decide on what fruit and veggies I want to eat this season, I put them into groups to sow and plant by the moon. On the waxing moon, it is time to plant leafy crops (above ground) and flowers and on the waning moon, it is the root crops and transplanting herbs etc.
Flowers play such an important role in the veggie garden – they attract bees, beneficial insects and create a blooming smile. I plant mainly edible or cutting flowers.
Where to plant:
For best results, I always plant my vegetables with their companions as these enhance their growth and also help deter pests and disease. For example cabbage planted near thyme helps repel the white cabbage butterfly. My ethos is that it is always more about working with nature and not against it.
Different plants require various nutrients and levels of food available in the soil. Preparing your soil the right way for your plants requirements not only saves time but, in the long run, can save on disappointment with poor crops.
It is a myth that all food plants like full summer sun. Here in New Zealand, the temperatures can soar, so be sure to plant the heat-loving plants in the all-day sun. Plants like tomatoes, chillis, eggplants, basil and beans. Plants that love being in the shade are mint, rocket and coriander.
If, like me, you absolutely love making chutneys and preserves, I advise you to consider this when planning your summer garden. I also love making my own pizza sauce or my tomato and basil paste for winter casseroles from my fresh summer crop. I choose tomatoes to grow specifically for this purpose and always make sure I have loads of basil, so that there’s always enough to have fresh and preserved as well.
If you’re finding it hard to make time to plan your garden or you’re stuck on what to plant and where, please get in touch!
Right now is a great time to think about the beneficial insects your garden needs, including the plants they are attracted to and why it is good to have them in your garden.
Developing an understanding of how your garden could live in harmony with insects and bugs is essential for every gardener. Now is the perfect time to get to know what the good guys look like and why they are beneficial!
Gardens take time to develop and grow – honestly, I would estimate a good three years until it’s thriving. Gardening is an education, and plants and flowers take time to establish and regenerate themselves year after year. But, when this starts to take place and creates a momentum of its own, Mother Nature truly takes her natural course.
By growing beneficial plants, you can start to bring a balance into your garden, which means letting nature take care of itself in many ways. These plants will attract beneficial insects, who are the good guys that eat the bad guys.
One of the best pieces of gardening advice I can give is a reminder that gardening and growing food evolves as time goes by – there is no overnight fix – and it pays to take the time to be still in your garden and just observe.
Beneficial Insects: The Ladybird
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.
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!
This week we will talk about how the planting of legumes helps fix nitrogen to your soil.
Why do I need to fix nitrogen to my soil?
Nitrogen is an essential nutrient that plants need to grow. During a season of growth, plants will be consuming this nutrient so, at the end of the season, you need to replace it ahead of your next crop.
What will fix nitrogen to my soil?
Peas, beans, broad beans, buckwheat, lupins, vetch, and clover all fix nitrogen to the soil and are sometimes grown as cover crops or green manure crops in over-wintering beds.
The legume family contain symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia in the nodes of their root system. These produce nitrogen that helps the plants to grow and also helps them to compete with other plants. When the plant is spent, the fixed nitrogen is then released into the soil making this essential nutrient available to follow-on plantings, along with nearby plants, and in turn helps to fertilise the soil.
We could get really technical here however, sticking true to my principles of keeping it simple, I will explain only the basics to you the average gardener.
How does it work – what do I need to know?
Legumes release organic compounds from their roots which attract rhizobia to them. The rhizobia is attracted to the root hairs of your plants and the hairs curl around the rhizobia which create a pathway for it to travel into the root cells.
Rhizobia is an important bacteria in the soil that has the ability to make the nitrogen that is in our atmosphere available to our plants. In exchange for the nitrogen, the plant provides carbohydrates to the bacteria. They form nodules attached to the roots of your legumes.
The nitrogen fixing bacteria can also help to increase the soil fertility for all plants. This is why it is so good to do your crop rotation with any of the above plants. After harvest, you can leave your roots in the soil and, when they break down, they provide nitrogen to the next crop.
Nitrogen top tip #1: If you pull your plants out, be sure to cut off the roots and dig back in otherwise you will lose all the valuable nitrogen from these plants.
Nitrogen top tip #2: It is always good to interplant with other crops – even in between rows – as this will help keep your soil restored of nitrogen and enable you to have a healthy garden without your plants stressing out.
Nitrogen top tip #3: Please remember that all legumes also like plentiful supplies of phosphorus and calcium, which can be added with the addition of lime, rock phosphate or gypsum. So if your crop didn’t do so well last year, take these factors into account before your late spring / summer sowing.
With the daylight hours getting longer next week, we will talk about preparing your soil for spring/summer. To dig or not to dig…? That is the question!
This week, let’s talk about the nitrogen fixers in our soil and when and where to plant them in our early spring garden.
Following my theme of Plastic Free July, this week we will talk about compostable coffee cups, lids and PLA.
Are they really compostable in your normal compost, worm farm or Bokashi?
Can I process compostable coffee cups at home?
Some compostable coffee cups will break down in the compost and Bokashi, but by far the best method for these is to rip them up and put them in your worm farm, if they are indeed compostable. After a few months, they will have all but disappeared – or so we are told. The ones I tested in my very active worm farm took between 7 and 9 weeks for the paper component to break down, and in the traditional compost there were still traces after 3 months.
To my horror, what I was left with was a plastic film. So they are not home compostable at all! After doing some research over the past few days and quizzing cafes, they tell me that they pay a higher premium for these products, so that they are seen to be doing the right thing. Yet in fact most of these compostables are not home compostable at all. Also most countries do not have facilities to process these so, yet again, they end up going to landfill!!
Compostable coffee cups, lids and PLA really need to have the words ‘Hot Compostable’, which is where you have a compost heap that is consistently over 60 degrees. Here on Waiheke, we have a commercial hot compost trial going that has been successfully run over the past 18 months processing the PLA and compostable cups and lids. For this to work successfully, we have found that the hot compost needs to be sitting consistently at around 70 degrees and all products need to go through a shredder first.
What is PLA and can I compost it?
PLA is polylactic acid, which is derived from fermented plant starch such as corn, sugarcane and beet pulp.
These cups are only hot compostable after shredding. I have read reports from companies claiming that you can just throw them in a normal compost, but my trials have shown that after 3 months in a normal compost, it still resembles a cup. Really we need to be labelling these cups as ‘biodegradable’.
The definition of biodegradable means an item that can break down into natural materials in the environment without causing harm, but it doesn’t specify how long this will take. Some products break down easily, like various paper items, but some products will take years to eventually biodegrade.
Can I process compostable coffee cup lids at home?
Most of these lids are made from PLA and are charged at a premium price to cafes looking to offer their customers environmentally-friendly alternatives. However, most of these still end up in landfill because, across the country, there are not enough facilities of commercial HOT composting that makes this a viable option.
In my opinion, the answer comes back to us as the consumer and that is to get a ‘Keep Cup’ for our coffees and take these with us to events to drink our beverages from.
Sadly, it is a very confusing world out there with ambiguous wording – perpetuated by the industry – so that, as a consumer, you don’t know if you’re buying a product that helps or hinders the environment! When you have been composting in various forms like me over the past 30 years, you can guarantee I will put them to the test.
Next time you go out, read the wording on the product and see what it says. If it’s compostable, put it to the test in your home compost and share the results with us here at Grow Inspired.
Over the next few days on my Facebook page, I will be sharing some more interesting links on these products.
Next week, we will be back in the garden and talking about growing juicy peas and broad beans.
With the recent publicity around the Climate Emergency, it is great to see radical change happening across our consumerist society, with businesses responding to ‘do their part’. But is it just PR hype, designed to lure the conscious-customer in?
Plastic-Free July is a global campaign that gives us all an opportunity to observe how much plastic infiltrates our homes, our workplaces and our shopping carts, and just how hard it is to avoid it in our lives. This is not because we as individuals are addicted to plastic – but that the industry is. Plastic is the easiest, cheapest option out there for companies to use. But the true cost is the impact it has on the environment.
This is why it is so wonderful to see companies going the extra mile – investing their profits in developing plastic-free or environmentally-friendly alternatives.
The past couple of weeks have seen more and more products released that CLAIM to be compostable. Many gardeners are confused by these products, rightly questioning whether they are truly compostable and will break down in their compost, worm farm or Bokashi. Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10, the packaging substitutes will not.
The definition of compostable is:
a product that is capable of disintegrating into natural elements in a compost environment, leaving no toxicity in the soil. This typically must occur in about 90 days.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will look at some of those products on the market that are claiming to be compostable. Let us start in our back yard in New Zealand, where Nelson-based Proper Crisps have launched the first compostable packaging for their product.
After much discussion around the packaging amongst my colleagues and friends, wondering whether they had indeed cracked it with something truly compostable, the wonderful Kathy Vowles wrote to them to ask what their packaging was made of.
I must say, it was wonderful to get such a transparent, honest reply. Many companies either don’t bother to answer you or you simply trigger an automated email reply that doesn’t really answer the question at all.
Below I have included the reply from Proper Crisps for you to see for yourselves. Let me take this opportunity to point out to my followers that I am NOT paid or rewarded in any way by Proper Crisps – just an advocate for any company that produces plastic-free alternatives that work!
“Thanks for reaching out! Glad to hear news of our new Crisps has reached you. Our packs are made of compostable films derived from sustainably-managed renewable resources. The films used to make these packs have been individually certified to the European and American compostability standards EN 13432 and ASTM6400, and European OK Compost HOME standards. The films are made from cellulose which is derived from wood pulp, and GMO Free Corn Sugars.
“Our suppliers have confirmed that the formulation of their inks and adhesives contain no heavy metals that would be harmful to worms, seedlings or the environment. Our bags are designed to break down in a home compost environment, and will also break down in commercial compost facilities. The recipe for successfully composting our bags is the same as regular compost guidelines – the right balance of heat, moisture, oxygen, soil and micro-organisms. You also need a good balance of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ (our bags count for the ‘brown/dry’ part of this equation!)”
So, there you have it folks – these break down in our normal home compost and are not toxic to worms. But before you buy, check you’re purchasing one of their compostable bags, as it hasn’t rolled out to all product lines just yet.
Take the challenge today, compost a packet and let us know your results here at Grow Inspired!
Slugs and snails are everywhere at this time of year, especially with all this wet weather, so this week I thought we would take a look at them. We’ll cover how they affect your garden, where they like to hang out and how to control them in an organic way.
Many people look at these creatures simply as annoying pests that destroy their vegetables, however, I believe it is better to look at them in a more rounded way – as I look at any other pest. They are part of the cycle of nature and they just happen to like your veggies – as well they should, they’re delish!
So what exactly are we dealing with here…?
Did you know there are around 1,400 varieties of slugs and snails in New Zealand?? It’s not surprising then that some get into our gardens!!
The largest snails can grow up to 10cm across! They move around on a flat muscular foot and they eat by using a tongue-like organ called a radula, which is covered with rows of teeth. Slugs and snails have both male and female sex organs and one or two pairs of tentacles on their heads, the larger of which usually has eyes at the end.
Where do slugs and snails hang out?
Most snails live on the ground in the leaf litter that has fallen; under your mulch or around dark damp places, where they are unseen. The giant snails live mostly in Northland and grow up to 10 cm. These snails come out in the dark of the night to eat slugs and worms.
There are about 30 odd native species of slugs, and they eat algae, fungi, and tiny organisms that live on plants. However, most of the slugs and snails that eat your garden are not native to New Zealand and have travelled here from other countries! Like most other introduced pests in New Zealand, they are very destructive to the home and the commercial gardener.
Remember – slugs and snails are in our gardens all year round – it is just in winter and spring they do the most damage because of the climate. During the warmth of the summer sun, they tend to stay in dark, damp places.
They come out after dark. This time of year, I have noticed they start appearing after 8pm and in the spring, it is more like 10pm.
How do slugs and snails affect my garden?
Slugs and snails feed on fruits, vegetables, the soft stems of plants as well as the leaf tissue. They are especially partial to new transplants, as these are soft and tasty to them. That is why a newly planted bed can disappear overnight, causing much despair to a loving gardener the following morning!
Plants that have many leaves altogether like the brassica family, lettuce and spinach seem to attract a lot more slugs and snails. In my experience, this is because these plants offer dark and cool shelter for the slugs and snails during the day and then, at night, they don’t have to travel far for their food. Pretty smart really!
If you are growing your winter broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach, pop out to the garden now and gently peel the leaves back during the day and look closely at where the leaves attach to the stem. You will more than likely find the little creatures asleep there. You can also look for a poo trail, as they leave a trail behind them when they munch your leaves…!
So what are the organic ways to control slugs and snails?
The tiger slug was introduced into New Zealand from Europe. I find these slugs a beneficial pest, as they will eat other smaller slugs. They will still eat your veggies (!) but they can be a natural control for smaller, more vulnerable slugs.
One of the most effective controls I have found is to snap the lower leaves off of your brassicas and place them around new seedlings in a circle. The slugs and snails would rather eat what is in front of them than use the energy to travel up a plant. In the morning, look under these leaves that you have placed on the soil and remove any that are present.
Beer traps are another goodie. Place shallow lids on your soil, pushing them down slightly so they are at soil level and put some cheap beer in them. No need to waste the good stuff! They love this and will flock to the beer and drown while drinking. Make sure you clear them out every couple of days.
Regularly check all the dark, damp places around your growing bed, as they will be asleep in the day and are easy to see. They like to be under lids, wood, mulch and the corners of your raised beds.
Hedgehogs and birds are natural predators, so we welcome them wholeheartedly into our gardens at this time of year. Plenty to go round, and no fruit to protect from the birds!
I also recommend feeding your slugs and snails away from the bed with old brassica leaves in a pile. I tend to put my pile at least 3 metres away from my bed and they love it.
As an organic gardener, I must advise you…
SNAIL AND SLUG BAIT – NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!!!!
I have recently encountered several gardeners who profess to have an organic garden, but yet they use snail bait! Unfortunately, this is misguided. Just to see the bright blue colour of the bait, you know it is toxic!
Snail bait contains metaldehyde which breaks down into our water ways, and is highly toxic to animals. This bait can be attractive to animals as it is often mixed with bran, molasses, soya beans and rice to bulk it out. Please, please try the methods above and avoid bait at all costs.
I adamantly believe with all my gardening passion and 30 years of experience that chemicals have absolutely no place in our soil, or our eco-system. We ingest what we put out into the world, as we are all one. These organic methods are truly effective, and I challenge you to try them and feedback if they are not…!
Check your garden out tonight for these little creatures, try some of my suggested methods and let me know how you get on.
I am now sowing the last of my garlic on Waiheke Island for Solstice celebration. I will be planting elephant garlic, specifically because the rust seems to attack all other varieties in my warm, humid neck of the woods, except the elephant variety.
For me, growing garlic is one of those long-standing, utterly joyous traditions of gardening. When I first began learning to grow, I was initiated into a special ritual of planting garlic on Winter Solstice (the shortest day of the year) and harvesting on Summer Solstice (the longest day), when we would celebrate nature’s seasons by getting together with friends, gathering round a big fire, and feasting on our organic bounty. I have such fond memories – but this is sadly a tradition I can no longer properly partake in, due to the micro-climate of Waiheke Island, which isn’t as hospitable to my poor garlic cloves as it is to me…! So I sow a token planting of garlic at this time of year instead.
However, if you’re a new gardener, or just a garden-lover, I wholeheartedly urge you to delight in this tradition – if your climate allows it. It’s a precious way to tune into the cycles of the season and to nourish yourself with home-grown flavour and fun.
So let’s get cracking – here’s what you need to know:
Where should I plant garlic?
This year, I am sowing in a mobile raised bed. I have prepared this bed like a compost pile from the previous season’s growing. Now in preparation for the garlic, I will remove the top 30cm of soil and tip in 120 litres of Bokashi; add some carbon in the form of straw and place the soil back on top, mixed up with some vermicast and compost that is ready. By doing this, the bed will have enough food for the season underground and I will supplement this with liquid feed when it starts to bulb up in spring.
How do I plant garlic?
If you’re planning to plant elephant garlic too, the spacing of bulbs needs to be more generous than your average garlic – as the title suggests, ELEPHANT is a big species. If you’re growing other varieties, you can space them closer together. Remember though that garlic is not that fond of being crowded out by other plants. Give it space and let it do its thing. Remember to also cut the flower stalk off the elephant garlic to stop the energy going up into the flower, rather than the bulbs. Elephant garlic can be created into a perennial but that’s another story.
When planting the bulb, it is important to plant the right way up, with the pointy bit at the top. Some of you may laugh but, believe me, if you are new to gardening how would you know!
The easiest way to learn to plant garlic is to remember the depth you plant garlic is twice the length of the clove. The reason for this is that garlic needs to be able to establish long roots in order to support the formation of the new bulb and its leaves above ground. I distance my rows between 15 -20cms which seems to work well.
What do I do next to get a great crop of garlic?
Once the bulb has been pushed in the ground, firm the soil over the top and add a layer of mulch over the top (not too thick). I find this will suppress the weeds until the bulb sprouts up through the ground, giving the garlic a good start. Once all bulbs are up – and this can take up to a month – I will add another layer of mulch and forget about them until spring.
Garlic is a great addition to your garden, and to your diet – it’s perfect in so many dishes, stores well all winter long and even generates its own seed.
Good luck and get in touch with your questions!
How to rescue your citrus trees from pests and disease
As citrus are ripening now and over the next few months, I thought it would be a great idea to talk about a few of the pests associated with these plants, and most importantly, what you can do to protect your citrus from them.
Enemy number one: Scale
Scale are sap sucking insects that are found on the leaves and branches of your citrus trees. If your tree is looking unhealthy, inspect the branches for ants climbing up and down your tree. This can be a sign of scale, as they secrete sugar which attracts the ants.
There are different types of scale, from the hard shelled brown ones to the soft white ones.
Scale insects attach themselves to the leaves or stems of your citrus and start to suck away at your plant. They excrete honeydew that is attractive to ants, which in turn creates sooty mould. When your plant is infested with scale, the leaves usually turn yellow. Also if you have cracks in your bark, scale can live in these, which are quite hard to see. It pays to examine your tree thoroughly.
If scale is left unchecked, your tree could become very weak and unhealthy.
Remedy number one: Fight scale organically
To treat scale, spray with a good oil. I use EnSpray 99, as I have had great success with this. Spray the infected areas and this will suffocate the scale and cause the scale to die. When you touch it, it will fall off the tree or you can rub off with a cloth. Repeat spraying if the infestation is bad. This year, I have found scale on many, many plants – even natives – so it is not really specific to tree varieties.
Enemy number two: Borer
How do you know if your citrus tree has borer?
The tree will lack vigour and have holes along the branches. In some cases, you will even be able to see mounds of sawdust.
Remedy number two: How to remove borer
Borer grubs are dormant for the next couple of months, so it is an ideal time to cut out and remove any borer. This is your time to act! Really, when it is dormant is the only time to cut it out, otherwise the grub will lay egg on new cuts and then they will bore into the new growth of your tree.
It is SO IMPORTANT to remember to either burn or dispose of your infected branches. The totally organic way of dealing with borer is to insert a G string from a guitar down the hole to pierce the grub, however this could take some time (and patience!). At Grow Inspired, we typically use a squirt of CRC down the hole, as this smothers the grub and causes it to die, without harming the trees. Following this, apply pruning paste over the holes or wounds to protect them from further infestation.
Last year, I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to see three borer grubs and I was shocked to see the size of them. Fat and juicy, and half the thickness of my pinky finger!!!
Borer can kill citrus trees if left untreated. Also you can keep your tree alive by removing the dead wood and keeping an eye on your tree, looking for new sawdust trails. Over the past year, I have had a client lose a huge branch from their lemon tree due to borer, where the wood was completely eaten through.
Take action and save your trees.
If you inherit land with an old lemon tree full of borer, you might well be wise to invest in a new one in case the old one is not able to be brought back to life.
Sign up to my newsletter for tips, tricks, and to access even more learnings as I launch my new weekly ‘Knowledge Bed’ to answer your questions direct.