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!
This month is a great time to be sowing carrots. ‘Ooohhhhh,’ I hear many of you groan! ‘But carrots are sooo hard to grow!’ This month, I will share my top tips for sowing carrots.
Tip #1 – Direct sow
Carrots much prefer to be direct-sown from seed, as opposed to being bought from the garden centre and transplanted. Carrots roots are very sensitive and do not take kindly to being transplanted, as this can easily damage the roots and cause misshapen veg, stunted growth and a slow start while they recover from the shock of transplanting.
Sowing carrots from seed is so rewarding; once you have success, you will never look back again.
Carrots grow best in the cooler months and I sow every month for a continuous supply.
Tip #2 – Prepare your soil well
Preparing your soil before sowing is imperative, as there are things carrots must have and must not have. Carrots do not require any compost or fertiliser when sowing, as too much nitrogen will cause your carrots to fork.
Carrots ideally love a sandy loam, where there are no obstacles in their path under the soil. If you have heavy soil, try adding some sand and make sure to crumble the hard lumps in your soil, as these obstructions will cause the root tip to grow around them, and this is what causes misshapen carrots. Prepare your soil for as deeply as your carrot grows; but if you suffer with heavy soil and there is no way round this, my advice would be to try growing shorter carrots.
Tip #3 – Sow with care
Once your soil is prepared, water, then sow in drills about 2cm deep and 10-15cm apart. Sow your seeds sparingly about 1cm apart and cover with .5cm of soil. Lightly press the soil down and gently water.
Cover your seeds with wet cardboard or a plank of wood to keep the moisture in and aid germination. Carrots can take up to 21 days to germinate, so check under your cardboard or plant every week and gently apply more water if required.
Once you see your carrots have germinated, remove the cover. Your seeds will appear a very pale yellow, as they have not yet seen any light. My top tip is that I find it is best to remove the cover in the late afternoon when there are less daylight hours left, as this will give your carrots a good 12-14 hours to acclimatise to the elements and start to green up before the brighter sun hits them.
Tip #4 – Feed your carrots so they will feed you
Feed your carrots monthly with liquid kelp and EM (effective microorganisms) – their roots will thank you for it!
Tip #5 – Harvest don’t thin
Personally, I don’t thin my carrots – instead, I wait until they have grown for a few months and then I carefully harvest every other one and eat as gourmet carrots – and then leave the others to mature.
Also remember that a greening on top of the carrots is not poisonous, unlike potatoes.
Once you have tasted a freshly plucked, juicy, sweet carrot from your garden, there will be no going back to shop-bought ones!
Did you know that the key to creating healthy soil is to cover it over autumn and winter?
With abundant rainwater and a drastic reduction in pests and disease, winter crops are the easiest to grow. But, whether or not you like to grow a winter food garden, it is paramount to cover your soil to prevent weed growth and to restore the soil food source.
The easiest way to improve soil fertility is to sow green manure crops. Their long root systems gather nutrients from the depths of the soil and they absorb nitrogen from the air, fixing it into the nodules on their roots.
Green manure crops also provide a valuable carbon source and increase the humus in the soil. The best thing about these plants is that they are easy to sow and germinate, and very simple to care for. They only require a couple of weeding sessions and, in return, they will replenish your soil for the next three months.
Mustard is a fast-growing green manure crop, which can be directly sown after your summer crops. Once you’ve cleared out the weeds from your growing space, water the soil and scatter the seed liberally. Mix the seeds into the soil with a rake or by hand, press down and water until germination occurs. If you are in a dry area, water once a week until the rain comes.
Broad beans and lupins are green manure crops that have a longer growing cycle. You can sow seeds in rows and push into the soil, or scatter the seeds and cover with a thin layer of soil or compost, then press down and water.
The key with these crops is not to sow the seeds too deep, otherwise they will deplete all their energy before reaching the surface. Lupins need to be sown about 1cm deep and covered, and broad beans sown twice the diameter of the seed.
The most crucial thing to remember is to not let these crops go to flower. These are sown specifically for fixing nitrogen to the soil, so cut them down or pull them out before flowering occurs, otherwise the nutrient goodness will leave the soil and transfer to the flower.
Once ready, green manure crops can be cut just above the soil and dropped straight on top, so that the root will release nitrogen into the soil and become soil-available carbon, which will build your soil sponge and soil web.
Alternatively, green manure crops can be dug into the soil by using a spade and turning it over, or you can pull the whole plant, and then chop up stalks and use as a mulch elsewhere in your garden.
Whichever method you choose, these fantastic crops will deliver their magic! So, give your soil some love, and sow a green manure crop today.
This article was published in the New Zealand Herald’s food and wellbeing magazine, Be Well. Look out for my monthly column in the New Zealand Herald’s Monday food and wellbeing magazine Be Well and on EatWell.co.nz.
How to grow a winter garden that will nourish you all season long
Many gardeners sadly assume that a winter garden is boring and choose to focus on summer growing only. This is such a shame to me – not only is a winter garden easier to grow in as you have far fewer pests and disease to manage, but the tasty harvest is reward enough! This month, I’ve decided to focus on my favourite winter veg to grow and my top tips for mastering these crops.
There’s so much to love about the brassica family. Packed with nutrients,this powerhouse family includes broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
In order to offer up those dense nutrients on your plate, the brassica family subsequently like rich soil, so I recommend that youenhance it with well rotten manure or your previous season’s compost. Your brassicas will love you for it, and the nutrients you put in will come back to you when you harvest. Remember, if nutrients aren’t in your soil, then they can’t be in your food!
A great addition for brassicas to enrich their nutrients is crushed up egg shells scattered around them, as this adds calcium into the soil which they adore!
I plant brassicas in April and May which gives them a good start before slugs and snails come out of summer hibernation. If these critters do become a problem, I usually break the lower leaves off and put them around the base of the plant. Doing so has proven to me that the snails and slugs will eat what is in front of them, rather than climb the plant. This method has successfully saved my plants, whilst the slugs and snails have also been allowed their fill! I also found that 10pm in the evening is a good time to go out and catch the blighters!
Peas and Broad beans are good winter/spring staples and, in warmer climates, will produce by July/August if sown in April. These are also nitrogen-fixing legumes that will help to replenish your soil ahead of next season’s growing – a wonderful bonus!
Carrots and beetroot
Personally, I sow two lots of carrots and beetroot – one in April and the other in May. After May, the growing season slows down for the months of June and early July as we approach the shortest day of the year.
I have found that most things planted in June will just sit in the garden doing nothing until the end of July when we have more daylight hours, so my top tip here is to get your winter veg in the ground before June. Then you can sit back and rest as the nights draw in.
When you sow your carrots, make sure you direct sow them into previous season’s fertiliser (and not this season’s) as too much nitrogen will cause them to fork.
Direct sow beetroot too, as it grows much better this way. It’s a fabulous companion with all plants, so you can pick wherever you like to plant them amongst your garden and they like a rich, new composted soil.
I also sow coriander, rocket, arugula and winter salads at this time of year – this gives me a good harvest through winter until early summer before the heat hits and these plants go to seed.
Remember coriander doesn’t like too much sun, so choose a spot that is half-sun and half-shade which avoids the heat of the day. Just scatter your seeds into the ground and they will pop up, as transplanting coriander can cause root damage and stunt growth.
Arugula likes to be inter-planted with anything, and it’s a great, spicy green for winter.
So what do you like to grow at winter?
If you haven’t given a winter garden a try before, make this season your first! And if you’d like support and are keen to grow your knowledge as a gardener, come discover what the Grow Inspired Academy is all about. We’re still welcoming members right now, but just for a few more days!
Happy gardening and Grow Inspired!
Lots of our summer plants are being affected by fungal diseases this month — these include tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, squash, cucumbers and capsicums to name a few.
The highly-prevalent foliar diseases around at the moment are downy and powdery mildew that affect the cucumbers, squash and zucchini families. These appear on leaves and stems as a white powdery substance that spreads rapidly throughout your plants, causing leaves to curl and the overall health and production of the plant to suffer.
Powdery mildew is an airborne fungus spread by wind, rain, humidity, yellow and black ladybirds and humans. Preventing its rapid spread is the key, and good hygiene with your tools and hands is very important as it can get on your tools or gloves then spread to the next plant you touch.
Wipe your tools with methylated spirits and wash your gloves regularly. Spray plants with a good organic oil before removing the leaves as this will stick the fungus to the leaf to prevent spreading when the leaf is removed.
Downy mildew is a different fungus affecting the above plants and is again spread by airborne spores. There are many different types of this fungus and they are plant-specific — so the one attacking your cucumbers is a different species from the one attacking your brassicas. The difference between downy and powdery mildew is that downy mildew can overwinter in your soil waiting for you to plant next spring.
Make sure your plants are well fed and watered as plants that are weak will be affected more.
To make an organic homemade spray for controlling the spread of these fungi, take one tablespoon of baking soda, half a teaspoon of natural liquid soap and four litres of water and mix. Spray this mixture all over your plants — on the leaves, under the leaves and down the stem — on a weekly basis.
Blight is a fungal disease that affects tomatoes, potatoes, capsicums and eggplants. It appears as black or brown spots on the older leaves of your plants, and as they grow, round rings will develop and leaves will curl and turn yellowy-brown. Blight will kill the tissue in leaves, stems and fruit, and stunt the growth of your plant. Blight is spread by fungal spores that can be carried by the wind, insects and overhead watering.
Spray the plant with a good oil or soap spray to stick the fungus to the leaves, pull the plant out and discard, but avoid putting it in your compost.
A good way to process your diseased plants is through Bokashi fermentation which I have had great success with to control the above diseases.
This article was published in the New Zealand Herald’s food and wellbeing magazine, Be Well. Look out for my monthly column in the New Zealand Herald’s Monday food and wellbeing magazine Be Well and on EatWell.co.nz.
With the daylight hours on a rapid decline, it is time to think about clearing out your summer garden, making and turning composts, and planning for your winter planting.
‘Winter planting??’ I hear some of you cry! Yes – that’s right; a winter garden can be just as rewarding as a summer garden. Juicy heads of broccoli, that perfect cauliflower, leeks for a hearty winter soup, delicious sweet carrots and roasted beetroot. Yum yum!
With this in mind, I would like to tell you that growing a winter garden can be a lot easier than a summer garden, as there is no stress about water and definitely not so much stress about pests, as most of them like to overwinter until the following spring.
Here’s my top tips on how to clear out your summer garden:
The following suggestions are purely based on my gardening experience over 30+ years, growing organic fruit and veg.
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. Fungal diseases, like blight on tomatoes and potatoes, will not die in your compost pile, so I urge you to be careful. I completely avoid putting any tomato or potato plants in my compost just in case they take disease with them.
As an aside, I must say I have had a great year for tomatoes, with literally no blight or pests and disease! I have a feeling it could be from a good feeding programme; planting them on Bokashi and being in a windy spot. They have thrived and continue to do so even now, albeit at a slower rate. Incidentally, I had a disastrous year with zucchini and pumpkins; with them having hardly any female flowers. But, on the bright side, the flowers have been delicious to eat! #gratitudeofagardener
When clearing your garden, make a note what has been growing there and if it did well or not, and 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 #funfact. Also, if you have planted beans this year, they are a legume and will have fixed nitrogen to the soil for you.
With the moon going down, now is the time to think about planting leeks, as these have a long growing season. If you plant them on Bokashi; mulch well and water in, they should be fine. But remember that these are hungry plants so, if you have no Bokashi or vermicast, add a good rotted compost before planting. With the moon in this phase, it is great for cleaning up the garden and making compost, which could be ready in time for June planting.
Take the time to plan your winter garden and decide which beds you will rest over winter. Also decide which beds you will plant with a green manure crop. 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.
In these times where water is the new gold and having our own food security is essential, we find ourselves wondering how to keep food growing in our backyard throughout summer with water restrictions in place and sky water at a minimum.
Awareness and mindset are important. It starts in the soil – the more alive your soil is, the more water-holding capacity it has. Thick mulching and knowing how and when to water your plants for maximum absorption is a great place to start.
Watering plants at the root source enables the soil to absorb all you give it, rather than overhead watering where there’s a high rate of evaporation, leaf burn and plant stress. This in turn creates an open invite to pest and disease, and is a waste of water.
A good mulch keeps the moisture in the ground and encourages roots to go deeper into the soil layers where the water is held. It also stops the topsoil from drying out and going hard and crusty where water will then run off rather than be 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.
Remember to water your plants in the cool of the morning, before the sun gets too hot. Watering in the morning also provides moisture to plants all day long rather than at night when your plants are sleeping. When the sun is shining photosynthesis is happening -a process where plants 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.
Top tips for saving water
There are many ways to save water from the home to water your plants each day. 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:
- Arm yourself with a few 10-litre buckets and vessels to place in sinks and anywhere there is a tap. 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!
- Put bowls in sinks to catch every drop that would otherwise go down the drain. 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.
- If you use environmentally-friendly products, you can use this water for fruit trees, however, vegetable plants prefer water without these products.
- Tip the collected water into a watering can and give each plant about a cup of water each day, or three cups every three days at the stem only. Little and often is much more productive for your plants’ growth, rather than a big drink once a week.
This article was published in the New Zealand Herald’s food and wellbeing magazine, Be Well. Look out for my monthly column in the New Zealand Herald’s Monday food and wellbeing magazine BeWell and on EatWell.co.nz.
Did you know that insects sense vibrations? Rather than looking at your plants and thinking ‘mmm, they look tasty’, they instead feel the vibration of your plant to determine whether it is healthy or not.
If your plant is struggling, weak or diseased, it will have a much lower frequency vibration than a plant that has great health and a strong cell structure. When insects feel the lower vibration, they will lay their eggs on that plant and the plant will become a host for their eggs to grow. This is why infestations can occur at hatching time. They are attracted to the lower vibration. Nature always preys on the weak – it is nature’s way.
So how do you ensure your plant has a high-frequency vibration that repels insects? With great soil health – which in turn nourishes your plant and supports production.
It all starts in the soil, HEALTHY SOIL = HEALTHY PLANTS. Also remember what grows in your area at each given time of year, with the given climate you have to work with. Now as the climate changes, we are all seeing that we must adapt what plants we grow. Some plants may no longer be suitable for your areas due to climate change, so it is better not to fight against nature with this and suffer disappointment – change the mindset and embrace the new things you will be able to grow.
Top tip: If buying a plant from a nursery or garden centre, it is imperative to check the plant carefully and really look into the plant itself and under the leaves for any sign of disease or insect presence. You don’t want to make the mistake of introducing a problem you didn’t already have by choosing the wrong plant, so this is really critical. Plants are typically weakened by travelling from their nursery to the garden centres, and so it is easy for them to fall prey to one of these along the way…
It is also good to check to make sure the plant isn’t root-bound in the pot. By this, I mean that the roots are growing out of the bottom of the pot or round and round in the pot, which is an indicator that they have been in the pot way too long and they have become stunted in growth, thus making them more susceptible to pest and disease.
I strongly encourage you all to get to know your plants. Over this summer period in New Zealand, I have received many messages about whitefly infestations in kale and what to do about it.
My advice would be to use nature. This is a host plant in summer for your whitefly and they will stay on this plant, so simply let it become a sacrificial plant. The ladybirds will love you forever – they lay their eggs in here and their nymphs will munch their way through about 1,000 whitefly per day.
Learning to understand nature is very, very important to the organic gardener and remembering that there is a reason for everything.
I recently visited my local garden centre and couldn’t help overhearing how many customers had questions about growing this wonderful summer fruit. Let’s take a look at how to grow healthy, juicy, and delicious tomatoes, and keep them producing all summer long.
Types of tomatoes
There are two types of tomatoes — plants that grow in a bush and plants that cascade (which need staking). The bush varieties are self-supporting (no staking needed), produce early in the growing season and tend to produce a lot of fruit at once. The staking varieties produce more consistently and have a longer growing season.
Pests and diseases
To prevent pest and disease attacking your tomatoes, a key action to take is to create airflow around the base and throughout the plant. This lets the wind through and can keep your plant free of pests and disease.
To thin the leaves, remove the first 30cm of lateral stems and leaves from the ground by snapping them off at the main stalk. Try to do this on a windy day to enable the “wounds” to heal and prevent them being infected by disease.
Remove unwanted lateral stems regularly, unless you are using these to espalier (attach) your plant along a trellis, where one tomato plant can produce along a two-metre span.
Tomatoes are hungry plants and need regular feeding on a weekly or fortnightly basis. However, they don’t like too much nitrogen, which encourages excessive leaf growth. They prefer phosphorous and potassium in higher quantities, which can be found in a kelp and organic fish emulsion fertiliser. These nutrients will improve the fruit crop and aid in preventing blossom end rot.
If you have a fireplace, a side dressing of potash (wood ash contains potash) throughout the growing season will give you a natural supply of potassium; apply at the base of the plant and water in well. Chopped up banana peels around the base are also a great source of phosphorous. Liquid feeding your plants over the summer months is preferable as the plant can absorb this more effectively than a solid fertiliser.
Tomatoes also love a feed of themselves! When removing leaves from the plant, soak in a bucket of water overnight, or for up to two days, then pour it back on around the base. You can also add kelp and fish fertiliser to this mixture.
Watering your tomatoes on a regular basis is essential for even and productive growth. Watering three times a week is enough; this encourages their roots to go deep into the soil where it is cool. If you’re growing tomatoes in pots, fill the base tray with water so the plant can pull it up from the bottom.
Always water the base of the plant and not the leaves as this can cause pests and disease,
and wastes water as there is less absorption. And to help prevent pests and disease, always water in the cool of the day, preferably in the morning.
Remove yellow and diseased leaves from your tomato plants and dispose of them separately from your compost to prevent the disease cycle repeating itself. Happy gardening!
Look out for my monthly column in the New Zealand Herald’s Monday food and wellbeing magazine BeWell and on EatWell.co.nz.
Woolly aphids can present quite a problem at this time of year, so here’s how to protect your garden and summer crops from these pesky pests the organic way.
What are woolly aphids and what are they doing to my garden?
Did you know that there are more than 4,000 types of aphids worldwide? The woolly aphid is just one of these, but they seem to be everywhere right now – so let’s get cracking!
Woolly aphids are white and fluffy and often look like blobs on your trees, but when you take a closer look and get your hands in there, you will find lots of tiny white threads which, if you pull apart, reveal the aphids sheltering underneath. Woolly aphids generally appear on older trees and also on trees that have suffered stress, too much shade, not enough food or lack of water.
How do I know if I’ve got a woolly aphid problem?
Woolly aphids are particularly fond of apple and pear trees, often laying their eggs in the cracks of bark or damaged wood. They can form bubbles in your young wood and, if you cut this bubble, you will see thousands of eggs inside, which can then split to form cankers on your trees.
After the summer months, these damaging pests can move down to the roots of your trees where they can create untold damage out of sight from your vigilance.
What damage do woolly aphids do in my garden?
Aphids are known for their power to suck the life out of your plants. Not only will they weaken and destroy plants, they can also spread disease as they go. They secrete honeydew which in turn attracts ants and wasps, who feed on the sugary substance. Sooty mould will more than likely grow on the honeydew.
Over the past few years, I have had a few clients battling with these insects and, sadly, no matter what we have done, the tree has not recovered, as the infestation is so big and most of it unseen.
What can I do to control woolly aphids in my garden?
You can try to remove these pests with your fingers or a stick, squashing them as you go, which creates a real sticky red mess, but usually they will reappear in a week or two.
There are a few things you can try like EnSpray 99 and Pyretherum, but I find these only keep the population at bay.
Here are my top five tips to prevent woolly aphids using organic methods:
Tip #1: The best preventative is to plant your tree well in the first place – mulch around the outside, plant with beneficial plants underneath it, and keep your soil and plant in optimum health.
Tip #2: Planting nasturtiums in your garden, somewhere away from your fruit trees, can act as a sacrificial crop, with woolly aphids infesting these plants instead and keeping them away from your trees. When the nasturtiums die back from infestation, carefully remove the plant and burn or dispose of wisely.
Tip #3: Members of the allium family, like onions, garlic and chives, can help repel many aphids and planting alyssum and borage around your garden will help attract beneficial insects that will eat up thousands of aphids a day.
Tip #4: In the summer months, plant a barrier of marigolds around or nearby your trees as the smell will repel woolly aphids.
Tip #5: The best advice I can give here is to keep your plants at optimum health, inspect them thoroughly when buying them and plant beneficial and sacrificial plants in your garden.
Good luck and happy gardening!
With December upon us, many of you will be harvesting your garlic this month. Harvesting garlic is such a rewarding experience – there is a feeling of delight when you pull that bulb up from the soil to see the fruits of the past six months of growing.
There is nothing like the taste of eating your fresh garlic pulled from your garden bed. The question is what are the best practices for drying and storing garlic for the months ahead.
Harvesting garlic needs to be done carefully – if your soil is dry and hard, you will need to use a fork to loosen the soil around the bulb. Otherwise you could pull the garlic and end up snapping the stem from the bulb.
Once pulled, garlic is best hung in a dry cool place with lots of airflow. For those of you that plant and dry with the moon, pulling your garlic in a fire or earth sign will have the best drying qualities. Fire signs are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius and the Earth signs are Capricorn, Taurus and Virgo. When you pull garlic in one of the above signs, it won’t hold as much water as opposed to pulling it in a Water or Air sign. The 11th and 16th of December are perfect days for your garlic harvest this year.
When you have pulled your garlic, gently shake off the dirt and either hang or lay on racks in a shady breezy area to dry for 2-3 weeks. Remember not to bang the bulbs as this will cause the cloves to bruise.
After this drying time, your garlic skins should be dry. It is good to cut off the roots close to the bulb and remove any yellow leaves. At this time, you can also cut down the stems to a smaller size and bundle together in 4-6 bulbs, tie and hang until the garlic bulb can be twisted off of the stem. If you have soft neck garlic, it can now be plaited and hung in a cool dark place.
Be mindful to brush all the dirt out of the root stubble and to eat any bulbs that are damaged -otherwise you could be prone to mites getting in and ruining your garlic. Remove any rotten bulbs as this can affect the rest of your crop.
Garlic will store for 6-8 months if given the right conditions of a cool dark airy place. Remember to check periodically for soft bulbs and mites.
I save my best-looking bulbs for next season’s planting and keep in a separate paper bag so as not to be tempted to eat them. I have found that bulbs keep better as a whole rather than splitting them up into individual cloves.
I wish you all a successful harvest and a happy Christmas.