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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy gardening!

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

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

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

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

Where should I plant tomatoes?

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

What soil type do tomatoes need?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy gardening!

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

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

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

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

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

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

My advice? Waaaaaaaaaaait.

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

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

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

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

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

Do you want low acid tomatoes?

Do you prefer the small cherry tomatoes?

Do you want organic heirloom tomatoes?

What colour tomatoes do you desire?

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

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

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

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

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

Happy gardening!

A recipe for summer success: how to grow crunchy organic sweet corn

Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at some of the summer plants and what you need to know to grow them successfully in your gardens at home.

This week, I feel inspired to start with corn.

Whilst a lot of people shy away from planting corn, I absolutely love growing it for the pure satisfaction of eating the fresh crunchy delicious organic cobs sprinkled with sea salt and slathered in delicious organic butter. Yum Yum Yum.

Corn can be a pretty easy crop to grow as long as you have the correct requirements. It is very easy to interplant with cucumbers, as the stems will serve as a support for the cucumbers to grow up.

Corn requires the following conditions for the ideal recipe for success:

  • full sun in a sheltered spot
  • a fair amount of water in the hot summer months
  • water-retentive soil, full of nutrients
  • deep containers or a well turned over bed for their big root system.

Top tips for preparing your soil to grow corn:

The most important thing to do to grow successful corn is to make sure your soil is very well prepared with loads of manure, preferably chicken manure.

Corn also requires your soil to be water retentive, so digging in a couple of buckets of Bokashi prior to sowing is the best idea, as Bokashi in the soil improves the water holding capacity.

Top tips for choosing the spot and the time to plant corn:

Plant away from the prevailing wind for best results.

I always grow from seed, as most seedlings available in the shops have stunted root growth due to being planted in shallow trays, which is a terrible start for your plants.

If you decide to sow by seed, it is imperative this is done before the end of November to be sure it has a long enough growing season. If planting by seedling you have up until December. I usually sow a few extra seeds just in case they don’t all germinate.

You can expect that a plant with enough food will form properly and produce anywhere from 2- 4 cobs.

Did you know:  When you a buy a corn in the shop and the corn pearls haven’t formed at the top, this is because the food and water in the soil ran out for the plant.

Once your seedlings have appeared, cover with mulch and a net until they are about 20cm high, as birds are particularly fond of these plants.

Top tips on how to sow corn:

When sowing your corn, it is advisable to plant in blocks and not rows, as this enables more pollination of flowers and if a strong wind does blow in they will support each other. You can stagger your corn harvest by planting early and late maturing varieties. Your corn will be ripen when the tassels at the top turn a golden colour and your cob has started to move away from the stem. Pluck your corn, soak in water with the husk on and put it on the bbq. Nothing more satisfying.

Companion planting with corn

These days with the awareness of chemical sprays, many people want to grow more and more of their own food. Remember growing anything is possible when you give it the right conditions. Corn can also be grown in a deep container if you have no garden.

Beans grow well interplanted with corn too, especially runner beans or pole beans as these will wind up the stalk and you will save space! Remember that beans will fix nitrogen in the soil as an added source of food for the corn.

Corns companions in the garden bed are beans, cucumbers, sunflowers, pumpkins and zucchini, celery and potatoes. Corn does not like to be planted near tomatoes, so make sure to plant these in another bed.

A good regular spray with EM (effective microorganisms) and Liquid Kelp will keep your plants happy all summer long!

Happy gardening

What is pricking out seeds and why do you need to do it?

Following last week’s blog on the benefits of sowing your own seeds, I wanted to address the next stage for you – pricking out and transplanting seedlings.

After a seed has been sown, if they are small seeds, it is usual to prick them out into a bigger container to enable the seedling to get bigger before transplanting it. This is to let the root system establish – things like lettuce, bok choi, celery, tomatoes, chilli and the tiny plants.

When the seedling has formed four leaves, it is then strong enough to be transplanted or potted up. This can be done by preparing a deeper tray with potting mix, vermicast or compost. I generally use a mixture of vermicast and spent compost. The reason I use the spent compost is really for a bulker and I add the vermicast for food to grow the plant.

Really, the key to success here is to treat your seedlings as delicately as you can and give them a boost of nutrients prior and post transplanting, to avoid any unnecessary shock.

Top tip: Vermicast and worm wees are excellent health tonics for your plants and can really prevent any negative impacts of transplanting.

I tend to spray all my seedlings with liquid kelp and effective microorganisms when I transplant to give them a good start and also to help them with the shock of being moved.

How to transplant your seedlings

Water your seedlings half an hour before you are going to transplant them. This is done to maximise the plants growth and reduce the stress. It is the same if you buy seedlings from the garden centre. Most of them will arrive quite thirsty and transplanting a dry plant simply starts its life off under stress.

Prepare your tray and water; then make a hole with your finger and gently tease the seedlings apart, avoiding touching the roots. Plop it into the hole down to its first leaves and squeeze the soil around it. When all are transplanted, gently water the soil around them. Try to avoid wetting the leaves as they are very vulnerable at this stage and could suffer from damping off if watered above.

Now is the time to leave your seedling outside to harden off and get adjusted to your climate.

With the bigger seedlings like corn, cucumber, zucchini, beans and pumpkin, I recommend that you wait until three to four leaves have formed and then they are ready to go straight into the garden. Make sure your site is prepared and watered.

Top tip: When transplanting your seedlings be sure to know how big they grow so you can get the correct spacing, especially with the likes of zucchini that grow 1m x 1m.

When transplanting directly into the soil, make sure you plant the seedling down to its’ first leaves, as this will enable stronger roots and less stress for the plants. The deeper the better, as it will create a stronger root system for your plant when the gusty winds come along.

Once planted, mulch your plants heavily to protect from the elements and water at the base every couple of days in their first two weeks of life. Give them love and watch them grow.

Over the next few weeks on the blog, I’m excited to share my recommendations about individual plants and their growing requirements so you’re all set for a super summer!

Happy gardening!

Learn how to sow seeds with my 12 steps to success!

With all the seedlings available in the shops, people have forgotten the art of sowing seeds.

Whether due to convenience or lack of knowledge, we’re missing out on this cost-effective gardening ritual. In this blog, I’m going to share the basic art of seed sowing with you. I encourage you to go out and give it a try this spring and reckon you won’t go back once you do!

Why should I sow my own seeds?

I prefer to sow most of my own seeds as it gives me the control of my own environment. Though we don’t always realise it, many pests and disease arrive on the plants that we buy in the stores. You literally pay to introduce problems to your own garden!!

These seedling plants also get extremely stressed, especially with the warmer weather coming and pest and disease on the move – not a great start to life for them. How many times have you visited the garden centre and they are watering in the middle of the day or overhead watering? This is a sure-fire way to cause disease and plant stress!

How do I sow my own seeds?

Let’s imagine you know nothing of seed sowing. Follow these simple 12 steps and you’ll be on the garden path to success!

Step 1: Buy good organic seeds. This is going to be the fundamental basis to set you up for a great season ahead. My own unbiased recommendations include Kings Seeds, who have a good range of organic seeds; Running Brook Seeds, which is fantastic; and local seed banks are also a great place to start looking.

Step 2: There are usually heaps more seeds than you will need, so think about talking to other people and see if they are keen to share a packet. Seeds are the most cost-effective way of growing food or plants, and you can make it even more so!

Step 3: Open the packet and tip a few seeds into your palm, observing the seeds’ size.

Step 4: Smaller seeds need less depth to sow in than larger seeds. I usually sow small seeds into a container that is a depth of 7-10 cm and larger seeds in a container that is 14-20 cm deep. The benefit of this is to avoid wastage of the growing medium.

Step 5: Select a good organic seed raising mix for the finer seeds and an organic potting mix for the bigger seeds. Fine seeds need a fine mix to germinate.

Step 6: Pour the mix into the container and pat down to remove the air.

Step 7: Water, leave, water, leave, water, leave, water. This will enable the mix to absorb the water all the way through and not just on the top layer.

Step 8: With fine seeds, I tend to use a twig to make a depressed drill across the container, east to west. Sow the seed about 3-4 times the diameter of the seed, cover and press lightly. I also recommend that you label your seed to help keep track. You can sow many seeds in the same tray.

Step 9: For really fine seeds, you can sprinkle these on the surface of your mix and pat gently.

Step 10: Larger seeds get pushed into holes 2-3 times the size of the seed. I make my indentations with a finger, then drop the seed in, cover with soil and add my label.

Step 11: Protect your seeds from the bizarre weather we are having lately by either starting them off indoors or covering them until they have germinated.

Step 12: Water with a gentle spray every couple of days. The exception to the rule is beans, which should be watered only when they have germinated.

Next week, I will share my top tips on pricking out your new seedlings. Give seed sowing a go this spring, and let me know how you get on!

Happy gardening!

How to organically treat and prevent whitefly in your garden

It pays at this time of year to focus on pests as they get started for another season. Following last week’s blog on citrus, it’s a great time to talk about whitefly and how to keep your lemons – and all your other delicious plants – safe from this pesky insect!

We will learn how to treat an infestation and – even better – how to prevent them.

So what are whitefly?

Whiteflies are tiny, white, sap-sucking insects that are only 1-2mm long. The nymphs (babies) and the adults both suck the sap of a plant. This makes the plant weak, and whitefly can also spread disease which arrives when the plant lacks the immunity to fight it off.

When the weather is warm and humid the pesky whitefly breed like rabbits! The female lays her eggs, anywhere from about 250 – 500 eggs on the underside of the leaf. They are cunning little creatures, so it always pays to look under the leaves on your plants regularly, as you won’t see the damage until it has taken hold and weakened your plants.

The eggs hatch into crawling, sap-sucking nymphs anywhere between 4 and 12 days. They crawl away from the eggs and flatten themselves onto the underside of the leaves and stay there until they become adults. They go from egg to adult in approximately 25 days.

When whitefly feed on the sap of your plant, they excrete honeydew which, if left on the plant, can cause sooty mould to grow on the leaves, which in turn can prevent photosynthesis and create poor health.

If you’re not familiar, photosynthesis is the process used by plants to gather energy from sunlight, water and carbon dioxide (gases that are in the air) and out of this, they make glucose which is what every plant needs to survive.

So how do I treat whitefly organically?

Whitefly that live in a greenhouses are different from those that live on outside plants, which is important to be aware of when you’re treating it.

I use Enspray 99, Kelp and EM all together as a combined  secret weapon to protect against whitefly. Enspray 99 is a bio gro certified organic product I sell, which is effective by sticking to the leaves when sprayed. It then suffocates the whitefly and also acts as a deterrent for more egg laying. I add Kelp and EM (Effective microorganisms) to it for optimum plant health.

When spraying, tap the plant first and spray in the air as whitefly will naturally fly upwards. Give the plant a good soaking on the underside of the leaves. Within a week, if you rub the underside of the leaf, the whitefly will come off. Usually, I will repeat this process on a monthly basis, but if it is really bad, I will spray every two weeks. Remember to always rinse your sprayer out and pump some clean fresh water through the hose and nozzle to prevent build up.

In a greenhouse, hang up yellow sticky traps – you can even make them at home with yellow card smothered in Vaseline and a hole punched in them and hung up.

How can I prevent these pests?

A good diverse range of beneficial insect plants will help, as these will bring in lacewings that feed on the whitefly – harnessing nature to take care of your problems.

Sacrificial plants are a great organic method to prevent whitefly – essentially these plants will become the host plant of the infestation, and could eventually die, as this is its purpose.

Calendula officinalis, Nasturtium and Nicotiani are all great sacrificial plants. When you have these in the garden and observe the flowers, you will see early warning signs of whitefly as they love these plants.

Plants that whiteflies particularly like are citrus, brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower and kale) and in the greenhouse, they seem to love a lot of plants!

In the summer months, I don’t eat my kale as I use it for a host plant for the whiteflies. This means they will all gather there and lay their eggs rather than on my other summer plants. Nature working in harmony!

Sign up to my newsletter to receive extra tips and tricks and check out my products page if you’e on the hunt for some solutions. I’ve launched my Essential Spring Summer Bundle this week with a special discount exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, so sign up to access discounted prices!

Happy Gardening everyone!

Top Tips to Give Your Lemons Some Love Right Now

In this week’s blog, let’s take a look at citrus, lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins and kefir.

If you have these citrus trees in your garden or on the patio in a pot, you will notice that now they are in flower as well as bearing fruit.

Citrus trees are gross feeders and like a good fertilize at least 3 times a year. They have a lot going on for them right now with using energy to grow flowers and energy to hold fruit, and the ground is also drying out right now, creating extra stress.

If your trees are yellowing, this will mean they are hungry. They are a bit like a growing teenager – they need fuel!

Also at this time of year, you may see their leaves curling, which is a sure sign there are bugs underneath the leaves sucking away at the plant’s goodness.

If you have ants going up and down your tree, this is a sure sign you have a scale infestation. This is because scale secrete sugar, which then attracts the ants. A quality oil and some liquid kelp combined in a sprayer will help sort this out, remembering to spray under the leaves and around the base. Apply this weekly until the problem has gone.

A good mulch around the drip line (the outer branches of your tree) and the tree in general will help with the dryness. Citrus really need this as they have very close to the surface-feeding roots.

If you have a young tree and it gets laden with fruit, please remove some of the fruit as too many fruit will cause the branches to get stressed and even break. My advice would be to do this for the first 3 to 5 years while your trees grow to maturity. This will help the branches to become stronger and the roots to become sturdier. 

Now is the time to take a really good look at your trees. What you hope to see are trees looking lush, with uncurled leaves that are a good, dark green. Please check under the leaves – as soon as the weather turns warmer, this will bring the white fly, among other pests, and they just love weak citrus trees!

Next week, we will talk about citrus pest and diseases and how to take preventative action now ready for the summer growth before the start of the pest and disease cycle.

Happy gardening!

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How do you know when to plant for summer?

It’s that time of year again when I get asked a lot 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!

Happy gardening!

How to plan your garden for Spring with six simple questions!

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!