With food shortages imminent, the responsibility shifts to each of us to feed ourselves. A fantastic way to do this is growing food that can feed us throughout the season and beyond.
So, this month let’s focus on my top picks – potatoes, kumara, pumpkins and jerusalem artichokes. These fantastic crops will grow with little care and store well in the pantry, feeding us for longer. Tubers are fuss-free, simply needing to be fed, mulched and watered, and the magic of Jerusalem artichokes is that they can be left in a permanent, dedicated bed and harvested when needed.
Now is the perfect time to start to prepare your ground with well-rotted compost for your summer sowing of pumpkins and potatoes. Remember – take the time and effort needed to properly prepare your growing beds because, if a nutrient isn’t in the soil, it can’t be in your food.
Early potatoes can be planted now, with your main crop going in over the following couple of months.
When choosing your potato varieties, it is good to check whether they are a main or early crop. This is because early crops are best for consuming over the summer months, and main crop varieties will store over winter months, if treated to the right conditions.
There are also some delicious maori potatoes available for planting that offer a tremendous depth of flavour and creamy insides, just perfect for the summer salad.
When planting potatoes, it is always good to remember to mound them up with dried grass, soil or straw, as this will encourage more potatoes to form. You can also grow them in a tub or big container and mound as you go.
Potatoes are ready after the flower turns backwards; then it is time to cut the stems off just above ground level and leave for a few weeks, as this will help the skins harden off before harvest.
Now is the time to put your kumara tubers into a sand box for them to grow kumara tupu. Tupu are rooted shoots which grow from the parent kumara and can be pinched off and planted out to form a kumara plant around late October-early November.
Kumara can take anything from 120-150 days to mature. A good indication of maturity is when the leaves start to turn yellow. Bush beans act as a great companion for kumara, as they fix nitrogen to the soil for the kumara to lap up.
Seeds for pumpkins can be sown already in warmer climates.
I tend to only plant two varieties of pumpkin as they can cross-pollinate. I select one that is a short-keeper like a butternut or buttercup, and one that will store well over the winter months. For this, I like the Queensland blue, as it produces reliable fruit year in year out and stores well, under the right conditions.
When choosing your location for your pumpkin plants, be sure to give them some afternoon shade if possible, as they can suffer with extreme heat. If your garden sees little shade, I recommend planting near a taller plant like corn or climbing beans that will provide shade for your pumpkins. Remember also that you only need to water at the planting point, and not the whole plant.
Jerusalem artichokes like to be planted about 10-12cm deep and about 30cm apart. It is best to have a separate, permanent bed for these and just dig them out when required to eat, as they don’t store well once out of the ground.
They grow well in big pots, if you don’t have too much space, and are delicious roasted. In the late summer, they reward you with sunflower-like flowers. After flowering, cut just above ground level and wait for the stems to start to die back; then dig as required.
After you have finished harvesting, put a good layer of compost on and mulch and then the following year they will pop up when they are ready.
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