Easter Gardening 2013 – Wally Richards

Easter is here and for many working people it is a great time to get the summer gardens cleaned up and preparations made for the coming winter.

It is also the last chance to do some late plantings of vegetables and flowers for winter use and colour.

In the vegetable garden you can do a late planting of winter type brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. As white butterflies are still flitting around the garden you can place some Neem Tree Granules in the planting hole and about a tablespoon full on the soil around the plant.
This helps reduce damage from the caterpillars and gives the young plants a good start.
Further protection can be done by cutting the base off 2 litre clear plastic bottles and place one of these over each plant with the cap removed. Once the plants have settled in and started growing nicely you can speed up their development by watering in a weak solution of nitrogen.

There are two ways this could be obtained, take a few handfuls (or trowel Ed.) of fresh chicken manure (or any other manure) and place in a large bucket filled with non-chlorinated water. Stir occasionally and once a week take about a litre or two of the solution off and apply about 100mls per plant after having watered the area they are growing in. Do not pour over the foliage just on the soil in the root zone.

The other way is to take Urea or sulphate of ammonia and place 50 grams into 10 litres of water to dissolve the granules. Apply about 500 mls of this to each plant after watering the area.
The use of these nitrogen rich solutions can only be used weekly for about a month to boost growth before the winter chills strike. About the middle of April you have to firm up the growth gained by applying about a level tablespoon of sulphate of potash (potassium sulphate) to the soil around each plant previously treated. Lightly water in preferably with Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL)
The above treatments can be applied to both vegetable and flower seedlings planted at this time.
A further advantage is to place a few sheep manure pellets and a little blood & bone in every planting hole, cover with a little soil and then in with your seedling.

If you have been growing capsicums or peppers in open ground over the summer you will likely loose these to the chills of winter. That is a waste in my mind as given adequate shelter these plants will keep on preforming for you right through the winter and for a few years with care.

If you would like to keep them going pick out the best preforming plants and spray the foliage under and over with Vaporgard and leave for a few days. This helps reduce transplant shock when you lift them and pot them into a small bucket or 20 cm pot. Use friable compost for the extra mix needed.

Place the pots initially in a sheltered semi shaded area while they settle down.
Later place back in full sun and as winter settles in, move them to a sunny frost free spot or into a glasshouse/conservatory to grow on through the winter. During winter keep the pots a little on the dry side during the cold times.

This leads me to the next point at this time of the year reduce your watering of the gardens.
With many areas in drought mode you are already restricted to the amount of water you apply which is good.

Too much moisture during the cooler months does more harm than good.
As the cooler weather comes we need to firm up our garden plants and the best way to do this is to sprinkle some Fruit and Flower Power around the garden. The product contains both magnesium and potash in balance which means it will firm up growth and aid in keeping the foliage green.
In areas where early frosts are likely you need to spray any frost tender plants with Vaporgard.
This natural product gives plants frost protection down to minus three for three months within 3 days of application. A further application can be applied in June. If you have two or more frosts in a row, night after night, additional protection will be needed.

Preparations for sowing new lawns or patching up existing should be well underway at this time and if you have ensured that most of the weed seeds in the area have germinated and the resulting weeds killed you can, if you have no water restrictions, sow your lawn seed.
If you want a good lawn you have to sow a top quality lawn seed. Super Strike is one that I am lead to believe is of very good quality. Spray the seed after sowing with Magic Botanic Liquid to enhance germination.

Now that autumn has arrived roses and a number of other plants are coming into their end of the season time and thus Nature takes over and diseases such as black spot, mildew and rusts will appear.

This is natural and you will waste your time and money trying to combat them now.
On the other hand young plants such as celery, pansies etc should be protected with sprays of Liquid Sulphur or Baking Soda. Insect pests such as whitefly and leaf hoppers are also coming to an end as the winter seeps in. It is still an advantage to keep up your sprays of Neem Tree Oil to ensure that their populations will not be too high next spring.

In both the vegetable garden and flower garden you can let one of each plant go to seed to harvest the seeds later on for next season. This is a great savings as the seeds are free.
Easter is also a good time to have a look around your garden and check the shrubs and trees to see if they are starting to crowd each other and gauge if any are causing problems for your neighbours.
Trim back all offending ones so that each plant receives its share of sunlight.

Trimmings should be put through a chipper and mulched back over gardens or placed in the compost.

It is free food for your gardens so don’t waste it.


March Gardening

It is March already, first month of autumn and only 5 weeks till daylight savings ends.
Daylight savings gives us a perception that the days are still long, with a good amount of time in the early evening to do a few jobs outside as well as water.

We run by the clock on the wall or our wrist, while plants run to the universal clock of the sun. They (the plants) have been watching the days shorten and they know that winter is looming.
Strawberries are right on the button with the seasonal change and have for a few weeks now, been producing runners which create new strawberry plants.

Strawberries have the ability to reproduce in three ways, seeds on their outer skins, runners in autumn and by clumping.

A few newer gardeners have asked me recently what to do with the runners on their strawberry plants.

It all depends on whether you would like some new young plants for your own use or to give to a friend. If this is the case then all you need to do is ensure that the runners move over the soil so the young plants formed at the nodules can root into the soil.

You leave them attached to the parent plant till about May and then you can cut the runner and lift the new plants for re-planting. If you do not want any new plants for yourself or friends then the best thing to do is cut off the runners as they appear and keep all the energy in the parent plant.
Either way, to promote healthy plants, new or old, a 2 weekly spray of Mycorrcin should be applied to both. Mycorrcin is magic on strawberries and with its use can increase your crop by 200 to 400% as well as assisting in keeping the plants healthy. A healthy bed of strawberries can produce well for several years till the clumps get too big and production falls. On some varieties of strawberries you will find a late crop of flowers and berries, on others they will be finished fruiting for the season.
It pays to have a mix of types so that some will produce a nice crop in the autumn.
March is the last chance for most areas in New Zealand to plant out seedlings of brassicas for winter.
The problem with planting seedlings of cabbage etc at this time is the big populations of white butterflies that are out laying eggs.

You can do one of two things to reduce the problem of caterpillars destroying your young brassicas;
Place Neem Tree Granules in the planting hole and also on the surface of the soil.
Replace the soil surface granules with fresh about every 6 weeks.

The other alternative is to use the new insect proof crop cover over your plantings.
I have place this over recent plantings of cauliflower/ broccoli and the plants are growing well without any way the butterflies even know they are there.
It’s a joy to see perfect plants, insect free. For more information about the crop cover contact me.
With your flower garden keep dead heading the roses and other plants to retain a further flowering before winter. (On those that will carry on flowering)

Mildews are a problem and sprays of either baking soda with Raingard or potassium permanganate
(Condy’s Crystals without Raingard) will help with control for a while.
As autumn progresses more damage will occur as its nature ending the plants for the season so at sometime give up and let nature take its course.

Did you know that the seed pods on fuchsias are edible?
Some fuchsia pods are delicious where others are so so. If you want to collect the seeds inside then don’t eat the pods.

And in other news:

Later this month the En
vironment Protection Authority (EPA) is looking at some of the chemicals that are used commercially and in the home garden. On their web site they state; The formal application being released today relates to a group of 29 organophosphate and carbamate active ingredients, or formulations containing these active ingredients, that are used for plant protection purposes. The application includes a number of recommendations for these substances, including recommendations either to revoke, phase-out or retain some approvals.

Hopefully this will eliminate a number of dangerous chemicals from the home garden market.

Happy Gardening!

Wally Richards




Christmas Time – Wally Richards


Firstly I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Gardening New Year.
This will be the last weekly article till after the New Year which means I get to have a couple of weeks break from writing.

I am not going away and will be working on the non-statuary days; thus I will be available to take your emails and phone calls if you have any queries or problems.

If I happen to go out there is a very good answer phone system where you can leave your phone number.
Likewise if you have a gardening problem and you email me the details include your phone number as it’s easier for me to phone rather than reply to an email.

This is important if I need to ask you more questions to find the right solution to the problem.
Some gardeners take photos of the problem and email them to me; that is a good idea as it gives me a better idea as to what is happening.

I have been providing this service free to gardeners now for over 30 years and it’s always a pleasure to help.

Those that are going away over the holiday period should endeavour to have a friend or neighbour visit your home most days to attend to the garden in regards to watering, picking mature vegetables and fruit, looking after indoor plants, clearing mail and mowing lawns.
This not only keeps your gardens up to scratch but also provides security for your possessions.
If you have pets they can also tend to their needs but in the case of dogs it would be better to have a friend house sit while you are away instead of placing your loved pets in a kennel.

Dogs are a different matter compared to cats who don’t mind a stay away as they are more aloof.
Dogs on the other hand love the security of their human pack and if not their humans at least their territory where they feel most comfortable.

It’s also good piece of mind while you are away to know that someone is there looking after things till your return.

Make a list of what needs to be done in regards to watering, feeding animals etc so the home carer knows what to do and a phone call to them now and then will also be worthwhile.

As you harvest your summer crops and space is available start planting your winter crops.
Firstly put a good dose of manure (chicken manure if possible) over the garden, sprinkled some Rok Solid and Ocean Solids then covered with purchased compost which should be weed free and free of herbicides if purchased from a top brand such as Daltons or Oderings.
Likely you are going to be planting brassicas (cabbages etc) so sprinkle soft lime over the area and place Neem Granules in the planting hole and on the surface of the soil.
The worst aspect about growing winter brassicas is they have to grow through the worst time for white butterfly caterpillars.
The Neem Granules are a great solution for this and when working for you, then the caterpillars don’t get past the first bite stage after hatching out of their egg case.
The granules on the soil under the plants should be refreshed about every 6 weeks.
If you want early leeks then they should be planted out as soon as possible.
Unfortunately most leek seedlings come in punnets and they are fairly spindly. The ideal planting out size is about as long and as thick as a standard pencil or nearly so.
If the plants are  small then break them into clumps, make a deeper hole and half fill with chook manure place a little soil on the top of this then the clump of little leeks.

Every week water some liquid chook manure and Magic Botanic Liquid over the clumps until they get to a better size for lifting and planting out.
It is also a good time to plant some late tomatoes, sweet corn and cucumbers so that as your older plants  start to fizz there will be fresh ones producing into winter or till they are knocked out.
If you don’t have room in gardens then plant in larger containers using purchased compost with animal or chook manure added.

A good planting of Silverbeet about now will give you heaps to crop right through winter.
Silverbeet is usually free of most insect pests problems and if not planted too close together; so there is good air circulation, then leaf diseases will be reduced.
By harvesting the larger outer leaves on a regular basis will also assist in better growth and less problems.

Where ever you see pest insects, get onto controlling them as quickly as possible as where there maybe a few one day in next to no time there can be hundreds.

Sprays of Neem Tree Oil will help keep the pests at bay without hurting beneficial insects.
The oil will also help protect against a number of leaf diseases such as black spot, rust etc.
It apparently helps keep possums and rabbits off roses and other plants and great for fleas on animals.

If you add Key Pyrethrum to the oil you have a fast knock down and control combination but this spray will affect beneficial insects as well as the pests for up to a day after spraying.
Hopefully you are organised for Xmas and the New Year and if not going away spend some time gardening. If neighbours or friends are going away you could offer to check their gardens and water as need be. It is also good to pick any ripe fruit while doing so as either the birds will be encouraged to peck the fruit or it could rot where it is and cause premature rotting to other fruit nearby.

Once again have a great Xmas and travel safe.

Wally Richards


When to plant

A gardener with a good micro-climate; as a result of the terrain, or by established trees, making a sheltered hot spot which can be planting out a month or more before it is safe for another gardener to do so, just up the road. When you buy packets of seeds you will find on the packet the average best sowing times for various regions. This information is general and unless you know your own growing conditions, succession sowings should be made about 2 to 4 weeks apart.

If the early plantings fail through weather conditions, your later attempts will be, much more successful, as the weather settles. Over a period of years you will become a better judge of when to sow and plant out.

A gardening diary giving weather conditions each week and sowing times will make a great reference for the future plantings. Keen gardeners like to beat nature and grow plants out of the normal season so they can have early crops and this can be done with a glasshouse, or the use of plastic film over wire hoops to warm the garden soil and protect the germinated seedlings from adverse weather conditions. Early plantings can also be assisted by placing plastic bottles over the individual plants after cutting the bottom off and removing the cap. The most important aspect is when not to plant out seedlings of vegetables.

Late plantings of vegetables towards the end of autumn means they have only a small window of growth, which is progressively slowing down day by day. In mid-winter growth can reduce to zero and immature crops will just sit waiting for better times. As the daylight hours extend and the soil warms, they then get a growth spurt but because of the previous conditions the plants feel their lives have been threatened and will grow on a bit and then go to seed; this is called bolting.
Thus the crop is a failure, a waste of time and money. Crops of winter vegetables are planted in summer to grow to near maturity as winter sets in. In doing so they will mature, ready for use in winter and hold nicely over the cold winter months.

For instance, leek seedlings can be planted out in December through to February for succession, winter harvesting. Brassicas, such as winter cabbage and brussel sprouts can be planted out later in January through till March, dependant on varieties (maturity times) and succession requirements.

The worst problem with brassicas grown for winter is that the young plants have to face the problem of the white butterfly’s caterpillars when the pests are most active. Place Neem Tree Granules in the planting hole and sprinkling some onto the soil, around the plants will greatly assist in control.

Refresh the granules every 6 weeks with a few more onto the soil. Stress on vegetables that are not grown for their fruit (cabbages etc. as opposed to say tomatoes) can make them go to seed prematurely.

Two ways this can happen, one is purchasing seedlings that are in punnets and have become root bound and likely have suffered stress through inadequate watering.

Always look for the very young fresh seedlings of non-fruiting plants to purchase, even if you need to grow them on in their punnets till they are of a nice size to plant out.

The next problem can occur during the spring when weather conditions fluctuate from nice warm sunny days to cold miserable days. The plant’s growth responds to the sunny warm days and then they sulk in the cold windy days. This stress of change, makes the plants believe that conditions are not good and their lives are threatened, so all they want to do then is produce babies,  then they go to seed.

Often not straight away as they have to reach a certain level of maturity to be able to flower and thus several gardeners have contacted me recently to ask why their early spring plantings have gone to seed.

A number of gardeners also like to do late plantings if they live in areas not prone to early frosts.
Late plantings of sweet corn in January can often result in a second harvest of cobs before winter sets in. Tomatoes sown from seed in December and January should give you more ripe fruit after your earlier plans have finished.

You do not even have to sow seed, as you can strike the laterals (side shoots) to make a new young plant, once it has formed roots. To do this; fill a small pot two thirds full of compost and fill the balance to the top with sand or fine pumice. Remove a lateral which should be about 6cm long and place it into the sand to about the depth of the sand. Moisten down and keep moist. When the plant stands up and shows some new growth then the early roots have formed.

If you spray the laterals with Vaporgard a day before you remove them off the parent plant, you will have a new young tomato plant quicker. When removing laterals off tomatoes or old leaves, it is most important that you do not do this during humid or moist times as a disease can enter the wound and you lose a good plant. Remove laterals on a nice sunny day when the air is dry and as you remove each lateral, spray the wound with Liquid Copper.

It is still not too late to plant seeds of summer crops unless you live in an area prone to early frosts.
Keep the soil moist at all times using non-chlorinated water. (Put a filter onto your tap to remove the chlorine) It makes the world of difference and your crops will grow quicker and healthier.
Gardeners that use tank water or are fortunate to live in a town/city that does not dose the water supply with this chemical poison, do not have to worry about a filter.

If you do not have room for a vegetable plot then use containers or planter boxes to grow as many vegetables as possible. Fill the containers with good quality compost, not potting mix.
Much better for your health and pocket 😉

Happy gardening – Wally Richards

Grass Grubs

Grass grub time…

Gardeners are always complaining about their lawns being damaged by grubs which include Grass Grub, Black Beetle Grubs or Porina Caterpillars.
If the grubs are not eating the roots of the grasses the porina are eating at the base of the grass causing bare patches in lawns.

When any of the above pests are active then you will have starlings and black birds ripping your lawn apart to obtain a morsel of food.

This is especially so at this time of the year when the birds are nesting and seeking food for their hungry young.

I had a call this week from a gardener thanking me for the idea of catching porina moths in a light/water trap. The trap, which I will explain later, was a result of information that I received from a farming gardener from Taranaki. So I can’t take claim to its invention; I did however invent the wheel but that’s another story…

I said to the gardener “you mean grass grub beetles not porina moths don’t you?”
He replied “no the moths and he is catching lots every night using the trap.”
His comment was that it must be helping with the porina problem and that grass grub beetles had not emerged as yet in his area.

Well I had never figured on the trap being a moth catcher but when you come to think of it the Porina Moth is fairly large and if it hit the pane of glass at speed it would likely fall into the water trap below.

Anyway let me explain the trap from my first book; Wallys Down to Earth Gardening Guide;

This native grub which grows into an adult beetle (Costelytra zealandica) has become a menace to both lawns and pasture ever since New Zealand was settled.  The pioneers converted native bush and forest to grasslands, but prior to that the native grubs feasted happily on tussock and native grasses without managing to upset the balance of nature. Once our forebears opened up acres of pasture grasses, the populations of grass grubs exploded not really surprising, as each female beetle can lay 100 or more eggs in just one month.  These grass grubs are found only in New Zealand, and are a good example of how the changes man makes to the environment end up altering the delicate balance of flora and fauna, resulting in major long-term problems.

Grass grub adults emerge in October, and are active until about mid-December, depending on weather conditions and exactly where they are in New Zealand. The cooler the temperature, the later they emerge.  The adults will start to emerge in mild conditions, when the soil temperature reaches about 10 degrees they then mate, fly, eat and lay eggs in the short space of time between dusk and early evening.  As they tend to fly towards light, you are most likely to know they’re there when the flying beetles hit your lighted window panes.

This very attraction for the light has become one of our best weapons in controlling the pest in its adult stage. You can set up a grass grub beetle trap by placing a trough, such as the one used when wall-papering, directly underneath a window near a grassed area. Fill the trough with water to about two-thirds of its capacity, then place a film of kerosene on top of the water.  Put a bright light in the window, the beetles fly towards the lit window, hit the glass and fall into the trough.  The kerosene acts as a trap, preventing the fallen beetles from climbing out.

You can extend this method to areas away from the house by using a glass tank, such as might be used for an aquarium.  Place the empty tank into a tray containing several inches of water (and the kerosene), and position a light inside the glass tank. By adding a sheet of ply or something similar over the top of the tank, you will ensure that the light shines only through the sides of the tank above the waiting water and kerosene.  It is better to use a dome-shaped battery-powered light rather than an ordinary torch for this job as the bigger light makes the trap more effective.
If the tray and tank are raised off the ground and placed on something like a table, you will get an even better result.

However you set up your beetle trap, this is a very good method to dispose of the pests. Simply get rid of all the beetles caught the next morning.  Run this system (call it Wally’s Grass Grub Beetle Catcher, if you like) from just before dusk to about 2 or 3 hours after sunset.

We know now how to make the grubs’ preference for light work against them, but light can also work in their favour.  If you have un-curtained windows in rooms which are lit at night, you will find grass grub beetles from yours and neighbouring lawns will be attracted to the area during the early hours of the evening.  Street lighting is probably the worst offender, and people with areas of lawn near street lights often find those are the parts worst-affected by grass grubs.

Night lights and solar garden lights will also attract the pests, especially in areas which are normally dark at night. One gardener complained to me that her cyclamen corms and begonias, situated in containers on her porch, were being eaten away by grass grubs.  I asked her if the porch light was left on in the early part of the evening, and she said it was.  Clearly, the light was attracting the grass grub beetles, and that was how her corms had come to be damaged.  These pests do love a good corm!

It is also true to say that the closer your home is to paddocks, either on the edge of towns or cities or in other rural locations, the worse still will be the grub problem.  Grub populations tend to build up in country areas over a period of about 7 years, then start to decline before beginning the cycle all over again.  The reason isn’t known, but my own theory is that the rising full moon in the east during the early evening would encourage the beetles to fly towards it, particularly without other distracting sources of light in rural areas. Over a period of time, the pests’ attraction to the moonlight would eventually bring them closer to the coastline, where they would fly over water until they became tired and ended up as food for the fish.

Using the above trap you can reduce the Porina problem also thanks to the chap that called up.
It is much similar to destroy the adult beetles and moths in this way than to control the grubs that hatch out from their eggs.

Happy hunting