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Patch from Scratch December’09 – January‘10 – Organic vegetable gardening

With our new baby arriving soon and so many people away over the summer we have decided to let this newsletter cover January as well.

We finally got our chickens last weekend, Bella and Rose. One is a Sussex and the other a Barred rock.  We are going to be using their manure to put lots of goodness in the soil and getting them to clean out the vege beds once their crops are finished.  Of course there are the eggs too, although Miss Renee thinks they will be hatching into chicks.  I think one baby to look after will be enough for now, maybe next year we can venture down that road!

I planted a patch of sweetcorn a couple of months back and it is looking fantastic.  I’ve planted some melon seedlings in amongst it which are going to meander in all the free space at ground level.  If you are growing melons, once they begin to fruit, put the fruit on a brick for extra added warmth.

Plant gender

Have you ever wondered why some lettuces develop hearts and others don’t, why some corn stems are so thin and spindly yet others thick and strong.  Reading one of Esther Deans books recently gave me the answer.  As you may know, some plants are male and others female.  But did you know you can find out the gender of the plant by tying a nail to a 15cm thread of cotton to make a pendulum and holding it over the plant.  If the plant is female the nail will rotate clockwise in a circle, if male it will oscillate from side to side and if neutral it will remain stationary.  How fascinating is that!

Soil health

You can use much the same pendulum theory for testing soil.  Hang the pendulum over a clump of soil.  If the pendulum remains motionless then there is no life in the soil, so you will need to add humus.  If the pendulum oscillates from side to side it is indicating that the soil is negative and therefore needs to be rested.  Add some more layers of compost and peastraw on top of the negative soil and within 12 months it will be fertile and rich again.  Lastly, a circular motion from the pendulum indicates positive soil, rich in humus, nutriments and ready for planting!

If you ever come across it, Esther Dean’s book ‘No Dig gardening and leaves of life’ is full of great tips.

Successive Planting

With all the exciting summer veges coming along it’s easy to forget about the cooler months of autumn and dare I even mention winter!  But, if you want to be eating from your garden year round you’ll need to have some cool weather crops in the ground by the end of January for sure. Make sure there’s something new coming through once all the beans and tomatoes have finished.  I love purple sprouting broccoli, which you can buy as seedlings from the Oakdale Organics range or as seed from kings seeds.  Last winter I had 3 plants which kept us going with a meal a week over the entire winter.  Once you’ve taken the main head side shoots sprout out and you can just pick these as you need them and let the plant continue to grow.  As a general guide, broccoli & cabbage take 3+ months from seed to harvest and cauliflower can take up to 5 months depending on the weather.

Climbing Beans ‘n’ Peas

These both look great running up tepees, A frames, obelisks and fencing.  Don’t crowd plants too close together, especially the peas as it’ll be more likely they fall victim to powdery mildew.  Tui products have a new eco range, one of which is specifically for powdery mildew and has a base of baking soda.   Alternatively you could make up your own by making up a spray  – scroll down for details.  With both beans and peas the more you pick the more they will produce.  If you missed planting peas in early spring, wait until nearer the end of summer as they are a cool weather crop and a great filler when other summer veges are finishing up.

Patch helping hands

Once again, Patch helping hands is calling out for Garden projects for 2010. Now in our 3rd year, we are looking for communities who could do with a helping hand in setting up a vegetable garden.  It may be that they need materials, lessons, a working bee whatever, the main criteria is that they need to be a community of some sort who want to set up a garden (or have already and are a bit lost).  This is the community involvement part of the business, where we give back and try to spread the knowledge by helping community groups get a vege patch up and growing.  To date we have helped a diverse range of groups, from womens refuge and a food bank to a school and a mental health recovery centre.  If you know of a group or are in a group that would benefit from starting up a vegetable patch or having an existing patch revitalized please email us on sarah@patchfromscratch.co.nz

Bushy basil

Summer wouldn’t be complete without basil, whether you like it tossed in a salad, mixed into a pasta sauce, layered between tomato and mozerella or just simply straight out of the vege bed.  Get the most from your plant by pinching out the tips, to encourage growth.  Later in the season, pinch out any flowers to keep it producing leaves for longer.

Passion Vine Hopper

Passion Vine Hopper Nymph Passion Vine Hopper adult

The passion vine hopper over-winters as an egg, usually inserted into a plant stem      (they generally prefer soft stems).  From October onwards and for around three months they are in nymph stage and can be recognised by their little fluffy tails.  Following this they reach adult stage and look like a small brown moth.  In the vege garden, passion vine hoppers are most frequently found on beans, berry fruits, kiwi fruits and citrus.  Also be aware of nearby flowers that they maybe inhibiting. Braken, lantaria, flax, hydrangas and jasmine are amongst their favourites.

Passion Vine Hoppers may not look as though they are causing much damage on the surface, but they are sap suckers and will take the goodness from succulent shoots, leaving plants and fruits stunted, wilting and distorted.

In order to successfully get control of the Passion Vine Hopper it is important to consider not only the adult moth that is around now but any eggs that will be over-wintering.  If you are following a crop rotation then uprooting all the stems at the end of the season will get rid of any eggs within these stems assuming you dispose of them accordingly (don’t put them in the compost).

If they have infested perennials then you may need to bring in the big guns, the natural & organic ones that is!

  • Mix up a spray of ½ Neem tree oil and ½ garlic and Pyrethrum spray it after dusk on the affected areas.
  • Repeat 1 x week for a month then fortnightly until all gone.

Also, get some Neem granules and spread around the base of affected plants.

The Neem granules breakdown into the root zone then translocate through the foliage.  When eaten the pest gets a small dose of Neem and will then die later.

The Pyrethrum is deactivated by UV and is harmful to bees as well as other beneficial insects, so only use in the evening. Only use Neem in the evening too.

In addition to this, you can plant some companions that repel the Passion Vine Hopper such as Chamomile, Coriander, Geranium, Marjoram, Petunia, and Yarrow.

Powdery Mildew

Powdery mildew is a common, but damaging fungus.  It affects a number of plants,  Beans, courgettes, pumpkins and cucumbers as well as fruits and flowers.  There are a number of different types of powdery mildew and each type is specific to the plant it is affecting. The yellow and black spotted ladybirds feed on the fungi, which you’d think would be a good thing, but actually they spread it more than they eat it by carrying spores under their wings!    It doesn’t directly hit the fruit, but the damaged leaves can’t feed the fruit as well, and the fruit can be damaged by the sun as a result of less leaf cover. There are number of things you can do to help prevent and control it.

  • The safest organic remedy for powdery mildew is to mix 1 teaspoon baking soda, a few drops of liquid soap and 1 Litre water then spray on affected leaves.
  • Neem oil can also be used. This is a commonly used bio -pesticide in organic farming. As well as repelling a variety of insects it controls powdery mildew, black spot and rust. But do take care when using it and avoid it if completely if you are pregnant or trying to conceive! Yikes!
  • Ensure good airflow around plants by effective spacing, pruning dense foliage, and keeping the ground weed free.
  • Water the ground around the plant and try to keep the hose off the leaves as humidity can speed up the growth considerably.
  • Make sure you clean up your garden and discard of any affected plants and debris well at the end of the season to get the spores out of your garden.
  • Following a 4 yearly crop rotation is very important to minimise the extent of the powdery mildew damage. If you replant next season in the same spot then the spores will be prevalent in that area leading to an even bigger problem next growing season!

What to plant in December

Beetroot

Broccoli

Carrot

Capsicum

Celery

Climbing beans

Cucumber

Dwarf beans

Eggplant

Globe artichoke

Lettuce

Leeks

Kumara

Parsnip

Pepper

Potato

Pumpkin

Radish

Rhubarb

Rockmelon

Silverbeet

Spinach

Spring onion

Squash

Swede

Sweetcorn

Tomato

Turnip

Watermelon

Yams

Zucchini

What to plant in January

Beetroot

Carrot

Celery

Climbing beans

Cucumber

Dwarf beans

Lettuce

Leeks

Kumara

Parsnip

Pepper

Potato

Pumpkin

Radish

Rhubarb

Silverbeet

Spinach

Spring onion

Swede

If you want to grow your own veges and could do with a helping hand to get the right start, then you may want to seek help.  Patch from Scratch offers an all inclusive service building vege beds for beginner organic gardeners and busy people and helping you to get up and growing.  We also offer Kits sets for DIY enthusiasts and a consultancy service for people who really want to do it all themselves but just need a bit of guidance.  For more on our services go to www.patchfromscratch.co.nz or call us for details 09 525 7897 / 021 334 603.

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