Last week I popped into a local garden centre and was taken back on all the new season’s stocks of things that we should be getting organised to do.
Spring vegetables and flower seedlings, seed potatoes, asparagus crowns, liliums, strawberry plants, fruit trees and ornamentals to name some of the main lines.
The weather has been mild (except for the cold or wet blasts that have passed through) and more importantly the daylight hours are increasing very quickly. The growth is happening and so it is time to get gardening.
Keen gardeners like an early start and by providing any necessary protection for the more tender plants it is time to get cracking. Lets look at a few of the jobs we should be doing.
Seed potatoes can be purchased now to sprout and green up for planting out in a few weeks time.
I strongly recommend gardeners to grow a few spuds as home grown taste so much better than any that I have purchased (the exception would be a few commercial growers such in Southland who do still produce good tasting spuds).
Recently I came across a few self sown potatoes when clearing a small garden plot, nice big firm tubers that I cooked for tea that night. I can still taste the lovely flavour and made the comment at the meal table, ‘this is what spuds used to taste like’.
The first thing to do once you get your new seed potatoes home is to lay them out in wooden trays, not quite touching. To break dormancy they need to be in a warm situation and if you have a hot water cupboard that is an ideal place to put them, to get the ‘eyes’ moving. As soon as this happens, take them outside and place in a protective spot such as under a carport or shrubs. They need good light to ‘green up’ and harden the new shoots. The area where you are going to plant them should be forked over to loosen the soil, a trench dug about a spade depth and the sub soil forked to loosen.
Place a small hand full of sheep manure pellets and a table spoon of gypsum under each seed potato with a little potash and BioPhos. The new sprouts should be facing upwards and then covered with a little soil. As the new growths come through cover with more soil. This protects the foliage from frosts and on days that a frost is likely that evening, you need to ensure that the foliage is protected with a layer of soil. The continual covering with soil forces the stems to grow tall and it is along these stems that the new potatoes will form. The longer the stem the more new potatoes. Once the danger of frosts has passed, or by using Vaporgard (the spray on frost protection) after the mounds have reached the desired height should prevent frost damage. Early types will be ready in 60 to 90 days and late types taking 120 days.
Protection against blight can be obtained with a monthly spray of Perkfection and if blights appear then a two weekly spray of Liquid Copper should also be applied.
Asparagus crowns are planted at this time of the year also and the secret of a successful bed that will produce ample asparagus for many years starts with forming a deep, rich bed.
A sunny situation is needed but choose one where the tall summer foliage will not shade other vegetables. In other words at the back of a sunny garden. Dig out the soil to a depth of 30 cm for the size of the bed required and fill the bed with a mix of mostly animal manure and a little soil. Then cover with a couple of centimeters of compost. The crowns are laid out on the compost with their roots spread out like a star fish. Then cover with another 75mm of compost. The first year you just allow the plants to grow their ferns and when mature in the autumn they are cut down, being careful not to drop seeds into the bed. In early winter apply 100mm of rotten manure over the bed and if available a layer of seaweed. If you do not have access to seaweed then apply Ocean Solids at the rate of 35 grams per square metre. The frosts of winter will do the breaking down of the manure and spring will herald the appearance of new shoots. A light harvesting of some shoots maybe made in year two and this is done by cutting through the shoot 1 cm under the soil. A longer harvest period in year 3 and by year 4 the bed will give you a full harvest for about a month.
Peas can be sown this month if you like to grow a few for those really freshly shelled peas.
The only problem is to get the peas to germinate in cold soil. To overcome this make a shallow trench and place fresh grass clippings in the trench with animal manure and Rapid Lime, cover with a layer of compost and lay the pea seeds on the compost at the right spacing. Cover the seed with more compost and then water in with Mycorrcin. The grass clippings, manure and Mycorrcin heat the soil and your peas germinate quickly and grow fast with all that goodness. Peas are not frost tender but can be damaged by powdery mildew. If the mildew appears spray immediately with a solution of one heaped tablespoon of baking soda to one litre of warm water with one mil of Raingard added.
This is the best control and prevention for powdery mildew that I am aware of and can be used over any plants safely except for oxalis where it kills the foliage. (Pity about that). A two weekly spray program using Liquid Copper and Raingard should be commenced over fruit trees and roses to protect the new growths from a range of diseases. The advantage of the Liquid Copper over the powdered forms is there is little chance of blocked jets which is the curse of any powder type sprays.
I have a plum tree that each year has two problems, bladder plum and brown rot.
Now that Ocean Solids and Simalith are available I gave the tree a dose of these two mineral rich products last August, before the tree started moving for the new season. I decided not to spray the tree at all except for an occasional spray of Magic Botanic Liquid. The result was interesting as I only found a couple of fruit that had the bladder plum disease and about 5 with brown rot later in the summer.
A very good result and so again I have applied these two mineral products to not only the plum but all my fruit trees and roses.
These two products are only applied once a year for the likes of fruit trees and roses and the theory behind this is if a plant has every possible mineral available then it builds a strong immune system making it difficult for disease to establish. Then it is only a matter of keeping the soil moisture level up and avoid the use of chemical fertilisers and sprays, applying animal manures and compost instead.
Placing a filter on your garden hose tap to remove the harmful chlorine is also desirable in maintaining a healthy soil.
Minerals such as calcium, sulphur and magnesium are very important for your gardens and these are obtained by mixing dolomite and gypsum together 50/50 and applying it to all gardens including cared for lawns. In the vegetable plot where tomatoes and potatoes are not going to be grown Rapid Lime can also be added to the mix. Calcium is the fuel that feeds the soil life along with animal manures and compost.
A recent phone call from an elderly gardening couple in Christchurch confirmed once again the fact that chemicals only cause problems in the garden. They told me that they have started using my suggestions in regards to their roses, avoiding rose fertiliser and chemical sprays as they are sick of always having diseased roses. They told me that they have a sister in law who has fantastic roses, feeds them sheep manure and never sprays at all. It is very true; Work with Nature, feed the soil and everything will come out rosy.