Digger Dan’s gardening tips

Digger Dan gives us the lowdown on what needs to be done in our gardens.

Harvesting garlic: this is the time of the year when your crop of garlic can be harvested – once the garlic leaves show symptoms of drying out, dig out the whole plant and shake the soil off it. Trim off the roots and (in warm dry conditions) lay the bulbs on the garden soil for a day or so to dry off. Now the garlic is ready to be dried: Hang in bunches or dry laterally under cover for at least week.

Hazelnut pollination: lately Digger’s been munching on ‘Uncle Joe’s’ Marlborough grown hazelnuts -once you taste these you’ll never eat the imported ones. In the growing passion to grow food those of you who have planted your own nut trees should be aware that your  hazelnut trees can prove tricky where pollination is required: While many hazelnut trees are monoecious (they have male and female flowers), the flowering times can be out of sync meaning that female flowers are not always fertilized because the male flowers  have finished. If this appears to have happened to your trees make a note to plant extra varieties such as ‘Kentish Cob’ or ‘Merveille de Bowiller’ – these are great pollinators.

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Wally Richards: rain + wind = havoc in the garden

The weather is playing havoc with gardens and plants throughout New Zealand.

Too much rain and then not enough, too much wind and temperature fluctuations.  Not ideal gardening conditions and plants suffer as a result.

I have had a number of people contact me in regards to three main things that have been happening to their tomato plants so let’s look at them and suggest what can be done to help or prevent the problems.

1. Temperature fluctuations can cause both Early and Late types of blight in tomatoes and the prevention and control is the same for both.

Early blight:  finding small spots turning to a dark mould on older leaves will indicate the presence of this problem. It occurs in warm wet weather, but plants can be protected with a monthly spray of Perkfection Supa.  If you know the disease recurs in your garden, give additional sprays of  Liquid Copper and Raingard every 10 to 14 days.

Late blight:  Here, you will notice brown, irregular patches on the plant’s stem and leaves.  This problem is particularly bad in cool humid weather, and it can be controlled using the same methods as for controlling early blight. If you have not applied Perkfection Supa and the disease strikes, spray the affected plants immediately with Perkfection Supa at 7ml per litre of water. Add to this 3.5ml of Liquid Copper per litre, with 1ml of Raingard per litre, and spray the plants for total coverage of the foliage.  Two weeks later, reapply just the Liquid Copper and Raingard, then after another fortnight, apply the same again with Perkfection at 4ml per litre. That programme will normally be sufficient to see the problem off, but if either blight returns, re-start the spray programme.  Late blight is common later in the season, but under the right conditions will strike in the spring.

Potatoes and pepinos are also affected by this disease, but you can give them a similar level of protection using the same sprays as outlined here.

2. Next we have the dreaded collar or stem rot disease where we watch a mature plant with lots of green fruit slowly collapse over a period of a few days.

The disease will make itself apparent with the development of a darker area on the trunk – that is where the rot will be happening, blocking the flow of moisture and nutrients from the roots.  Little bumps of aerial roots will often appear just above the rot area. If there is foliage below the part where the rot starts, particularly if it is producing laterals, then you can cut the top off and allow the good part to continue growing.  The chances are you will avoid this disease completely if you don’t remove any laterals, and if the plant succeeds in avoiding any damage arising from being rubbed on a stake or something similar.  One of the ways to prevent any problems is to remove the laterals when they are very small, which means checking the plant every day or two.  Remove them only on warm days when there is low humidity, and spray the cut area immediately afterwards with Liquid Copper. You can make up a solution of this product in a 250ml trigger spray bottle, and it will keep for some time.  Just remember to shake the bottle before spraying.

Removing older leaves might also make the plant vulnerable to disease.  This is another job which should be done only in conditions of low humidity, and always remember to spray to protect.

Humidity levels will often be much higher in a glasshouse, which means special care must be taken to open up the greenhouse and remove some of the air moisture before taking off the laterals. I have heard that if the rot on the trunk is not too far advanced then painting undiluted Liquid Copper onto that area may save the plant.

3. Finally the unpredictable growing conditions may cause damage to leaves especially the lower ones which may twist, curl and be spotted, wither and brown off.  Two aspects here – one is that a lot of tomato strains have a virus which does cause distorted leaves in maturing plants, there is very little that can be done about it other than removing those leaves when they are obviously not gathering further energy from the sun. Weather damage can be reduced by giving the plants more protection by spraying with Vaporgard, erecting windbreak cloth, adding more stakes for support and applying potash once a month.

Another problem a couple of gardeners have mentioned is blotchy ripening fruit which additional potash is needed. If you are using my Secret Tomato food and this happens then it would likely be the weather causing lock ups in the soil. Ensure that you have applied Organi-Bor to the area in the last 3 years (for Boron) and then drench the soil with Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL). Sprays of MBL over foliage every two weeks will make for stronger plants with less health problems.

Neem Tree Oil can be added to the MBL which will then give further disease protection as well as a control for the insect pests such as white fly and the dreaded psyllid.

Talking about insect pests, this morning I was out inspecting what damage the wind had done to the plants and whether the plants in the glasshouses needed a drink or not. On the cucumbers which are coming away nicely I noticed a few small aphids on the fruit that was forming. A closer inspection and the turning over a few leaves I found hundreds of aphid pests on the underside of several leaves, not good, so tonight they will have a bath in Neem Oil and Key Pyrethrum spray. I had the same problem last year on zuchini and because the pests are under the leaves and not readily seen nothing was done till the plants actually started to die off prematurely.
A spray of the Neem and Pyrethrum knocked them back and the plants started to recover.
So with your cubit plants which also includes melons and pumpkins check under the leaves now and then for pests.

Leaf hoppers (the young are called fluffy bums) vegetable beetles, psyllid and other pests must be controlled on plants now otherwise you will have a real battle in weeks to come. Sprays of Neem Tree Oil with Raingard added can be applied late in the day, just before dusk to great advantage in keeping diseases and pests at bay. If you do not add the Pyrethrum you will not harm beneficial insects and only add the pyrethrum when you have a out break of pests on a plant/s so the spray is focussed on the pests. Not a broadcast spray which will affect both good and bad insects.

That’s another of the problems with all the chemical insecticides: they take out all beneficial insects and with some of them they don’t even harm the pest ones, which have now gained resistance to the poisons. Waste of time and money not to say anything about your health aspects.

On the other hand Neem Oil is not a poison and it does not kill anything unless the oil smothers a few pests such as scale and thrips. Instead it either shuts off the insects ability to feed or grow and when that happens they will die after a few days.

Happy gardening!

Wally Richards: January gardening

It might be the beginning of a new calendar year, but we are now actually halfway through a gardening year and there’s plenty to do.

The daylight hours are already beginning to shorten, though most of us will not notice the slow change until daylight savings ends.

Plant leeks now for winter

However the plants do notice and over the next few weeks the decreasing hours of light can be the trigger to flower and reproduce themselves before winter.

The weather forecasters tell us that we have a mild La Nina summer which can keep the normally dry areas wetter and the wet areas a bit drier. That bodes well for gardeners who are having a nice amount of rain falling on their gardens regularly, good plant growth and less need to water.

The downside is that with warmth and moisture comes leaf diseases that will run wild especially where foliage is dense and air circulation is reduced. Powdery mildew, black spot and rust are three common problems that are likely to occur if they are not already giving you problems.  Baking Soda; about a tablespoon to a litre of water with a ml of Raingard added is a great control of powdery mildew and will help prevent it as well. The same can be used for black spot as a preventive to the spread because the alkaline nature of baking soda helps prevent the disease getting started.

You can use the same to dehydrate the foliage of Oxalis to assist in its control without harming other plants. For this purpose use on a sunny day when the soil is on the dry side. With black spot damaged leaves will remain till they are naturally replaced.  Leaves that have black spot on them should not be removed as the rest of the surface area will still collect energy from the sun to the plant’s advantage.

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Wally Richards: Christmas garden pest control

I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas and a great gardening year for 2012.

Your gardens and plants should be looking very nice for the festive season and you can take pride in your efforts over the last few months, when family and friends visit.

Now the weather is starting to improve, you will need to keep your gardens watered and if going away, ensure that moist bare soil is covered with a suitable mulch to conserve moisture.


With improving weather there are a number of insect pests that can spoil our plants if we are not careful. Over the year I have endeavoured to show you how to obtain healthy plants by caring for the soil life and using beneficial mineral products, rather than the harmful chemical sprays and fertilisers.

Many of you have reported back, after following my advice in these columns or from reading my book, that your gardens have never been better. That is great stuff to hear and visual proof of the methods which you can relate to. Keep up the good work.

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Wally Richards: roses in December

If there is one plant I am asked more about than any other, it is a rose.

Gardeners and even non-gardeners just love their roses, going out of their way to have great looking specimens.

Roses do best by far if you throw away all your chemical rose foods and sprays and give them the more natural things that make them healthy and perform well. You need a little Key Pyrethrum and Neem Tree Oil for the aphids and any other pests that might attack the roses. Ensure that the roses have sufficient minerals by applying a little Ocean Solids and Rok Solid to the soil in the root zone. The Ocean solids is applied once a year and the Rok Solid twice a year in spring and autumn.

"Auckland Metro"

A two weekly spray of Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) will make a big difference and if you have been using chemical fertiliser or sprays in the past drench the soil with it also now and then again in about 3 months time.  Avoid using any  herbicides near your roses as it is another factor that can reduce the health of plants because of the chemical’s effect on the soil food web. Also deadly to roses if a whiff of spray drift.

I believe that the soil food web is vital to plants and should be nurtured more than one would nurture the plants growing in the soil. Hence no rose fertiliser or Nitrophoska would ever be applied to have their acid nature damage the web. The non use of herbicides, chemical fertilisers and sprays means my soil is teeming with worms which are the sign of a very healthy soil.  Also water should only be done with non chlorinated water. Get a filter to remove the chlorine from the tap water if it contains chlorine.

If you do not have chicken manure or animal manure such as horse manure available then you can provide  natural base foods such as sheep manure pellets, blood & bone and animal manure based composts.

Every week I receive emails and phone calls from gardeners who have adopted the natural methods I write about and they all tell me that they have never had such great gardens as they now have.

Many tell me that after years of struggling to obtain healthy looking roses (and other plants), using rose sprays and rose fertilisers to no avail, they have changed to the natural foods and health giving products. Within a season or two all the past problems have disappeared and now their roses are even better than they had ever hoped for. There is no secret to this, just work with nature, not against it. If you try to work against nature all you end up with is chemical warfare, both you and the plants are the losers.

So what should you be doing with your roses at this time?

Ensure that they have a little potash and magnesium each month. This can be applied as Fruit and Flower Power (mix of both in balance) or alternatively a little potash and Epsom salts. Dolomite and Gypsum can also be sprinkled every couple of months for the calcium/sulphur/ magnesium that these products supply. Calcium is very important for the health of soil food web. When aphids or other insects are around a simple spray of Key Pyrethrum and Neem Tree Oil, just prior to dusk, will keep them under control.  Roses that repeat flower through the season should be dead headed as the blooms finish.  With newly planted roses just nip off the dead flower head without the removal of any leaves.

A new rose needs all its leaves to gain energy from the sun. Established roses, second year or older should be cut further back taking some stem and leaves with the dead flower head.  This encourages new growth and your next lot of buds and flowers. Established roses can be cut for vases but not first year roses.

Gardeners that have roses that they are not proud of can follow the following procedure to obtain those desired healthy roses:

  • Stop using any chemicals any where near or on the roses.
  • Drench the soil with Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) and Mycorrcin combined and spray the plants with the same.
  • Sprinkle a little Ocean solids, Rok Solid, Dolomite, sheep manure pellets (or animal manure) plus blood & bone, around the root zone then cover the products with compost. Water in with MBL and Mycorrcin.
  • Twice a month till mid autumn spray the soil and the plants with the same two products. Use the key Pyrethrum and Neem Tree Oil if insects attack the plants.
  • In autumn (March) apply the Dolomite, blood & bone, sheep pellets and cover with more compost.

You should see improvements this first season but more so next season.

For those that do have nice healthy roses a monthly spray of MBL and Mycorrcin over the foliage and soil should be sufficient. Feed the roses the natural foods as required, covering with compost.

In the late autumn early winter your roses will start preparing for their winter rest and you should not be concerned about any blemishing of the foliage at that time. It is just nature taking out the foliage and converting it to food for the soil food web. A clean up spray of Lime Sulphur in winter is all that is needed.

It is a successful easy approach to gardening and should be also applied to your vegetable and fruit crops as they are going to provide you with the vital healthy food our bodies need.

Christmas gift idea

Purchase a citrus tree from your local garden centre along with a larger container (about 45 litres) and a bag of compost. Total cost would be somewhere between $30 to $50, depending on the type of container you select. Plant the citrus tree in the container using the compost with some blood & bone and sheep manure pellets along with a hand full of soil mixed in the lower part of the container, where the tree’s roots are going to sit. Back fill with more compost. Ensure that there is about 30 mm between the top of the compost and the rim of the container which allows for easy watering.  Place outside in full sun till you are ready to wrap and present.

If you would like to add a little more to the planting then place say 4 x lettuce seedlings, one at each of the cardinal points of the container. Alternatively 4 x herbs such as thyme, sage, marjoram and chives can be planted at the 4 points.
This makes a wonderful gift that will bring years of pleasure to the receiver.

Any type of citrus will do but choose a type that the person does not have a specimen of already.
I have several citrus trees growing in containers this way and they produce a good harvest of fruit each year.
For a young couple setting up home it can become an annual gift, of a new different type of citrus every year. Start with a lemon and work your way through all the different types such as the oranges, grapefruit, tangelos, ugly fruit etc.