Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Derek's Garden Diary

I did meet one person who searched in vain through last month's
Blueskin News to find out what to plant during September. I hope there
were not many others, although it would be nice to think there are
thousands of disappointed readers out there. If it is any consolation,
due to the flu my garden got about as much attention as the September

Strangely enough, at this time when spring has finally got going, the
vegetable garden is at its least productive. Leeks are sending up
flower stalks so their centres become tough and almost inedible. Leave
a couple in your garden, though, for the globular flowers on a metre
or more of stem are impressive, attract lots of bees and often set
useful seed. Any left over carrots and parsnips are similarly
hard-hearted and hairy with it.

Winter brassicas, kale, sprouts and cabbages will all be trying to
flower but you can pick the small, young flower shoots and eat them as
you would broccoli. They will beat you in the end and you will have a
garden full of dancing yellow cruciferous flowers and attendant
cabbage white butterflies. Toss the plants in the compost heap as
brassicas are a promiscuous lot and the seeds rarely grow into
anything similar to their mother.

Meanwhile the broad bean flowers are likely being ravaged by the
shorter tongued bumble bees and are weeks away from producing pods. In
some years I haven't eaten a broad bean until December. You may be
reduced to last years wrinkly, sprouting potatoes and yams, rocket and
judicious cropping of seedling parsley.

Don't despair. You can plant almost all your summer garden in October.
Early on in the month is fine for peas, carrots, spring onions,
radishes, white turnips, beetroot, and various small leaved salad
mixes like mesclun. Plant seeds of these direct into the garden and if
you want a constant supply, plant some more towards the end of the
month. Don't be tempted to buy those little containers of pea
seedlings. You need hundreds of peas to get a good feed. Plant them
barely a couple of centimetres apart in a row the width of a spade and
if you are prepared to support them with sticks or netting, grow a
taller rather than dwarf variety. Plant out plants of lettuce, silver
beet, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage and sow a few more seeds in
containers so as to keep the supply going over summer.

Later in the month you might like to consider anticipating a frost and
snow free spring and venture into what down here almost qualify as
sub-tropical luxuries; zucchinis and those mini pumpkin or squash
things that look like CD-sized flying saucers and sometimes go by the
name of scallopini – you eat them just after the large yellow
pumpkin-like flower falls off (and all too often in this climate, just
before they start to go rotten). Plant a couple of seeds in small pots
on a warm window sill. If they both come up, pull out one of them soon
after they get their first leaf and when you plant out into the garden
the roots will remain relatively undisturbed.

Planted out in cold weather, zucchinis and the like will sulk at best
and rot at worst so it is best to protect them with a large clear
plastic bottle with the base cut off or simply wait until the weather
improves. December planting is equally as successful. Pumpkins are
just possible down here if you can get them going early enough, plant
them in a warm fertile spot and are happy with something nearer the
size of your fist than your head. Tomatoes outside a greenhouse? Maybe
one year in seven. Corn?

Potatoes are also tropical plants but can be grown as an annual in
climates like Blueskin Bay. Yams are similar. If you do plant them now
make sure you cover the emerging leaves with earth or mulch as late
frosts can kill new growth.

And if you have spent the winter collecting straw, hay and seaweed and
have lots of thick mulch on your ground then take it off again! Let
the sun warm up the ground before planting. Replace it when summer
really gets going and the heat of the sun threatens to suck all the
moisture from the soil.

by Derek Onley

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Warrington, Evansdale, Waitati, Doctors Point), Dunedin, New Zealand.
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