It's the last month of spring! Here's what you can do in the veggie garden this month.
Sow from seed: basil, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin, corn, lettuce, radishes, carrots, beetroot
Plant from punnets: tomatoes*, capsicums*, eggplants*, melons*, chili*
*If you live in the colder parts of New Zealand, check your soil temperature before planting (you want 18 °C +) and keep these tender seedlings protected until all risk of frost has passed.
Mulching the Garden
It's the last month of spring. Soon enough the weather will start really warming up. Then it's extra important to mulch our gardens. I'm a huge fan of mulch. Mulch keeps the ground cool and protected.While the sun beats down hard on the top, underneath is cool, dark and damp.
Get that ground covered with chopped green crops and other spent plants, pea straw, barley straw, hay, dead leaves, grass clippings... whatever you can find really.
When the weather is hot and the ground dries up, it can take longer for water to seep through and reach your plant's roots. Get in the habit of giving your plants a good long soak every two-three days when they need it as opposed to a quick watering every day. When watering, aim your hose or watering can around the roots of your plants, not the leaves.
If you started off some Kūmara slips a few months back , they can be planted now. Gently ease the slips off the parent Kūmara. You can pop these slips into a glass of water for a few days to grow some roots, or plant them straight into the garden.
Kūmara appreciate a nutrient rich and well drained soil. If you build a mound on top of harder ground, the Kūmara roots will eventually hit that and stop growing down. Instead the Kūmara tubers will start to swell and fatten. Fill your mound with well-rotted compost, aged manure, chopped seaweed and other organic materials.
Plant each slip about ⅔rds deep, bending the bottom roots so they form a 'J' under the soil. As the slips grow and produce their green leaves, regularly lift the leaves off the soil. This stops them growing roots on the surface and taking energy away from the developing tubers. Keep them well watered while they establish themselves. Once the leaves have spread themselves out, they'll act as green living mulch, conserving water.
The green leaves are edible too and absolutely delicious. They taste like a mild spinach.
Feeding your plants
Your plants will appreciate a natural boost of nutrients right now while they are actively growing.
A liquid fertiliser that is high in potassium promotes fruit growth. This type of fertiliser is also good for eggplants, beans, chillis, capsicum, cucumbers and pumpkins. Basically, a vegetable where you are harvesting the fruit, not the leaves. You can buy a tomato fertiliser or make your own using comfrey leaves as comfrey tea is also high in potassium. Simply harvest comfrey leaves, shred them and leave them in a bucket of water to soak for a 2-3 weeks. Dilute the mixture until the colour of a weak, and use it a side dressing around fruiting plants.
Corn, potatoes and kūmara can be fertilised with a liquid seaweed fertiliser.
Practice succession planting to ensure a long harvest time. Sow carrots, beans, beetroot, radishes, and lettuces every 2-3 weeks so you don't run out. I also direct sow a zucchini seed or two every couple of weeks, all throughout summer, to extend my harvest.
When planting from punnets, avoid planting in the middle of the day if it's a hot day. Soak the seedlings in a seaweed tea first to avoid transplant shock and water them well once they are in.
Keep an eye out for bugs that plague your plants! The white butterfly is out in full force now, its little caterpillar offspring ready to annihilate your brassicas.
Checking your leaves manually and squishing the teeny yellow eggs and the green caterpillar is one way to combat this pest. However, using a net to cover your brassicas is hands down the easiest and most effective way to control them.
Alternatively you can use Kiwicare organic caterpillar bio control.
Aphids can also be a problem, on any of your vegetables or fruit trees. If you catch them quick enough you can squish the few there are with your finger (check the undersides of leaves too). If it's a big infestation, spray the aphids directly with a mixture of unscented liquid soap and water (1 tablespoon soap, 1 tablespoon cooking oil to 1 litre of water) or neem oil.
Other pests and diseases to watch for:
Mealybugs, Thrips, whiteflies and mites. The simple soap spray used for the aphids will work on a lot of these pests too. The fatty acids in the soap will dissolve the exoskeletons of the bugs.
Shield Bugs. Look for the eggs and scrape them off as you see them. They are laid in a pretty cluster but are anything but pretty if let loose in the garden! Planting purple tansy around can work as a stink bug trap crop.
Passionvine hoppers. Once adults, these buggers are hard to catch. Control them by vacuuming up their larvae before they have a chance to grow.
Psyllid. Prevention is the best method of psyllid control. If your nightshades were plagued by them last year, drape a psyllid netting over your vulnerable plants! Once the plants become a host for psyllid they can become infected with a disease called Liberibacter.
Powdery Mildew. A fungal infection that can infect nearly any plant. Spray with a mixture of baking soda, soap and water, about half a teaspoon baking soda per litre of water.
Blight. Treat early signs of blight with the baking soda spray above, or an organic copper spray. Late-onset blight or sever blight is harder to treat and it is best to remove the plant and dispose of it in the bin or burn it. Don't compost it as you may spread it to other plants and don't plant the same kind of plant in the same spot. The soil should then be well cultivated to stop the remaining blight spores overwintering and covered with a thick layer of compost and mulch.
A daily little wander in your garden can be extremely helpful in catching what's wrong before it gets out of hand. It's also a nice way to connect with your garden and see the changes happening each day!