Learning a thing or two

AMY JACKMAN
Last updated 15:11 01/11/2012

I realised when I was reading up on what to plant in spring that my gardening knowledge is pretty non-existent. All I know is what books or Google tell me.

I don't even know if they are correct. It would probably also help if I was good at following instructions, but sadly I often need to tweak what books/Google says and make it my own.

So in the spirit of becoming a better gardener I decided to do a couple of gardening workshops held in Wellington.

The first was a container gardening course run by Innermost Gardens and held at the community gardens at the top of Majoribanks Street.

The second was a seed raising course run by The Kitchen Garden in Ohariu Valley.

Richard Self from Innermost Gardens was a fountain of knowledge on how to grow plants in containers.

We had lessons on everything from beans to bonsai (miniature trees grown in containers).

He was a friendly host and was great at answering all the questions the class fired at him. Innermost Gardens is made up of a group of people working in community gardens around Wellington.

Here are some of the top tips I took away from Richard's class:

- Plants need nutrients, lots of them. Feed plants regularly and prepare the soil when planting. Examples of essential nutrients are: calcium, phosphorus, nitrogen, iron and potassium. Most of these can be added to the soil through fertilizers, blood and bone, limestone, rock phosphate and dolomite.

- Seaweed straight from the beach is great food for your plant. Put a few small pieces in the pot and the plants will soak up all the goodness. You don't even need to wash it first.

- Drywall or gypsum board is great for plants. It is made from calcium sulphate, nutrients the plant needs. Simply take the cardboard off the outside, break some up and put in the soil. It doesn't need to be ground up or mixed into water.

- When growing tomatoes, pinch off the lower leaves. This enables the plant to put all its energy into the main growing head at the top and you will get more fruit.

- When growing capsicum pick the first fruit early, when it is still green and on the small side. This enables the plant to produce more fruit as it is not focusing on ripening the first one.

Rachel KnightRachel Knight (right) operates The Kitchen Garden from her home in Ohariu Valley. She runs a variety of gardening courses and workshops, including a half-day organic vegetable gardening course.

I went along for her seed raising course. This course was fantastic, helped by the weather being nice so we got to sit outside in the sunshine and plant seeds! Rachel was informal and friendly.

The class was also excellent value for money. Rachel provided each person in the class with 28 pots, seeds and soil. She also has a great selection of seeds including many types of beans, lettuce, herbs, zucchini and cucumber.

Some top tips from Rachel's class:

- Seeds should be sown only as deep as double their thickness. If they are 5mm thick then you plant them 10mm deep. The really small seeds should be placed just below the surface. This is because the only thing seeds have to get a shoot above the soil is themselves. If they struggle to get growing then they might not survive.

- Plant 2 or 3 small seeds in a container. Often a single seed won't germinate, which can be disappointing. If you plant more in the pot you have more chance of success. However, when the small shoots pop up take out all but one. This means they won't compete for space or food.

- Cucumbers can be grown upwards. (This was the best thing I learnt in all the classes) Train them to grow up a trellis or a stake or simply tie string gently around the stem of the plant and attach the other end to an overhead crossbar. The cucumber stem has little hooks that will help it to grow up the string. It is important the overhead crossbar is secure enough to take the weight of the plant and fruit.

I'm quite excited to see what happens with all my seeds and to plant them out in a few weeks time.

After both of my classes I'm now eager to find out if my spring veges grow better than my winter ones. The only problem I have now is the time everything takes to get to the eating stage!

- The Wellingtonian

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