3 gardening jobs for the weekend

Once cracked, apricot kernels germinate quickly.
Sally Tagg

Once cracked, apricot kernels germinate quickly.

1. DRY & SORT YOUR BEST GARLIC FOR STORAGE

Garlic is traditionally planted on the shortest winter day and harvested on the longest day in summer, but this season I was running (very) late so I didn't get my garlic in the ground until mid-September.

I had been told that when you plant garlic this late, chances are that it won't form individual cloves; rather you'll get one large clove per stem. But as it turned out, my spring-sown garlic (pictured) wasn't much different to my usual winter-sown crop. Sure, the bulbs were smaller, but that was as much due to the dry spring (our water pump broke) and the fact that the bulbs got bad rust in December (anyone else have rusty garlic this year?).

I dug my garlic last week, in the rain, and  some of the stalks and protective layers of skin have rotted clean off, meaning the garlic won't keep as well. 

When choosing which bulbs to save for seed, which to eat now and which to store, always eat the damaged ones first. Store your garlic in a dry, airy location. Tin garden sheds aren't ideal as they get baking hot in summer; it's better to hang bunches of garlic in the shade of a porch.

2. HAVE A CRACK (LITERALLY) AT GROWING AN APRICOT FROM A STONE

Who says you can't grow big, fat, juicy apricots in Auckland? Our family friend Abbi turned up this week with  a 5kg bag of apricots from the half-century-old tree in her frost-free Beachlands backyard. The tree was well-established when her parents bought the house, and it's still going strong. "We can't keep up with the crop," she said. "There are hundreds of apricots falling on the lawn. The ground looks like an orange carpet."

I know, I know: I nearly wept with envy. But instead, when I'd finished making her first batch into jam, I made her go home and bring me another bag of fruit to bottle – and I saved the pits to have a go at germinating my own tree (or an entire orchard). 

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Though seedling stonefruit (apricots and peaches in particular) won't be an exact match of their parent, they will be pretty close. This means that if you eat a really sweet, tree-ripened fruit, there's nothing to be lost by sowing the seed – and lots of money to save.

Method 1: the easy way

* Eat the fruit and simply sow the whole stone in an unused garden bed or container of potting mix.

* Soak the stones in lukewarm water overnight before sowing, and rough up the skin of the stone with a piece of coarse sandpaper to help moisture penetrate through to the kernel. This method will work, but will take much longer than if you crack open the stones to extract the kernels (seeds) inside.

Method 2: crack & sow

* Eat the fruit and save the stone. Rinse off any flesh attached to the stone and let them dry in the sun for a day or two (this slightly shrinks the kernel inside, so that when you crack the stone open, you're less likely to damage the kernel).

* Hold the stones on their sides and give them a sharp tap with a hammer. The stone should readily split open along the seam, allowing for easy extraction of the kernel.

* Soak the kernels in a small bowl of warm water overnight, then sow, 1-2cm deep, in recycled plant pots filled with good quality potting mix. Keep moist until the seeds germinate. You'll need to look after your seedling tree for a full season in its pot, so don't let it dry out or get hit by frost in winter. 

Method 3: stratification

This is optional, but you wrap the seeds in a damp paper towel and pop them into a resealable plastic bag in your fridge for a month. This makes the seeds think they've already been through winter, speeding up germination. After a month, they should show signs of sprouting, at which point you can sow them into pots of potting mix.

Note: don't eat raw kernels. It is against the law to sell raw apricot kernels in New Zealand (as of this month). The Food Standards Code prohibits it because the raw kernels contain a natural substance called amygdalin that can release cyanide in your stomach if eaten. This can cause illness and may also  be fatal, especially in children, so when cracking stonefruit stones be careful that you don't leave them around where children or pets could chew on them.

3. THIN APPLES & PEARS

If the branches of your apple and pear trees are already bending under the weight of developing fruit, it's prudent to thin the fruit to ease the strain and save them from splitting and causing irreparable damage to the health and shape of the tree. Thin apples back to bunches of three, and snip off individual pears. If you only have a small, young tree, tie the heaviest branches to tall wooden stakes for a little extra support.

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 - NZ Gardener

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