Garden still calls in winter

Last updated 12:00 13/07/2012
SENSITIVE: Garlic needs full sun and well-drained soil.

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Witch hazel enchanting Hot in the city For better berries Do the hokey-pokey Spinach that just keeps on giving Promise of things to come Versatile sweeties flower in abundance Brighten up your winter Lasting garden flavours Brighten your rooms with bulbs

It might be chilly, but there's still plenty to do in the garden.

If you haven't already, get your broad beans in the ground now. If you're experiencing lots of frosts, sow seeds under a cloche or tunnel house. While broad beans are not deterred by frosts, a covering will get them off to a better start in super cold spots.

You can also plant broad beans in large containers. One the size of a half wine barrel will house five or six plants.

Sow seeds directly in a spot in full sun in free-draining, humus-rich soil. Avoid areas that have had a lot of manure or nitrogen-high fertiliser added. Too much nitrogen can prevent plants from setting pods.

Plant in double rows that are 60 centimetres apart, and sow 3cm to 5cm deep and spaced at 20cm. As seedlings emerge, protect from birds.

Sow seeds every three to four weeks so that you can harvest your crop over a longer period.

Sow mesclun, rocket, corn salad, spinach and Asian greens (mizuna, mibuna and giant red mustard) now and you can serve your own salads in a matter of weeks. All are cold-hardy, but if conditions are extreme (frosts, cold winds), sow in pots that can be positioned in a warm, sheltered area, or use a cloche.

Try mizuna `Red Coral' (available from Kings Seeds and on Trade Me) for a colourful jumpstart in the garden. Like all mizuna, `Red Coral' is a fast-growing, frost-hardy crop with a mild mustard flavour, perfect for winter salads. It has finely divided dark maroon leaves, which make a pretty picture in the garden as well as the salad bowl.

The great thing about mizuna is that it can be harvested three to four weeks after sowing. And because it grows so quickly, there's really no need to fertilise it.

Rocket `Runaway' is quick-growing too, and new from Kings Seeds this month. It's similar tasting to standard rocket, with its distinctive nutty, tangy taste, but slightly milder in flavour. It's also slow to bolt in the warmer months.

Have you planted your garlic yet? The shortest day of the year has come and gone but there's still time to get your garlic planted.

Buy seed garlic from garden centres (you can then be certain it hasn't been sprayed with chemicals) or from an organic greengrocer. Plant the fattest cloves only, 5cm deep and 10cm to 15cm apart, with pointy ends facing up.

Choose a spot that's in full sun and with well-drained soil. Garlic is sensitive to waterlogging so plant in raised beds if necessary. Fertile, humus-rich soil is ideal, so lots of compost is good.

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Garlic takes about six months to mature and during the spring growth period it needs plenty of moisture for the bulbs to fatten. When leaves emerge from the ground, begin a fortnightly foliar feeding regime. Mix one tablespoon of liquid seaweed and one tablespoon of fish emulsion with a litre of water and spray onto the leaves. You could use a liquid fertiliser instead, but I like to use a foliar feed to fatten up my bulbs.

Around the end of October, dig around one of your plants to see if bulbs are forming. If so stop feeding. If you continue feeding you'll only get larger leaves instead of larger bulbs. If bulbs have not yet formed, keep feeding until they do.

Garlic is harvested when the leaves start to die down. Warm, dry conditions are ideal close to harvesting time so stop watering a couple of weeks before digging them up. Harvest on a dry day, and do so carefully. Scrapes and bruises lead to early decay.

Leave the bulbs on a mesh rack in a shaded spot for a couple of days until the outer layers have dried a little. Then hang the bulbs in bunches in a cool, dry place with good ventilation, out of direct sunlight. This is called curing and needs to be done if you want to store your garlic. Once cured, you can plait the leaves or trim them to 1cm from the bulb.

While you're planting your garlic, plant some shallots too. Garlic and shallots are excellent bed pals as they like the same conditions. Break up each seed bulb and plant the bulbils at least 15cm apart in rows 30cm apart. Press them into the soil, with the root end facing down, but leave at least a third of the bulb poking out.

Water well after planting; then, during winter, water only when the soil is dry. In spring, feed with a balanced fertiliser and keep well watered.

The winter dormancy period is prime time for planting fruit trees. Dig a hole that's slightly deeper and wider than the root ball. Mix some compost into the soil at the base of the hole, make a small mound, then place the tree on top, adding some slow-release fertiliser. When planting, make sure the graft is above soil level. Tease out the roots, then fill 'er up (use a mix of soil and compost) to about three-quarters full. Firm the soil down with your heel, then add more soil till the hole is full. Then give your tree a good watering.

And if you're itching to move a shrub or tree that's planted in the wrong spot, now is the time.

See, there is a lot to do in winter.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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