Life & Style
The weather and soil has warmed up slightly, which makes it good planting for several crops.
Three in particular that I'm planting now are peas, yams and lemon grass.
I don't have enough room in my garden to grow the traditional garden pea, or shelling pea, so instead I grow sugar snaps and snow peas, or mange tout, as they're known (it's French for ‘eat all'). Both shelling peas and mange tout like the same growing conditions, so if you've got the room, you can sow all three types of legumes now.
The best planting conditions for peas are when soil temperatures remain above 7 degrees Celsius, but seeds will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 4C. If need be, use a tunnel house or cloche to get your peas off to a good start.
Six hours or more of sun will give you the best yield, although peas will still produce with only four hours of sun a day. Soil should be free-draining, though the soil doesn't need to be overly fertile, as legumes fix their own nitrogen in the soil.
To extend your harvest period, sow a couple of different varieties that mature at different times - an early bearing variety such as ‘Petit Provencal', from Kings Seeds, which is ready to harvest in about 55 days, and a mid or late-bearing variety. ‘Greenfeast' is a mid-season variety that matures in 80 to 85 days. ‘Easy Peasy', from Egmont Seeds, matures in about 90 days and the late-maturing ‘Giant Alderman' bears in 100 days.
Or you can choose one variety and succession-sow. After sowing your first batch, sow another batch a couple of weeks later and then another batch a couple of weeks after that. You can continue sowing peas up to about October. Any later and yields will diminish as the weather warms up.
After harvesting your peas, cut the vines off at the base of the plants and leave the roots in the soil.
Yams need a long growing season, so now's the time to start them off. Buy seed tubers from your local garden centre or put a few aside from the greengrocer's. Like potatoes, you need to sprout them first, so pop them in a warm spot for two to three weeks until sprouts form.
While your yams are sprouting, prepare your soil. Choose a sunny spot in the garden, with well-draining, fertile soil. Dig in plenty of compost and a fertiliser that's low in nitrogen.
When all risk of frost has passed, plant the tubers about 5-8cm deep and space 30cm apart. Keep a frost cloth at the ready for any late frosts.
As the plants grow, hill them up as you would for potatoes to encourage tuber formation. Do that about four months after planting, as it's about that time that the tubers start to form. Like kumara, the stems creep along the soil surface, so continue to hill up your plants for a bigger yield of yams.
Regular watering and an occasional liquid fertiliser (one that's low in nitrogen, otherwise you'll get more leaves than crop) ensures a good supply of tubers.
Harvesting can begin about six or seven months after planting.
Dig up the tubers carefully as they easily bruise, which will diminish quality and rot may set in. Cure the tubers in the sun for a week. If you don't do this, your yams may taste bitter due to oxalates in the skin. Curing increases their sweetness.
Store tubers in layers of sawdust in a dark, cool, airy place, where they will last for several months.
The leaves of lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) look decidedly grass-like, which is why my plants have been weeded out several times by well-meaning family members. So I'm sowing yet another round of lemon grass in my herb garden.
The citrusy flavour of lemon grass is to-die-for and I use it extensively in Asian dishes. Stalks can be added to the pot (snip off the leafy tops and bruise the base first) or the bottom 15cm can be sliced after removing the tough outer layers and added to stir-fries and marinades.
This tall arching perennial grows in clumps up to 1m high with a spread of around 2m, although regular harvesting will keep it smaller than that.
Lemon grass likes a warm, frost-free home, so plant in pots in cooler areas and shift indoors during winter. It does well in humid areas. Plant in fertile, free-draining soil in full sun.
You can get plants from garden centres or sow seeds (available from Egmont Seeds) in pots to transplant later. Germination is slow and erratic though, so be patient.
Another way to propagate lemon grass is to place stalks bought from a greengrocer in a jar of water. Place on a sunny windowsill and in a few weeks roots will form. Remember to change the water regularly while the roots are developing.
You can then pot them up and grow them on to form plants.
You can also propagate new plants by dividing established clumps into groups of two or three stolons.
Lemon grass is dormant in winter and leaves will shrivel or turn brown. In spring, remove them and cut back to 10cm above the stems.
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