Vigilance key to successful harvest

JANE WRIGGLESWORTH
Last updated 08:11 18/02/2013
Harvest
Fairfax NZ
Keeping on top of the important tasks in your garden will ensure a bountiful harvest.

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If you don't keep up with important summer tasks in your vegetable patch, you can say sayonara to this season's produce.

At this time of year, pests proliferate, water evaporates and salads get plucked to oblivion. Successive sowing, consistent watering and pest patrol are necessary to keep your garden looking and producing its best.

Watch out for birds and pests

At the first sign of colour, birds will head for your fruit and berries. Fling bird netting over berry bushes and fruit trees to keep them away.

Patrol for pests too. Sap-sucking aphids, passionvine hoppers and green shield bugs are all out in force. These nasty bugs will suck your vegetables dry if you let them.

Keep on top of infestations with an organic solution such as Kiwicare's Organic Insect Control.

For the non-squeamish, pluck any greenshield bugs from your plants and squash them.

White-cabbage butterflies are also out and about. Protect your brassicas from the white-cabbage butterfly caterpillar with Derris Dust or Kiwicare's Organic Caterpillar Bio Control, which is formulated from naturally occurring soil bacteria, or squash the blighters.

Conserve soil moisture

Aphids and shield bugs are attracted to stressed or weakened plants, especially those affected by lack of water. Black aphids, in particular, move in on chives and spring onions when plants are gasping for water.

Commit to a daily watering regime during summer and mulch to conserve moisture in the soil.

Mulching slows water loss through evaporation and keeps weeds at bay, which compete for moisture. Consider installing a water tank or barrel to collect rainwater. Even a bucket in your shower will come in handy for your garden.

Bitter lettuce

Here is another reason to keep watering. Too little water can cause salad greens to develop a bitter taste. Lettuce leaves need plenty of water to remain sweet and crisp. Brown edges mean they are thirsty. Water them often to keep them succulent.

Lettuce should also be grown quickly to remain sweet. Poor soils or lack of fertiliser may stunt growth and turn leaves bitter. During summer, though, salad greens generally grow quickly enough. In fact, they may grow too quickly.

When temperatures rise, lettuce bolts. Once they produce flower stalks, the leaves turn bitter.

During summer, protect lettuce from the midday sun.

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Sow continuously

You can never have too many salad greens during summer. Sow lettuce, rocket, radishes, spring onions and carrots every fortnight for a continuous supply. To save space, mix carrot seed with radish seed. The radishes will be ready about the same time you thin your carrots.

If sowing carrots on their own, thin the seedlings when about 10cm high to give each plant enough space.

Keep radishes moist and harvest before they get too old or they will taste woody. A lack of water will cause them to bolt.

Plant for winter

No, it's not too early. Sow leeks, broccoli, cabbages, cauliflowers and brussels sprouts. Sow in trays for transplanting later. Plant into compost-enriched soil in full sun.

Prepare new lawns

The best time to sow a new lawn is in spring or autumn, but preparation can begin now. A lawn won't establish well without adequate preparation. Spray with Roundup to clear away existing grass and weeds and leave to die down before digging over. Let the soil settle for a couple of weeks before spraying or removing any further weeds that appear.

If your soil is poor, add compost or topsoil and remove any lumps and bumps, like stones or gravel.

Rake to a level surface. Then you are ready to sow.

Make comfrey tea

Use comfrey leaves to make your own fertiliser. Comfrey is naturally high in potassium, and tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers and peppers all love it.

To make a nutritious tea for your plants, fill a bucket with comfrey leaves, top with water and cover.

Leave to decompose for three to five weeks, stirring occasionally. Strain the sludge (put it on your compost heap) and use the resulting solution undiluted.

Feed your worms

My July 1946 copy of The Woman says worms make your garden grow and, as such, you should feed them. Writer Alfred H Sinks refers to Bernice Warner, who fed her worms 12 pounds (5 kilograms) of sugar, 12 pounds of suet and 12 pounds of corn meal each month.

"The contrast between the surrounding acres and the little three-quarter-acre [3000-square-metre] Warner place with its vine-covered brick bungalow makes you think of an oasis blooming in the desert," wrote Sinks.

"Some special magic has touched everything that grows there."

Miss Warner's neighbours suspected her of practising the black arts.

"Actually, her secret is simple. Miss Warner just takes care of her earthworms, and they do all the scientific gardening."

Sinks reported that Miss Warner planted strawberries which, according to experts, should have produced 30 quarts (34 litres) of berries.

In fact, they produced 90 quarts the first season and 160 quarts the next. Her tomatoes also ripened much earlier than her neighbours'.

An elm tree on her property was 45 feet (13.7m) high, whereas an elm planted at the same time on a neighbour's property was half as high.

Well, there you go. Your worms may also benefit from a diet of sugar, suet and corn meal.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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