Down in the Patch

Last updated 07:53 25/05/2012

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There's still plenty to sow in the vege garden. Broad beans can be planted and will be ready for harvesting in 90-160 days. Peas are an option along with curly kale, spinach, radish, pak choy and mitzuna. All take varying times to harvest. zShallots and garlic bulbs are also available. Before you pop them in the ground, dig in plenty of compost, sheep pellets or other organic material to feed the soil. Don't plant shallots too deep - a small portion of the bulb should be showing. Shallots are not spring onions but a type of small mild multiplying onion, popular in French cooking. They're like garlic in that they form a clump of bulbs at the base of the stem.

When you plant at this time of the year the ground may be wet so mound up a small amount of soil to put them in and improve drainage. Shallots can be fed with a fertiliser like one produced by Tui for root crops or Yates Dynamic Lifter.

Strawberry plants will soon be available. In anticipation of planting, tidy up existing plants by pruning dead looking, old leaves and removing runners. These are the thin, outstretched stems. You can grow plants for several years but for bigger and better produce it's best to replace every few years. In second and subsequent years there may be more fruit but it will be smaller.

For the new plants, prepare soil with organic matter such as compost, sheep pellets or fowl manure. Some strawberry fertiliser could also be worked into the ground. In heavy soil plant on ridges to improve drainage and plant at 15 cm intervals. A warm sheltered spot will protect against frost at flowering time. It's important not to bury the crown but keep this part - the one just below the leaves, just above ground level.

Commercial growers plant strawberries in black polythene, but an alternative is Geocell weed mat. It's a type of matting but will "breathe" more than polythene. It cuts easily, doesn't fray and water will seep through. Otherwise, use newspaper with mulch on top of it. In spring, when plants are fruiting put some straw down to help lift the berries off the ground.

Berry vines can be pruned. With spring flowering plants cut off the old canes, the ones that look tatty and have old flowerbuds. Fresh, newer looking canes are retained and tied back. Autumn fruiting berries are different because they make fruit on the tips of stems and all their canes are pruned back each year.

Helleborus or winter roses are available in garden centres. They are great for mass plantings in dappled shade under trees. Luculia are highly perfumed and lovely for a frost- free situation. Trim back hard in spring to prevent straggly growth. Daphne will soon be flowering. Sweetpeas can be planted.

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Information from Vince Naus at Big Jim's Garden Centre. Additional information from gardengrow.co.nz and rnzih.org.nz.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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