I'd love to start by saying that we've been bonkers here planting out all sorts of summer crops and revelling in spring fever. But, as frustrating as it sounds, we've managed to keep the lid on the seed box.
We're not out of the frosty woods yet and our soil temperature - 9 degrees this week - is still nowhere near what it should be to happily host tomatoes, beans, courgettes and squash - they need upwards of 15C if they are to hit the ground running, so to speak.
Still, there's boundless spring energy and I have been under some uncontrollable force to tidy up, clean out and organise everything. I started with the clothes cupboards - the Sallies were inundated with our castoffs and the gone beyonds were chopped into rags for tying up young trees, cleaning pruning equipment and bandages for mopping up my grafting accidents.
Then I moved into forbidden territory - the tools, many of which were mine from a previous life but have since been assimilated into the family tool pool - translated as Burton's tools. Not satisfied with an immaculate tool collection on a custom-made board, I am now bordering on what some overpaid professional would describe as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. If I'm going to be diagnosed and labelled, well, then, I may as well go the whole hog. But I know that many of you will appreciate and even already have your garden tools nicely organised, so this DIY project is to inspire those with a garden shed that resembles a scene from Steptoe and Son.
I used an old pallet, but if you have more space, you could fix a sheet of ply or some battens to the wall - all it needs is something to attach hooks and hangers to hold all your gear off the ground, off each other (ever tried to untangle a rake from a pile of hoes, forks and spades?) and in clear view. That way you can see what you have, what needs attention in the form of a grease, sharpen or clean and what's missing when you come in from a day outside - forgetting a trowel in the ground will leave you frustrated.
All you need for this project is a claw hammer, power drill, garden equipment hooks (I got a pack of five from the local DIY store for about five bucks), screws and nails. It's a bit rudimentary, but it does the job and proves that even the most hands-off DIYer can actually produce something handy.
Just be sure to lay your selected tools out first, so you know where to place the hooks and ensure you have enough height to hang the board, so long- handled tools don't touch the floor.
If you are using a pallet, remove the back stays, replacing one on the top to form a shelf. I chopped the remaining one in half and made it into a small shelf for twine and so forth.
Now that you plan to spend one half of your weekend dealing to your garden shed, the other half can be spent planting spuds and root crops. If you want freshly dug jersey bennes for your Christmas table, you must plant them soon. Same goes for beetroot and carrots.
Follow this step by step for planting spuds:
- Prepare the ground with plenty of well rotted compost, preferably rich in animal manure - potatoes are gross feeders, chomping through a lot of nutrient to produce well.
- Dig a trench about two potato widths deep - they should be well buried but not so much that they expend all their energy struggling to the surface for light - a good rule of thumb is to cover them with their same width in soil.
- Sit the seed potatoes, which should have small shoots on them, gently into the trench, 30-40cm apart. Take into account the variety and the amount of space you have. The biggest shoots should be facing upward - these will form the leaves.
- Cover the seed with well-tilled soil. Avoid lumpy sods and weeds.
- When the leaves poke their heads above the surface by about 10cm, begin the process of mounding up: drawing up soil around the plant right up to their necks. This encourages the plant to produce more tubers. Mound up at least three times before harvesting.
- After 60-70 days, you can check to see how they're producing by gently digging into the side of a mound with your hands. We call it "tickling". Baby new season potatoes are heavenly, steamed for no more than 8 minutes and served tossed in plenty of butter, salt and pepper.
Now for beetroot and carrots:
- Till prepared soil into fine crumbs. Carrots, especially, will not tolerate lumps and stones. They'll fork around them or remain stunted.
- Avoid digging in compost now. Too much nitrogen will give you more leaf growth and not enough down below.
- Use a string line to make a nice, straight row (OCD creeping in again!). Make a very shallow trench with your finger.
- Carrot seeds are notoriously fine, so mixing them with lettuce or radish seed will aid the thinning process, since lettuce and radishes will be ready for harvest well before the carrots are. Beetroot seed are larger and easier to handle, so can be dropped one by one into the trench.
- Cover very lightly with more finely tilled soil, water with the hose on the mist setting.
- Prevent annoying pests from digging up or munching on the seedlings as they emerge by covering with some frost cloth or a cloche. They're very fragile when young and won't take kindly to being disturbed.Visit Locavore at Tamahere Country Market tomorrow for different variety seed potatoes, vegetable seedlings and more advice on getting a great crop this Christmas.
Next time: Tomatoes