Get in shape: Now that evenings are longer, there’s plenty to do outdoors. (Handy hint- seeds don’t grow when they’re still in their packets on the shelf!)
Gardening is not an exact science, so it’s never easy to choose the right time to plant summer vegetables like tomatoes. Labour weekend is traditional, but surely that’s partly because busy people have a bit of extra time.
Our climate is so unpredictable that I tend to hedge my bets with planting times. Some years summer starts in November; other years, it’s not until February/March. I’ve already got some tomatoes, beans and zucchini in the ground, and I’ll be putting in more every fortnight or so until the beds are full. We can still expect some stormy weather: mini-cloches (eg upside down plastic bottles) can be handy if there’s a really cold snap. Take them off on a hot day however or things can quickly dry out.
Baby seedlings need daily care – it only takes one hot, dry day for their shallow root systems to dry out. Shade or protection from larger plants, or from plastic bottles filled with water, or strategically placed bricks (especially for warmth-lovers like zucchini) will help - but check for slugs lurking underneath though.
The advantage of planting at this time of year is that Mother Nature can do some of the watering for you. By the time dry weather comes around, roots will hopefully be deep enough not to need so much watering. Plant on a grey day if possible, not in the heat of the sun – super keen gardeners even love to plant in the rain. Sunny, windy days on the other hand are perfect for hoeing, mowing, weeding or pruning.
- Keep weeding and mulching. You’ll be so glad, later in summer when the soil is rock-hard and the weed seeds are blowing everywhere, if you can get on top of things now. A thick 10cm mulch layer around shrubs and trees means less weeding and watering over summer.
- Gimme shelter: Good shelter makes plants grow faster, as they’re not stressed out by root rock or water loss. Shelter young seedlings with plastic bottles/twiggy hurdles/existing plants (a few brassicas and lettuces left to go to seed also provide shelter). Plant low herbal/hebe hedges around your beds. Bricks or rocks next to new plantings stabilize roots and provide thermal mass for young seedlings on cold nights.
- Compost: It’s great rotting weather and there are lots of weeds and grass clippings at hand to recycle. Pile up new heaps, and turn older ones to find the black gold at the base.
- Stake tomatoes, beans and peas at planting time to prevent root damage from shoving in stakes later. Tomatoes need 2m ish tall, strong stakes. For cherry tomatoes, which have a more sprawling habit, try cage-type support such as a ring of netting or tripod of canes. Beans can climb up a pole (or sunflower, or corn stalk) by themselves while peas’ smaller tendrils need more intricate, twiggy support.
- Make mounds of compost and old manure in sunny corners for your cucurbits- pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers and kamokamo, while you start off the seeds somewhere warm. I use old egg cartons – one seed per cup – which can then be planted out cardboard and all.
- Plant comfrey from root cuttings (pieces of root). Around the base of fruit trees is the ideal spot, as they will grow to form a living mulch that shades roots while supplying mineral-rich leaves for compost and liquid teas.
Sow seed: Salad greens, beans, peas, beetroot, tomatoes, basil, zucchini, kamokamo, pumpkin, cucumber, leeks, red onions, carrots, rocket, coriander, parsley, sunflower.
Plant out: Beans, tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, peas, spinach, lettuce, potatoes, all sorts of herbs.
Crop of the month: tomatoes
|It’s that time of year again when gardeners revitalize their love affair with one of our favourite homegrown vegetables, the tomato. Hailing originally from warmer, drier climes in Mexico and south America, they’re not the easiest to grow here – beginner gardeners might like to hedge their bets with some beans - but there’s nothing like the taste of your own vine-ripened, sun-warmed tomatoes.|
Where: Tomatoes need lots of sun to ripen, and are quite hungry feeders. Give them good soil with extra compost, seaweed and potash or wood ash, ideally forked into the bed a few weeks before planting time.
If space is limited, or your sunniest area is paved, tomatoes also grow well in growbags: cut a slit in a bag of garden mix and plant one seedling into it; or tyres: one tyre per plant, filled with one barrowload or bag of compost.
When: Plant from September or October to harvest in January. Plant later, in November or December for harvest in February, March and April.
What type: Cherry tomatoes are a great child-friendly crop, sweet and easy to share. They are generally more disease-resistant than those with larger fruit, and don’t need pruning. Plants are naturally sprawling – give them about a metre square - and need support from a cage of netting, or tripod of canes, rather than a single stake as for taller types of tomatoes.
Orange and yellow tomatoes are more nutritious, while black or purple ones have incredible flavour. If you want to save seed, grow non-hybrid types.
Growing from seed: Tomatoes need warmth and darkness to germinate. If you don’t have a glasshouse, put the whole pot inside a zip-lock plastic bag, cover the pot with damp newspaper until you see the first green sprouts, then take out the newspaper and put the bag into full sun. It creates a mini-glasshouse that shouldn’t need extra watering; if it feels dry, water gently by spray bottle. When seedlings have a few leaves, pot them into bigger pots. Allow 4-6 weeks before planting outside.
Alternatively, buy seedlings!
Plant about 50cm apart, or a metre apart for cherry types. Bury an upside-down bottle with the bottom cut off next to each plant to make for easy watering. Mulch well with straw, seaweed, hay or a mixture of these.
Stake: at time of planting so as not to damage roots by driving in a stake later.
Tomato care: Give plants attention weekly, on a dry day. Tie in new growth with soft stocking ties, pinching out unwanted shoots appearing in the `armpits’ of leaves. Once flowers appear, give extra liquid feed - seaweed or comfrey tea contain potassium which supports fruiting.
Pests and disease: Tomatoes originate in Mexico so are prone to blights in our damper climate. Try to prevent these by not growing them in the same place year after year. Good ventilation and airflow also helps, and good watering practice (water the soil, not the leaves, with a deep soak once a week.)
Insect pests include aphids, caterpillars and shield bugs; digital control is best (squashing between finger and thumb.)
Good companions: Mustard (attracts shield bugs away from tomatoes), basil, calendula, lettuces, chives, alyssum (this attracts hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids).