Trellising for Shade

Using Trellises and Beans to create shade in your Garden

Because this summer will be a very hot one, get your water into place now. Lay down irrigation pipes, but also ensure that you have shade in place. Last summer I have all my shade props align East – West  with the idea that shade would come into the areas behind those props. Usually I’d have some kind of climbing bean going up 10 feet high. But as you can see from the diagram below, in high summer with the sun directly above you, there’s not much shade.

E-W aligned trellis with shade at midday

So this year I’m aligning my shade props to have North – South. That way, when the sun is in the East and lower, the shade props are giving plants on either side a break as the sun travels over head.

In the morning, it will look like this;

N-S aligned trellis with shade in the morning

And in the afternoon, like this.

N-S aligned trellis for shade inthe afternoon

The idea here is to try and half the pain and water vigourously in the morning and the afternoon.

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Crop Rotation

Why Practice Crop Rotation ?

Crop Rotation is an important part of making sure that you look after your soil. If you soil is no good then neither will your plants.

The basic idea is to put veggies in soil that best suits them. Heavy feeding plants (plants that produce large fruits or have large leaves) need richer soil than plants that don’t. So when you finish up with a crop of heavy feeders, you need to either pick a plant that is suited to than depleted soil OR put a plant into the soil that puts nutrients back in. I always plant carrots after potatoes, to the point where I now only plant potatoes in soil in order to get a carrot crop.

Crop Rotation Infographic
Crop Rotation Infographic

Rotating crops like this also reduces the chances of your plants being attacked by diseases/insects. If plant A is attacked by disease B, and disease B is prevalent in a part of your garden, then crop rotation helps. If plant A isn’t there to attack or be fed on (because you have put it some place else), then disease B isn’t able to survive. This is particularly the case with tomatoes and potatoes. There is a nemotode that become present with potatoes that then attacks tomatoes. To remove the nemotode, you need to remove the food it attacks. In this case, it means that you shouldn’t plant tomatoes in ground that has had potatoes in it for the previous 3 years.

Examples of Crop Rotation

In Spring plant your nightshades like peppers and eggplant. They have high nutrient requirements because of the fruit that they produce. Once they have been through, and BEFORE you replentish the soil with a manure or compost, place in a crop that has low nutrient requirement or indeed doesn’t produce the way we want if given too much in the way of nutrient. Carrots are a good example.

So now you’ve have a heavy feeding crop through and a light feeding crop through. It is time to put in a crop that will add nutrient back into the soil. Beans, peas and other legumes are ideal for this.

How to Hill Potatoes

potato
Potatoes that need to be hilled
Potatoes that need to be hilled

Potatoes are very easy to grow but to really maximize your yield, you should hill your potatoes.

What does that mean? It means gathering dirt up around the base of the plant and creating a hill for the plant to grow out of. The tubers (the bits we eat) only grow underground, so increasing the amount of the plant underground = more changes for the tubers to grow.

Step 1 – Plant potatoes

It should go without saying, but you should be actually growing potatoes before you can hill them.

Step 2 – Starting hilling when potatoes are 6 inches high

Hilling too early isn’t really an issue, but waiting too long can be a pain. The vigorously growing plant can start to fall over.

 

Step 3 – Create a cage

Creating a cage means that you can create a column of  dirt for the potatoes to grow in. Maybe we should call it ‘columning potatoes’ rather than ‘hilling potatoes’?

Hilled and caged potatoes
Hilled and caged potatoes

Step 4 – Hill the potatoes

Carefully place soil around the base of the potato plant and work up. I have worked with pea straw and haven’t had much success. When the straw gets wet and is in a pile, it can start to rot and get mouldy. Potatoes are prone to infections so keeping anything that could bring mould into play is a priority.

Step 5 – Wait for more growth

The potato plant will keep growing and putting out tubers. This means that you’ll quickly find yourself with a potato plant that will require more hilling about about 2-3 weeks.

Step 6 – Harvest while the plant is alive

Using this method, potatoes at the bottom of the hill are going to reach maturity earlier than those at the top. And while soil is a very good spot to store potatoes, you can also harvest them is you get the urge. Carefully dig in to the base of the hill until you find enough for dinner. You should wait until at least 3months after planting before doing this.

What do Flowers on Potatoes mean?

potato

If you’ve grown potatoes before, you’ll notice that sometimes you get a bunch of little flowers on the top if the potato plant. This is a good thing.

Flower production requires lots of energy. As a general rule, flowers on veggie mean that the plant has enough energy (acquired from nutrients in the ground and rain) and all things are going according to plan. In tomatoes in means that fruit production has started, but in potatoes it isn’t the fruit that we are interested in eating. So what does the flower on a potato plant even mean?

It means that the potato plant is now growing the tubers under the ground that we are interested in eating. The stem and leaves above ground have largely finished growing. The potato at this stage needs lots of water to use to grow the tubers so flowers on your potatoes means more watering.

Flowers on my PotatoesHeat can be a factor in tuber production. On days when the temperature is above about 100 degs, the plant will stop putting energy in to the tubers so make sure that you shade your spuds to ensure maximum yields.

Another technique to ensure you get lots of spuds is to “hill” the potato. And the time to do that is when the potato has flowers. Hilling potatoes is simply piling up more dirt around the base of the plant in order to give more ground for the tubers to grow under. I’ve used pea straw in the past but have found that when it is wet, it can encourage mildew and fungus, especially because of the extra watering that needs to happen. Use dirt, but NOT manure or anything that might “burn” the plant.

Peppers that last for five years

Peppers
Over wintered Capsicum plant. Spring should see new growth and more food!
Over wintered Pepper plant. Spring should see new growth and more food!

I left my peppers in over winter and they survived. Indeed, they were even producing a little fruit for most of the time. . .at least until the first frosts of the year moved through and killed the leaves off. The plants are still alive and I’m very hopeful that new growth will start shortly. How did this even happen and what’s next?

I gave them a lot of love over spring and summer. This meant water, mulching, rotten chicken poo, and shade. Checking the soil around them now, there are lots of worms and it has that certain ‘good dirt’ feel about it. I also applied Sulphate of Potash frequently, I thought too frequently, but it seems to have worked out fine. I gave them as much shelter as I could from the frosts, and they live in a warm part of the veggie patch.

The plants have a woody stem which means that they are well established. And if they are well established that means I should be getting capsicums sooner rather than later and it is free! According to a few wise gardening heads around the traps, if I can keep give them a lot of love, they should be productive plants for 4 to 5 five years.

Why Don’t I Get Flowers on my Tomatoes?

tomato

Flowers are where we get fruit. Making a flower is a sign of a healthy plant and making lots of flowers is a good sign as to the sort of yield you are going to get. If you have put lots of compost and manure into your soil, your plants should be able to pick up the nutrients that they need.

I thought that I had done that with my tomato plants. Lots of good quality compost as well as some pea straw that had been breaking down in the chicken run. Rain had come through at fairly regular intervals and the plants themselves looked in rude health with lots of leaf growth. I was looking forward to flowers and then not long after fruit. The flowers came through, but then they fell off before they started to set.

tomatoflowersremovedThe flowers had fallen off just at the point where they joined onto the stem. This was a problem that was occurring on all the tomato plants so I needed to sort it out. So why don’t you get flowers on tomatoes?

The most important trace elements in flower production are calcium and potassium. You need water to transport this where it is needed in the plants. So I made a concoction of lime (about a handful per plant) and potash (half a handful) and mixed that with 5 gallons of water. The lime provides the calcium and the potash provides the potassium. You could put these powders around the base of the tomato plant and then water it in, but I decided to do it all in one hit.

You should try very hard to avoid getting this mix on the leaves of the tomato plants because they will get burnt. What should then happen is that the next batch of tomato flowers will be more vigourous (from the lime) and you should get better and more fruit because of the phosphate from the potash.

How to Grow Leeks Twice

leek

I recently hooked up with experienced gardener and horticulturalist Brendan. Brendan has some truly simple ideas for making sure that kids get the best benefit out of gardening. But that’s another article. This one is about how to grow leeks twice.

leek-2weeks
A Leek at two weeks after harvest
leek-4weeks
Same leek at 4 weeks after harvesting

 

 

Leeks are part of the Amaryllidaceae,or onion family and so count garlic and spring onions as relatives. I prefer growing them over onions because they are more straight forward to my simple brain. ie, I can’t get the knack of onions but leeks. . .leeks, I get. You stick them in, they grow, you hill them, then you harvest them. Like potatoes really. The kids prefer the milder flavour and I don’t worry about the long and short harvest types.

Last year, I started a batch as seeds in punnets around March for harvesting four months later have found that I can grow them most of the year in my temperate garden. I also started some in June in a patch that ended up having dozen of self-seed tomatoes and they worked ok. The soil in that particular bed was very rich (chookified dirt as well as – sadly – foxified chickens) so I took a chance and let them sort it out. The tomatoes came out in Septemner and the leeks have powered on since then. I harvest when they are about finger and bit in thickness.

The biggest problem that I have, as with most of the Amaryllidaceae, is weeding. The broad leaved weeds I can spot very easily, but the thin grassy ones are a little tricker. They usually come about from the chookifying that I encourage. The chooks work over a patch after I’ve thrown some feed where I need them need to do their business. Keeping the leeks in a very exact grid helps me to pick out the weeds. They aren’t in the lattice, then then they are cactus.

The other minor problem is that they do take quite a while to mature. Four months to harvest. If only there was a way to either make then harvest quicker OR get another use out of them. That’s where Brendan’s neat little trick comes in.

Instead of pulling the leek entire out of the ground, you cut it off about half an inch of the ground. The leek shaft starts to grow again very quickly. Why so quickly? The root system is already established and so the newly sprouting leek has a ready built nutrient gather. These images where taken two weeks apart. Not sure yet when I’ll be eating harvesting these, but in much less than 16 weeks.

Companion Planting for Tomato

tomato

Tomatoes are the most common plant to find in a home veggie garden. What should you grow next or near to them in order to get the best results?

Companion planting is art as much as it is science. The point of companion planting is to find plants whose properties of smell or chemicals that they release into the soil benefit or retard development in their neighbours and by neighbours I mean within 30 inches  from each other.

I’d be interested in what experiences you have had with companion planting tomatoes. Some people will disagree which side of the ledger beetroot should be on or even beans belong here.

This infographic is a tomato companion planting guide which shows you 9 good and 9 bad companions for your tomato plants. Basil has been shown to increase yields by 20% (according to this paper) but the basil plant also benefits from being close to tomato. And of course they are natural companions in the kitchen as well.

USTemperate-TomatoCompanionGuide

What to plant in December

Kohl Rabi

Here’s what you could be planting in December

Zones 10b through to 7a ( everywhere else is too cold, unless you are planting undercover)

  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cauliflower
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Collards
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard
  • Onions,
  • Peas,
  • Radish
  • Swiss chard
  • Spinach
  • Turnips.

How to Grow Brassicas

Brocolli

Autumn and Winter are brassica planting seasons and this article is a quick growing guide to getting the most out of these beautiful, nutritious and delicious veggies.

The most common eating types of brassicas are;

They have plenty of fibre and contain vitamin C as well as anti-cancer properties. Nearly all of them are big leafy plants and that means you must make sure that your soil is well prepared with plenty of compost and manure. Organic nitrogen materials like watered down coffee ground, human urine and chook poo are all welcomed by brassicas. I also plant nitrogen fixing plants like broadbeans and peas nearby.

Brassica Pests

During their very early stages of life, brassicas can be annihilated by pests. White moth in particular like to lay eggs on the under side of brocolli and the caterpillers feast on the tender leaves. There are a couple of non-pesticide ways of minimising this illicit harvest this and one insecticide way.

1) A chilli and garlic chopped up and added to 1L of water and allowed to diffuse over night. Spray every couple of days both on top and under the plant leaves.

2) A soapy water mixture applied in a similar fashion can also help.

3) Companion planting bug attractors like marigold and daisies can bring beneficial bugs to the party.

4) Don’t plant all of your cabbages in a row. It makes it easier for the white moth to identify the leaves. But if you break it up a little with other companion plants (see broadbeans above), your plants will have fighting chance.

5) Daily inspection by a human underneath the plants leaves. Look for little oval shaped eggs and brush them off. Also look for the green caterpillars and signs of munching.

6) Broken up eggs shells around the base of younger plants can help deter snails and slugs.

7) A physical netting or barrier will help control flying pests, but not so much slugs.

8) If none of these work, then pyrethrum can be an option. It is an insecticide and it will kill beneficial bugs, but it does break down quickly (particularly in sunshine) and I’m really only mentioning it, rather than recommending it.

Maximising Harvest

Once you have gotten your brassicas past the pests and bugs, there are few tricks that you can use to get good flavour and bounty from your veggies.

1) Brocolli – for cultivars like Green Dragon, you can slice the middle flower of when it is about the size of a twenty cent piece and that will start the plant producing shoots or brocolli. These can mean you have a plant that is producing lots over a longer period of time

2) Cauliflower – when the first signs of a curd (the bit you eat) you need to protect it from direct sunlight as this leads to a bitter tasting curd. If the curd isn’t holding a nice tight head, this is usually because of under watering. Watch out for dry spells, especially if you have planted late in winter.