Last year, we had the best crop of strawberries ever – a large silver bowl of big, juicy, red strawberries every day for three and a half months non-stop. I thought I’d put together some tips to help others who may have been struggling to get a good crop of strawberries in the past, like us.
o Use quality plants. The fruit will only be as good as the quality of the plants that are used to grow them. I sourced ours through a commercial grower in Katikati because I needed a very large number of plants to fill our patch and he was able to sell them to me bare-rooted, which made them more affordable as opposed to purchasing them in pots individually from the garden centre. If you can, try to get plants which are in their second year. According to my supplier, strawberries fruit best on second year runners. Production decreases to 60% in the third year, so it might be worth putting in fresh plants for next season, like we did
o Everyone loves strawberries, so grow as many as you have room for! I would recommend putting in at least six plants per family member, space permitting
o Choose a sunny site as strawberries do best in full sun
o Spend time and effort preparing the soil well prior to planting. I like mixing in lots of well-rotted compost, sheep pellets and general garden fertiliser into the area beforehand
o Something I am trying for the first time this year is growing our strawberry plants in black plastic as a way of keeping the soil warm. This method was recommended to me by two commercial growers, so they both can’t be wrong. This has the added advantage of keeping the weeds to a minimum
o If you’re not using black plastic, mulch around the plants. In the past, I always used pea straw as a form of mulch, because it adds nitrogen to the soil. The reason for mulching is to add nutrients to the soil and help keep the weeds down
o Keep your plants well-watered, especially as temperatures increase going into summer. If there are dry patches during winter, you may need to water your strawberry patch with the hose
o When spring starts, use some fertiliser on your plants to encourage flowering and the formation of fruit. I like using Yates Thrive water soluble berry fertiliser as it encourages fruit production
o Keep weeds down as they compete with the plants for essential nutrients from the soil and for water
o Cover plants with bird netting when fruit starts forming. Make sure that the holes in the netting are large enough to let the bees in as they help to pollinate the flowers, which is essential for the formation of fruit
o Pick berries regularly as they ripen
o Don’t be alarmed if your strawberries go through a period when they stop producing during the season. Just give them time and they should start fruiting again
o At the end of the season (which for us is usually about the start of the new year), you can leave the plants in the ground if you don’t need to use the area to grow other things. The plants will produce runners, or baby strawberry plants, which can later be detached from the parent plants and potted up. You will have fresh plants for next season for free!
o Plant a winter garden. Every year, I always tell myself that I’ll give myself a break after the summer, but I inevitably end up filling the garden with winter veggies and flowers. You’ll feel so much better spending time outdoors rather than hibernating inside. Plus you’ll have lots of fresh veggies to eat in a few months time and flowers to brighten up the place
o Plant potted colour such as pansies and polyanthus in hanging baskets for an instant display of colour outdoors. Hanging baskets need not necessarily be suspended. We do hang a few off the edges of our washing line but also like lining them along our concrete slab with outdoor furniture, as they are nice to view while we’re sitting outside
o Plant miniature bulbs such as tete-a-tete daffodils in troughs for a colourful display. This year, we have tete-a-tete daffodils, iris reticulata and dwarf freesias in plastic terracotta troughs along the pathway as you walk up to the house. I simply cannot wait for these to bloom as they are sure to look magnificent!
o Pick flowers from your garden and put them in a vase inside. It will bring colour and maybe even a beautiful scent into the room. At the moment, we have jonquils from outside in a vase on our kitchen windowsill
o Buy an indoor house plant. Moth orchids are popular but it can be tricky getting them to flower again. I don’t have a good track record with indoor house plants, having killed all the ones we have had over time
o Grow herbs to add to winter dishes. Many, such as parsley and coriander, will grow – if not thrive – in cooler weather
o Decorate the house with ornamental gourds grown over the summer
o It’s nearly July, which means that Kings Seeds and Egmont Seeds will soon be sending out their annual seed catalogues. Browsing through their colour catalogues and thinking about all the things you plan to grow in the garden in summer can cheer you up if you’re suffering from the winter blues
o Pick a bunch of rhubarb for some delicious home baking. Rhubarb can be used in cakes, loaves and crumbles. A couple of days ago, mum made a beautiful rhubarb loaf from homegrown rhubarb, following a recipe that I found online in this week’s Viva magazine in the NZ Herald. It was the first time that I have ever tasted rhubarb and the loaf was sensational. If you don’t have rhubarb in your garden, you can easily find plants in most garden centres. We recently purchased four plants from Bunnings in Botany who were having a 50% off sale before they closed their garden centre for renovations. Alternatively, do what I did and grow rhubarb from seed. I sowed the variety “Cherry Red” from Kings Seeds two years ago and we now have one large healthy plant in the garden, plus two smaller plants which need to go into the garden soon
o Think about growing some flowers for drying, which you can use to make pot pouri with.
o If you’re artistically inclined, paint a picture of some aspect of your garden. One of my best friends is very artistic and painted a beautiful picture of some purple hostas from some flowers she once had in her apartment, which she gave to me as a gift the last time she came over to visit me
o If you have excess produce, make some preserves. At this time of the year, lemons are plentiful so you could look up recipes for ways to preserve them. We have a wonderful lemon pickle recipe in our family, which tastes divine with fresh chillies from the garden added to it
I have been very busy again in the garden during June. We have started hosting wwoofers again (despite what I said about never again!) to help us, as our belated annual clean up has been quite a mission! At the moment, we have a Taiwanese boy called Ray staying with us. He is here for a fortnight, to be followed by a German lad called Marlon. Wherever possible, I’m going to try and get boys to stay with us instead of girls. They are much lower maintenance and so much easier to get along with!
Here’s what Ray and I have been doing around the garden in the past fortnight:
o Planting strawberries – I placed another order for bare-rooted strawberry plants with Shanberry following an incredibly successful crop last year. On his first day, Ray helped me plant 200 strawberry plants into black polythene in four rows. The idea behind the polythene is to warm the soil and keep the weeds down. Two commercial growers have recommended using this method, which I am trialling for the first time this year. I will report back later in the season on the success of using this method to grow strawberries
o Planting garlic – Because I have a bad back at the moment and find bending over very painful, Ray also helped with the back-breaking task of planting our annual crop of garlic. This year, I’m growing five named varieties – Printanor, Elephant, Kakanui, Ajo Rojo and Turban – as well as some very large, healthy cloves mum gave me from some organic supermarket garlic, as well as some garlic I purchased from Farro in Orakei. I have also been looking ahead to disease control for garlic as mine always suffers from rust every year. Wally gave me the excellent advice of using a mixture of Liquid Sulphur, Liquid Copper, Potassium Permanganate, Raingard and Vaporgard, all of which he stocks. Wally suggested diluting these products separately and then spraying garlic every 14 days once it surfaces. This morning I placed an order for these products and will adhere to a strict spraying regime in winter and spring, in the hopes of beating rust this year. I will report back on the effectiveness of these products later in the season
o Planting potatoes – Ray worked compost and sheep pellets into the soil and dug some deep trenches for me. We planted seven rows of potatoes – Summer Delight, Agria, Jersey Bennes, Heather, Liseta and Swift. I’ve still got a tray of Liseta potatoes to plant out, which I’ll do once I’ve harvested the early varieties
o Planting red onions – Ray helped me to plant four punnets of red onions in the garden, purchased from Kings Plant Barn. I have some more punnets of onions which I sowed from seed that will go out into the garden a bit later on. The seedlings are still small so I’ll wait for them to grow a bit more first
o Planting dwarf peas – Ray planted dwarf Petit Provencal and Sugar Snap peas around some obelisks. I’m pleased with how healthy these seedlings looked, especially the Petit Provencal ones.
o Planting broad beans – Ray planted some broad beans that I had grown from seed into our front garden
o Planting veggie seedlings – Together we planted more red cabbage, green cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower seedlings
o Pruning the camellia trees – Ray pruned our two pink camellia trees which had gotten quite big. They look so much tidier now!
o Clearing the back garden – Our back garden by the washing line was looking very untidy so over the past two days Ray has been clearing it of old Malabar spinach which has finished for the season and weeds. Once he has finished, we will plant some herbs, berries and grapes. I also have some tall peas (snow and podded kinds) for him to plant along the trellis, too.
Short on space? If you live in an apartment, town house or just don’t have a large section for a garden, container gardening may be the solution. It’s possible to grow veggies, flowers, herbs, fruit trees, indoor plants and shrubs in containers. In this blog post, I’ve put together some tips to help you with growing plants in pots.
What can be used as a container?
o Plastic buckets – at around a dollar, they are perhaps the most economical garden pot. These have a 9 litre capacity. Remember to drill drainage holes at the bottom beforehand (more about this below)
o Plastic pots – these come in a range of sizes. Most of ours are either 9, 18, 30 or 35 litre in size
o Plastic troughs – these are fantastic for growing bedding flowers such as begonias, marigolds and pansies in summer. This winter, I have planted Iris Reticulata, hyacinth and tete-a-tete daffodils in ours
o Outdoor cups and saucers – you can either plant directly into the teacup or put your plant into a plastic pot which sits inside the cup
o Terracotta pots – these make a stunning addition to the garden, either painted or au naturel. I planted some dwarf freesias in our large terracotta pot that my mother received for her 40th birthday many years ago
o Wine barrels – we varnished ours with polyurethane, drilled holes at the bottom and lined them with black plastic (again, with holes for drainage) before planting miniature fruit trees.
o Hanging baskets – We have these both in plastic and coconut fibre. I like to line the coconut fibre ones with black plastic (with some holes for drainage) prior to planting
It is important that your container has drainage holes to allow excess water to escape, otherwise your pot will become water-logged. It’s up to you whether you use a saucer at the bottom of your container. I tend to do so only if the holes at the bottom of the pot are enormous as the soil will escape, otherwise I find excess water tends to sit in the saucer and collect rather than drain freely onto the concrete.
The golden rule is to never use soil for growing plants in containers. It’s a good idea to use some kind of potting mixture. For fruit trees, I recommend a more expensive container mix that contains water storage crystals for moisture retention (more about this below). For other plants, it’s fine to use a cheaper potting mixture.
o Water storage crystals – as containers tend to dry out quicker than soil in the ground, you may wish to use something to help retain moisture, especially during summer. I find that a scoop of Saturaid works wonders in my hanging baskets with tomatoes over the summer months
o Slow release fertiliser – potted plants benefit from slow release fertiliser, which, depending on the brand you use, will feed them on average for six months. Don’t use granular bagged fertiliser for your containers. Use these instead for the ground
o Liquid feeding – your plants will benefit from being liquid fed every fortnight with a product such as Seasol, which is organic and made of seaweed extracts
o Weeding – weeds grow in containers too, so make sure you keep on top of them as they deprive the plant of essential nutrients
o Staking – larger plants such as fruit trees may require some form of plant support
o Repotting – don’t forget to repot your plant into a larger container if it outgrows its pot. If you are growing bulbs in containers, make sure you wait for the foliage to die down before lifting the bulbs, washing and drying them, before storing them for replanting next year
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was very busy planting spring bulbs in May. I love the dazzling display that they produce in winter and spring, brightening the garden on dreary days and providing much cheer during the coldest months of the year. I have put together some tips to ensure that you have the best and brightest display of flowers in your garden.
Over the past month, I have been busy in the garden with the following activities:
It’s been a long time since my last post, so I thought this would be the perfect time to reflect briefly on some of the more successful aspects of the summer garden. In my next post, I’ll talk about what I’ve been up to around the garden lately.
First, I must report back on the success we had with growing pumpkins over summer. Although they shouldn’t be terribly difficult to grow, we’ve never had a bumper crop and I could never quite work out why. Then I read on my gardening friend Cynthia’s blog (www.thiftykiwi.co.nz) that she lay black plastic on the ground and made holes for each plant. She had the biggest and best crop ever, so I thought I would give it a try myself. After all, I had been doing this with melons every year and found that the plastic helped keep the soil temperature consistently warm. I must say that we have never had such a successful pumpkin season. In total, we harvested around 75 pumpkins – 25 Big Chief Butternut (Kings Seeds), 25 regular Butternut and 25 other pumpkins (mainly a mixture of Blue Hubbard, Queensland Blue and Crown). From now on, I’ll definitely be rolling out the black plastic prior to planting my pumpkins and squash! We have been enjoying pumpkin in a variety of ways – in soup with parsnips from the garden (more on these below), roasted butternut stuffed with feta and as a side accompaniment to meat. The star performer was the variety Big Chief Butternut from Kings Seeds. The vines were extremely prolific and the pumpkins were enormous AND heavy! I’ll definitely be growing this outstanding variety again next season.
Parsnips were another successful crop, following a previous bad season with not one single parsnip having germinated! I sowed these in mid-September, after our early Swift potatoes which were planted on the shortest day were lifted. The seeds were from Egmont and they germinated incredibly well! One little tip when sowing parsnips is to use fresh seed – the fresher, the better. Apparently older seed doesn’t germinate reliably. They were ready in Mid-January, but I left them in the ground until early May and we harvested them as needed. I was flabbergasted by the size of some of our parsnips! They have the reputation for being rather bland but we find ours very flavoursome. Parsnip fries are a favourite, roasted with some sea salt. We have also been enjoying them in mum’s veggie soup and another delicious soup recipe we discovered, featuring pumpkin and parsnip, from Weight Watchers. We shared some parsnips and pumpkin with my aunt and uncle, who live across the road from us, who commented how delicious they both were.
We have also been enjoying NZ Spinach from the seeds I sowed in early summer (Kings Seeds). This is another plant which can be tricky to germinate, but once it gets growing, it simply doesn’t stop. It’s something that I like growing every year. To my knowledge, you can’t purchase plants so if you want to grow it, you’ll have to start plants from seed. One of the things that I like most about NZ Spinach is that you simply snip off what you need; there’s no need to pull out the entire plant. Mum made a pumpkin and spinach lasagne using our veggies from the garden, which was lovely. It’s also delicious steamed. NZ Spinach can be eaten raw. We have been having it every day in our green smoothie and it’s incredibly delicious.
Finally, our banana tree which was planted two years ago by an American couple called Becca and Alex who wwoofed at our place now has fruit on it! We are very excited by this development. You’re supposed to put a bag over the bananas to help them ripen. If you can use a blue bag, it’s supposed to be even better so this is what I used to cover our bananas. You can expect to harvest bananas in spring. The variety in our garden is called Misi Luki and the plant was purchased from Kings Plant Barn in Orakei.
January is one of the hottest months of the year, making work around the garden challenging on many fronts. High temperatures, little or no rainfall and dry soil make it difficult to get plants established. Fortunately, it’s a time when most gardens are well-established and by now, most gardeners are starting to see the fruits of their labour. We certainly are. This is also a time when most people are on holiday and away from their garden. It’s always a shame to see all the hard work you put in during spring go to waste when the place becomes neglected and plants die, or you return to a jungle! These are problems I have faced year after year, so I have compiled a few little checklists with some suggestions to help you out.
My tips for caring for the garden while you’re away:
Here are some tips for gardening in January:
While the garden is flourishing in high temperatures, it’s generally a quieter time than spring, so you might find yourself having a bit of spare time on your hands. Here are a few ways you could spend any extra time you have:
Happy New Year! I hope that everyone has been enjoying the festive season, as well as their summer gardens. I only took a short break of a week away at our bach this year. I initially intended to be away for two weeks but returned home early on the 23rd of December as the weather wasn’t very nice. Besides, I really wanted to be home for Christmas. After all, it’s about spending time with family!
The big news in my gardening update is that on Christmas Eve, I found out that I was placed Runner Up in the Yates Veggie Gardening Challenge for the best use of Yates products. The prize is $200 worth of Yates products! As a first-timer to the Challenge, I am very pleased with this outcome. Spring was an incredibly busy time. Blogging nearly every day, managing the garden and fitting in my training were all challenging enough, so merely participating in the competition was one of my achievements in 2018.
Over the past week, I have been in a mad rush to try and put in as many of my remaining plants as possible. I try hard to keep planting to an absolute minimum in January because temperatures usually increase considerably and there is very little rain (if any at all), making it harder to get plants off to a strong start.
Here is a summary of the tasks that I powered through since returning home:
What has everyone else been up to in their garden lately?
You may recall that awhile ago, I wrote a post about safety around the garden. I wanted to follow it up with a brief post about injury prevention. I see a personal trainer at the gym for an hour every week, primarily to help me with my weight loss journey. I’m also very prone to injuries, sometimes arising from the gym and running but more commonly from gardening activity because I labour so intensively and for such long periods of time, especially in spring. I thought PT would be a good idea so I could address the cause of the issues, as physio only treats the actual injury. As I have mentioned previously, I suffer from neck problems stemming from a tight trapezius and sore wrists stemming from tightness in the forearms. According to my physio Anthony at Flex Physio in Papatoetoe, both of these injuries can be attributed to gardening rather than the gym or running. Another problem I suffer from is that one of my shoulders sits lower than the other, something that was picked up by a chiropractor that I saw for awhile and also Alice, my personal trainer. We have been doing some exercises, including the farmer’s walk (walking with two heavy kettle bells in each hand, facing outwards) to try and rectify this problem.
At my last training session on Wednesday, Alice had a couple of suggestions on how to improve my posture while gardening to minimise injuries. I thought I would share them as they may be useful to others.
1. Stand up every 15 minutes or so after bending over while carrying out activities such as weeding, to avoid neck and back injury
2. Avoid carrying a weight in just one hand. It is better to carry weights evenly so it is distributed on both sides. If carrying compost or potting mix, I now make sure I fill two buckets and carry one in each hand. When I was liquid feeding the garden on Thursday, I filled two 9 L watering cans and carried them both to the area where I was working, rather than just using one can.