You may recall that I covered how to raise plants from seed in a previous blog post back in July. I wanted to share a few further thoughts on propagating plants from seed.
The most important consideration, especially at this time of the year, is whether this is the right time to sow the particular seed you want to grow. The next issue is how it should be sown. Some seeds should be sown direct to the ground and others in punnets outside for transplanting later. Some heat-loving plants need to be propagated on a heat pad indoors and raised in a greenhouse, for planting outdoors when it is warmer. Failure to sow seeds at the right time and in the right way may mean that they don’t germinate and/or grow.
Don’t be disheartened if it takes a long time for seeds to germinate, even if you are using a heat pad or your hotwater cupboard to incubate them. Temperatures are quite cool at this time of the year and we are trying to defy mother nature by propagating heat loving plants such as chillies, tomatoes and eggplants. I sowed my first lot of capsicums and chillies on the 3rd and 4th of August and some of them have only just started to germinate, others have not surfaced yet (and I don’t think they will at this stage). Naturally I feel disappointed by this, but there’s nothing that I can do about it. Take heart. As temperatures increase during spring, germination times will speed up, too.
Chillies, capsicums, tomatoes and eggplants need a longer growing period to develop, flower and produce fruit, so it’s a good idea to start these first. I personally prefer to start with capsicums and chillies, as I find these less sensitive to the cold, followed by tomatoes and then eggplants. Cucurbits such as zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers are faster-growing so they can be started later in spring. They are also more sensitive to cooler temperatures than chillies, capsicums, tomatoes and even eggplants, which is another good reason to leave starting them until later in the season.
On the same token, don’t be upset if you find that seeds sown outdoors take a long time to germinate at this time of the year as well. I sowed some Parella Rossa lettuce seeds from Franchi in punnets filled with a little seed raising mix on 5th August and left them in the patio on our outdoor table. They have only just started to surface now.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of when you sow seeds so you know what you’ve sowed and can see how long they took to germinate. If it has been more than three weeks and there is no sign of the seeds surfacing, it might be a good idea to re-sow them. When the garden used to be smaller, I found that the NZ Gardener’s garden diary was adequate for recording all my sowings. However, as the garden grew in size, I found there wasn’t enough space to fit everything in. Nowadays, I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep a catalogue of all my seeds. I have columns for the name of the seeds, brand, number of packets I have and the expiry date. There are also two columns to record the dates that I sowed them. If I reach the end of a packet of seeds, I simply cross it out (rather than delete it) so I can still see what I sowed that year. I find this system works well as it combines my seed catalogue and sowing diary in one place.
You might also want to give some consideration as to how you store your seeds. This is important as it can affect their viability. I tend to keep seeds in their original foil and paper packets and use files that I purchased from Paper Plus. I have two for veggies and one for flowers. Each file has a number of dividers with different sections and I write the name of each type of plant at the top.
If you have been having trouble getting seeds to germinate, bear in mind that seeds lose their freshness once the packet is opened, even if they aren’t past their best before date. For this reason, I try to purchase fresh seeds every season. Some seeds will germinate just fine if past their best before date, like my Principe Borghese tomato seeds from Franchi, which expired in 2017 but have come up just fine on my heat pad. It’s a good thing, too, because they’re no longer part of the seed collection on Italian Seeds Pronto’s website, the New Zealand retailer for Franchi seeds. I’ll have to remember to save some seeds so they can remain part of Anita’s Garden.
Now is a good time to tidy up your seed collection. It breaks my heart to have to throw away packets that aren’t viable, but be realistic. If it didn’t germinate this year, it won’t germinate next year!
If all else fails and you’ve given up on sowing plants from seed, Awapuni is a great place to purchase plants from. They wrap bundles in newspaper and deliver direct to your door. Visit https://awapuni.co.nz/ to find out more and shop online.
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If you’re tired of eating traditional leafy greens such as silverbeet and spinach, why not try growing something a bit different this spring? Oriental greens can also be harvested as you need them, which makes them a handy addition to the garden. I do find they’re best sown in autumn, as they enjoy cool growing conditions but it is possible to sow them in spring, allowing them to mature before temperatures increase and they start bolting to seed. For general information on how to propagate plants from seed, please see my previous blog post.
There are so many different types of oriental greens that are available and I haven’t grown them all, but here are some of our favourites.
Although I had heard of the gain amaranth some time ago, it was only fairly recently that I became aware that it could be grown as a plant. When I ran my plant nursery back in 2017, a customer asked for it by the Indian name choraiya and I had to do a bit of research to find out what it was.
Seeds can either be sown directly or transplanted at a later stage. Amaranth can be harvested and cooked much like spinach. It has a slightly bitter taste but is perfectly pleasant to eat. I have found that it grows happily in containers, alongside my capsicums and chillies.
Egmont Seeds stock a variety of amaranth called Red Callaloo (RRP $3).
Bok choy and pak choi
Bok choy and pak choi are also fast-maturing Asian greens which are delicious eaten steamed with garlic, ginger and some oyster sauce. We also enjoy using the leaves raw in green smoothies. Seeds can be sown in punnets filled with seed raising mix, then transplanted into six-cell punnets or seed raising trays filled with potting mix at a later stage, prior to planting in the garden. As with all oriental greens, simply harvest the leaves as you need them.
This spring, I am growing the variety Mini Toy Choi from Egmont Seeds (RRP $3). This is just one from a number of different kinds of Pak choi they have in their catalogue:
I have yet to try growing Chinese broccoli, but it’s something I’m really looking forward to sowing this spring. Unlike regular broccoli, Chinese broccoli doesn’t form a head. It makes the perfect addition to stir-fry dishes. It can also be eaten raw.
To propagate Chinese broccoli, I recommend using the same method as for bok choy and pak choi.
Tat soi is very high in vitamins. The leaves are smaller than bok choy and pak choi. Propagate plants as you would for growing bok choy and pak choi.
Egmont Seeds stock a variety which I recommend called Oriental Tatsoi (RRP $3).
Malabar spinach goes by the name of Aloobati in the Philippines, where it is widely used in the cuisine. I was introduced to Malabar spinach by a lady in the Auckland Gardeners group I belong to on Facebook, when I held a seed swap at our home a few years ago. Curious as I had never heard of it before, I simply had to give it a try. Since then, Malabar spinach has become a staple in our summer garden. It is a sub-tropical plant, so I wouldn’t advise starting seedlings too early. October is perfect. You can either sow seeds direct or in a punnet on your heat pad if temperatures at night are still cool. As the seeds have a hard coating, it may improve germination rates if you soak them for a few hours beforehand.
Malabar spinach is a vine which creeps upwards and requires some support. We grow ours against the plastic trellis we have in our backyard, which we also use for growing beans and peas. The leaves are delicious steamed or can be enjoyed raw in green smoothies, as we do in summer when warm growing conditions make it difficult to grow kale and bok choy without them running to seed. Click here to read our favourite green smoothie recipe.
Egmont Seeds stock a leafy Chinese vegetable called Kailaan, which I have never heard of before. It retails for $3 and can be sown in spring, summer and autumn.
We’re two weeks away from the beginning of spring! Now is the perfect time to start thinking about what seeds you plan to sow outdoors for the spring garden. A firm staple in our garden are salad greens. They are incredibly easy to grow and are simply bursting with freshness and flavour. You can also harvest them as you need them, avoiding the waste that occurs when you purchase bagged salad greens from the supermarket and are unable to get through the whole packet before they are past their best before date. The salad greens which I will cover in this blog post can all conveniently be grown in containers, making them easy to care for and more accessible to the kitchen, if grown outdoors in the patio as we do. All we need to do is open the kitchen ranchslider door and voila, there are our salad greens! For each type of salad green, I’ll include some growing tips to help you out.
These are the fastest growing of all types of salad greens, making them perfect for new gardeners and children who can be impatient to see results. In three to four weeks, you should be harvesting your own fresh microgreens, which you can add to salads and other dishes.
I like to sow microgreens in foil roasting trays which can be purchased cheaply from the supermarket. Simply fill the tray with potting mix and sprinkle the seeds, then cover with a light layer of potting mix.
There is a huge range of greens which can be grown as a microgreen, but our favourites are cress and mizuna. As temperatures increase in late spring, you may find that your microgreens start going to seed, so enjoy them while they last.
Who hasn’t purchased baby spinach leaves in a bag from the supermarket at some point? The good news is that it’s possible to grow your own! The baby leaf variety isn’t common, but Egmont Seeds offer a variety called Teton (RRP $3) which is perfect for harvesting at a young stage. I’m trying this variety for the first time this year. Seeds can be sown directly into a container, then covered lightly with potting mix.
Try roasted veggies on a bed of baby spinach with some haloumi cheese. It’s delicious!
This slightly bitter, peppery green makes a great base for salads. One of our favourite salads is with rocket, pear, blue cheese and walnuts. Rocket can also be added on top of pizza for some greenery.
Rocket can be grown in the ground or in containers. Simply sow seeds directly where you want to grow them. There are many different types of rocket available. This year, I will be growing the variety Coltivata from Franchi seeds (RRP $7.50), which are distributed in New Zealand by the retailer Italian Seeds Pronto.
I only discovered this delicious, tasty salad green two years ago thanks to my gardening friend Minette Tonoli. Historically, miners lettuce was eaten by miners to prevent scurvy. I grow miners lettuce in the ground and sow seeds direct in spring. Mind you, I’ve only had to sow miners lettuce once, the first time I grew it, because it self-seeds freely and pops up by itself the following year. Be warned that it can be invasive, so make sure you grow it in an area where you don’t mind it reappearing in future seasons.
Like other salad greens, as the temperatures increase, miners lettuce will start going to seed.
Lambs lettuce is sometimes known as corn salad and makes a great green to have in the kitchen during spring. The leaves are very tender. The first time I grew lambs lettuce, I sowed the seeds in a seedling tray filled with potting mix and we harvested leaves directly from the tray!
This year, I’m growing two varieties of lambs lettuce from Franchi seeds: D' Olanda A Seme Grosso and Verte De Cambrai (RRP $7.50 each)
Mesclun is in fact a variety of different lettuces which can be harvested at a young stage. I usually sow mesclun in punnets with a little seed raising mix, then pot plants up into six-cell punnets or seedling trays filled with potting mix as the plants grow. Mesclun can be grown in containers or in garden beds. Simply harvest what you need and the plants should continue to grow.
This year, I’m sowing the variety Quattro Stagioni from Franchi seeds (RRP $7.50). I also recommend the variety Misticanza Di Lattughe, which I have grown successfully in previous years (RRP $7.50).
Cut and come again lettuce
These days, I only sow cut and come again lettuce, rather than single-headed varieties such as Iceberg, which require you to harvest the lettuce at once. We find that it’s hard to get through an entire lettuce before it starts to go bad, making it a waste. Sticking to cut and come varieties ensures that you harvest just what you need, allowing the plant to continue to grow. There is therefore no waste.
My favourite cut and come variety is called Degli Ortolani from Franchi seeds (RRP $7.50), which is a cos-type of lettuce. This can be grown both in the ground and in containers. I am also trying the variety Romana Bionda Lentissima a Montare, also from Franchi seeds, for the first time this year (RRP $7.50). This is another cos-type of lettuce, which is perfect for Caesar salads.
From Egmont Seeds, I am growing the variety Cut and Come Again (that is its name!) for the second year (RRP $3), as well as Drunken Woman (also its name, I kid you not!) (RRP $4). We enjoy red lettuce for some variety and as an alternative to its green counterpart, so I’m going to sow Red Fire as well, which I also grew last year ($3).
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As I mentioned in a previous post, we had a bumper crop of pumpkins in the garden this year, including a number of butternut squash, which are a favourite of ours. Mum and I discovered a delicious recipe for using them and we have been preparing them in this way during winter. I wanted to share it with my readers.
1 whole medium butternut squash
Olive oil for coating and drizzling
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 teaspoons dry oregano
5 ounces crumbled feta
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons fresh chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 180oC (350F)
Wash the outside of the squash and pat dry
Cut squash carefully in the middle (lengthwise). Scrape out all the seeds with a small spoon, set seeds aside.
Score the cut surface of the squash with a criss-cross pattern. Coat squash (skin and inside) with olive oil and add salt, pepper and oregano
Roast for about an hour until soft
Remove from oven and fill the cavity with crumbled feta and the pinenuts, scatter the rest of the feta on top of the whole squash
Continue to roast for about 10 minutes
Remove, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with parsley and serve
To serve, scoop out some flesh and top with some feta
Acknowledgement: please note that this recipe was created by Elena Paravantes and reproduced from this website.
This morning, I was pleasantly surprised to receive the following lovely comment from Sam on my blog:
I love your blog! Came across this post and I have a few very subjective article ideas. I'll be moving to Auckland in a couple of months and lucky for me, our new garden is of a very decent size. I would love to know what fruit trees, veges, flowers are best adapted to the Auckland weather. For instance do apple trees do okay? Peaches, plums, pears? What about peonies?
I'll be on the lookout. Cheers!
You're doing a great job with your blog :)
Thank you for your kind words. First of all, I’d like to give you a warm welcome to Auckland! How exciting that you’ll be moving here and what fantastic news that you’ll have a decent sized garden. You’re very lucky. Sections are getting smaller and smaller these days, leaving homeowners with less space for a garden.
I thought this would make a good subject for a blog post as it’s something that I should be an expert on, having developed an urban homestead at our property in Auckland over the past six years. Set out below are some of my thoughts on what can be grown successfully in Auckland’s conditions, in response to your questions.
Apple trees will be fine in Auckland. Stonefruit such as peaches and plums as well as pears should all be fine for planting in Auckland. Now is the perfect time to plant deciduous fruit trees and they are available at garden centres at the moment. Check whether you require a pollinator in order to get fruit. Some trees are double or triple grafted, meaning that you only need to plant one tree to get fruit. You’ll probably find you struggle with growing apricots though, as they need very cold weather during winter in order to form fruit.
If you’re interested in growing blueberries, stick with “Rabbiteye” varieties, which need fewer chilling hours in order to form fruit. For best results, plant at least two different varieties so they can cross-pollinate with each other.
The easiest way to find varieties which are best suited to Auckland’s conditions is to visit an Auckland-based garden centre such as Kings Plant Barn. All of the varieties of fruit trees they stock will be suitable for growing in the Auckland region. Places like Mitre 10 and Bunnings may be misleading as stock is ordered for all of the stores throughout the country and some varieties may not be suited to the region you are in.
I’m afraid it is not possible to grow peonies in Auckland, or anywhere else in the upper North Island for that matter, much to my disappointment. In order to flower, peonies need to have single digit temperatures on the ground above the tuber for around 80 days in winter, which Auckland does not have. I have verified whether it is possible to grow peonies in Auckland with some leading peony retailers in New Zealand, and they have all confirmed that it simply can’t be done. I’m sorry that this is probably not what you wanted to hear, but I always tell it exactly like it is!
Although it’s sometimes hard for me to believe, especially now when we’re in the middle of winter, Auckland’s climate is technically sub-tropical. We have a number of sub-tropical plants in our garden, including:
The only veggie that I haven’t managed to grow successfully in Auckland are swedes. They need very cool weather in winter in order to form a decent size. Otherwise, I think you’ll find that you’re able to grow most veggies in Auckland, including heat-loving and ethnic veggies if you are so inclined.
From October onwards, I’ll be selling a range of veggie, flower and herb seedlings in the little nursery that I run from home. All of these varieties are suitable for growing in Auckland. If you have moved here by then, you’re most welcome to make an appointment and come by to get what you need for your garden.
Like a lot of people (even outside Auckland), I’m really struggling with growing garlic due to a new, aggressive strain of rust. This isn’t helped by our cool, continually wet weather in winter. I have had to spray it, which I’m not exactly thrilled with but the reality is that it has become necessary in our conditions. It’s too soon to say whether the sprays I have been using will actually prevent the onset of rust successfully. Keep an eye out for updates in my blog.
In addition to peonies, you might struggle to grow some spring bulbs in Auckland, such as fritillaria and snow drops, which also require very cold weather in order to flower. You might also struggle to grow decent hyacinth and tulips because they do need a very cold winter to flourish. However, you can get around this by pre-chilling them in the fridge for around six weeks prior to planting. This is what the Eden Garden in Epsom does and they put on a splendid display of tulips at their festival every year. I wouldn’t recommend planting hyacinths and tulips until the end of May, when the weather is cooler. I also find I have better luck planting anemones around this time too, and corms also benefit from a period of chilling in the fridge (and a soaking beforehand).
These are my preliminary thoughts. I hope this has given you something to work with. If I have any further thoughts I’ll write another blog post later on. Please don’t forget I write a free weekly gardening newsletter filled with advice and tips about what to do around the garden. All of my newsletters can be found at the following location on my website: https://www.anitakundu.co.nz/newsletters.html. If you wish to receive my newsletter direct to your inbox every week, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and write “subscribe” in the subject field.
In the meantime, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me. I don’t pretend I know everything (I definitely don’t!) but I’m happy to help in any way I can.
All the best,
Just a little reminder that I'm running a competition at the moment. To be in the draw to win a collection of Franchi Italian heirloom seeds and a tomato vegetable soap (pictured), please see the PINNED post on my Facebook page Anita's Garden. Please don't forget to LIKE my page too!
Competition closes 5 pm Monday 12 August. Open to New Zealand residents only as the prize contains agricultural material.
Now is the perfect time to start thinking about whether you’d like to grow potatoes in the garden this spring. They’re not hard to grow and everyone loves potatoes. It takes awhile for seed potatoes to “chit”, that is, develop sprouts so they are ready for planting. By obtaining the varieties you wish to plant this year now, there will be enough time to allow for this before planting them in spring. If all goes well, you’ll be harvesting your own freshly dug potatoes for your table on Christmas day. What could be better than that?
· Some varieties like the Dahlias Café au Lait and Penhill Watermelon sell out quickly. To avoid disappointment, don’t delay ordering summer bulbs. I highly recommend the mail order company Bulbs Direct. They have an incredible selection of bulbs, they’re great quality and deliver straight to your door.
· For best results, plant bulbs, tubers and corms in full sun. If you plant them in a shady place, you may find that they don’t flower at all
· Prepare the soil well. I like to mix compost and sheep pellets into the ground prior to planting
· Sprinkle a little bulb fertiliser when planting each bulb, tuber and corm. For bulbs grown in the ground, use granular bulb fertiliser which comes in bags. For container grown bulbs, use some slow release fertiliser specifically formulated for bulbs, which comes in pottles
· Stake bulbs at the time of planting to avoid damaging the bulb later on. Dahlias, gladioli and lilies all grow tall and benefit from some plant support because they can get knocked over in the wind
· To encourage further flowering, liquid feed bulbs once a week with a soluble plant food
· Don’t be tempted to trim foliage once bulbs have finished flowering. Even though it looks unsightly, the bulb needs it as a source of nourishment otherwise it won’t flower the following year
· At the end of the season, you can leave bulbs in the ground to over-winter and they will resurface the following spring. Alternatively, in autumn you can lift bulbs for storing over winter and replant in spring. Lilies are exceptional and should be left in the ground year round (see below).
· Dahlias can be grown from seed or tuber. Egmont Seeds stock a range of dahlia seeds.
· Bedding dahlias can be grown from seed or purchased in a punnet from garden centres. They will develop a tuber after the first season and reflower in subsequent years. It’s up to you whether you choose to leave them in the ground or lift them in late autumn for storing over winter
· There are many different types of dahlias – cactus, decorative, dinner plate, pom pom, collarette and miniature dahlias suitable for growing in pots, in all sorts of colours. For a dazzling display all summer long, consider planting a variety of different kinds of dahlias.
· Sprinkle a little potash around dahlias as they develop buds to encourage strong, healthy flowers
· It’s worth spending the time to dead-head dahlias once they finish flowering to encourage further blooms
· If you are going to lift and store your dahlia tubers over winter, it’s best to store them in a box with some saw dust and keep them damp
· Lift and divide dahlia tubers every 4-5 years. Make sure that each piece has an ‘eye’ or it won’t flower
· Gladioli make superb cut flowers and look stunning in a vase
· Gladioli flower about 100 days after planting, so stagger planting at fortnightly intervals to ensure a continuous display of flowers
· Rust affects gladioli so if your winters are cold and wet like they are in Auckland, it’s worth spraying plants with a copper-based spray
· Corms will produce cormlets, or little corms. Detach these from the parent bulb and plant them in a separate area of the garden. They should flower in several years time.
· Lilies also make a superb cut flower and look wonderful in a bouquet
· If lilies dry out, they won’t flower. For this reason, don’t lift and store lily bulbs over winter. It’s better to leave them in the ground year round. If you want to move them to a different location after they have finished flowering that’s fine, but be sure to replant them straight away
· Most lilies will multiply so it’s a good idea to lift and divide them every few years. If they become crowded, they won’t flower well
· Tuberous begonias are best grown in containers rather than in the ground
· Use a quality potting mix, not garden soil if planting begonias in pots
· I use 18 litre black plastic pots for growing begonias as I find this is a good size
· I’ve personally found that begonias like being grown in a sheltered area. I always grow ours in our patio, which is enclosed by our house and fences, protecting the plants from extreme temperatures and wind
· You can try growing tuberous begonias from seed. Egmont Seeds stocks a range of begonia seeds. Alternatively, you can purchase tubers from garden centres and through mail order catalogues such as Bulbs Direct.