Seed sowing (indoors)
I advise against sowing seeds outdoors until September, when it is warmer. I usually start sowing seeds indoors on my heat pad in August, but one exception is begonia semperflorens (waxy bedding begonias). As they take a very long time to germinate and grow, begonia seeds can be sown undercover as early as May right through until September, according to the Egmont Seeds Commercial Catalogue. That way, your heat pad(s) will be free by the time you want to start your seed sowing in late winter/early spring.
Here are some pictures of bedding begonias that I raised from seed last season.
You can plant the following outside:
You can place orders for the following now:
Here is a list of tasks you can do indoors, which is perfect for when it’s raining.
I have been very busy in the garden this month. The shortest day is actually my favourite time of the year, as it marks when I plant strawberries, onions and garlic, which I really enjoy growing in our garden. Did you know that once the shortest day (21st June) has passed, every day is lighter by one minute more? I think this is what seems to trigger growth for some veggies, including alliums. Onions do really well if planted as seedlings around this time of the year.
Here is a round up of what I have been doing so far this month.
A week ago, I planted out the last of my spring bulbs. I was a bit late in receiving my tulips and hyacinths from Bulbs Direct this year because the owner had Covid and had to self-isolate. I somehow managed to plant everything out in two days. I also sent my cousin Shireen who lives in Whangarei a package which included some tulips and daffodils (from another bulb order which arrived in mid-May). Bulbs Direct usually upload their spring bulb catalogue on the website in mid-January and it does pay to get in quick with your order as popular varieties sell out fast. In addition to offering a fantastic range of spring bulbs at very reasonable prices and great customer service, Bulbs Direct is also happy to pre-chill your tulip and hyacinth bulbs if you live in a climate with mild winters, like Auckland. This ensures that your flowers have long stems and are suitable for picking. I have grown tulips and hyacinths which were not pre-chilled in the past and I noticed that the plants were considerably stunted by comparison.
Towards the end of May I started the process of lifting our dahlia tubers and carried on with this task into June. We have had quite a bit of rain recently and I was concerned that I might lose the tubers to rot if I left them in the ground over winter. I have stored all our dahlia tubers in plastic Sistema crates filled with some potting mix and saw dust. Mum sprays them with water every day to keep the tubers alive. Here is a picture of how I have stored them in our greenhouse, as there is no available space in our garage.
I didn’t need to order any new strawberry plants as my plants from last year went absolutely wild and produced so many runners! Most of my plants were given to me by Awapuni last year and are the variety Camarosa. It took me awhile to tidy up our patch. It looked like a complete jungle to begin with.
I wasn’t sure where to start so I enlisted the advice of a fellow gardener called Candy, who goes by the Insta handle @nzgardener. Candy is an expert on growing strawberries and grew over 26kg of fruit last summer. Candy advised me not to dig up and replant all my plants, which is what she is doing in her own garden. She said that I just needed to remove the runners that had appeared in the pathways between rows and replant them elsewhere, so we would have little pathways to walk between rows to pick the berries as they ripen. I created three new rows of strawberries with the additional runners, so we now have a total of seven rows of strawberries. I did not count how many plants we have in total but a rough guesstimate is 300 plants. Here are some photos of what our strawberry patch looks like now.
Over the past fortnight, I planted eight punnets of Pukekohe Longkeeper brown onions and five punnets of Californian red onions. I found four punnets of brown onions and the five punnets of red onions on clearance at the Warehouse and it made sense to purchase them at $1 and $1.50 per punnet. I got the remaining four punnets of brown onions for free by redeeming a $10 voucher at Kings Plant Barn. They have a loyalty card and I had accrued enough points over time to redeem a reward. I received a very pleasant surprise when I went to pay at the checkout! What is a shame is that this year I had every intention of ordering onion seedlings from Awapuni, who stock both brown and red onions but I have more than enough and don’t need to do this. Nor do I need to bother raising any onions from seed in spring, as I did last year. I find onions incredibly easy to grow. Other than keeping the weeds down, they need little care until they are harvested in mid-summer.
I wasn’t intending to grow garlic this year after struggling with rust for the past few seasons. Like a lot of gardeners, I lost all of my good seed stock and had to keep purchasing new seed garlic. It is becoming very difficult to source and is very expensive. The quality of what you get these days isn’t that great, either. A picture of an amazing garlic harvest popped up on my Facebook feed and belonged to a gardener in one of the many gardening Facebook groups I belong to. I happened to comment on what an incredible crop it was and mentioned that I had given up because of my on-going battle with rust. The author of the post responded with some advice – to spray the foliage with apple cider vinegar. She was kind enough to let me in on her secret and that is to mix 1 cup of apple cider vinegar (she uses the Countdown Homebrand one which is around $4 for a bottle) with 5 litres of water.
I have planted four varieties: Printanor, Red Russian, Ajo Rojo and Elephant. I was very fortunate that a fellow Auckland gardener gave me some spare elephant garlic cloves as I had been having problems sourcing them this year. I gave some of each garlic variety to my cousin in Whangarei, along with some strawberry runners and dianthus Diana Blueberry plants that I raised from seed in autumn.
The two garden beds that I planted with ornamental kale seedlings when I returned home from our bach in mid-May are shaping up nicely. I grew three varieties from seed, Crane Pink, Crane White and Crane Bicolour.
Last winter, Awapuni Nurseries kindly sent me a bundle of plants, including 50 Camarosa and 50 Ventana strawberry plants. We had our best strawberry season ever. I don’t think we have ever harvested as many strawberries in a season. They cropped from October until the end of January. I want to share my top tips for growing strawberries successfully.
It pays to source high quality plants if you want a good crop of strawberries. Around May/June, Awapuni stock bare-rooted strawberry plants on their website. The advantage to buying strawberry plants bare-rooted is that they are more economical than purchasing individual potted plants found at garden centres. If you have a large garden and are wanting to grow a lot of strawberries like we did, then Awapuni’s Mega Bundles of strawberries are perfect for you. Last year, Camarosa and Ventana came in Mega Bundles of 50 and 100 plants, which is more economical than buying standard bundles and definitely cheaper than purchasing lots of potted plants from the garden centre.
Strawberries tend to crop well for three years. After that, they lose their vigour, so it’s best to replace them with fresh plants. A commercial grower told me that strawberry plants tend to be the most productive in their second year.
Preparing the area
Strawberries do best in full sun, as all berries need quite a bit of sun in order to ripen. I mixed compost and sheep pellets into the area beforehand and dug the bed over.
I always plant my strawberries in double rows of 25 plants within a tunnel hoop frame which I set up at the time of planting so I ensure I don’t exceed the parameters. This is later used to drape bird netting over the plants once the berries start to ripen. So each row contains 50 strawberry plants.
Prior to planting, I like to mix a little strawberry fertiliser into each hole. Last year, I happened to have a Dalton’s slow release fertiliser for strawberries on hand which I picked up on clearance at the Warehouse. This year, I don’t have that product, but I do have quite a bit of tomato fertiliser which is suitable for fruiting plants, so I will use that instead.
When planting your strawberries, ensure that the crown isn’t covered otherwise it will rot.
I like to snip off any dead leaves while I put in each plant.
Once you have finished planting, water the plants well.
I like to mulch our strawberry plants with pea straw to help keep the weeds down and add nitrogen to the soil. I have been doing this for many years with great success. Some strawberry growers swear by using black polythene. I tried this once but reverted back to pea straw as a mulch as I preferred it more.
Maintaining the strawberry bed
As the weather warms up in spring, the key thing is to keep weeds down as they compete with the plants for nutrients.
Once the plants start to flower, I like to liquid feed the area weekly with a water soluble plant food specialized for growing berries. This will encourage further flowers and fruiting.
Once berries start to ripen, cover them with netting to protect them from birds.
Harvest berries daily as they ripen to ensure that birds don’t get them and they don’t rot. Regular picking will also encourage further fruiting.
Towards the end of the season, your plants will start to produce runners, or baby plants which are attached to the parent plant. Peg the end down in the soil so that it develops roots and forms a new plant which can later be separated from the parent plant and planted elsewhere.
Ideas for using strawberries
There are so many different ways strawberries can be used. They are delicious eaten fresh and added to smoothies. We had so many last year that for the first time we actually froze some free flow, for using in smoothies later on.
There is nothing like a Christmas pavlova decorated with strawberries fresh from the garden. They are also delicious dipped in chocolate.
I recently shared a post in some gardening groups I belong to on Facebook about our kumara (sweet potato) harvest and some growing tips. I thought it might be helpful to turn it into a blog post, which may be helpful to readers. I have adapted it slightly to take account of the fact that some of my audience might live overseas.
I live in Auckland, New Zealand. We are on a suburban section in an area called Manukau, I think the section is about 1/5 acre but the house and garage take up some space. I’m not sure about the dimensions of all our garden beds but I dug up our entire front lawn. I have been gardening for a decade. We are mostly self-sufficient. This is our best kumara harvest to date but to be fair I did devote much more space to growing kumara and planted more slips this summer. This is how I have gone about growing kumara but that does not mean that it is the best, only or right way of doing things. Other people may have had a lot of luck – or even more luck – using other techniques. I don’t know everything and I’m not always right. Don’t forget that there are many articles, blogs, videos etc on the subject too which offer detailed and maybe even better advice. Although I have learnt how to propagate and grow most veggies, I am also learning and for kumara that involves curing and storage. In the past I only planted a couple of slips so our harvest was maybe just a couple of kilos, which we consumed quite quickly. I didn’t bother to cure and store it properly.
I only grew red kumara this season. In the past I have experimented with heirloom kumara from Koanga, as well as gold and orange kumara from the supermarket. The harvested tubers were very small. I found that the standard red variety from the supermarket performed best so I only grow that now. But that is not to say that other people might not have had better luck with those other varieties. That is just my experience. I certainly don’t want to deter anyone from trying to grow them.
Around the shortest day last year (21st June for us) I placed a 60 litre Sistema crate filled with some old potting mix in our greenhouse (a converted spa pool room which we didn’t use for that purpose). I half-buried 10 red kumara I purchased from the supermarket in the dirt. I did not cut the kumara or do anything to them. I know it is possible to propagate slips by putting a kumara in a glass of water. The reason I didn’t do it this way is because I asked Henri, the owner at Awapuni Nurseries, for his advice as to the best way to propagate slips and he advised me to place the kumara in some dirt. Awapuni sell kumara slips every spring and are very knowledgeable about growing kumara so I followed Henri’s advice. I placed the lid on the crate as it is cold in winter, even in the greenhouse. Every day I sprayed the crate with a bit of water in a spray bottle to keep it moist.
By spring, shoots had begun to develop. As the slips grew taller and it became warmer, I could no longer cover the crate with the lid.
I waited until the slips were about 10-15cm long before I carefully picked them off the kumara and potted them up in a plastic pot filled with some potting mix. I kept them outside in our patio (my little “nursery” where I keep my seedlings, which is nice and sheltered) and watered them. In about a fortnight they developed roots and were ready for planting. I did try planting some slips out about the third week of November but ended up losing most of them. The survivors were mostly planted out about mid-December. At least in our microclimate it is just too cold to plant kumara outside any earlier than that. While daytime temperatures are warm, don’t forget that plants are also outside at night when the temperature drops. Also in spring temperatures can fluctuate a lot, which stresses plants out and can cause them to die. But when you can plant kumara depends on where you live. Up north you can probably plant slips much earlier than mid-December.
Kumara needs a long hot summer in order to form decent tubers. Experts have advised 4-5 months. Mine were in the ground for close to four months.
The site I used to plant the kumara was in full sun and was next to one of our dahlia gardens (I am also an avid flower gardener). I measured the area. It is 2.3m wide and 4 m in length. As a root crop, kumara needs to be in full sun. I’m sorry I don’t know how many slips I planted out. I lost some and replaced them, and squeezed in some that developed later on so I lost count. But I used slips that formed from 10 kumara tubers. As for spacing, I didn’t really measure but I think the slips would have been around 15cm apart. Henri from Awapuni recommends making a J-shape with the roots of the slip when planting it to help it form roots so I did just that (as opposed to planting the slip with the roots straight down as you would any other plant). Some gardeners recommend planting kumara slips in mounds but I didn’t do this. I left the soil flat when I made the hole to insert the slip.
It's very important not to dig the bed over before planting kumara (something which you would ordinarily do with potatoes and most other crops). If you do this, the roots will run down forever without forming tubers. Kumara needs to hit a hard surface in order to form roots. That is the advice Henri from Awapuni gave in a Youtube video I watched. But other gardeners may have had good experiences with growing kumara having dug the bed over beforehand. I used a little superphosphate fertiliser to help with the development of strong roots (I sprinkle a little in each hole prior to planting the slip) and mulched the plants with pea straw once they were planted in the ground. I do not add compost to the soil because it contains too much nitrogen, which would encourage the plants to develop lots of leaves at the expense of forming decent tubers. So as you can see I actually do very little to the soil. I am sorry but I do not know what type of soil we have. I have never had it tested.
In spring I liquid fed the garden weekly with a seaweed tonic or water soluble plant food so the kumara patch got that, too. Other than watering the garden I didn’t really do anything. You are meant to keep lifting the runners and turning them over on themselves to stop them from forming roots everywhere, so the plants can invest their energy in the actual root, but I didn’t do this. I have a very big garden and didn’t have any time. Besides, once the kumara did take off it was such a mess. The runners went everywhere and I didn’t want to stand on the plants and risk damaging them.
You are supposed to harvest kumara before the first frost. The advice a neighbour at our bach (beach house) gave us was to harvest in April. She is very knowledgeable. She is in her 90s and comes from a long line of gardeners in the Far North, who grew kumara. About a week ago, I had a little feel around a few of the plants at the edge of the patch to see if they were ready to be harvested. I recommend using a fork rather than a spade to harvest kumara. I worked very carefully so as not to spear any tubers. If that happens, they won’t store well. I loosened the soil some distance away from the root but most of the time used my hands to find the tubers. I wore both fitted disposable gloves (the kind you can get from the supermarket) and on top of that, thick gardening gloves that some German wwoofers (travellers with working holiday visas who stayed with us in exchange for some help in the garden) left behind back when we used to host them prior to the pandemic. The gloves are from Germany and I don’t think you can get them here. Wearing good gloves will help protect your hands. I am not into manicures so that isn’t an issue but I hate it when the soil gets lodged deep under your nails and you can’t remove it. It can be very painful.
Once I harvested all our kumara, I organised the tubers into different boxes according to their size. You can see this in the photos. There were some monsters which were absolutely ginormous. I have never seen such huge kumara! They went into one box. Then there were ones that were big but slightly smaller. Then the medium sized ones went into a few boxes. All the really small ones went into one box and the ones that got speared or cut by the end went into a trug which we are keeping in the kitchen. We will eat these first as they won’t store very well. After we finish those we will eat the small ones as they don’t store that well either. Interestingly I read in an article that the head of the Maori garden at Hamilton Gardens (a famous public garden in New Zealand) said that enormous tubers don’t store that well either, as they contain a lot of moisture. In that case, we had better eat those ones after the smallest ones. In his opinion, medium sized kumara store best.
I’m sorry I didn’t weigh our kumara harvest. I never weigh our harvest but it would be a good and interesting thing to do. A gardener I know in a place called Foxton had the goal of growing a tonne of veggies in a year, which she managed to achieve. Now that I have scaled the veggie patch down so I have room for growing dahlias, my new obsession, I doubt we would reach that.
In previous years, I only planted a few slips and our harvest was very small, so storage was not an issue. We got through them fairly quickly. We are new to the storing process. I have done some research, including looking at Koanga and Awapuni’s advice. The consensus is that the tubers need to be cured ie dried in the sun so that the skin thickens and they keep better. I am not sure how long I am supposed to do this for as I am new to curing and storage, but I am going to leave them in the sun for a week and turn them over half way through so they cure on both sides. After curing, there are different schools of thought but some experts recommend wrapping each tuber individually with newspaper and storing them in a dark, dry place. It is important that the tubers do not come into contact with sunlight as they will sprout. One source recommended storing them under your bed, which is what I’m going to do as there are no dark places in our house or garage.
Some people have asked me if kumara will grow where they live (outside Auckland). I’m sorry but I have no idea! I have only done gardening on our property here in Auckland. It’s best to ask this question in a local or national gardening group. Someone where you live might know the answer. What I do suggest is why not give it a try on a small scale at first? Buy one kumara, propagate a few slips and plant them to test it out. You don’t have a lot to lose. At the time I purchased kumara from the supermarket to propagate my slips, I think it was around $3 kg. I ended up spending $10 for all the tubers I used, so one kumara won’t cost that much, especially if it is purchased when prices fall. I have even seen kumara for $1.99 kg in the past but it might not fall that low again because of the pandemic, which has pushed the price of everything up.
I hope these tips are helpful! Good luck. And thank you to Henri from Awapuni Nurseries for your advice! If you don’t want all the hassle of propagating your own slips, are pressed for time or your own slips failed, remember that you can purchase some from Awapuni in spring.
A couple of days before we went into lockdown in August last year, I had my laptop sent away for repairs. I only got it back three months later, which meant that I could not write any blog posts. While it is a long time ago now, I would really like to share a report on our spring and early summer garden. Everything went really well. It only went downhill in summer, but that is the subject of another post!
A firm favourite in our spring garden is miner’s lettuce. In September, I prepare a small area by mixing in a bit of compost and garden fertiliser. I then sprinkle a 10g packet of seeds and cover lightly with soil. At this time of the year, it is not usually necessary for me to keep the area moist as it rains a lot. The leaves are tender and delicious. We harvest them as we need them. At the end of spring, it runs to seed and if left there, the plants will happily self-seed the following season.
Another favourite in our garden is NZ Spinach. I sowed our plants from seed over the summer and planted them out in autumn. NZ Spinach is difficult to get established but once it takes off it spreads and ends up growing in a bit of a bush. We pick the leaves for our daily green smoothies. The leaves can also be steamed as with any other spinach
In July, I planted quite a few punnets of mini brassicas that I purchased from Roger’s, including broccoli. After we harvested the main head, I left the plant in the ground and side-shoots began to form. This kept us with a constant supply of broccoli all spring, right up until mid-December when the plants started going to seed and I needed the space for the dahlias.
Last spring, I grew two varieties. I always grow Liseta, an early variety which matures in 70-80 days. I also grow Summer Delight, a main crop potato which matures in around 120 days and stores very well. We had a really good crop and have been enjoying eating potatoes from our garden right up until February.
We had an incredibly good crop last year. We ended up freezing lots. To freeze broad beans, shell and blanch them first.
Awapuni very kindly gave me two mega bundles of strawberries to grow in our garden. There were two varieties, Camarosa and Ventana. Each bundle contained 50 plants. They were honestly the best strawberries that we have ever eaten and I have been growing strawberries for many years now. I highly recommend Awapuni’s plants!
We planted a Cleopatra dwarf avocado tree in 2017 and it cropped for the first time last spring. We harvested about 60 avocados which was a great result.
I grew Iceland poppies for the first time last year in a garden bed alongside our driveway. I was very inspired by the displays that I have seen in council gardens. Ours did not disappoint and we had a beautiful display in spring.
Early summer poppies
Every year, a number of different kinds of single and peony poppies self-seed merrily in the garden. Last year, we had a spectacular display.
Last year, Bulbs Direct kindly gave me a number of different tulips to grow in our garden. We had the most magnificent display in late winter and early spring. Here are some of my favourites.
Our roses always look their best in spring and last year they put on a spectacular display. Here are some of our favourites.
Here are some photos of our bedding plants in early spring
I thought it might be a good idea to do a write up about the new dahlias that I added to our garden this season. Prior to last year, I only had a few varieties, including the famous Café au Lait and Penhill Watermelon, which I purchased from Bulbs Direct, New Zealand’s leading mail order bulb supplier.
Two years ago, I happened to purchase the lovely Labyrinth, which was not being sold in 2021 and became the most highly sought after dahlia tuber in the country. Someone in a Facebook group for dahlia growers that I belong to said that a couple of auctions for the Labyrinth closed at $400! Here is the Labyrinth in bloom in this year’s garden.
The Labyrinth has a sister called Labyrinth Two Tone, which I purchased from a supplier called Petal Plants. It is also really lovely.
Firm favourites in our garden are the varieties Maya, Wizard of Oz and Peaches n’ Cream, all of which I purchased from Jenny at Studio 24 Botanicals.
Mum and I were also very impressed with Breakout, which is the sister to Café au Lait.
The picture that received more likes on my Instagram page than any other dahlia was Alfred Grille, which was a tuber from a previous season which I purchased from Bulbs Direct. I don’t have many cactus dahlias and it is admittedly not my favourite variety, but I do really like this one.
One strange thing about this year is that our dahlias have been very late to flower. Some have only just started flowering and we are waiting on many others. I will post another update on our dahlias in the future to cover them.
Here’s a round up of developments in the garden.
Harvesting pumpkins and butternuts
My pumpkins and butternuts died off the vines quite early this year so I harvested them and stored them inside. The butternut variety that we grew this year was called Chieftain.
We also grew Spaghetti Squash and the following pumpkin varieties – Blue Hubbard, Jarrahdale and Queensland Blue. All of these are known to store really well.
Our okra is starting to become ready! This season I grew four varieties: Gunjan, Emerald Green, Clemson Spineless and Burgundy. I planted my okra in 9 litre square black plastic containers (around the size of a household bucket). I have 193 plants in total. Every two days, I keep an eye on them as they mature quickly. It’s best to harvest them while they are young otherwise they can start to become too tough.
Planting rudbeckia seedlings
My marigolds that were planted in large plastic baba troughs had just about had it, so I pulled them out and replaced them with some dwarf rudbeckia seedlings that I raised from seed. This is the first time that I have grown rudbeckia and I am very pleased with the results. They are very easy to grow from seed and required little effort on my part.
Potting up seedlings
I have been busy working in my nursery. I have been potting up lettuce seedlings (including the wonderful variety Degli Ortolani from Italian Seeds Pronto), Pak Choi, Silverbeet, Kale and Spinach. When they have grown a bit in the seed raising trays I transferred them to, I will move them into the garden. I expect this to be in March some time.
It has been a shamelessly long time since I have written a blog post and I thought it was about time I resurrected the blog section of my website. Apart from the three month hiatus when my laptop was being repaired during the last lockdown, I have been very diligent at writing my weekly gardening newsletter. I really think that this would benefit from being supplemented by extra gardening tips and news about what is happening at Anita’s Garden. I will try to include the link to my recent blog posts in my newsletter, so readers can stay up to date.
It feels like summer is over. Our Naked Ladies have started flowering, which for me is a sign that we have moved into autumn.
It has been an interesting season with a mix of successes and failures. I would like to share them with you.
To read the third issue of Volume 4 of my FREE weekly newsletter filled with gardening tips, please visit the newsletters section of my website. I have uploaded the latest issue here.
If you're using a smart phone, it's best viewed as a pdf document received by email. To be added to my mailing list, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and write "subscribe" in the subject field.
Have a great weekend!
To read the second issue of Volume 4 of my FREE weekly newsletter filled with gardening tips, please visit the newsletters section of my website. I have uploaded the latest issue here.
If you're using a smart phone, it's best viewed as a pdf document received by email. To be added to my mailing list, please email me at email@example.com and write "subscribe" in the subject field.
Have a great weekend!