This year, I have decided to enter the Yates spring veggie growing challenge. This is an annual competition held every spring by one of New Zealand's largest gardening companies. Participants complete a blog outlining progress in their garden during spring and early summer. Prizes are given to the best entries. Over the coming months, I will be posting my blog entries for the contest. Here is my first entry:
Greetings fellow gardeners!
Despite being a seasoned gardener (excuse the pun!) of many years, I've never actually taken part in the Yates spring veggie challenge despite being aware of its existence for many years now. I think what put me off was the idea of having to blog regularly. It’s hard enough to keep up with the garden, never mind finding the time to write about it as well! For some reason, the competition crossed my mind today, perhaps because spring has only recently begun. This year, I’ve decided to enter for two reasons. Firstly, I have gotten into the habit of writing about our garden regularly, as I started my own blog this year (see the blog section under the tab “Anita’s Garden” of my website, www.anitakundu.co.nz). I don’t update my blog every day, but I see the challenge as a way of encouraging me to write more about what I’m doing to the garden. Hopefully, this will be of interest to others. Secondly, and linked to this, is the thought that the competition will motivate me to make this year’s garden even better and more successful than previous seasons. I’m always trying to expand the range of what I grow and ensure that crops perform even better than before!
Before I describe where I am currently with our garden and my plans over the coming weeks, let me first introduce myself since I’m new to this site. My name is Anita Kundu. I am 37 years old and live on a suburban sized section in the Auckland suburb of Manukau. I am a former lawyer. I share our home with my mother Sue and our lovely tortoiseshell cat, Ginger. I started gardening about six years ago when my father passed away. I found it to be a kind of therapy for me to cope with my grief. I started out growing solely flowers, but have since extended the garden to encompass vegetables, roses and fruit trees. Our garden featured in an article in the April 2017 edition of the NZ Gardener magazine. We also host wwoofers (that is, foreign travellers with working holiday visas) who stay with us in exchange for some assistance around the garden. All in all, the garden is an important part of who we are as people.
Every year, I look forward to spring as for me, it marks the start of the gardening year. I garden year round and tend to start my seedlings for spring and summer well in advance, during autumn and winter. For this reason, I have already made quite a bit of progress with regard to the spring and summer garden.
In this post, I thought that I would provide a potted summary (excuse the gardening pun again!) of what I have been doing in preparation for spring over the past few months, as well as a description of what I have been doing in the garden since spring actually began.
I normally start preparing for the summer garden by sowing heat loving veggies such as tomatoes, eggplants, chillies and capsicums under cover on electronic heat pads which I keep in our lounge. I usually start sowing these seeds in August as it takes awhile for them to germinate and grow large enough until they can be transplanted outside around Labour Weekend. I did do this, but this year, I also did something a little different. Every year, by Labour weekend, my seedlings are tiny compared to the size of plants in garden centres. So it becomes very tempting to buy plants as well so I can have a head start to the season! As we now have a greenhouse (we converted our unused spa pool room into a place where we can keep seedlings warm in the cooler months), I decided to sow tomato, eggplants, chillies and capsicums even earlier, in April and May. By getting a head start, I hoped that these seedlings would survive the winter period and be much larger by October. In any event, I thought it would be interesting to compare the progress of both sowings and it would make for good reading material for my blog. I’m pleased to report that the chillies and capsicums that I sowed back in April and May have done marvellously. In August, the wwoofers who were here at the time, a young French couple, repotted my seedlings into 10cm pots. Unfortunately, the eggplants and tomatoes didn’t fare very well, so I’ll be relying on the seeds that I sowed in August to provide our plants for this summer. So far, they look very healthy, but it’s too early to pot them up into 6-cell punnets. I’ll post a picture in a future post. I can’t post everything in this one or there will be nothing to tell and show next week!
We are very fortunate to be harvesting quite a few different veggies from the garden including asparagus (which I started from seed five years ago), peas (I sowed the variety Easy Peasy from Egmont Seeds back in April, which grew tremendously well over winter), green and red cabbages, cauliflower, kale and lettuce (all of which were purchased as seedlings from Bunnings). I will include a photo of our harvest in a future post, so you have an idea of what we have been eating from the garden.
Since the beginning of September, the garden has been a hive of activity! The wwoofers who are currently staying with us, a young Danish couple, helped me by planting leeks and spring onions into one of our garden beds. These plants were purchased as seedlings from Kings Plant Barn, who recently had a very lucrative special on seedling punnets, selling them for just 99c each. This area of the garden doesn’t receive full sun, unlike the other garden beds. Over the years, I’ve worked out that leeks and spring onions do very well in this particular area, as they seem to enjoy a bit of shade in the afternoon. While they were doing that, I planted more coriander and parsley seedlings (both triple curled and Italian, again purchased from Kings Plant Barn) into our herb garden at the back of our house, by the washing line. I also purchased quite a few punnets of lettuce and rocket from Kings, which I planted into circular pots. I prefer cut and come again varieties of lettuce as you can just pick what you need, which avoids waste. Over the past two days, we have also been sowing carrots into 35 litre buckets. I prefer growing carrots this way for two reasons. Firstly, it saves space, so I can devote ground area to different plants, especially ones such as pumpkins and melons which need the space to crawl. Secondly, the temperature in containers is always a little warmer, making it easier for seeds to germinate. Additionally, it is a good way for me to recycle old potting mix (I used mixture from our chilli and capsicum plants over summer). Carrots do better in old mixture as fresh potting mix causes their roots to become forked. Another tip to avoid forked carrots is to sow seed direct, as they hate being transplanted! Some of the seeds in my collection are from Yates, and among the varieties of carrots that I sowed was “Early Chantenay”. I’m looking forward to seeing how this variety fares. I also like the variety “Baby” from Yates, so I sowed a packet of that as well. I also planted out more punnets of spinach and Silverbeet which I purchased from Kings during their sale. In our “greens” garden, I sowed some more rocket direct yesterday.
In a foil tray, I sowed some microgreens this morning – mizuna from Yates and fenugreek seeds from an Indian greengrocer. In just a few weeks, we’ll be able to add them to our salads and other dishes. For Ginger, our cat, I sowed some cat grass in trays. Cats seek this out to lie on and nibble at.
Later in the morning, I sowed some passionfruit seeds on the heat pad. We lost our main vine at the back of our house. Unfortunately, passionfruit vines have a limited life span of approximately five years, after which time they need to be replaced. I also sowed some white borage seeds directly into our garden, which a gardening friend of mine gave to me. I have blue borage in the garden which is flowering at the moment and am very keen to try the white kind, too. Borage is a fantastic bee-attracting flower, which aids the pollination of flowering veggies such as beans, tomatoes, peppers and zucchini. I also sowed more lettuce seeds, as the ones that I sowed last month had a patchy germination rate. I find that seeds germinate more reliably as the temperatures become warmer, which is why I’m waiting a few weeks before sowing leeks, celery, chives and (more) spring onions. Today was very, very cold so I’ve decided to wait a few more weeks before planting out our lovely, healthy punnets of beetroot seedlings which I also purchased from Kings Plant Barn during their sale. While beetroot isn’t as frost sensitive as say tomatoes or capsicums, I have noticed that they’re definitely more temperamental than say lettuce or spring onions.
I’m waiting for ground temperatures to increase before I sow wildflowers in the garden, to help attract bees and beneficial insects. I also have four punnets each of cosmos and cornflowers which I will wait until mid September to plant out. These early summer flowering annuals help attract bees to the garden, which aids the pollination of fruiting veggies, as discussed before. I also intend to sow parsnips and radish direct into the garden around the same time. In the past, I’ve noticed that seed doesn’t germinate well if sown early in the month, as ground temperatures can be quite cool, especially if it rains a lot.
Normally I wait until later in September before I start sowing cucurbits such as zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers on my heat pads indoors. I have quite a few varieties from the Yates seed collection, including one of my favourite pumpkins, Queensland Blue. I always wait until even early October to start my melons, as they’re even more sensitive to the cold.
This has been a very long post, much longer than I originally intended! It may be that similar to my blog, I write fewer, longer posts which summarise my activities over a period of a week or fortnight, as opposed to writing a daily update in journal format. I hope you have found this post interesting and informative. Any feedback – comments, suggestions or otherwise – is highly valued! Good luck to all gardeners out there, whether you’re participating in the Yates spring gardening challenge or not! I wish you all the very best for the coming season.