Here are tasks the keen gardener can complete to be productive during the winter to spring transition.
What to do in the garden when it’s not quite spring? While an early start to seed germination can lead to sturdier plants and a better yield, soils in most of New Zealand are still too cold as most seeds germinate in temperatures between 18-25°C. Seeds which can’t be raised indoors must be protected from the cold and wet – so here are a few tips to get ahead of the game:
- Peg out clear polythene over your vege plot now to accelerate soil warming. After a month, transplant your seedlings into the plot and then create a mini-tent (a cloche) using the same polythene over canes or wire hoops, to provide continued protection from late frosts. Alternatively, place plastic drink bottles with the bottom cut out and cap removed over each seedling to create a mini-cloche.
- Raise seedlings from vegetables such as peas and beans indoors in toilet roll tubes filled with seed-raising mix and supported in an ice-cream carton. They get a bit soggy but they can be transplanted directly into warmed-up soil without damaging delicate roots.
- Water seeds and seedlings with warm water as cold water lowers soil temperature and the rate of germination.
- Eggplants, tomatoes, celery, capsicums, cucumbers, courgettes and squash can be germinated now but keep them indoors or under cover as they are tender and hate cold snaps.
- Buy seed potatoes, place in a cardboard box full of dry, shredded newspaper and wait until 5cm sprouts appear. These can then be planted in wet straw bales, car tyres or any deep container filled with compost and pine needles (for acidity). As the plant grows, keep adding soil to hide all but the top 30cm of the plant (earthing up). Pick potatoes when the plant dies down.
- Visit your local horse track or pony club for nature’s natural compost – manure. Pile it up and let it rot down for at least one month before adding to your vege garden.
- If you planted broad beans in early winter, now is the time to sprinkle wood ash around the plants – this aids bean production and disease resistance.