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Gardening diary: December

Gardening diary: December

It’s all systems go with spring’s fickle weather hopefully yielding to more settled summer conditions.

All soft vegetable seedlings (capsicums, peppers, melons, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, courgettes, cucumber and eggplant) can be planted out this month, although covering with a cloche (such as a plastic drinks bottle with the bottom cut out) is advisable until mid-January.

Remember to gradually introduce any indoor grown seedling to the harsher outdoor climate gradually over the course of a fortnight (this is called ‘hardening off’).

Seeds of beans (runner, snap and bush varieties), sweet corn, silver beet, celery and parsnip can be sown either directly in the ground or first raised in pots then transplanted when true leaves appear. For parsnip seeds use peat pots or toilet-roll tubes (can be transplanted straight into ground, avoids root disturbance.

From now until autumn, make a monthly diary entry to sow a few carrot, beetroot, leek, lettuce, radish, basil, coriander and dill seeds. Succession planting in this way assures a year-round supply of these veges and herbs.

Contrary to popular belief, snails have no problem slithering over sand, crushed eggshells, ash or any sharp surface (I have personally got one to slide across the top of a razor blade!). And when slugs are most active (after rain), most slug pellets will have dissolved and become ineffective. Here is my integrated mollusc management strategy:

  • Hand-pick them off at night.
  • Lay upturned half citrus skins on the ground. Slugs will accumulate in the damp, dark environment and can then be collected each day and dealt to accordingly.
  • Regularly break up the soil surface into a fine consistency using a hoe or a light rake. This reduces the number of hidey-holes for slugs.

After a lean spring garden, abundance kicks off again and enjoy harvesting spinach, radishes, globe artichokes, lettuces, early potatoes, leeks, broad beans, strawberries, broccoli, silver beet, beetroot, peas, carrots, grapefruit, lemons, coriander, chives, parsley, rosemary, sage, oregano, marjoram, mushrooms, avocados, garlic, gooseberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, red and white onions, runner beans and rhubarb.

Q. How do you best grow tomatoes?

Nina, Hamilton

A. There are a wide variety of tomatoes, and they are easy to grow, take only a small amount of space and can crop well.

Sow the small seeds just under the surface of good quality seed-raising mix then place in a warm sunny spot. Keep the soil moist. Once 10cm-high, transplant seedlings to a larger container and fill with a good quality vegetable mix or tomato mix (a quality mix allows you to grow in containers if space is limited). Otherwise, once soil temperature has reached 18°C and the weather is consistently warm, transplant plants into the garden.

Tomatoes need warmth and free-draining soil. Plant tomatoes where they haven’t been grown in a couple of years, adding nutrient and fertiliser to the soil (use a quality compost or garden mix). Stake and tie the plant and prune each plant to two main stems. Tie these to the stakes. Water regularly and remove laterals (non-flowering side shoots and basal growths) but leave the flowers (for the fruit). Pick ripe tomatoes regularly to encourage frequent cropping.

Split tomatoes may be a result of irregular watering and drying out. Mulching can help prevent this and specially formulated tomato fertiliser will keep plants strong and healthy. Discard dead or diseased leaves.

Try these sesame honeyed veges with your favourite barbecue dishes this summer!

Steamed veges with sesame and honey




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