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Welcome to New Zealands Plant Portal. Wally Richards Weekly Garden Tips & Advice.

Gardening Articles for week ending 8th DECEMBER 2007
Written by Wally Richards.

Over the last few weeks I have spoken to the owners of several garden centres throughout New Zealand and they have all reported that a lot of both young and elderly people have become first time gardeners. These new gardeners are starting up vegetable and herb gardens along with a few flowers to brighten up areas. They are asking very basic questions such as how far to plant seed potatoes apart.
(Ideally about 20 to 30cm apart)
What is the reason for this big upsurge in growing your own vegetables? Apparently the reason is that they are sick of buying supermarket produce that lacks flavour and is likely full of chemical residues from sprays. Many are very concerned about their health, the health of their families, and prefer to grow nutritionally valuable fruit and vegetables without the use of chemical fertilisers and sprays.
Recent TV programs that have highlighted the health concerns of conventional grown crops, the numerous chemical additives used by food manufactures and the lack of concern of the government to really do something about improving our food chain. (Conventionally grown food means the high use of chemicals including weed killers, fertilisers and rescue sprays)
I believe that these new gardeners have come to realise that they can have control of what chemicals (if any) go into that nice fresh green lettuce that they grow and eat.
Times they are a-changing and the days of commercial growers/farmers spreading tons of man-made fertilisers over their now dead land is coming to an end as it is not sustainable. Soil has being lost instead of being built up and the environment is being destroyed. Once upon a time when a farmer’s cow pooed on the soil it was an asset as it fed the soil life and grasses. Now the chemicals have killed the soil life that same poo has become a pollutant. Chemically grown food is not healthy as the waiting lists of our hospitals show. Leading scientists are now telling us this has to change if we want to save the planet and survive. A great reason for people to become gardeners.
How does one become a gardener and grow some crops? There are two ways, in soil in open gardens or in containers using a compost/soil mix. This later way is the easiest as there is no preparation of the soil and within next to no time, you can have a few plants growing nicely. You can use any sort of container that is 20cm or more deep with ample room to support one or more plants. Polystyrene trays are a favourite of mine as they are cheap to obtain, secondhand from wholesale fish places and even supermarkets. Measuring 40x60cm and 20cm deep they are ideal for growing half a dozen lettuce, miniature cabbage, cauli, silverbeet, several dwarf beans plants, 8 strawberries, numerous carrots, parsnips, spring onions and a good number of onions. Add to this 4 capsicum or egg plants, several parsley or basil plants and even a few flower plants if you so wish. The same trays are ideal for growing wheat grass, when grown with all the natural minerals (Ocean solids, Simalith and Magic Botanic Liquid) and juiced it will provide the greatest boost to your health possible, taken daily on an empty stomach.
For potatoes we can grow them in the cheap buckets that are readily available. For tomatoes we need a container that is about 40 litres or bigger but dwarf tomatoes will do well in a larger bucket size container. I have a feijoa ‘Unique’, growing well, and giving fruit in a 45 litre container. Another 45 litre container has a tamarillo that gives a nice crop each year.
Shall I keep going? Berry fruit, citrus and other fruit trees into 45 to 100 litre containers all produce nice crops each year. Using plastic rubbish tins, recycled drums, etc, it is only your imagination and some compost to get started. One of the great things about growing in containers is that you can move them around and if you shift homes you can take them with you. Generally fairly weed free to boot.
Bags of compost can be obtained cheaply from garden centres or bulk suppliers and even if the quality of the compost is not great it is only an initial growing medium and you can add more goodness.
Here is how I go about growing 6 lettuces in a polystyrene tray; a trip down to the garden centre to obtain a 40 litre bag of compost, a bag of sheep manure pellets and a bag of blood and bone. Pick out a punnet of lettuce and my preferred one would be Buttercrunch as you can harvest the outer leaves for a long period before it goes to seed. Look for nice young plants in a punnet that are a bit on the small size.
The reason for this is that large vegetable plants may have been in the punnet too long and become stressed. If that is the case they may, once transplanted into your tray and obtaining good growing conditions you are going to provide, go to seed or as we say, ‘bolt’. Which is a waste of time.
Being on the smaller size you take them home and grow them on in the punnet till they are of a nice size to transplant. Place the punnet in a spot where it is seen by you every day so you remember to water it everyday. Likely by the backdoor raised on a upside down pot or similar. In the mean time you can prepare your polystyrene tray for planting up later. Drill some hole either in the base of the tray or even better in the sides about 2-3 cm from the base. The side holes means that drainage will be above a couple of centimeters of compost mix which gives you a natural water reservoir for when the plants are mature and their water needs increase. Tip out your bag of compost into a wheelbarrow (If you don't have one then place a plastic tarp on the ground) Take a couple of handfuls of soil from a garden, minus any weeds and sprinkle this over the compost along with a handful of blood and bone and a couple of handfuls of sheep manure pellets. Now mix this all up so that we have the added products nicely mixed through the compost. Fill your polystyrene container with the mix to a level 2 cm below the top rim.
The reason for this is to make watering easier later on. When your punnet of lettuce plants are ready to transplant, take the punnet and submerge it in a bucket of water and let it bubble away. When it stops bubbling lift it out and let the surplus water run out. The reason for this is to ensure that the mix that the seedlings are growing in is saturated with water, making it easier to separate the individual plants with less root damage. Don't pull the plants out of the punnet instead tear off the section that they are growing in like you would remove a stamp from a sheet of stamps.
Make six holes in the polystyrene tray mix with your fingers, the holes should be near the edges (about 6-8cm out) at each corner and two in the centre same distance from the sides. The plants will grow over the edge of the container when mature and likely be about touching in the middle.
If you have available any chook poo, place about a tablespoon full in the base of each hole and cover it lightly with a bit of compost. (Chook poo is great for growing big lettuces quickly) If you don't have chook poo then place a few sheep manure pellets in the base of each hole. Now place your lettuce seedling into the hole area with its roots dangling down, the base of the lettuce even with the top of the mix and back fill the hole with more compost. Lightly press the compost mix so that the plant is standing up nice and straight. If it flops over don't worry as it will pick itself up as it establishes.
Move the tray to a shady spot and with a rose hose attachment or watering can, water the seedlings in.
Cover the tray with a old net curtain to prevent birds or snails from damaging the seedlings.
Lift the curtain each day and lightly water. When the lettuce are standing up nicely you can then move the tray to a spot where they will obtain more sun for apart of the day. Keep the curtain over them till well established. Water daily. If possible use filtered water or fill your watering can with water again after each use and stand till the next day to water again. This removes the chlorine from the water and makes for better results. More next week.

Any Problems ring me at 0800 466464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
Email wallyjr@gardenews.co.nz
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz

Garden Pages and News at www.gardenews.co.nz
Shar Pei pages at  www.sharpei.co.nz

Problems ring me at 0800 466 464 (Palmerston North 3570606)
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz

Garden Pages and News at www.gardenews.co.nz
Shar Pei pages
at www.sharpei.co.nz

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