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 farmers 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
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
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
Web site www.gardenews.co.nz