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Southern Vegie Garden Notes -February 2012

This season has been so different from last year which was much sunnier and warmer. With the water shortage, we are lucky to have had a cooler, moister season .  Right now the sun is shining and the cicadas are in full chorus after last night’s lovely rain.

My daughter Tess rang from Paris and said how happy she was that it was now light at 6 pm.  This is a definite reminder that we are moving into autumn. You will notice that the speed of growth is changing; no longer the frantic pace of spring.


I still have self sown peas happily growing. In most other years these would be burnt off in the February heat and the peas would have shrivelled.

My blackberries, which are swathed in bird netting, are ripening. I check under the netting every couple of days for more sweet, juicy morsels. 

My next door neighbours, with a little help from yours t, planted some tomatoes and basil. They bought lovely plants and now they have ripe tomatoes. The blackbirds and I have been watching these delicious red round globes for over a week. It will be a race to see who gets them first; the neighbours or the blackbirds. It is a good idea to check your harvest during your twilight perambulations.

My tomatoes, which I started in my hot water cupboard in the second week of September, are ripening. I grew some Cherokee Purple tomatoes which are deep crimson.  Good bye pallid shop tomatoes, hello wonderful, red richness. Have you noticed how fast tomatoes ripen when we get a hot sunny day?

Painted Lady BeansI was given a heritage climbing bean called Painted Lady.This one bean plant  has grown over three poles and produced a bean deluge. They look a bit like Scarlet Runners but they have red and white flowers. Like Scarlet Runners they are very flavoursome, but they don’t go stringy as quickly as  Scarlet Runners. They are also the sweetest, nicest beans I have ever eaten raw. I will be saving seed.


I am harvesting apple cucumbers, carrots, corn, beetroot, courgettes, dwarf beans and spring onions.   I let my mizuna, go to seed last spring so now they are popping up everywhere making a quick, green tasty treat for me and the chooks.

With the cool weather my basil is about half the size of my usual crop, my chilli plants are only about 20cm high and my gherkins are very slow, even so this moist season is preferable to screaming nor-westers, a drought and liquefaction blowing everywhere.

Seeds and seedlings

For me this is another very busy time of year in the garden. Over the last month I have been sowing broccoli, Italian broccoli, cauliflower, kale, pak choi, silver beet and spinach seeds. I also planted lettuce biscia rossa, which is a cold tolerant lettuce. I have been sowing them every couple of weeks so that I will have crops coming on successively over winter.

At the four leaf stage I have been transplanting them into trays. Once upon a time, in days of yore, I used to make  up a potting mix, but now I just sling them into trays with some compost from my compost heap.

I love the little pak chois. They pop up so quickly and from seed to plate it is only about 40 days. They withstand severe frosts and just love Christchurch’s current cool, cloudy, moist climate. They can be picked all through winter and take up hardly any space and are great for container gardens and small plots.

Some of my seedlings for the community gardens are ready for transplanting tomorrow ( 9 March); others will be ready in two weeks while other seedlings are still in their seed raising trays.  Yesterday I sowed pak choi, spring onion, spinach and broccoli seeds. They will be the last sowings of these plants for this season, except for the pak chois. I will probably sow another two lots of pak chois.

Seedlings from Nurseries.

I bought a pottle of excellent spring onion seedlings from the veggie shop on the corner of Marshlands and Prestons Rd. There must have been nearly 60 seedlings in it.  I transplanted them like leeks with my trusty dibbler.

Try to stick to the above crops if you are buying seedlings for sowing outside.  Remember your commercial seedlings have all been grown indoors and so they are not tough when you get them. They will need a little more TLC for the first week or so and will be prone to being munched.

Growing in Containers

Corn in Planter BoxTomatoes in PotsI have included photographs of vegetables which my neighbours have grown in containers. The tomatoes were grown in commercial tomato mix. It just shows you what you can grow in a bucket or on a small patio.

Bokashi Composting

I have become very interested in the bokashi composting system. All the food you throw out into the green bin can be easily turned into high nutrient plant food.

I have bought myself a Bokashi bucket  and composting mix ($36.00 from the CCC Service Centres) and I now feed my waste to my pet microbes. For more information look on www.zingbokashi.co.nz..  Basically Bokashi pickles your waste. This creates a smell free breakdown of your waste and produces a valuable liquid along with compostable materials. These contribute to the microbial health of your soil.

Last week I watered my Brussel sprouts with the liquid( 1 tablespoon to a watering can); they had been looking a bit ho-hum. I can’t believe the difference. This week they are all very, very perky. I am now looking forward to stir fried Brussel Sprouts with lamb and mushroom stew on cold winter nights.

I originally thought that the Bokashi system would be a great way of fertilising small gardens. I now realise that it is great for all gardens.

From Heather Jayne Bennett

Keeping busy in the garden just not the veggie patch area! Still got lettuces growing, had my first tomato that I have ever grown myself!!  A small achievement but hey....  though lots more seem to be there just not big or ripe enough to pick yet.  The bases of the tomato plants look a bit yellow so I have been pulling off those bits, hope this will be ok, must have read somewhere that you can do this, too late now!! 

   Yes it is a good idea to pick off the yellow leaves. The tomatoes are slow ripening because of the cool season.

Sweetcorn growing really well though unsure when it will be ready?

   Corn is ready to pick when the tassels are brown and you can feel the plump kernels through the green sheaves.

The peach plant is still growing up the stick, though it has been rather windblown recently as no doubt did all your plants etc.  Lost so many roses, bit of a game at the moment, beautiful rose, rain, gales, wind and deadhead, then hope for sunshine.  Rose grows again and before I get a chance to pick for the house it is lost to the elements.   All good fun and makes for an enjoyable time.  Happy gardening to you all whatever the weather.  

   Take care, Heather

From Betty Shore

My garden is in a small courtyard, so space and sun are limited.

Blueberries are my most successful crop. I have 2 kinds. One drops it's leaves in winter, and then bears fruit for Christmas and through January. I picked a couple of litres to freeze, as well as eating lots along the way.
The other bush is evergreen, and begins bearing when the first one finishes.  It doesn't have as many berries, but they are bigger and sweeter.They both take minimum care and work well in my small garden.  I gave them the sunniest spot I have. I keep bird net securely on them, because I have some very determined birds in my garden.

My cherry tomatoes are slow because there is less sun in the rest of my garden, but they have lots coming on.
I planted them in one of the green bins the CCC gifted us when wheelies came in. That means I can change the soil readily and still keep them in the best position. They get sun all afternoon and are next to the water tap.

I planted a dwarf cherry tree 2 years ago, and it had over a dozen yummy cherries, likewise protected from the birds. It bears well, but I think it will need careful pruning to keep it dwarf and bearing well.

My New Zealand cranberries have fruit, but very small. Probably need more water and sun.
My strawberries produced very few this year, I think only one raspberry and no boysenberries.
I need to take another look at what they need.

My lettuce is the ruffled sort, which seems to do best for me. I just pick a few leaves at a time.

My silver beet is short but OK, and beans have been late.

My neighbour's vegies always thrive on  sheep pellets. I plan to watch for some.

    You might like to try the Bokashi system. Easier than "Sheep Pellets in the City."

From Joanne Shaw

Joanne's Harvest Since your course (which I loved) there have been some failures, but mostly successes in my garden.  The epic failure – my beans – I thought everyone could grow beans!  Evidently not.  I tried and tried and tried some more.  I don’t really know why this happened but my theory – you may be able to tell me I’m wrong – poor soil quality maybe? 

   Beans, especially dwarf beans are quite temperature sensitive. They need warm soils for germinating. I start    planting them at show weekend.

Also a failure – my chilli plants – not overly bothered because I don’t like chillies – but I don’t know why they failed, ??? too cold for them – should I have put them in the greenhouse. 

   Some years they grow well outside, depends on the season. This year no. Christchurch is marginal for chillies outside.

I have worked very hard on bringing the quality of my soil up to scratch – I have done lots of research (my favourite type of magazines to buy are now gardening ones!) – and although this was a little too late to help things that had already failed, I have noticed a huge difference in growth success/failure since.  My husband has also built a new extra raised bed – which I filled with lots of ‘good stuff’ and left for a few weeks, continually feeding it until I started to sow things into it.  In my second bed, I noticed an enormous difference as to how my plants grew and seedlings came on.  

 This is a great story about the difference soil makes.

  The crops I haven’t done too well with but wouldn’t call an epic failure, peas and spinach.  My spinach would go to seed (my magazine research tells me this is because I don’t water is evenly enough ie too much one day and not enough the next)

 Only some varieties of spinach grow in summer, the rest go to seed just like yours.

Joanne's CarrotsMy successes – well – loads – my tomatoes (various varieties) have been fantastic, my cucumbers pretty good, I haven’t bought lettuce all summer, courgettes, potatoes, silverbeet, carrots (all different varieties, including purple!), spring onions, beetroot, pak choi, Chinese broccoli and lots of herbs.  I got lots of blackberries, blackcurrants, boysenberries and gooseberries – but can’t take any credit for those – they were already here.   My sweetcorn is almost there – isn’t it quite late – should I have put it in sooner, I’m also thinking I haven’t put it in a place where it gets enough sunshine.

   It has been such a cool season so everything is later than usual.

My pumpkins/squashes are trying really hard to get somewhere – but I’m sure again, they should be further on than they are – each little squash is about 2” long – cute – but not much to eat!    All in all, I am happy with my successes and of course I can learn from the failures, I can pretty much already eat most lunches (salads) and evening (veggies) from my garden – so I’m a happy girl.

I have been busy planting my brassicas and leeks, swedes (which I understand aren’t overly popular here – you see them as animal fodder eh?)      Southlanders eat them,
…more carrots, parsnips, more beetroot, more lettuces, more silverbeet, trying again with beans and peas in a better area in better soil, more spinach and don’t know if I’ve done the right thing, but put another couple of courgettes in – don’t know if I can do that over autumn/winter!   

   Let us know what happens.


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