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Southern Vegie Garden Notes - January 2012

Vegetable Gardens for Nearly Free

Happy New Year to you All. I hope you all have had a lovely holiday season with some time to relax.

It was great to have Margaret and Robbie volunteering at Delta and Richmond School last year.

While the Gardener was Away

Many of the plants at Delta and Richmond School were grown as seedlings in my back yard and yet they have performed very differently in their respective gardens. For example the courgette at Richmond school is pumping; whereas at Delta one is shaggy from wind, one is just ok and one died. At Delta the pumpkins took the holidays as an opportunity to take over almost the entire garden, while at Richmond school they have grown more sedately.

At home, peas, which the chooks had dug into the garden from the pea straw, blossomed and bloomed wildly providing a late crop of tasty peas for the gardener to munch while weeding. Chooks are great gardeners.

Compared to last year, this season is cooler. Only the tiniest handful of cherry tomatoes have ripened at Delta so far. Last year my outdoor chillies were well grown by now, this year the best one is only about 15cm high.


A miniature cabbageI am harvesting beetroot, beans, lettuce, courgettes, NZ spinach, spring onions, and carrots.  I love eating the baby carrots that I take out as thinnings. Pluck, wash and eat.

At Delta we harvested about six sizeable plaits of garlic.

Terri’s garden is an excellent example of growing vegetables and flowers mixed in a small area.Most of the berry crops are coming to an end. The early peaches and apples are now in full swing. My early apple which is deluging apples, is feeding myself, my neighbours and the blasted blackbirds. I have heard that blackbird pie is tasty.

My neighbour Terri planted miniature cabbages and she has been harvesting them over summer. After harvesting the cabbage Terri leaves the stalk in the ground which re-grows small but delicious cabbages the size of a very big Brussel Sprout. These are great for gardeners who do not require a whole cabbage.

Terri has also had a successful crop of Pak Choi (Joi Choi). She planted the seedlings just after Christmas.  Pak Choi is a truly amazing crop. It not only grows well now, but will also survive -8°C frosts.  Pak Choi is great for small gardens as they can be planted about a stretched hand width apart. They are delicious stir fried with a little ginger and garlic.

Hannah says: My garden has been doing really well, lots of herbs, beans, peas, radishes & courgettes.
Unfortunately my carrots didn’t appreciate me planting so many radishes in with them and then disappearing off on holiday over Christmas.

Margaret says: My garden is yielding yellow and green beans and the corn is tasselled and has ears on some. Beans and corn were sown 2'xs so crops are coming on in intervals. Broccoli is small but tasty and tomatoes are fruiting.

Heather says: A small area by the back door now has some sweet corn growing together with some tomato plants and lettuces. The lettuces were all different and taste lovely.

Seedlings to plant in February

The sunlight is on the wane. Most plants you plant now are more interested in storing up food for winter so that they can burst into flower and seed as soon as possible in spring. This means that most of the plants we now grow are for leaf (cabbage), stalk (celery) and flower bud (broccoli) rather than seeds (peas, beans, tomatoes, corn.)


This is the time of year to grow leeks which are sold in bundles. This is my favourite way of growing them as I don’t have to worry about seedling leeks while I am away on my summer holidays.  They also produce big tender leeks for the middle of winter when little else is growing.

To plant leeks you need a stick (officially called a dibble. "A pointed tool for making holes in the ground for seeds or plants" - Collins English Dictionary). I use a child’s cricket wicket. Push the dibble into the soil as far as you can then drop in the leek seedling.  Plant the leeks a hand-span apart. You do not need to fill in the hole. The plants just need watering well over the next week.

Leek seeds can be sown from mid spring right through to about now.  The later leeks will be smaller but able to be harvested in spring. The later leeks can tend to go to seed; leek flowers form a beautiful globe and they often self sow themselves – so helpful.


This is the time to plant celery seedlings. Celery turns to slush in the frost so you need to plant them now so that they can be harvested before the frosts. Last year, despite the snow we did not have a lot of frost and I managed to keep mine trucking along right through winter by racing out and covering them with some frost cloth. This does not work for a series of severe frosts.

Celery is a big feeder and needs heaps of water. I dig a trench and fill it with compost and rotted horse poo topped with soil. I plant the celery about an ell apart in the filled up trench. An ell is the distance from your elbow to your little finger. This is easier to use than carting a measurement stick into the garden.

I have just planted celery seed in seed tray for Delta. I can get away with sowing the seed so late because it is frost free there due to the concrete. This enables me to harvest celery in very early spring. – Yum.


Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, Chinese cabbages (pak choi and bok choi), brussel sprouts and kale all belong to the brassica family.

Now is the best time to plant brassicas which will be ready for late autumn. If possible plant them in the evening or the day before a rainy day. Brassica seedlings tend to wilt in the heat and perk up in the evening; this is ok they just do this to conserve water. Over the February days you will need to keep the water up to them in the evening.

To get a good crop of brussel sprouts they need to be planted now and harvested after the first frosts.

In Christchurch cauliflower and broccoli flowers turn to green/brown slops in a series of frosts. They withstand a little frost but not a lot. It is good to get these in now so they can be eaten before the frosts.

Brassica seedlings are beloved by both aphids and white butterfly. There a re a few methods for dealing with these guys. Personally I just check my plants almost daily and squash the critters. Aphids gather in the newest leaves and make them curl and discolour. I check under the leaves of the seedlings for the white butterfly eggs and just flick them off.

Other options are Derris Dust and Neem.

  • Derris Dust is an organic product which is used for killing aphids and white butterfly.
  • Neem is also an organic product which works for this job. This can be purchased from Koanga Institute - www.koanga.org.nz/shop

Tomato before large lateral removedTomato after large lateral removed with secateursCauliflowers, Brussel Sprouts and Broccoli all need to be planted about 1½ trowel lengths apart (this is about 45cm or 18 inches). Planting them close together does not tend to give you more crops. These plants are big feeders and need plenty of compost. They are a great indicator of your soil fertility; golf ball sized cauliflowers tell you that you need to improve your soil fertility. Cauliflowers are one of the hardest things to grow if your soil fertility is iffy. I sometimes cheat a little and give broccolis and caulis a wee dusting of potash at planting. Worm farm liquor is best.

This cool season has not been so good for tomatoes but is great for brassicas.

Spinach, lettuce, silver beet and spring onion seedlings can be planted now.


Tomato before small lateral removedTomato after small lateral pinched outNow is the time to be sowing broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, Chinese cabbages (Pak Choi and Bok Choi), kale, silver beet, lettuce and spring onions.  Chinese cabbages (Pak Choi and Bok Choi), kale, silver beet, lettuce and spring onions can be sown directly into the ground and thinned when they are about the size of your hand high.

Or they can be sown into a seed tray and then pricked out into a seedling tray at the four leaf stage. They will be ready when they are about 5 cm high. This will be when the summer crops like dwarf beans have finished.

Learning Curves

In spring in order to try to minimise my water usage at Delta I mulched the garden with pea straw. This did not work well. It provided homes for slugs and snails and I lost nearly all the beans that I planted. I did grow some of the biggest snails I have ever seen. Also when the wind whipped up, the straw drifted on top of new seedlings and drowned them. At home I use a lot of pea straw but the chooks dig it all in and so I don’t have the above problems.

Garden tasks

Keep taking off the laterals from your tomatoes and tying them up. See the photos above and right.


Happy gardening and eating everybody!

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