The Back Yard
Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Gardening: Apple trees to your doorstep

By Justin Newcombe

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Landscape gardener and Life columnist Justin answer your questions.

It's worth persevering with growing your own apples because nothing beats fruits fresh from the tree. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
It's worth persevering with growing your own apples because nothing beats fruits fresh from the tree. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today

I enjoyed your story on apples, but my local plant centre does not seem to have the varieties you suggest. Any ideas where I could get them from?
- Hayden Field

I recommend you check out the Kaiwaka Organics website and obtain their tree catalogue which will inform you of the varieties available this year. These guys specialise in heritage seeds and fruit trees and have a great range of heritage apples and plums (to answer your next question). They have several different rootstocks available including a dwarf variety which is perfect for those smaller urban spaces. In addition to this, they have a range of apples that produce throughout the season so if you choose wisely you could have back-to-back produce. Remember to check whether your tree needs a pollinator. You can order your trees between February and the end of June, and the kind folks at Kaiwaka Organics can courier them to you. Plus you can't get past those names that are vaguely reminiscent of titles for James Bond films: "Maxwell Quirk", "Lady Finger" and "Northern Spy" to name a few. Good luck with your orchard, your children will thank you for it (if not now then later) - there's nothing better than fruit off the tree.

Ever since I moved to New Zealand from England 37 years ago I have wondered what happens to the brussel tops that we used to enjoy as winter greens. I have never seen them on sale here. Do they get fed to animals, or are they just dug back into the soil? I would be interested to know. They were a favourite with many people in Britain.
- Mavis Fruin

Most people in New Zealand are familiar with brussels sprouts but fewer are aware that there is a distinction between the sprouts and the growing tip of the plant, as the name suggests, brussel tops. Thank you for educating me in that regard Mavis. Supermarkets periodically sell brussels sprouts but yes, you are right in saying that they never (to my knowledge anyway) sell brussel tops. You may have more luck at your local farmers' market or local food swap forum. As to what happens to them when the plants are harvested, I'm as much in the dark as you. In other parts of the world these tips of the plant are in fact fed to farm animals. Perhaps approach some kindly rural folk who may be more well informed in such matters.

Our persimmon tree is finally producing fruit, but by the time they are a lovely orange colour on the tree, they are too soft to eat and have to go from tree to compost bin. Are persimmons like pears - one minute they're rocks, the next they're mush? Should I pick them unripe and keep them in the fridge or what?
- Kate, Herne Bay

Basically there are two varieties of persimmon, those with astringent fruits and those with non-astringent fruits. To complicate the issue though, individual trees can often lie anywhere between these two extremes depending on cultivar and pollination circumstances. You might have to do a little experimentation but essentially astringent varieties should be harvested when the fruit is hard but fully coloured. They will ripen if stored at room temperature - perhaps try in the fruit bowl with other fruit. Even when hard the fruit should be handled with care as they bruise easily. Non-astringent varieties are ready to harvest when they are fully coloured, but allowing them to soften a little more after harvest will improve their flavour. So you are probably right in assuming that there is a small window of opportunity in terms of the perfect time to harvest, checking your persimmons might have to become your daily wind-down ritual. Hope this helps you achieve the perfect persimmon.

Weekend checklist

In the veggie garden:
* Keep planting brassicas, leeks, silverbeet, peas, broad beans, beetroot, parsnips, spinach and spring onions.

* Keep an eye out for slugs, snails and white butterflies. A swathe of wound-up bird netting around your young plants makes an excellent trap for snails. Also, netting your plants over a wooden frame or some sticks will help keep out white butterflies.

* Top dress vege beds and mulch around plants and on unused beds.

* There's still time to sow green crops so think about where you will plant your leafy veges come spring time.

In the flower garden:
* Prepare flower beds for winter annuals with compost.

* Plant ageratum, alyssum (great in the vege garden as well), aquilegia, bellis, calendula, cornflower, forget-me-not, hollyhock, pansy, primula and viola.

* Plant bulbs now, see Kings for a great selection.

* Lift dahlia tubers and gladioli corns and store in a dry place for next spring.

* Cut back perennials and divide, if desired, for a good show come spring.

* Turn compost.

- NZ Herald

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