Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Long weekend's time for green thumbs to get working

The balmy weather is perfect for taking to the garden - and getting your tomatoes in. Photo / 123RF
The balmy weather is perfect for taking to the garden - and getting your tomatoes in. Photo / 123RF

Spring has sprung and Kiwis are finally enjoying another long weekend - making this the perfect time to plant the foundations of a bountiful summer garden.

A good rule of (green) thumb is to make sure tomatoes are planted by Labour Weekend.

While they're at it, keen gardeners might as well take advantage of the extra day off to also plant a few more veges perfect for summer salads, like cucumbers and capsicums. Horticultural expert Ruud Kleinpaste told the Herald frost-free mornings from here on in meant all sorts of crops and herbs would flourish in coming months.

"If you plant them now they will get enough sunlight to scream out of the ground like a jet plane," he said.

When it came to tomatoes, Kleinpaste recommended planting tigerellas, which were not as small as cherry tomatoes but not as large as the more common variety.

"It's striped like a tiger. It's a reddish tomato, it fits in a lunchbox and it's got the most intense taste."

Tigerella tomatoes go well in salads and when the end of-season-glut begins to overwhelm, they can be turned into tomato sauce which can be frozen to last through the winter.

Tomatoes come in many different varieties but all were more or less as easy to grow as the others, Kleinpaste said, so even novice gardeners can try mixing things up.

Lettuces, perpetual spinach - "like a cross between spinach and silverbeet - but not as boring" - and carrots were all good bets to get in the ground by the end of Monday too.

Seeds could be easily found in most gardening centres.

Planting carrots early could help protect them from the worst attacks by carrot rust fly, a pest which flourishes in the heat of the late summer, Kleinpaste said.

A variety of lettuces like crunchy, cos and red lettuce were a great resource to have on hand for Christmas lunches.

Kleinpaste recommended growing veges in full sun where possible, as most thrive on sunlight.

The key for any good summer garden however was to make sure the soil was ripe for planting.

"You [must] realise that organic material, like compost, is the best holder of fertility," he said.

"If you've got bare soil, it can't attach many molecules like phosphate, nitrogen, or potash."

Those three elements were essential for healthy plant growth, he explained.

"Nitrogen is used by the plants to make green leaves, and green stems. The whole photosynthesis of making sugars comes from that nitrogen."

Phosphate was good for the plant's health and for growing healthy solid stems and potash was something of a plant aphrodisiac, aiding sexual reproduction so plants could produce flowers or fruit.

Bags of soil in gardening centres contained different types of elements depending what exactly was needed, and beginners should ask shop assistants for guidance in picking the right type, he said.

For those living in the city or without much space for a garden, there are a few different ways of creating one.

If a property has a balcony but no soil, try lining a small recycling bin with sacking or tarpaulin and filling it with soil to make a small herb garden.

Alternatively, garden space can be created by hanging planters from window sills or walls using a set of straps, which can be bought from Nest for $79.

Start small and simple

Beginner gardeners should start small, to avoid taking on more than they can handle and becoming discouraged.

Choose a sunny spot in the garden, as full sun is essential for optimal plant growth.

Aerate your soil. Veges need 50 per cent of soil to be air to grow well. The easiest way to do that is double digging - digging the depth of two metal spade lengths. After you've done this once, the soil should redevelop that same structure when you replant.

Water your garden daily. During dry periods you will need 5 litres of water per square metre of garden per day.

Starting a garden from seeds is satisfying but can be more difficult - for a surer success, try buying plants that have already sprouted and replanting them in your garden where you can tend to them to make them grow.

Basic tools: D-handled spade and fork, watering can or shower hose, a rake, a weeding hoe, a 10 or 20 litre bucket for carrying compost or fertiliser.

• For more information about tending to your garden, you can visit www.koanga.org.nz

- Herald on Sunday

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