October is the high point of the spring flowering season. Blooms of roses, camellias, rhododendrons and of course all the pip fruit such as apple and pears are in full flower.
Heavy spring rains are still a risk so it is important to keep your vegetable gardens covered in a thick layer of mulch. I use straw or pea hay but if they are hard to find or costly autumn leaves would suffice. Don't use hay as this contains seed heads which will gleefully self-seed amongst your vegetables in a blink of an eye!
As the temperature in your garden rises the pests return from their winter hibernation. Whitefuly, mealy bug, caterpillars and codling moth will increase rapidly if allowed. If you get to them early before the population build up then homemade remedies will work well.
For aphids on swan plants and tender plants I spray with soapy water and then wash off with a high powered spray from the hose. Slugs and snails are best hunted down! I employ my three sons. Armed with a torch and a bucket after dark on a damp night they can quickly full a pail in no time. With a bounty of 10 cents a snail my purse can quickly become bereft of all funds! I squash them and feed them to the chooks (the snails not the children) but if you don't have chooks just pop them into a bucket of salty water which will kill them quickly. They can go on the compost or be buried in the garden.
To protect my edibles I dust diatomaceous earth on and around each plant. This needs to be reapplied after rain or heavy dew.
This natural product is fossilised fresh water algae. Under a microscope the edges are razor sharp. When the dust comes in contact with an insect it pierces its exoskeleton and the insect dies of dehydration. Wear a dust mask when applying.
• Kumara: if you live in a well-drained and warm area plant kumara in ridges and plant each runner at the top.
• Carrots: hybrid varieties produce short, thick roots which are especially sweet. I mix the tiny seeds with some dry sand and then sprinkle over the area.
• Plant tomatoes: choose a variety of hybrid and old fashioned tomatoes to ensure good success. When planting remove the lowest pair of leaves and plant up to there. This encourages the plant to develop a deep root system.
• Sweet corn: plant these from seed. Each plant should produce two corn husks so factor this in. This is a greedy plant so add lots of compost, animal manure or blood and bone to the area. When the seedlings are up you can mulch the area.
Codling moths attack apples, pears, quinces, stone fruit and walnuts. At this time of the year the male moths are about looking for a female moth. If you don't want fruit with large brown eaten tunnels through it then now is the time to wage war.
Get a tin can and half full it with treacle, place it in an onion bag or similar and then hang from the tree at eye height. The boys will dive into the sticky treacle and get stuck. If you are getting a lot of moths in the can then it is time to spray the tree with neem or pyrethrum. Only spray if the tree has finished flowering so not to kill bees.
Beekeeping in your backyard
In this series of columns I will introduce you to keeping bees. I keep bees primarily for pollination rather than honey. I always see any honey I harvest as a bonus gift from my bees, not a prerequisite.
When you start growing your own vegetables and planting your own fruit trees it dawns on you how important honey bees are in the equation. Without these super pollinators you will not be able to enjoy a bountiful harvest. Beekeeping is well suited to most urban backyards as the bees don't require much space.
Bees are having it hard these days and I reckon they need all our help. For this reason I keep my bees in a 'top bar' hive. This ancient hive design mimics a fallen log and allows the bees to build their own comb and to move unfettered around the hive. There is no heavy lifting, so I'm future-proofing so I can still keep bees when I am eighty! I can also build these hives myself out of scrap timber with my skilsaw and cordless drill.
Now is the time to read, read and read all you can about beekeeping. Perhaps check out the local beekeeping club in your area? Start collecting some gear. At the very least you will need a veil, some gloves, gumboots, long pants and a long loose shirt. Other equipment includes a sturdy kitchen knife (or a hive tool) and a spray bottle or a smoker to use to calm the bees.
Next time we will talk about where to position a hive in your garden and building (or buying) a hive.