Vegetable gardening has been taken up as a pastime by many more Kiwis this year. The summer months we are in now are some of the most productive for vegetable gardening harvest.
I always recommend where possible that a quick daily visit to your vege patch is the best way to ensure you get a good quality harvest.
A 5-minute visit every day means produce can be harvested at its optimum stage, bugs can be treated before a major infestation occurs and the odd tomato lateral can be removed as it appears.
Checking soil moisture and turning the sprinkler on as necessary in the early morning is also highly beneficial at this time.
One of the summer vegetable garden favourites is growing lettuce, and it is so easy. They can be picked up from the garden centre in punnets of six plants and will be ready for harvesting in 3-4 weeks.
There are many varieties that outer leaves can be harvested from while the plant continues to grow. Some prefer the traditional Iceberg type varieties where you harvest a tight ball shaped head.
Lettuce is well suited to growing in pots if you lack room in the garden and these offer a quite decorative effect as well.
Harvesting of tomatoes, beans, zucchini and cucumbers is becoming prolific for many during this midsummer period. Carrots and parsnips sown in November and December are growing rapidly now. Finger size thinned out carrots can be pulled out and eaten to leave more growing space for the others.
Onions should now be drying off prior to harvesting and storing away for the winter. Once the stems of onions have bent over they need to be pulled and left to lie in the sun for a few days to dry and cure.
There are various ways of storing them including; stringing – hang in the kitchen by the stems. Or on wire netting – strung between garage or shed rafters. Or in onion bags that can be hung up where air can circulate freely.
Amongst this period of summer harvest it is time to think ahead to autumn and winter harvest. Now is the time to make plantings of leeks and start the first consecutive plantings of brassicas.
Planting leeks now will allow some fantastic growth and will be ready to start harvesting in May and June. Planting brassicas now they will be ready in April and May. Keep in mind that planting too late into the autumn and they will not be ready until spring as the growth stops when temperatures get cold in winter.
When planting you need to be vigilant in the battle against the white butterfly caterpillars. White butterflies have not been noticeable yet this year. When present the caterpillars will eat brassicas like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale. If something is not done to avoid or control the attack, your crops can be destroyed.
Another pest that will damage brassicas, which is often blamed on the white butterfly, is the diamondback moth. The caterpillars of the diamondback moth are similar to the white butterfly caterpillar but a lot smaller and are capable of more damage as they can drill deep holes into the host plant like cabbages. The adult moths are very small but can be seen flying off the crop when disturbed.
Establishing a cloche and covering with bug net (available in the garden centre where it is sold by the metre off the roll) at the time of planting will prevent many insects gaining access to the plants and thus preventing against damage. This is a great method to use in avoiding the spraying of your vegetables.
There are some good sprays available if necessary for these both of these pests. Derris dust has some control but must be applied frequently for effectiveness, especially after rain or irrigation. Yates Mavrik is also very effective and is bee friendly.
An excellent control product is Yates Success Ultra. This product is derived from naturally occurring bacteria specific. Yates Success Ultra is very effective when applied about every 14 days over the white butterfly breeding season and is also effective against aphids, whitefly, codlin moth, psyllid and more.
It is time to make new sowings of carrots and beetroot for a tasty autumn/winter crop. I highly recommend the Ican Chefs Best Seed Range. This is a range of 15 of the best vegetable seed categories.
The majority of these varieties are hybrids where there has been a focus on breeding for superior taste, improved pest and disease resistance, increased vigour and yield. In addition hybrids have the benefit of being consistent and reliable.
A number of the varieties are also more compact, and faster maturing, which results in a larger range from less space, and the ability to produce more crops through the season. Many are ideal for raised planter beds and container gardening.
The following carrot and beetroot are in the range with the following description;
Beetroot Red Lightening: Sweet and tender. Strong and vigorous, early maturing, upright grower, producing uniform size deep red globe-shaped roots. The best variety available.
Carrot Europa: Strong, vigorous germination and rapid growth. Long straight carrot with good disease resistance and tolerance to 'bolting'. This is best home garden carrot yet developed.
When sowing seeds direct into the garden ensure the ground is well dug over and broken down to a fine soil. Once germinated thin out plants for a better crop and keep moist and weed free. Protect seedlings with slug bait and feed regularly with liquid fertiliser Ican Fast Food. Very few pest and disease problems are encountered when growing beetroot.
Carrots grow best in soil that is low in nitrogen. A soil too high in nitrogen may result in the carrot roots forking – a very common problem for home gardeners. Carrot seed is very fine and difficult to handle.
To get an even distribution mix the seed with sand or similar fine organic matter to increase the bulk. Sprinkle this mixture along your marked rows 1-2cm deep with rows 15cm apart. Keep moist until the ferny foliage appears. Thin 4-7cm apart depending on how large you want your carrots to grow.
Some common problems growing carrots is splitting, forking and a number of rots. Carrot splitting is caused through irregular water supply and with soil being over fertilised or manured with excess nitrogen. The general rule is higher nitrogen fertilisers for leaf crops such as silverbeet, and lettuce; use Tui Potato Food for root crops such as potatoes and carrots and potash for fruit and flower crops such as tomatoes and broccoli.
Plants of course do require some of each element and many other trace elements as well. A good general all encompassing fertiliser is the Ican Organic Vegetable Food.
Carrots are ready for harvest when they are around 2cm across at the top of the carrot. You may need to carefully remove some soil from around the carrot to see this, or sometimes you will be able to see the carrot slightly above the ground. Carrots are generally sweetest when they are slightly on the small side and will lose flavour if they get too large.
Don't store damaged carrots. Soft rot can be caused by growing in a heavily manured garden, particularly if there is poor drainage. Carrots prefer a deeply cultivated soil and can be sown anytime from spring to autumn.
Have a good week
•Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre