Matariki is here and yes, the shortest day of the year last week (21st June) means your garlic should be in the ground. Although don’t stress if it’s anytime around this date.
If you’re an Aucklander, have you enjoyed the frosts we had last week? Although two frosts in one week makes us city folk go into a tailspin! I spent all of last week in the garden filming our latest www.tuitime.co.nz how-to gardening guides. So much fun in the garden. Make sure you check them out. Cos it’s Tui Time.
I also love NZ Gardener magazine and I’ve just leafed through my latest copy (sorry about the pun!)
So much so, I wanted to share Lynda Hallinan’s latest Top 5 tasks for your home vege patch for Winter plus some wonderful Yam recipes.
1. Plant spinach. Spinach is such a cold weather staple that it’s easy to take it for granted. Sweeter and less stalky than silverbeet, it’s a handy gap filler in the garden and a good fallback for dishes like vegetarian lasagne. Don’t boil it; just wash and wilt it in a saucepan, or steam it. One or two punnets of seedlings are plenty for an average family, as you harvest it leaf-by-leaf rather than uprooting the whole plant in one go. Sow spinach in trays and transplant the seedlings when they’re 5cm high. You can also sow spinach in tubs and troughs on your deck for a good source of baby salad greens. The warmer you keep the containers, the quicker your spinach will sprout and grow.
2. Acquire a choko (or two). If you have an old shed or fence that could support a choko vine, all you need to get started is a choko fruit. While they’re still available (and if you’ve got some spares to give away, we can share your details in our crop swap column), put one aside. Choko vines, like kumara, are easy to sprout. Simply line a shoebox with a plastic bag, fill it up with damp sand or potting mix, and nestle the fattest end of the choko into the soil mix. Come spring, it’ll sprout roots and shoots out of its bottom and you have a free vine to plant.
3. Buy or borrow a barrel and start making liquid fertiliser. It’s less than 10 weeks until spring (I’m trying to look on the bright side)! When there’s not much else going on in the garden, why not turn your attention to rotting down all sorts of stinky natural ingredients to make your own liquid fertilisers for the season ahead? Fill a large plastic drum or barrel two-thirds of the way up with water and then add whatever you can get your hands on, such as comfrey; grass clippings (unless you’ve used weedkillers on your lawn); sheep, cow, horse or alpaca manure; seaweed; roadkill (if you have the stomach for it); fish scraps; fallen leaves and kitchen scraps (not meat or cooked food). It’ll break down slowly over the next couple of months, providing free fertiliser in spring.
4. Stand up for your rights to import heirloom tomato seeds without battling red tape! Okay, so that’s a bit inflammatory, but the Ministry for Primary Industries is proposing to change the rules on tomato seed importation. What does this mean for home gardeners? Not much, unless you like to bring back seeds from overseas. At the moment, if you come across a gorgeous tomato in a far-flung destination, such as Italy or France, you are legally allowed to bring packets of seeds home, provided you declare them at Customs; they are unopened; and have the botanical name printed on the label. However, under the new rules (if passed), you won’t be able to bring tomato seeds unless you have accompanying documentation (a phytosanitary certificate) from the seed company that complies with our biosecurity import regulations. The changes are aimed at preventing new tomato diseases establishing in New Zealand. Seed that has been personally collected or purchased from non-commercial sources would no longer be permitted into New Zealand. This rule change is open for public comment until 20 July 2012. Detailed information about the proposed changes and how to make a submission is available online here. If the law is changed, then it will come into effect next July. So… if you’ve got a trip planned between now and then… make the most of the opportunity and bring home some tomato seeds!
5. Gardening by the moon? From now until the end of next week, sow and plant all above-ground producing crops. Don’t sow root crops or they’ll bolt prematurely to seed. (For those wanting to get garlic in, the next suitable time for root crops is July 8-9.)
Suzanne of Pahiatua says “they’re absolutely my favourite vegetable… second only to potatoes. I like them roasted best, with a dash of oil, seasoning and dried mixed herbs tossed over them.”
Lee Freedom of Nelson agrees: “I’m a gardener that truly loves yams, probably because I wasn’t forcefed them at an early age. In fact, I favour them over roasted spuds and french fries. I bet they’re good for you too, since so many people dislike them.” And Auckland gardener Sarah Davies roasts hers with olive oil and a couple of sprigs of rosemary. “Divine and so easy,” she says.
Rae from Hawkes Bay likes to split yams lengthwise and bake them with cubes of butter and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar, a sprinkling of rock salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Yvette Lindsay says “my husband (who, when I married him, liked very few veges) and I like our yams sliced and sautéed in garlic, ginger and olive oil until cooked but still crunchy. Very tasty!”
Pauline Cole says you can’t beat roasted yams with roast pork.
“I grow both the red and orange yams in tyres, just like potatoes. This year, I grew them from all the tiny ones left over from last year. I used the same soil as well, as there were still tiny yams left there. I added compost and homemade liquid seaweed. I harvested them last week and now have 10kg in my freezer to eat.”
Denise Durry also keeps her yams in the freezer. “I love yams and so does my elder grandson and son-in-law. I always keep an empty ice cream container of uncooked yams in my freezer and just cook them from frozen; don’t thaw first or they go mushy. It’s always a rush as to who will get to the yams first when I put a dish of them on the table.”
Jane Lovell recommends orange-baked yams from The Cook’s Garden by Mary Browne, Helen Leach & Nancy Tichborne. Ingredients: 1kg yams, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, freshly grated nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, grated rind and juice of 2 oranges, 1/2 cup water, 4 tablespoons butter. Place yams in a greased roasting dish. Sprinkle with brown sugar, ginger, nutmeg, salt and grated rind. Combine orange juice and water and pour over yams. Dot with butter. Bake uncovered at 180C for 40-60 minutes, turning yams several times.
NZ Gardener Q&A:
Q. I planted a ‘Monty’s Surprise’ apple tree three years ago, excited by its heritage status and antioxidant properties. This year I tasted the fruit for the first time, and frankly am disappointed. It is a very sharp tasting apple a little like a ‘Granny Smith’. This I don’t mind, but the texture is dull and woolly. I really can’t see myself eating many of these in a season, I’m sure my neighbour’s chooks won’t be so fussy. Is there any chance the apple will improve when the tree matures? Roger Brown
A. Judging the ripeness of ‘Monty’s Surprise’ apples appears to be a bit tricky, as I too have found some of the later fruit not to be as crisp as I would like. For most apple varieties, the fruit is at its best when the skin colour on the back (i.e the side of the fruit that faces into the tree, away from the sun) turns from green to yellowy. When this colour is very yellow, the fruit is usually overmature; it may also have a waxy feel to the skin. You can also test the maturity of apples by cutting the fruit open – when the pips are dark brown, the fruit is ready to harvest. Another point for this variety is that on young trees with only a few fruit, the apples can be very large (see the photo of my colleague Emma) which will affect the development of the fruit internally. As the tree gets older with more normal crop loads and fruit size, the eating quality of the fruit should improve. Kate Marshall, Waimea Nurseries
Q. I planted a ‘Cocktail Kiwi’ kiwifruit vine 4-5 years ago. Last year was the first time it fruited but we only got fruit on the very ends of the vine. The large middle area had no fruit on it all. Would this be like a grape? Do I need to prune it back to one large upright each year? Val Campbell
A. Fruiting spurs will develop on the main leader and one-year-old canes in spring, then flower and carry fruit in the autumn. There are detailed pruning instructions for kiwifruit and ‘Cocktail Kiwi’ on our website. Fiona Boylan, Incredible Edibles
Q. I have a tamarillo tree which I keep covered with frost cloth… but it has still been frosted. Why is this? I continue to cover it, hoping it will come away in spring. Pam, Papamoa
A. Subtropical tamarillos are very tender and won’t tolerate freezing temperatures. Even a layer of frost cloth may not be sufficient to stop their foliage blackening on an icy night. You could try spraying your plant with liquid frost cloth or Vaporguard for added protection. One final thing: never cut off the blackened, frost-damaged foliage as this leaves the tree vulnerable to further damage. Tamarillos can take months to recover from frost damage too; I had a tree in my city garden that was hit by frost in May and didn’t produce a new leaf until the following January! Lynda Hallinan
Q. My friend has the most gorgeous plum tree that I would love to add to my orchard. An old gardening friend suggested I graft a cutting from the tree onto a peach seedling. Does this work, and if not what should I graft it onto? Carolynne Andrew
A. Some plum varieties can be grafted (or budded in February) onto peach seedlings, but others are incompatible with peach so these must go onto plum rootstocks. I suggest grafting a dormant cutting now or very soon (before spring), as it’s probably worth a try. If you have a peach seedling of your own, you could use that, or purchase a full grown tree from a garden centre, which you could graft your neighbours’ variety onto – making your very own multi-variety tree. If this doesn’t work, you can raise a peach seedling now to ‘bud’ in February. Kate Marshall, Waimea Nurseries
Q. I was wondering while harvesting my large, long ‘Cylindra’ beetroot, whether the leaf is edible? It looks similar to chard/silverbeet. Paul Scholten
A. Technically beetroot tops are edible, but they’re not particularly palatable. Beetroot is very closely related to silverbeet/chard, though the varieties we grow have been bred for their roots, rather than their leaves. Baby beetroot leaves can be eaten raw in salads, but the older leaves develop tough fibres and a bitter flavour. However, you can snip out the midribs and steam or stirfry them as you would silverbeet, though I’d add plenty of cheese sauce on top!