How has your home vege patch coped with the cold? Here are five great late August gardening tips. For more go to tuitime.co.nz and watch Trudi with her quick, easy tips for the last of winter gardening and how to prepare for spring:

1. Sow or plant cauliflowers. My local has cauliflowers for $4.50 and they’re not much bigger than a softball, whereas you can buy some for $2 at the farmer’s market and they’ll be too big to fit into your fridge! Even though we think of cauliflowers, cabbages and broccoli as classic winter vegetables, these brassicas, like everything else in the vege patch, grow at snail’s pace at this time of the year. As the days grow longer, however, they’ll start to pick up the pace, so you can start planting a punnet or two every fortnight from now on. Or sow seeds: try ‘All Year Round’ (a hybrid bred for top performance, ready in 15 weeks), ‘Snowdrop’ (small but speedy, it matures in 12-14 weeks) or ‘Phenomenal Early’ (15-16 weeks).

2. Start sowing tomato seeds in pots and trays, but only indoors. If you want to experiment with (and eat) a range of different hybrid and heirloom tomatoes this season, the cheapest and most satisfying method is to raise your own plants from seed. There are dozens of unusual varieties to choose from: check out Kings Seeds, Bristol Plants & Seeds and Egmont Seeds. Tomatoes are one of the easiest veges to grow from seed, as they germinate readily (hence all those self-sown seedlings popping up in your compost bin, or around coastal sewerage outlets). And, all going to plan, if you start sowing seeds now, your seedlings will be growing strongly and ready to plant outdoors by Labour Weekend. Sow seeds in trays or individual pots (don’t use those biodegradable peat pots as they are tricky to keep moist, but not wet, at this time of the year). I think small pots or punnets are more convenient than trays when it comes to tomatoes, as you can label each variety as you go. You rarely need to sow a whole packet of tomato seeds, so get together with gardening friends to swap your spare seeds. Fill your seed pots with fresh, moist, seed-raising mix and firm it down with your fingers. Sow your seeds on top, then cover with a light sprinkle of extra seed-raising mix. Keep the pots somewhere warm (a glasshouse or tunnelhouse outdoors, or your hot water cupboard or a draught-free room indoors) and make sure the mix isn’t allowed to dry out. Popping a clear plastic supermarket bag over the top of the pot or tray is a good idea – it creates a mini-greenhouse effect. The seeds should germinate in 14 days. When they first pop up, it’s really important to take off the plastic cover and move the trays into bright light, as tomato seedlings grow quite quickly and can end up spindly and weak within a couple of days. Leave the seedlings in these pots for about a month, then pot them up into bigger containers filled with potting mix, to grow them on until mid-October. We’ll talk you through the “hardening off” process (how to go about introducing your plants to the great outdoors) in a few weeks.

3. Add a splash of instant colour with calendulas, polyanthus and Iceland poppies. Fill up any gaps in your vege patch with flowers. Treat yourself to a few punnets of flower seedlings – they’re cheap and cheerful and will bloom for weeks once they get going. The Iceland poppies I planted in late winter in my city garden last year flowered right through spring, right up until Christmas.

4. Finish planting garlic and elephant garlic. If you still have a bag of seed cloves to get into the ground, do it this weekend, as garlic needs a period of winter chill to form bulbs (otherwise all you get is a nice clump of leaves on stalks like spring onions). Elephant garlic seed cloves are still available in some garden centres too. If you’ve never grown this giant, mild form of garlic (it’s actually a type of leek), it’s a beauty. Well-fed elephant garlic bulbs end up fist-sized. It’s more attractive than standard garlic, with a hard central stalk that grows up to 1m high that’s topped with a pretty pink pom-pom flower.

5. Concentrate on cultivating the soil in your garden ahead of the main spring planting season. Hoe weeds, dig in compost and have a tidy up.

~ Lynda Hallinan, New Zealand Gardener. To sign up to their free enewsletter Get Growing and receive weekly gardening tips and inspiration, email them at [email protected]

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