Spring is a month away (like, yay!)
So here are the top 5 things to tackle in your home vege patch for August.

1. Start sowing tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. Itching to get growing? You can now start sowing summer crops in trays indoors, so they’re ready to plant out when the weather’s a tad more settled in mid-spring. If you sow tomatoes, peppers and eggplants in trays now, keep in mind that you’ll need to transplant them once (into individual pots) before they go outdoors in October. Always use good quality seed-raising mix and don’t stockpile it in advance. The fresher, the better. Buying seed-raising mix is money well spent, and it’s not expensive. A 35-litre bag will set you back about $20 and will fill at least 10 standard plastic seed trays. Don’t use potting mix as it can be too coarse for seedlings to break through. And garden soil can contain weed seeds, insect pests and fungal spores which will all compete with your tiny seedlings for supremacy. Seed-raising mix usually contains pumice for better drainage, peat or very fine bark (to retain moisture), fungicide to prevent soil-borne diseases, and just enough fertiliser. A few more tips:
* Don’t sow seeds too deeply. The rule of thumb is to cover larger seeds to about twice their diameter so beans can be sown about 3cm deep. But with fine seed, like lettuce, you are usually OK to just press them firmly into the seed raising mix and water.
* Don’t let seedlings get too dry or too wet. If your seedlings dry out, they won’t germinate. But at the same time if the soil is allowed to get too water logged then the seedlings will rot and die (a disease known as damping off).
* Seedlings need warmth. You can cover seed trays with glass or plastic to create a mini greenhouse effect to artificially raise the temperature (most vege seeds need a temperature of at least 15 degrees to germinate; heat lovers like eggplants, tomatoes and capsicums like it even warmer at 20 degrees).
* Another good tip for germinating eggplants, peppers, chillies, tomatoes and other summer stars. Put moist seed raising mix in an ice cream container, sow your seeds, cover the container in plastic food wrap and pop it the hot water cupboard until the first sprouts appear. Voila! Your very own hothouse.

 

2. Sow rocket and mesclun salad mixes in trays for baby salad greens. If you’re getting tired of starch-heavy dinners, start sowing quick salad crops that can be cut at the baby leaf stage. Rocket and mesclun, if sown in trays and kept in a warm spot, can be ready to eat in as little as three to four weeks. Snip their heads off with a pair of scissors.

3. Plant a grapefruit tree. These days, grapefruit trees are suddenly few and far between. You still see bags of free feijoas, mandarins and lemons piled up in office lunchrooms, but a free source of grapefruit’s harder to come by. And forget about buying them: they’re ridiculously expensive at up to $2 each! So plant your own tree. Grapefruit trees are significantly bigger than lemons or mandarins. Give them space and don’t plant underneath them, as their shallow roots resent competition. Good varieties include ‘Golden Special’, which ripens from July-November with large fruit that’s juicy and flavoursome; ‘Wheeny’, one of the best for pale yellow, thick-skinned fruit from November-March; and ‘Cutler’s Red’, which fruits in July/August and (don’t be fooled) has red skins, rather than red flesh. If you want a pink-fleshed grapefruit, look for ‘Star Ruby’.
(Remember that if you’re taking prescription medicine, check with your doctor first before eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice, as it contains an enzyme that interferes with the absorption of many medicines in your blood.)

4. Plant globe artichokes, rhubarb, strawberries and perennial herbs. All of these crops need permanent homes, either at the back of your vege plot or in their own dedicated beds, where they won’t be disturbed by the harvesting cycle of short-term crops. Globe artichokes are great for a little glamour (and height) at the back of a plot, while strawberries are easier to pick if they’re right at the front, or even overhanging, the edges of a raised bed.

5. Get your last garlic cloves in the ground quick-smart. If you don’t get garlic in the garden now, it won’t get the necessary chilling it needs to kickstart bulb formation.

~ NZ Gardener magazine.

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