Here are five top tips for all you keen spring gardeners out there. September means plant those veges and sow those tomato seeds, but keep an eye on slippery slugs and snails! And for more great online tips and video gardening guides starring Trudi and the Tui Team, visit www.tuitime.co.nz

1. Sow heirloom tomatoes. If you want to grow unusual tomatoes that aren’t available as seedlings in garden centres, now’s the time to sow seeds. Kings Seeds and Bristol Seeds have the best selection of quirky, quaint and downright queer tomatoes, from ugly ‘Purple Calabash’ to ‘Great White’ and yellow ‘Banani’. I love the sound of ‘Berkeley Tie Dye Pink’, ‘Old Ivory Egg’, ‘Hillbilly Flame’ and the spectacularly beautiful ‘Vintage Wine Striped’. One word of warning: give yourself a good half hour to browse the Bristol list. There are hundreds of weird and wonderful varieties to choose from. For a seed mix, try ‘Rainbow Blend’ or Yates’ Heirloom Favourites. When sowing seeds, always use seed-raising mix to get your plants off to a great start. Seed-raising mix isn’t expensive (a 15L bag will fill several trays) and because it’s sterile, free-draining and contains a little soil fungicide, your seeds should soon spring into life. Tomato seeds take an average of 10 days to germinate so check your trays daily if you’re sowing indoors, as they’ll need to be brought into the light as soon as they pop up. Keep moist at all times but don’t saturate the potting mix as this can lead to damping off, a fungal disease that causes seedlings to keel over. When your tomato seedlings have their first true leaves (ie, they have distinctive tomato foliage and don’t just look like sprouts), you should carefully prick them out of the trays and pot them in into larger containers to grow on until Labour Weekend.

2. Start sprouting kumara. Hamilton gardener Jenny O’Donnell says it’s time to start kumara tubers for free plants. “It’s so easy and this is how you do it. Dig a 25cm square hole that’s 25cm deep (1 spade depth). Into the bottom of the hole pour some sand. Place any old kumara (bought from supermarket is fine) on the sand and cover with sawdust shavings. Sprinkle dirt over the top to stop shavings flying away. Sit back and wait. Water if there’s no rain. Within a few weeks sprouts will appear from the kumara. Once these reach about 15cm high, with leaves, lift the whole kumara and you will find you have enough free plants sprouting from the kumara. They pull away easily and can then be planted. An old tip given to me is to plant these on a mound with the tail of the plant turned upwards as if in a ‘J’. Plant with the bottom of the J facing east. I was given this tip three years ago and have had great success. Voila! Free kumara.” Kumara are heat-loving plants, so if you’re still getting frosts, follow Jenny’s advice but use a bucket indoors instead of a hole in the garden. Half fill with moist sand, bury your kumara and wait. Don’t plant out your free kumara runners until Labour Weekend at the earliest. They need warm soil to thrive.

3. Sow celeriac and Florence fennel. Though both of these gourmet veges are technically root crops, and therefore should be sown directly where you want them to grow, if you’re careful you can raise them in trays now and plant out in a few weeks. Florence fennel germinates in a week and is easy to raise from seed. Celeriac, also known as ‘turnip rooted celery’ because its bulbous flesh looks like a knobbly turnip but has the flavour and fragrance of celery, is a long haul harvest. Seeds sown now won’t result in a crop until next winter. Having said that, once growing well you can completely ignore the plants, aside from an occasional liquid feed and lots of water if summer is dry.

4. Get out the slug and snail bait. The slimy sods are back in force. No one wants peas that have all been nibbled around the edges! Lay slug bait (if you have pets, use Quash) around seedlings and seed rows. To protect slug bait from the weather, pets and birds, grab an empty 1kg yoghurt container, or a large glass jar, and place the bait inside it. Then lay it on its side, nestled slightly into the soil, to keep it dry. If you don’t want to use slug bait, start night patrols with your torch and a bucket of salty water to drown your captives in. Or dispatch to your chooks or ducks.

5. Spend early spring weekends weeding and tidying, then launch into serious growing mode mid September. Plant everything that produces its crops above ground: peas, beans, cauliflowers, cabbages, salad greens. For more great spring gardening tips, see Trudi in action at www.tuitime.co.nz

~NZG

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