Fruit & Vege Wisdom

Scooted off and heard Andrew Boylan of incredible edibles give a talk on Thursday night at Palmer’s and then up to Katikati on Friday morning for some more good advice from Gerard Martin of King’s Seeds at the final open day for the year that had a summer/Christmas theme.

Some of Gerard’s tips for a stress-free summer garden:

Mulch – supresses weeds and retains moisture in the soil (but you can mulch a plant too deeply; keep it at a maximum of about 50cm to allow the soil to breathe).

Water – a plant that keeps flowering will keep fruiting and a mulched plant that is watered regularly is more likely to stay free of disease and insect attack. Water thoroughly in the evening.

Stay on your toes – stake plants before they need it; remove seed heads to avoid treasures becoming weeds; watch for insects on the underside of leaves; remove diseased plants; deadhead to prolong productivity; train plants; sow every 6 weeks for a continuous harvest.

Bolting – some plants naturally bolt. Coriander and watercress won’t be under stress, they’re reacting to day length. Successive sowing will get you over any bolting.

Eggplants (aubergines) – when the plant sets its first fruit, take it off. This encourages other flowers to grow equally and produce better fruit. Put your plants in the hottest part of your garden.

Whitefly – Mix 4 tbspns bicarbonate of soda to 1 litre of water and add a drop of detergent. Spray on plants affected by whitefly, but keep the mix agitated so the bicarb doesn’t sink to the bottom.

Gerard conducts his own germination trials – a current one for beans has seen him remove a line of seeds from the shelf as they didn’t strike well.

And some of Andrew’s advice:

Blueberries – are surface feeders so have a shallow root system. Acidic soil is vital and they don’t like wet feet. Blue Magic will overcrop the first year so you need to remove the emerging fruit. Blue Sapphire, to be released next year, is the same.

Fig – Let the tree grow to the height you want and cut the top off. Keep cutting it back to encourage sideways growth. Mosaic virus (mottled leaves) doesn’t affect fruit but keep the tree fed (especially if it’s in a pot) and it will recover.

Feijoa – Don’t use them as a hedge as they fruit on last year’s wood (or trim alternate sides each year). The flowers are pollinated by big birds such as blackbirds, mynahs and starlings. Waxeyes may be in the tree but they’re not pollinating. In urban areas it’s not necessary to have 2 trees to achieve pollination but in the country it’s probably a good idea.

Passionfruit – Full sun and lots of water. Spray with copper in spring and summer as a curative for greasespot. “The fruit will look awful but it still tastes good,” Andrew says.

Avocado – Never plant another tree where one has died from root rot (Phytophthora). When planting a new tree, carefully extract it from the bag and under no circumstances disturb the root ball. incredible edibles is next year introducing a (they hope) dwarf avocado called Cleopatra that flowers heavily. The Hawke’s Bay breeder has a six-year-old tree that is 3m.

Casimiroa/sapote – Can be planted in the place where an avocado has died.

Pine nuts – It’s 8 years before you get a crop, 18 months before the cones have ripened … and then you have to get the nuts out! Andrew says he has nice, big pine trees.

Chilean guava/NZ cranberry – Keep trimming it and the bush will keep flowering and fruiting. Cut young plants 3-4 times a year to develop their structure.

Coffee – Grow inside in a pot in the hottest place you have. The bushes hate cold wind. Andrew this year cropped 500 beans from a plant in his office. Fiona roasted them in the frying pan, then the oven and smashed them up in a blender. They made a delicious brew, says Andrew.


Chilean guava trained as a topiary. Photo: Sandra Simpson


Green manure crops

Green manure crops are used in winter to replenish soil ready for planting in spring, keep weeds down and protect fallow beds from erosion.

Gerard Martin, co-owner of Kings Seeds with wife Barbara, says gardeners should grow green manure every year and rotate crops every two years.

“This breaks the cycle of goodness being sucked out of the soil and the build-up of pests and diseases,” he says. “Green manure is a natural way of putting goodness back in. [Read more by Gerard on the topic here.]

“At this time of the year you need a cool-germinating seed and I like to mix different species – such as peas, oats and lupin – together. The mix is a good nitrogen fixer and breaks down quickly.”

The pea-oat-lupin green manure mix from Kings Seeds. Photo: Kings Seeds

Crops should be cut (a lawnmower set on high can be used) and hoed in before they flower, or the bed can be turned over by spade. “I like to dig it in,” Gerard says, “because you incorporate a bigger biomass.”

Phacelia tanacetifolia is a vigorous grower that breaks down quickly when dug in and has the advantage of being unrelated to any other vegetable. If left to flower it will attract honeybees, hover flies and other beneficial insects.

“If you’re not planting until early to midsummer you can grow two manure crops and I would recommend the mix and phacelia.”

Phacelia tanacetifolia. Photo: AnemoneProjectors (Wikimedia)

Broad beans grown in winter can be used as green manure once they’ve cropped, while frost-tender soyabeans and buckwheat are good manure crops for summer.

Mustard will take about 30 to 45 days from sowing to cutting, while the pea-oat-lupin mix will take 50 to 60 days. Although he knows a lot of people use mustard, Gerard prefers to give his ground a rest from the brassica family (read about club root here).

“Growing a green manure crop is much better than, say, fumigating the soil with a spray when you’re killing the bad insects, bacteria and fungi, yes, but the good ones too – and 95% of the bacteria and fungi in soil are good.”

Read more on the topic here and here (both English websites).

Gerard and Barbara have owned Kings Seeds, which opened in 1978, for 15 years and operate from the countryside south of Katikati.

Barbara and Gerard Martin. The warehouse at 189 Wharawhara Rd (museum is on the corner) is open to the public every Friday until noon. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Each year Kings Seeds sells (to commercial growers and home gardeners):

  • 5 tonnes of peas for shoots
  • 5 tonnes of purple radish seed for spouting
  • 3 tonnes alfalfa seed
  • 2 tonnes of wheatgrass for sprouting
  • 1-2 tonnes bull’s blood beetroot seed
  • 1 tonne coriander seed.

“A home gardener will buy 500g of seed at a time,” Gerard says. “A commercial grower will take 300kg every second month.”

There are 10,000 seeds per gram for watercress, while a single broad bean seed weighs 2-3g.

Some of this article was first published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

Pearls of Wisdom

A few of the good ideas and bon mots from the speakers at the recent Garden and Artfest …  but first a photo (readers of a delicate disposition should look away now) …

stephen ryan + colin davis - Copy

Loud Shirt Day at the Garden and Artfest – guest speaker Stephen Ryan (left) resplendent in orange with tiny blue polka dots, while Tauranga resident Colin Davis opted for the Colgate look! Photo: Sandra Simpson

Cats, possums and rabbits don’t like the smell of Thiram fungicide, according to Lynda Hallinan, editor-at-large for NZ Gardener. Read more about that in this fact sheet from the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. She also recommended Stockholm tar, used in the equestrian world, to repel possums – paint it at the base of trees to keep them off.

“Put it in, it dies, put in the compost – and you have that most valuable thing in a garden. A gap.” Stephen Ryan, Australian gardener, nurseryman and author.

Don’t have a heatpad for seed raising? Gerard Martin of Kings Seeds demonstrated how to start tomato, capsicum and eggplant seed using a 2-litre ice-cream container and plastic wrap.

Punch some drainage holes in the bottom of the container, add 2” of seed-raising mix, sprinkle the seed over – never sow seed more than twice its diameter deep – lightly cover with more mix, water, wrap the container in plastic film (making sure there are no gaps) and place the whole thing in your hot-water cupboard.

The seeds should germinate in about a week but works only for seeds that don’t need light to germinate. The seeds shouldn’t go outside too soon when they come out, give them time to adjust.

Don’t attempt to trim your topiary to its finished shape on the first attempt. Approach the size and shape you want. That way, any mistakes made will be small ones – Claudia Gorringe during her clipping demonstration.

A natural treatment for varroa mite is to use icing-sugar. Buy a puffer from a pet store, fill with organic icing sugar and cover all the bees lightly (they breathe through their skin so don’t overdo it). The icing sugar makes the bees slippery and the varroa mites slip off. As well, the bees love the icing sugar and lick it off, in the process preening off the mites. Do fortnightly. It doesn’t eliminate varroa but you can keep on top of the pest.

– Advice from Marcia Meehan, natural beekeeper

Getting out in the sunshine and gardening is medicine. Hearing birdsong is medicine.

Every vege garden needs a flax plant – there are your tomato ties (strips of flax) that will do the job but be gone by the end of the season. Much better than plastic.

– Both from Robert McGowan, rongoa Maori medicine expert.