Winter suprises

This month I was privileged to talk at both the Waikanae Garden Circle and the Kapiti Horticultural Society and have the Tree Croppers Association visit the shop. These groups have a wealth of knowledge. I would encourage anyone who gardens to join a group. There is nothing like the shared joy of gardening and the support the experienced gardeners are so willing to give. I am grateful to all the gardeners in my life that have contributed to my garden, my successes and commiserated with my failures. There’s not much happening in the vegetable gardens this time of year but it always a busy time for pruning roses and fruit trees. We have over 150 fruit trees and roses on our block so it’s a daunting task. This year I’ve used the long-handled leaf grabbers to pick up my rose pruning litter and put them in the wool sack for disposal. At long last pruning without the pain.

Potato competition

It’s nearly that time again where we choose a charity and test our potato growing skills. This year we are staying very local and supporting the Te Horo Community hall. The kitchen floor needs to be replaced. The varnish is worn thin in places and there are even patches that have ply covering holes in the floor. The Te Horo Community Hall is a great resource for our community and is used by several organisations as a meeting space. For the month of August, we will be open for entries. The $5 entry gives you a potato and a grow bag. You can grow them any way you want but the bag must come back to Otaki Hydroponics to be harvested on the 8th of December. Last year the harvesting was quite a social event and a time to relax and catch up during the Christmas rush. The weight of the winning potato haul was a whopping 3.11Kg beating the previous year’s effort of 3.045Kg – expectations are high for this year.

Autopot news

The Autopot self-watering system of growing constantly amazes me with the results. The last weekend in June I harvested the last of beans from the pots in the hothouse. No small feat to have fresh beans in the middle of winter. We have also had broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage from the Autopots. The Brussel sprouts have been a disappointment both in the greenhouse and the outdoor garden. I totally understand now why people stick to the tried and true varieties. These red ribbed Brussel sprouts just aren’t doing anything. They look healthy enough with lots of growth but very little in the sprout department. The peppers and tomatoes are making up for the lack of sprouts though and I still haven’t had to buy any peppers or tomatoes this winter. They are starting to look a bit stressed now so I’m going to pull them all out and clean up in preparation for the new season. I still have the indoor grow room produce to look forward to shortly. It’s got cold in the grow tent so the growth has slowed a little, but the tomatoes now look a decent size and the peppers are expanding nicely.

Autopot maintenance

During the grow season we check the trays every other week to ensure the AquaValve is clean and free from floating growing medium, bugs or roots. Use the end taps we drain off a little nutrient (about a litre) to ensure there is no salt build up in the pipes and when re filling the tanks we always rinse some fresh water through the pipes to ensure there is no salt build up. Sometime I will put fresh water in the tanks and run that for a couple of days before refreshing the nutrient. If there is build up, we can use a cleaning solution. Generally, a very light concentration of hydrogen peroxide is enough to dislodge the salts but make sure you then rinse with fresh pH balanced water. Whenever you need to disassemble the system use hot water to soften the pipework and avoid breakages – you can submerge the entire value and pipe in the hot water. Once it is loosened please pull the pipe straight from the valve. Avoid twisting the end of the pipe away from the nozzle as twisting will lead to breakages. At the end of the season give the AQUAValve a good wash. Remove the silicon plugs before washing. The AQUAValve can be scrubbed with a toothbrush or even placed in the dishwasher. Clean the nozzle with a small pipe cleaner or a paperclip but remember to be gentle as if the nozzle breaks it cannot be repaired.

Heather’s Corner

Have you prepared your potato bed yet? We are getting ours ready and hope to be planting soon. For good tuber development, potatoes require deep, loose, well-drained soil that is free from stones. Don’t forget a dose of Rok Solid. They need full sun. Plant tuber directly in the garden, if you are prone to frost protect them with frost cloth. Plant them with the eyes up, 2 to 3 inches deep and 10 to 12 inches apart in rows spaced 2 feet apart. The tops of developing tubers should not be exposed to sunlight, or they will turn green. When the plants are about 5 to 6 inches tall, begin to heap soil around the base of the stems, or surround the plants with a thick layer of mulch. Potatoes need regular watering throughout the season. For "new" potatoes harvest about 10 weeks after planting. When potato blossoms appear, it is a sign that the first new potatoes are ready for harvest, simply feel around in the soil with your fingers for the small tubers. Try not to damage the roots of the plants or you may reduce the main harvest. Harvest mature potatoes after the tops die back and before the first frost. Dig carefully to avoid damaging the tubers. After harvesting store them in a dark, dry place for a week at 65-70 degrees F. Then store them at 35-40 degrees at fairly high humidity. The uses of potatoes are limited only by your imagination. They can be boiled, baked, roasted, deep-fried, grilled, sautéed, stir-fried, braised, glazed, mashed, creamed, or scalloped. They can be made into soups, stews, and casseroles, as well as potato chips, potato pancakes, and hash browns.