What to do in the garden this week – Stuff.co.nz


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Grow crops that like the same conditions together to maintain soil fertility and reduce build up of pests and diseases.Good companions: what to plant where I really want to believe in companion planting. It’s appealing to think that your nasturtiums will protect your lettuces, that your tomatoes love your carrots or that they’ll have a far superior flavour if they’re planted beside basil. But science, that evidence-touting know-it-all, has debunked many of the ideas around companion planting (which, it has to be said, vary wildly). It’s not all pretty-sounding nonsense though. Some plants are definitely better off with certain companions as opposed to others or none at all – diversity is always better than a monoculture in every situation! – and fortunately, complement each other, act as a deterrent for pests or diseases, enhance soil and don’t occupy the same space as their neighbours. Working out what to plant with what needn’t be as complicated as deciding the seating plan for a wedding if you follow a few general guidelines. Group crops together according to their water and fertiliser needs. Where possible, group similar-sized crops together. Smaller plants like lettuces that appreciate a little protection from summer sun can go on the shady side of tall tomatoes or corn. If you’re short of space, grow pumpkins, melon and courgettes on the edges of beds and encourage them to sprawl away from the main growing area. Use the room between slow-growing plants for quick-growers like radishes which be eaten before the other plants take over the space. Annual edible crops should be rotated every year to prevent a build up of pests and diseases in the soil and manage the nutrient requirements of different types of plants. Most basic crop rotation plans are based on a four bed system, but at the very least don’t plant crops from related plant families in the same place twice running. SALLY TAGG/NZ GARDENER/StuffFlowers attract pollinators and beneficial bugs and act as catch crops luring pest away from edible plants. Include flowers in your planting plan Growing flowers among your crops doesn’t just pretty up your vege patch. Bright floral blooms signal “Come and get me!” to beneficial bugs, such as ladybugs, honey bees and hover flies, which act as pollinating and/or pest-control agents on your flowers and their next-door-neighbour edible crops. For maximum pest control and pollination, aim for a ratio of 40 per cent flowers to 60 per cent edibles in your vege patch and go for mass plantings about 1 m in diameter of at least three or four different types of flowers such as alyssum, borage, buckwheat and phacelia. Providing strong visual clues is especially important for honeybees as most of them spend their entire lives foraging from one type of plant. Some flowering plants act as catch crops (kind of like a decoy), distracting bad bugs and keeping them off your edibles. Cleome spinosa is an excellent vege patch companion as it is adored by sap-sucking green vege bugs. It’s striking too, growing to about 1.5m tall, with pretty white, pale pink or magenta flowers. The poster child of beneficial flowering plants has to be the frilly headed, pungent-smelling tagetes marigold. This is partially due to its reputation for killing nematodes (microscopic worms that attack plant roots) because tagetes roots contain a chemical that acts as a nematicide. However, studies have shown that in order for tagetes to be effective as a nematode deterrent for your edibles, the plants need to have been growing at least four months prior to planting your edible crops, then dug into the soil or removed before planting your edibles in exactly the same spot. If this sounds like too much work, marigolds (both calendula and tagetes) also attract beneficial bugs, so they’re still worth growing, as is any flowering plant that provides food for pollinators in your vege garden, as ultimately this means you’ll end up with more food too!GET GROWING/StuffCleome spinosa, spider flowers. Leave room for more In all but the coldest corners it’s time to get summer crops – beans, capsicums, courgettes, sweetcorn, cucumbers, pumpkins, chillies and more – into the ground and off to a good start. In the rush of spring enthusiasm to get growing, it’s tempting to fill every corner with seeds and seedlings but do remember to leave room for successive planting. Work out how many veges you are likely to eat per week and plant accordingly. Be realistic about the time you’ll have to tend your plot too. A small number of well-cared-for plants will be more productive and give you more pleasure and sense of achievement than a vast patch that gets overgrown with weeds and is too big to water. Read more: How many vegetables can you grow in one square metre?BARBARA SMITH/GET GROWING/StuffPetrea volubilis, also known as sand paper vine, has a main flush of blooms in spring then on and off until autumn. Let’s get horizontal Don’t tell my neighbours, but my petrea vine has plans to smother their garage and sleepout. In an attempt to stop it ripping off their guttering, I diverted the long tendrils sideways along the fence. It has rewarded me with a wonderful spring show. It’s a reminder that many climbers, including roses, produce more flowers on horizontal stems. Left to their own devices, they’ll scramble as high as they can and produce flowers at the very top. I once saw a petrea that climbed to the roof of a three-storied house – the cascade of blooms was spectacular but best seen from chimney top level. Another advantage of encouraging sideways growth is avoiding scraggly bare stems at the foot of a climber. You’ll get better coverage if you start training plants along horizontal wires when they are small as not all climbers produce new stems from the bottom.CHERIE PALMER/StuffTiger slug. What’s living in your compost bin? Don’t be alarmed if your compost is full of critters. Macroorganisms such as worms, slugs, snails, slaters, mites and millipedes, break down plant material so it’s digestible by bacteria and fungi microorganisms, which break the material down further so the nutrients are in a form accessible by plants. These are the primary consumers feeding directly on the organic material. Secondary consumers are those that eat the primary consumers – for example springtails, centipedes and beetles. There are even tertiary consumers, such as spiders, that eat the secondary consumers, and some multitasking species like earwigs take on all roles. Don’t bring out the pesticides when you spot something slithering in the heap. Each creature has a role to play converting waste to compost or feeding other organisms that do. Some critters are more welcome than others. A swarm of fruit flies in your face when you lift the lid isn’t pleasant but they are doing an important job feeding on fruit acids. Covering fruit waste with a thick layer of shredded paper or dry leaves will control their numbers. If you can’t bear the thought of rats and mice helpfully aerating the compost as they tunnel, keep them out by lining the bin with chicken wire. Read more ways to rid your garden of rats here. On the plus side, a cosy, warm compost bin is just the sort of place that bumblebees like to nest in.Five rules to avoid a stinky compost heap Gardening by the moon The barren period continues until October 30. Don’t plant. Deal to weeds, cultivate the soil and turn the compost heap. On October 31, sow grass seed to repair patchy lawns in time for summer playtime. On November 1 and 2, sow root crop seeds: beetroot, carrots, radishes and turnips. Do odd jobs around the garden on November 3 and 4. Don’t sow or transplant. Gardening by the maramataka Kōanga (spring) has arrived. Whiringa-ā-rangi is the fifth month of the maramataka and the traditional time for final land preparation for crops. We should now be fully immersed in the emergence of spring following the flowering cues of specific trees and bushes such as the tī kōuka (cabbage tree). At this time of year, it is not only plants that reawaken: insects and animals such as manu (birds) change their behaviour and provide us the impetus to get outside and prepare. For summer crops, this is the time to open the ground, turn the soil to expose it to the warmth of the sun and to allow nature to assist in pest control. Birds will gravitate to feed on beetle and moth larvae. In the very north, this month represents planting by the second week at latest. This timing will be later – maybe even next month – as you move south. Soil temperatures matter and reading the soil through the return of new grass growth or emergence of spring weeds such as pōhue (convolvulus, native and introduced), huainanga (fat-hen) or amaranthus (morewhero) give a sure sign of the soil’s readiness to support spring cropping. Dr Nick Roskruge
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