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Buckets of Potatoes! Grow me in February

Buckets of Potatoes!
Who doesn’t love a new potato, hot from the pot and smothered in butter and ground black pepper! But new potatoes are few and far between in February, and we need to be inventive if we want more. That’s where growing potatoes in buckets that can then be moved into the greenhouse once temperatures cool down, is the answer.
Right now, tomatoes and other summer vegetables are dominating the greenhouse, and it feels as though there’s no more space. But it won’t be long until those summer plants are spent and you’ll be ousting them to the compost. Even if they will stay in place for a few more months, tomato vines will have spaces between them as you trim off their lower leaves. And light will pour in as you pinch out leaves around trusses to let in the light to ripen the fruit. Which all means there will be space for your bucket potatoes once it’s time to move them under cover.

Source
Seed potatoes from nurseries can be hard to come by in February, so the best plan is to purchase them in January and keep them in a covered box to restrict growth until you are ready to plant them. However, if you have grown potatoes over summer, and have yet to harvest them, check for potatoes which that have been exposed to the light. You will find that some have begun to sprout short, hardy leaves. Or you may find a wild potato in the compost pile which is beginning to sprout. Remove your seed potato from the ground when you have your bucket prepared, and plant it as your seed.

Preparation
Choose a 9-10 litre household bucket or any similar plastic container or grow bag of this size and depth. Make several holes in the base of the container if it doesn’t already have these. Prepare your growing mix in a large tub or wheelbarrow. Commercial or home compost should form 80% of the mix. The remaining 20% can be made up of coconut coir, perlite or vermiculite, and sheep pellets. If not using sheep pellets, and you don’t mind using inorganic materials, add a couple of tablespoons of super phosphate to the mix, along with fertiliser pellets according to the instructions on the container. For an even better mix, add mycorrhizal fungi. This dry product is available from a number of outlets including Seacliff Organics, and it really gives plants a boost. Mix all your ingredients together thoroughly.

Planting
Fill your bucket to the half way mark with your growing mix. Place the potato in the centre of the mix, growing shoot upwards. If the seed potato doesn’t have leaves, cover it with 3cm of mix. If the seed potato already has some leaves, add just enough mix to cover the tuber, and leave no more than 5cm of the foliage exposed. Water the mix well enough to dampen, but not soak, it, and raise the bucket so that excess moisture drains away quickly. Place the bucket where it will receive plenty of sunlight (if you live in a very warm part of the country or temperatures are unseasonably high, place the bucket in dappled light – for instance, among shrubs).

Maintenance
Each time the foliage of your seed potato reaches a height of 15cm, add growing mix to the bucket so that only 5cm of leaf is protruding. Keep the growing mix damp but not wet, and water it with a liquid feed every week. The liquid feed can be made by soaking in water 2 cups of sheep pellets and some chopped seaweed and comfrey leaves. If the weather is very warm, you may like to add a mulch of straw or pine needles over the growing mix (but not the potato foliage) to help keep the soil damp. In strong winds, give the potato plant shelter.

The big move
Once cooler autumn temperatures arrive, carefully move the potato in the bucket into the greenhouse. Place it in a position where it will receive plenty of light. Remember that your greenhouse is providing optimal growing conditions, not just for your potato, but also for sap sucking insects such as aphids. If you spot these pest, gently rub the potato foliage between your fingers to squash them, or spray with a soap and water mix made from 1/4 teaspoon of hard bathroom soap dissolved in 500mls of boiling water (cool thoroughly before placing in a spray bottle). In the heat of the greenhouse, your potato may need watering more frequently.

Harvest
Bucket-grown potatoes take around 60 to 70 days to produce a crop. However, as you are growing your potatoes into autumn, you made need to allow a little longer. Check to see if the potatoes are read by gently removing a little growing mix from the bucket or by feeling down in the mix with your fingers.

Tips
The ideal temperature for potatoes to grow in is around 10-15°C. Use a thermometer to check the temperature in your greenhouse, and delay placing your potato plant under cover until the temperature suits it.

It is not necessary for the potato foliage to die off before harvesting your new potatoes.

If you live in a mountainous part of the country, frosts can arrive early, and a hard frost can damage potato foliage, even when the plant is in the greenhouse. In very cold regions, cover you potato with frost cloth if you are expecting temperatures to drop below zero.

If potato psyllid is a problem in your region, protect your potato from this pest by covering the foliage with a 0.3mm mesh.

In very warm weather, keep the roots of your potato cool, and its leaves in the sun, by placing other containers around it.

If it is possible to choose a variety of seed potato to plant, go for an ‘early.’

A passion for Fruit! Grow me in January

Grow Me Now!
January

A Passion for Fruit!
You may have seen them, recently, hanging like gorgeous Christmas decorations from their vines. Passionfruit, which take 2 to 3 months to mature, are in the process of ripening in January, with the skins of pickable fruit turning a deep purple (or gold, depending on variety) from February through to June. While the vines are tropical, they can also be grown in frost prone regions when planted in an unheated tunnelhouse. Bear in mind, however, that although passionfruit vines will tolerate frosts of minus 1-2°C, more severe frosts (or even lighter frosts which continue for more than short periods), will kill off new growth. This poses problems for those growing in mountainous regions such as Central North Island and inland Otago. But, outside of areas that are prone to severe cold, not only will a tunnelhouse provide the warmth the vines crave, it will also offer the shelter needed for the plant to thrive.

Source
While mid-summer may seem an unlikely time to introduce a new perennial to your tunnelhouse, passionfruit can be planted at any stage from mid-spring to mid-summer (or even later if temperatures remain warm). The vines are readily available in nurseries and garden centres, but take care which variety you choose*, as some grow more vigorously than others and are less suited to undercover growing (yellow-fruiting passionfruit vines are particularly fast growing). Additionally, although passionfruit vines are self-fertile (both male and female flowers appear on the same plant), they will fruit better if planted in pairs. Additionally, some varieties are self-incompatible, and must have a partner plant in order to set fruit. Ask your nursery for advice.
Passionfruit vines survive for around 4-5 years, only, and have a long taproot, so be weary of accepting offers of a plant that needs to be uplifted from its in-ground growing position. Varieties grafted onto rootstock should never be uplifted as the disturbance can result in the development of unproductive suckers.
*Never plant banana passionfruit (Passiflora tripartita). It is illegal to grow this invasive species.

Ground work
Before you prepare the ground to receive your passionfruit vine, you will need to erect supports for this vigorous climber. The weight of the vine, combined with the weight of the fruit, means the supports need to be robust (poles dug into the ground, with number 8 wires or frames of builder’s reinforcing iron, between them, are ideal). Use the maximum height available to you but avoid extending the support across the roof of the tunnelhouse or you will lose valuable heat and light.
Passionfruit vines are hungry plants which require excellent drainage to thrive. Prepare the growing hole (which should be twice the width and depth of the container the plant is growing in) by digging out spent soil, and replacing it with rich compost, blood and bone, and seaweed. (If the ground below the hole is clayish, dig deeper, and add a 10 to 15cm layer of fine stones or river gravel before topping up with your growing mix. If you don’t have the wherewithal to provide organic ingredients, choose a suitable growing medium, such as that used for citrus fruits. A pH level of 4.5 (strongly acidic) soil will help with fruit production.

Transplanting
If you have space in your tunnelhouse for two plants, space them approximately 2 metres apart. Before transplanting, water the growing site well, and leave it for an hour, to drain. Plant in the cooler part of the day (early morning or evening) by first gently teasing out the roots from the root ball of the vine, taking care not to break them. Place the plant in the prepared hole, ensuring that the soil does not reach above the level it was when the vine was in its pot. Water again. Ensure the tunnelhouse is well ventilated.
Pollination will be aided by the movement of insects. To draw them into your tunnelhouse, grow flowering plants in the tunnelhouse as well as close to its doorway (growing flowering plants in pots means you can replace them, when their blooms are spent, with others that are coming onstream.

Maintenance
Passionfruit vines are vigorous growers, so they routinely use up nutrients from the soil. Replenish these by topping up the area around the vine with more mature compost and weekly feeds of organic liquid manure or a recommended fertilizer. Cut back on blood and bone as the vines gain height and begin flowering, as high nitrogen levels create foliage at the expense of fruit. At pre-flowering and flowering time, increase levels of potassium (seaweed water, for organic growers).
Keep a watch for sap-sucking insects such as aphids, and squash them with your fingers in the first instance. If the pests persist, apply a spray made from 1/4 tsp hard bathroom soap dissolved in half a litre of boiling water that has been left to cool completely. Repeat every 3-4 days. Note: if you are growing organically, there is no need to completely rid the plants of pests – a healthy balance is what you are aiming for because the general strength of the plants means they can hold their own against a degree of pest attack. Be sure to gather up fallen leaves to avoid providing hiding places for pest insects.
Keep the tunnelhouse well ventilated, day and night, and harvest fruit as soon as it is ripe to take the pressure off the plants.
When keeping vine growth under control, remember that fruiting will occur on new growth, so don’t snip this all off! Prune in spring, only after frosts have abated, so that you do not stimulate new tender growth that will be knocked back by sub-zero temperatures. Prune in autumn to retain the shape of your vine, and to allow air to circulate.

Tips
Always use snips to harvest, rather than pulling off the fruit, which can damage the vine.

In very frosty conditions, cover the vines with a layer (or two) of frost cloth for extra protection.

Spraying the vines with a seaweed tonic solution can help increase resistance to frost.

Stop feeding, and reduce watering over the coldest months to discourage new growth which could be cut back by frost.

The vines don’t like competition, so keep the ground beneath them weeded and mulched.

Once night time temperatures drop to below 19°C, flowers tend to drop off, and those that remain require insects to pollinate them.

Sweet Table Grapes- Grow me now in December

December Grow Me Now!

Sweet Table Grapes
If you’ve ever been disappointed (and who hasn’t) by those tasteless, generic Australian and South American table grapes that appear in our supermarkets, it’s not surprising. Supermarket grapes are often picked well before their sugar content is at its best, in order to ensure they travel well. The result is that they have tough, sometimes bitter, skins, and their juice tastes like flavourless sugar water. But the thing is, we know we can grow much better grapes in our own greenhouses. All it takes is the determination to carry out a few simple tasks, especially in the month of December.

Source
Table grape vines traditionally go into the ground in late autumn or early spring. ‘Albany Surprise’ (large, juicy, blue-black fruit with a spicy flavour) has been a favourite indoor table grape for many years, and well cared for, vines can produce bunches weighing between 200 and 350g. ‘Iona’ is another hardy grape that suits cooler regions, while ‘Canadise’ is a sweet, red, seedless grape delivering up the goods in mid season. Always source your vines from close-to-home nurseries that will understand the varieties that suit your area best.

Ground work
Although it sounds extravagant to devote an entire greenhouse to a grape, doing so will give the best results. That’s because, a grape, in full leaf, shuts out a good deal of light, and nothing much else will thrive beneath its canopy (of course, over the winter months, when the vine is deciduous, that’s when you can use the ground beneath to grow a winter vegetable crop, or to store potted citrus and other frost tender treasures).
Before purchasing a grape, it pays to secure wire supports across the width of the greenhouse, above head height. This will allow for eventually training the vine back and forwards across the supports so that the bunches of grapes hang down into the ripening heat and light, rather than getting caught up among the shade of leaves and leaders. Training the vine across supports also helps to keep foliage away from the glass or skin of your greenhouse where it can attract condensation, remain damp, and encourage mildew to set in.
Ventilation will be required to maintain the health of the indoor vine, but it also pays to bear in mind that birds are one of the greatest threats to the crop, followed by wasps. So, if your greenhouse doesn’t come with a mesh door, get one, or create your own with a mesh curtain as soon as young fruit appears on the vines. You will also have to cover vents with mesh to keep wasps at bay (do so carefully when working around glass) .

Sowing and planting
If you don’t wish to be forever watering your grapevine, plant it close against the side of your greenhouse, and lead it into the interior of the structure by safely removing a section of glass or polythene skin (where this is not possible, consider leading the vine in under the foundation of your greenhouse).
The hole you dig for the vine should be twice the size of the root ball. Dig into the hole a mixture of compost, blood and bone meal, manure and, if the soil is heavy and clayish, a shovel or two of fine grit to assist with drainage. PH should be between 5.5-7.0, so adjust with lime if necessary. Keep the ground around the planting moist for the first year by watering once a week in dry conditions.

Maintenance
Before growth properly takes off in mid-spring, the root area can be sprinkled with an organic fertilizer and an extra feed of dried blood. When the leaves are fully open, a high potassium fertilizer will benefit the vine. To supply it, soak kelp in fresh water for a few days, then water onto the root area. Continue with this regime every week throughout the growing period, stopping only when the grapes begin to colour up. As the heat increases, mulch around the root area of the vine to keep the ground cool.

Pruning
As the vine puts on spring growth, it will produce laterals (this is the new growth which sprouts from the woody ‘trunk’ of the vine). In a new vine, several of these laterals are left to grow unchecked. Eventually, they will form the main, woody framework of the vine. Other laterals, however, should be pinched out at the ends after they have developed 2-3 bunches of grapes. ‘Pinching out’ doesn’t stop the rampant growth altogether, however. You will need to repeat the treatment throughout the summer. This will also help to thin out leaves, and let in the light.

Pollination
Grapes are self-pollinating, but they do appreciate a helping hand from their grower. Each time you are in the greenhouse, gently shake the stems to encourage pollen to fall.

Pest and plague
Although many growers use a range of chemicals to stave off mildew, one of the best organic treatments for undercover grapes is seaweed water. Sprayed onto leaves early in the day (so the foliage is dry again by night) it appears to deter fungal disease such as black spot and mildew.

Post harvest
Winter pruning of greenhouse grapes is essential for the good of the following year’s crop. Old wood from which bunches have grown, is removed, while new laterals that will support next year’s harvest, are tied down.
When work on the wood has been completed, it’s time to check supports, mend any holes in the skin or glass, or in the mesh bird covering – because it won’t be long until the next season is on its way.

Tips
If you prefer to grow your undercover grape in a pot, rather than outdoors, choose a large-ish container at least 30cm in diameter, and 65cm deep.

Use scissors to harvest so you don’t damage the plant tissue with a tug.

If you are looking for the perfect shaped bunch, don’t be afraid to trim off a few grapes from a bunch (while they are still very small) with nail scissors.

Remove tendrils that are not supplying obvious support (they only get tangled in the bunches).

Herb Heaven- Grow me now in November

Herb Heaven

When it comes to preparing tasty food, it’s the little things that count – and many of them are herbs! The flavoursome morsels that bring salads, dressings, pestos, pizzas, curries, and barbecue foods to life are always better, fresh. So, although we can reach into the pantry for them, in a dried or processed form, they are much more delicious when we grow them ourselves. And the good news is, that although many of the tastiest natural flavour boosters require warmer growing conditions than our climate can provide, we can make a home for them in our tunnelhouses! This month, we take a close-up look at three flavour-packed, heat-loving herbs you can grow at home, undercover. They are curry tree(Murraya koenigii), basil, and lemongrass (Cymbopogon).

Source

The curry tree (Murraya koenigii)should not be confused with the curry bush (Helichrysum italicum), a common garden plant with grey-green aromatic leaves. The curry tree supplies the fragrant leaves that are used so frequently in East Asian cooking, and it can be sourced from a number of places, including Trade Me, where it can be found for around half the price it is sold for in garden centres. The plant can also be grown from seed, and experienced gardeners may like to try growing it from cuttings.

Basil is a staple for salads and authentic Italian dishes. Seeds and plants are readily available in the warmer months from garden centres, plant stalls, and friends. When choosing plants, take great care to avoid those that have pest insects on them. The leaves of basil are tender, and sap suckers feed on them voraciously, and breed up in no time at all. Basils come in so many different forms, so when selecting plants or seed, check the description carefully and purchase according to how you intend to use the leaves.

Lemongrass is a favourite condiment in Southeast Asian dishes – and a must for Thai and Vietnamese foodies. It can be sourced very cheaply Trade Me, or from garden centres and gardening friends. It is a magnet for aphids, so be discerning before you purchase, or accept, rooted pieces.

 

Ground work

Depending on variety, a curry tree will grow to over 2m high. When growing it in your tunnelhouse, a container is perhaps the more useful option for keeping the plant it to a reduced size. This will also prevent roots invading the tunnelhouse beds. Wherever you grow your curry tree, the ground should be free-draining and nitrogen-rich (incorporate compost and bone meal to help with this, or choose a nitrogen-high fertilizer). If your tunnelhouse has sunnier spots than others, give the curry tree the sunniest place you can spare.

Basil is a plant which enjoys drier conditions than most other greenhouse edibles. Grow it in a pot, or in a situation where it can dodge regular waterings. In terms of soil requirements, it will be happy with a rich, organic mix as long as it is very free-draining. Basil enjoys the sun, but is also comfortable growing beneath the likes of tomato vines that have had their lower stems pruned to allow in the light.

Lemongrass enjoys a rich, free-draining growing mix, and loads of sun. This is your cue to add blood and bone and a handful or two of sharp sand (fine river-grit) to the growing site, and to position the plant in the brightest spot in the tunnelhouse,

 

Sowing and planting

When potting up a curry tree, choose a container that is at least 30cm deep, and which is 6cm wider than the root ball of the tree. Ensure soil does not reach above the base of the trunk. Seeds should be covered in soil to twice their depth, and the soil topped with clear plastic to lock in warmth and humidity.

Basil seedlings transplant easily, but it pays to keep soil around the roots when doing so. Seed will also germinate readily providing it is pressed into the soil and not covered – it requires light to germinate. To keep the seed damp, cover with a piece of clear plastic until signs of sprouting occur. Basil plants can also be grown from cuttings placed in water. When rooting cuttings in this way, strip off a third of the upper leaves from the cutting, and place at least the lower third of the stem in water. Change the water, daily, and pot up or plant the stem in the ground once roots have been growing from it for 10 days to 2 weeks.

Lemongrass is usually grown from a rooted piece or clump. Pop it into the ground, and firm the soil around the base of the stems. Alternatively, grow it in a container which is 6cm wider than the piece or clump you are planting. Lemongrass can also be grown from seed. Sow the seed in clusters of 3-4, and cover to a depth of 5cm. Keep the soil damp but not moist.

 

Maintenance

Cury trees and lemongrass appreciate a high nitrogen liquid feed every 3-4 weeks during the active growing period. Basil can be fed in the same way every 2 weeks (but only on a day when the liquid will evaporate as quickly as possible).

Curry trees require careful pruning to keep them to a manageable height, and to ensure they produce as much leaf as possible. For details on pruning, head over to HowandWhentoPrune.com for some great advice.

Basil plants produce best when their growing tips are nipped out once the stems reach a height of around 15cm.  It will not survive over a cold winter, even undercover. Towards the end of the season, take a few stem cuttings and pop them into water to root. These can then be potted up and placed on a sunny window ledge to produce a few flavoursome leaves over winter.

Lemongrass can be left to grow over the warmer months, but as winter approaches, cut the foliage back to 15cm in height. In cooler parts of the country, you may want to cover the plant in frost cloth. In mountainous regions, dig up and divide the plant. Pot up small clumps to keep inside on a sunny window ledge, and replant in the tunnelhouse again in spring, once frosts have abated.

 

Tips

By removing the flowers from your curry tree, you will enable the plant to put more energy into leaf growth.

 

If your curry tree has maxed out in height, and can no longer fit comfortably in your tunnelhouse, reduce its height by two thirds. This will encourage the plant to put out new growth around its base.

 

When harvesting lemongrass, choose the thickest stems – they are usually to be found at the outside edge of clumps.

 

Lemongrass benefits by being lifted and divided ever 3-4 years.

 

Basil is quick to succumb to aphid and whitefly invasion. Grow it among insect repelling plants such as calendula and nasturtium. Plant it in several different places in the tunnelhouse, and removed infested plants before the pests move to another site.

 

Basil doesn’t like wet (or even very damp) feet. It can benefit from being grown in a container if you don’t have the time to skirt around it when watering other greenhouse plants.

 

 

Creative with Cucumbers-Grow me now in October!

Creative with Cucumbers!

Crispy, crunchy, and thirst quenching – cucumbers are a summer supermarket staple. So much so, that some Kiwi kids are said to believe these curcubits grow inside a plastic skin! If you’re not into the shrink-wrap, shopping trolley version of cucumbers (and their gherkin cousin), now is the time to start growing these delicious vegetables in your own tunnelhouse. 

Cucumbers require reasonably high temperatures (between 23and 29 degrees Celcius) to thrive. If you live in a warmer part of the country, October is the month to pop the seeds into the tunnelhouse itself. If you’re in a cooler spot, wait until later in the month for this, or delay until November, or even (in the case of mountainous regions) December. Regardless of where you live, if you are still enjoying your autumn and winter planted veges from the tunnelhouse, and plan to do so right through spring, there’s no need to oust them prematurely to make way for cucumber plants. This obliging vegetable will happily wait to be planted until you have space ready for it.

 

 

Source

We live in an age where every gardener wants to be a seed saver. That’s a good thing, but sometimes, saving your own cucumber seed doesn’t work out quite as you expect. That’s because many of our favourite varieties are ‘hybrid’ cucs. A hybrid vegetable is the result of two different varieties of plant being deliberately cross-pollinated to create a desired result. Unfortunately, when the seed of the progeny is sown the following year, it is unlikely to produce a vegetable which is identical to its parent. It will have reverted to an earlier variety, and in the case of your cucumber, it will not be the one you were hoping for. If your favourite cucumber variety is labelled ‘F1,’ that’s your clue that it won’t deliver the goods second time round, and that you need to start from scratch with store-bought seeed.

Cucumbers come in a wide range of varieties, so there are plenty of choices. If you are growing in a limited space, choose a compact, bushy variety or one such as the Lebanese cucumber, which produces smaller fruit. If you’re a small household, and want to avoid waste, choose a mini variety such as Cucumber Crunchy F1. And if you’re a pickle-lover, be sure to head to the mini-cuc cousin, the gherkin.

 

While cucs and gherkins grow readily from seed, they are also widely available in garden centres. If buying potted seedlings, take a magnifying glass with you, and check carefully, on both sides of leaves, for pest insects and their eggs. If there are any signs of invasion, leave the plants on the shelf!

 

Ground work

Cucumbers (and gherkins) enjoy growing in ground which is fertile, textured, and humus-rich. When preparing a growing spot for them in the tunnelhouse, dig in plenty of safely made, mature, nitrogen-rich compost. Although cucumbers like a little lime, your tomatoes don’t, so if you plan to use the same ground next year for tomatoes, skip the addition of lime (something the cucumber plants will tolerate). Water the ground well, 24 hours prior to sowing seed or planting seedlings.

Cucumbers resent having their roots disturbed, so if you plan to train these climbing plants up stakes or trellis, anchor your supports firmly into the ground before you place the seeds or plants in the soil. If you don’t, you will cut through delicate roots, and your plants my sulk as a result. If you will be using twine to support your growing vines, put these in place before you plant so that you avoid  standing on the ground and compressing the soil.

 

Sowing

Sowing into pots

If you are raising your seeds in containers prior to planting out the resulting seedlings, sow into peat pots (or pots which you make yourself from toxin-free paper). This means that you will be able to plant the seedlings, pots and all, into the tunnel house when the time is right, without disturbing roots. Note: some gardeners have tried using cardboard tubes (such as the sort which come inside kitchen wrap) as planter pots. However, these can be sturdier than they look, and can inhibit root growth before they are ready to decay in the soil.

Fill your seedling pots with quality seed raising or vege mix, water it well, and sow the seed, about 1cm deep, into the growing medium. Cover the seed with loose soil (don’t compress it). If you have a seed raising mat, pop the pots onto it. Covering the pots with a sheet of plastic (at night, only) can speed up germination. If the weather is slow to warm up, water liquid feed onto your seedlings to provide nutrient until they can be transplanted into the tunnelhouse.

 

Sowing directly into the tunnelhouse

Sow your seeds into prepared ground (see above) in groups of 3. Each group of seed should be sown 60 to 70cm apart. Once the seed germinates and grows on for a week, pluck out the two weakest seedlings from each group, and let the third grow on.

 

Maintenance

Once the seedlings are established in the tunnelhouse, liquid feed them with nitrogen-rich fertilizer every 3 weeks after flowers appear on the vines. This feed can be brewed by soaking safely made compost with blood and bone, seaweed, and comfrey leaves. Keep the ground beneath the cucumber plants weeded, and the tunnelhouse well-ventilated to encourage the air flow necessary to deter fungal disease. Tie the vines to their supports regularly so that the foliage does not collapse back onto itself.

If you spot signs of ‘rust’ on leaves, snip off the affected foliage and dispose of it in your waste bin (not the compost). If you see signs of aphids, gently squish the insects with your fingers, and treat the foliage (not fruit) with soapy water spray*every 3 days until the infestation reduces or disappears.

*Make your own soapy water spray by dissolving half a teaspoon of hard bathroom soap in 1 litre of very hot water, cooling the water completely before adding it to a clean spray bottle.

 

Tips

Most cucumbers require insect pollination to form fruit. Encourage insects into your tunnelhouse by planting insect-friendly flowers around the doors, and by moving one or two potted marigold plants into the greenhouse when they are in bloom.

 

Harvest your cucumbers as soon as they are mature so that the vines do not have to work unnecessarily hard to support them.

 

When using ties to anchor the cucumber vines to their supports, avoid soft woven, cotton twine. It tends to hold onto moisture and can cause fungal disease to develop in the stems of the plants. Choose strips of nylon pantyhose, instead

 

Drooping, wilting foliage may not be due to a lack of moisture in the ground. Over-watering can do even more damage as it swamps the soil and prevents oxygen reaching roots. Water only when the ground feels dry up to the second knuckle of your finger. Water deeply, to encourage roots to grow down into cooler ground.

 

Water your cucumber plants in the early morning so that excess moisture evaporates during the heat of the day and does not collect at night to cause a damp, humid environment.

 

Discourage disease by always water the plants from the base, avoiding wetting the foliage.

Sold on Strawberries! Grow me now in September

Grow Me Now

 

September

Sold on Strawberries!

Strawberries are a longed-for summer treat, but they so often disappoint. From failing to fully pollinate, lacking flavour, becoming marked by birds, slugs, and snails, rotting before they’re ripe, and simply not returning a decent number of berries, strawberry hassles mean many gardeners give up growing this delicious fruit. If this sounds like you, there is another way to get the crop you crave – and it’s by growing your strawberries in a tunnelhouse. What’s more, strawberries in the tunnelhouse ripen so much earlier than those outside, that you’ll have the ground free for tomatoes and other heat-lovers by the time you need it. As a bonus, tunnelhouse strawberry plants are likely to produce more fruit than those grown outdoors, so you don’t need the same number of plants. And your berries will be super-sweet because of ripening in the warmest of conditions.

 

Source

Strawberries fruit from spring through until autumn, depending on variety, with ‘Monetrey’ being one of the latest varieties. If you have space in your tunnelhouse to grow strawberries throughout the warmer months, choose a range of varieties. If you need the space for heat-lovers in late spring, choose an early maturing strawberry such as ‘Pajaro.’ If you are already growing strawberries in your outdoor garden, and the variety suits your purposes, dig up a few young plants that have formed on ‘runners’ last season, and use them in your tunnelhouse.

When purchasing plants from the garden centre, inspect them carefully (on the underside of leaves as well) for signs of aphids and other sap-suckers. Once these pests reach the warmth of your tunnelhouse, they will romp away if not checked.

 

Groundwork

Whether you intend growing your undercover strawberries in the tunnelhouse bed, or in containers, preparation is the same. The soil needs to be rich, loose, and free draining. Dig in lashings of compost made with ingredients that include sterile animal manure and decayed kelp, and add a sprinkling of bone dust. Strawberries are acid-loving, so skip the lime. If you are using inorganic fertilizer, choose one specifically for strawberries, or which has a balanced NPK ratio. Dig all ingredients in deeply, and water the beds or containers well. Leave planting until the next day, once the growing medium has soaked up the moisture and had time to drain.

 

Transplanting

Strawberry plants can be grown a little closer together in the tunnelhouse than you would outdoors because there is less leaching of nutrients, undercover. Drainage is also more controlled so there is no need to raise the plants up on mounds. Simply make shallow depressions in the bed (or your containers) about 1.5 hand widths apart. Press the plants firmly into the soil, and bring the soil around them without covering their central crown (the point in the centre of the plant from which the leaves grow). The crown should always be above soil level. Lay a light mulch of straw or untreated wood shavings around the plants.

 

Maintenance

Water the plants before the soil dries out completely, and give them a liquid feed every 7-10 days until fruit begins to set. Check carefully at night, with a torch, for slugs or snails, and remove any you find. Once fruit begins to ripen, keep it free of fungal disease by ventilating the tunnelhouse day and night. Cover doors and vents with netting to exclude birds, or use a specially fitted Tunnelhouse screen door. Snip off (never pull) runners as they appear (‘runners’ are new, young plants which form on a long stem which branches off from the main plant). This will help keep your plants fruiting. Harvest the berries with scissors.

At the end of the fruiting period (when the plants are no longer producing flowers), remove containers of plants outside and into a sunny position. If you have grown your strawberry plants directly into the greenhouse bed, dig them up, and replant them in a spare space in the outdoor garden.

 

Tip

If using pea straw mulch, take great care to get it from an organic source or to make certain it has not been tainted with Glyphosate. Even a trace of the chemical will damage or kill tomato plants.

 

If signs of fungal disease appear, move mulch away from the plants to allow for greater air flow. Remove any diseased fruit immediately.

 

Towards the end of fruiting, allow a handful of runners to develop. Press them into containers of potting mix while they are still attached to the parent plant. Once they are rooted, snip off the runner. These young plants will provide you with next year’s greenhouse crop.

Tempted by Tomatoes? Grow me now in August

Grow Me Now!

August

 

Tempted by Tomatoes!

They’re the summer favourite that gets gardeners talking – and the one plant, more than any other, that sees a grower invest in a tunnelhouse. Which makes it even more unbelievable that this South American native once aroused so much suspicion when first introduced to Europeans, that they had to be persuaded to eat it! Today, the popularity of the tomato continues to grow, and the trend, over the last few years, toward planting heritage tomatoes, has only increased excitement about the fruit. While Kiwis in cooler regions grow their tomatoes under cover, those in warmer climes are often turning to crop tunnels to provide a well-protected, blemish-free crop. 

 

Source

The depths of winter may not feel like the time of year to be germinating tomato seed, but unless you want to be buying seedlings at the garden centre (where there is limited choice of variety) August is certainly the month to start sowing. When choosing seed, there are a few decisions to be made. Tomatoes fall into two broad categories: indeterminate (vine-style) and determinate (bush-style) plants (both are suitable for a tunnelhouse or crop tunnel). Within these two categories, both commercial and heritage tomato varieties are available. The garden centre will be able to supply you with seed of regular tomatoes, and a few heritage varieties, but for more exotic choices, check out Kings Seeds, Koanga Institute, and Trade Me. Or ask around on Facebook gardening groups.

 

Ground work

Sow your seed into a punnet of quality seed raising mix placed on a sunny window ledge or propagation pad. Tomatoes prick out easily, so once the seeds have germinated, and have their first true leaves (rather than their ‘germination leaves’), transplant them into individual containers of tomato potting mix. Be guided in container size by your climate, and the indoor or propagation space you have available. (In cooler parts of the country, it will still be too cold to place the seedlings in the tunnelhouse in September, or even October, and they may need to grow on, indoors, for several weeks. Make sure their pots give them the root space they will require.)

Once your tomato seedlings are growing, it’s time to prepare your tunnelhouse to receive them. Tomatoes can be in the ground for 6 months or more so it’s important to pile in the nutrients from the start. Dig in plenty of quality compost (a source of nitrogen, but also of the potassium and phosphorus, on which tomatoes thrive). If your compost hasn’t included kelp, add it to the soil, now.  Tomatoes prefer a pH of 5.5-6.5, so don’t add lime to the ground unless it is particularly acidic (a soil test kit can help establish this). The roots of tomato plants are shallow, but long, and stretch out horizontally. They don’t enjoy negotiating obstructions, so mix all your ingredients into the bed of the tunnelhouse well, and crumble up any lumpy material. Water the bed deeply, at least twice before planting, and keep it weed-free.

 

Transplanting

Tomatoes can go into the greenhouse anytime from late August onwards, depending on where in the country you live. If your location is prone to frost then plant in the tunnelhouse late October or even November, especially if the weather is cooler. When transplanting, use a trowel to create pockets 70cm to 90cm apart. If using stakes (rather than twine) as supports, push them into the soil beside the holes before you plant, so you don’t disturb roots. Water each planting hole well, upend the seedling container to ease out the tomato plant, and place the seedling gently in the hole. Lightly firm the soil around the base of the plant (note: you are unlikely to kill a tomato seedling by planting it too deeply, so if your plant is ‘leggy,’ set it down further in the hole, for added support).

Maintenance

As your tomato plants grow, water them deeply once or twice a week. (This encourages the roots to grow down to cooler soil. More frequent, shallow watering, only encourages roots to invade the surface area, which quickly leads them to over-heat and dry out in hot weather.) Water the plants with a liquid feed of kelp and sterile animal manure every 7-10 days until flowering commences. After that, water with liquid kelp only (too much nitrogen encourages foliage at the expense of flowers).

Unless you are growing grafted tomatoes (in which case refer to the growing instructions that came with them), remove the lateral shoots from indeterminate (vine) tomatoes to encourage the plants to grow up, rather than out, and to hasten flower production. Tie the vines to stakes, or guide them around twine supports, as required. Determinate (bush) tomatoes will also require support. Provide it in the form of a framework or tomato cage.

Keep a watch for sap-sucking insects such as aphids, and squash them with your fingers in the first instance. If the pests persist, apply a spray made from 1/4 tsp hard bathroom soap dissolved in half a litre of boiling water that has been left to cool completely. Repeat every 3-4 days. Note: if you are growing organically, there is no need to completely rid the plants of pests – a healthy balance is what you are aiming for because the general strength of the plants means they can hold their own against a degree of pest attack.

Keep the tunnelhouse well ventilated day and night, promptly snip off any leaves that attract disease, this will also help with airflow and light transmission and harvest fruit as soon as it is ripe to take the pressure off the plants.

 

Tips

Some gardeners like to grow their tomatoes in fresh soil each season, but if disease hasn’t been a problem in the previous season, you may decide this isn’t necessary. 

 

Always try to grow your own tomatoes from seed. To buy at the garden centre is to risk bringing aphids, white fly and other pests into your tunnelhouse.

 

When sowing seed, cover the seed containers with a sheet of perspex or glass to prevent mice digging them up (in August, rodents are on the hunt for any food they can find).

 

If raising seed without the aid of a germination pad, try popping the seed containers inside a plastic bag as they sit on a sunny window ledge. Leave one end of the bag open to avoid over-heating and ‘cooking’ the seed. This mini greenhouse effect can hurry along germination.

 As soon as you start sowing tomato seed, begin soaking kelp and sterile animal manure in a large barrel of water. This will be the liquid feed for your plants until flowering time commences.

Tomatoes that are indeterminate love to grow in height. Use your top aluminium purlin in the Tunnelhouse as a support to tie you strings on and these can be adjusted as the plant grows. A simple tent peg or similar at the base of the plant can be used to tie the string on and wind around the stem of the plant as it grows. 

Once you discover a variety of tomato that you favour, keep the seed from it for sowing again next season. To collect seed, take pulp (containing seed) from a ripe tomato, and smear it onto a folded paper kitchen towel. Leave it to dry thoroughly over a period of days, then snip up the individual seeds (paper towel and all) and store in a sealed envelop or jar (don’t forget to label with the date and description).

 

Coriander for the Culinary! Grow me now in July

Grow Me Now!

July

 

Coriander for the Culinary!

It must surely rank among the most pungent of herbs, and there’s no doubt that you either love it or loathe it. That’s because, genetically, coriander divides the population in two, with some experiencing it’s taste as ‘soapy’ while others find it delicious.In India, coriander is known ‘The King of Herbs,’ and is used throughout the nation. In the south, the population uses its fresh, green foliage, in a variety of dishes. In the north, it’s the dried, ground coriander seed that is sought after for use in rich, spicy sauces. Coriander is a value-for space herb in the tunnelhouse as its root can also be used in cooking. Coriander prefers to grow into cooler weather – in conditions that are too warm, it quickly runs to seed. It makes for a perfect winter crop in the greenhouse, in cooler regions, or in a crop tunnel in warmer climes.

 

Source

Coriander seed is not difficult to locate on the garden centre shelves, however it is best sown thickly, and there is usually only a scattering of seed in a packet. Better by far, is to purchase food-grade seed in bulk, for a fraction of the price. This can be found in the likes of Bin Inn or Asian food suppliers. Once you have coriander growing in your own garden or greenhouse, simply let a few plants bolt, and collect the seeds when they are dry. Left to its own devices, coriander readily self seeds, in which case you may never need to sow it again!

 

Ground work

Coriander is all leaf, which makes it a nitrogen-hungry herb. Give it what it requires in the form of plenty of sterilised manure, and lashings of compost. If you don’t have access to organic ingredients, dig in a scattering of high-nitrogen fertilizer. There is no need to add lime unless your tunnelhouse soil is significantly acid, as coriander is tolerant of a range of pH levels. The seed does not like to struggle through the ground, so make the soil as fine as you can, and keep it free draining. In winter conditions, even in the tunnelhouse, coriander appreciates sun, so don’t hide it in the shade of climbers or tall, bulky brassicas, or silverbeet.

 

Sowing

If you enjoy coriander, you will never have enough of it, so sow plenty, and freeze it for summer, when it is too warm for it to grow without running to seed. If you are growing it to freeze, sow the seed thickly in 10cm wide rows. If you want to pick just a few leaves daily, sow seed 2-3cm apart. However you do it, bear in mind that coriander seeds are ‘conglomerate,’ as are the seeds of beetroot and silverbeet. Conglomerate seeds produce more than one plant from a seed, so take this into account when spacing. Cover the seed with twice its depth of soil, water deeply, and place a non-treated board over the row to lock in the damp until germination occurs. After that, water frequently. Note: coriander seed has a hard outer coating which means it is slow to germinate (taking 2-3 weeks in tunnelhouse conditions). Consider soaking the seed in warm water for an hour prior to sowing to hurry along germination (it floats, so you will need to place a saucer over it to keep it submerged).

 

Maintenance

Coriander doesn’t enjoy competition, so keep the bed well weeded. Visit the tunnelhouse after dark, with a torch, to pick off any slugs and snails that are about. Coriander can attract fungal disease, but this can usually be managed by keeping the tunnelhouse well-ventilated. Aid air movement around the young plants by thinning as you harvest.

 

Tips

Although you may find coriander plants for sale in gardening centres, it is best grown from seed due to its tendency to bolt when transplanted.

 

Coriander is slow to germinate, taking up to 14 to 21 days, depending on conditions. It can be helpful to mark the row by sowing a few fast-germinating radish seed with your coriander.

 

Avoid coriander bolting by keeping the ground damp.

 

In dry conditions, white fly will quickly colonise the plants. Don’t let the ground dry out.

 

To get the best value from the plants, harvest the leaves before a central stem starts growing. Once this happens, the leaves become spindly, and the plants are all ‘stalk.’

 

Coriander freezes ‘like a dream.’ Chop it finely and free-flow it in snap lock bags. Use it frozen (don’t allow it to thaw before adding it to dishes).

Sweet Snaps & Snows – May in the Tunnelhouse, grow me now!

Grow Me Now!

May

 

Pop in Some Peas!

Shelling-peas take up quite a lot of space in relation to the harvest they return, so deciding whether or not to grow them in the tunnelhouse in the off season can be fraught. However, sugar snap and snow peas are a different story because their entire pod is eaten, which increases their return for the valuable space they occupy. ‘Snaps’ and ‘snows’ sown in autumn will produce pods in early to mid spring in cooler parts of the country, and earlier in mild regions. When the vines are spent, they can be dug back into the ground provided they are disease-free.

 

Source

Outside of spring, it can be infuriatingly difficult to locate sugar snap and snow pea seed, but if your regular garden centre doesn’t have any on the shelves, head to the likes of Trade Me or Kings Seeds. Better still, if you have grown these peas in your own garden over spring and summer, check the vines for dried pods and seeds you can sow. Peas do not cross pollinate easily, so if your different pea varieties have been growing at least 3 metres away from each other, the seed is likely to be true. If you have a choice, sow dwarf varieties of snow and snap peas (some dwarf varieties grow just 60cm high) so they cut out less light from your other undercover edibles.

 

Ground work

Peas are shallow rooted so there is no need to dig more than half a spade deep when preparing your tunnelhouse soil for seed sowing. Peas don’t appreciate wet roots, nor will they tolerate drying out, so add plenty of well-made, humus-rich compost into the ground to act as a gentle sponge for moisture. As your summer crops will have used up all the nutrients you added in spring, add a scattering of nitrogen, and chopped kelp to the bed, and dig it in well. Soak the pea bed with water the day before sowing, and leave it to drain. Prepare a few buckets of liquid feed by soaking quality compost plus, comfrey leaves and kelp. Once the bed is ready, erect trellis (light plastic trellis is sufficient) behind the sowing area, and secure it.

 

Sowing

Soak your pea seed for an hour before sowing to promote swift germination (don’t leave it any longer or you risk the seed rotting in the ground before it sprouts). Use a small dibber to make 3cm deep holes, 3-4cm apart, in the pea bed (this is closer than you would sow if you were working in the garden, because you will be growing in optimal conditions, and nutrients won’t be washed out by winter rain). Drop one seed into each hole, and cover with soil. Tender shoots are a target for slugs and snails, so go hunting for these pests at night, with a torch. If using slug bait, take special precautions around children and pets, as it will not break down in the tunnelhouse as it would outdoors (greenhouses are also a magnet for cats that like to sun themselves in its winter warmth).

 

Maintenance

Water the pea bed only when the soil requires it. To test if water is necessary, push your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If it comes out clean, it’s time to water. If soil adheres to it, wait a little longer to add moisture. Make every second or third watering a liquid feed. Sugar snap and snow peas can grow to almost 2 m high, so your support will eventually need extending. This can be done by using strings to lead the vines horizontally along the inside of the greenhouse (keep them away from the roof space so they don’t block out the sun). Alternatively, nip out the growing tip once the height becomes unmanageable.

Peas are self-pollinating (they don’t require insects to do the job for them). However, by gently tapping the vines, once they are in bloom, you will encourage pollen to drop from one flower onto another, as it needs to do for the flowers to form pods.

 

Tips

Birds can destroy pea vines by devouring tender new leaves and growing tips. Net your tunnel house door to prevent birds entering, or use a special screen door.

 

 

Grow-lights will help your vines to grow vigorously, by adding extra light-hours to winter days (peas require 6-8 hours of sunlight per day). Always check with an electrician before installing grow-lights, and have this done professionally if required. Remember: too much extra light is not beneficial, so do your research – plants need rest, too!

 

Pea vines sometimes need to be ‘persuaded’ to reach for their trellis. Head them in the right direction with the help of a few twigs pushed into the ground, on a lean, toward the trellis.

 

Sugar snap and snow pea pods are mature when around 5cm long but can be harvested when they are half that size. Pick the first pods when they are small, to encourage others to form. Keep harvesting regularly so the vines keep producing.

 

Make the most of your precious out-of-season pods by lightly steaming them, and serving them cool with a dressing made of equal parts of tahini, honey and cider vinegar. Sprinkle over toasted sesame seeds. Delicious!

 

 

Love Leeks! May is the time to plant in the Tunnelhouse

Grow me now in May

Love Leeks!

Leeks are such a cool-season staple. However, with the rush of summer planting and autumn harvesting, it’s easy to miss the boat when it comes to getting them in the ground in time to fatten up for winter. Fortunately, all is not lost when you have a tunnelhouse to trap in the April heat and give your leek seedlings a quick start. What’s more, a leek bed is a great tunnelhouse rotation crop because alliums aren’t in the same family as brassica or your regular undercover summer plants.

 

 

Source your supply

Although April is getting too late to sow leek seed, you will almost certainly be able to track down a punnet or two of leek seedlings at your garden centre. Snap them up right away, and get cracking on preparing a space in your greenhouse where you can plant them (if your summer greenhouse plants are still producing, prepare containers plant your leeks into, and pop the containers in between the other plants until the summer-fruiters  are ready to come out.

 

Ground work

Summer tunnelhouse crops are generally shallow rooted. Leeks, however, prefer a deep bed, so take a long-tined garden fork, and loosen up the soil as deeply as you can by pushing it into the ground and pulling it back and forwards. Don’t aim to dig the ground up, unless it is particularly stony or filled with sticks, in which case these will need to be removed as leeks like ‘a clear run’ down into the soil. 

Your summer crop will have gobbled up the nutrients in the greenhouse, so add compost and well-rotted kelp to the bed. If you don’t have this, make do with all-purpose garden fertilizer (don’t over do this, though, as leeks are not gross-feeders, and too much nitrogen will mean they are all tops and no white). While leeks enjoy a scattering of lime, tomatoes don’t, so skip the lime in favour of the needs of your more high-value summer crop that will be growing undercover next season (the leeks will manage without the lime). While you think of it, chop some kelp and comfrey leaves (and nettles, if you have them) into a bucket of water, and set it to brew for a couple of weeks (this will be the liquid feed for your leek seedlings as they grow).

 

Transplanting

Upend the leek seedlings from their punnets, and carefully trim their roots back to within 2cm of their bases (this prevents the roots turning back on themselves when they are popped into the ground). If the leeks are looking tired, yellow, or straggly, trim off the top couple of centimetres from their foliage.

Use a small dibber to create planting holes in your prepared greenhouse bed. The holes should be around a third the length of the seedlings, and 10cm apart (you would plant the leeks further apart if you were working in the outdoor garden, but your leeks have an ideal growing space in the tunnelhouse, and you can always thin them as you harvest, allowing those that are left to fatten up further). Drop (don’t push) each seedling into its hole, and do not back fill the hole with soil. Once all the seedlings are in place, use a watering can or jug to add water to each hole (this should be with just enough force to wash a little soil down into the hole and over the roots of the seedling). Subsequent waterings will add more soil to the holes until they are almost full of loose dirt.

Maintenance

Keep the ground around the leek seedlings damp but not wet. Water around the base of the plants with your prepared liquid feed, every couple of weeks (watering the foliage of the plants with kelp water is said to help deter leek rust). Once the plants are pencil thin, mulch around them to keep the weeds down, and to lock in moisture, especially if you are going away for a winter break.

Leeks are unlikely to be bothered by slugs or snails, but keep a watch, just in case, by going into the tunnelhouse at night with a torch, and removing any pests you find. Keeping an upended pot close by the leek bed can encourage pests to shelter there by day, in which case you know where to find them!

 

 

Tips:

If leek rust appear on your plants, trim off the affected foliage as soon as possible, and discard (don’t compost). Leek rust spreads on the wind, so think about planting your seedlings at the far end of the tunnel house, furthest away from the door.

 

Some gardeners like to encourage the growth of the white part of their leeks by popping a ‘collar’ over their seedlings. You can do this with the help of a half or third length of kitchen foil roll (the collar should cover no more than a third the length of the seedling).

 

Leeks grown undercover are more tender than those grown outdoors, so make use of all the green foliage as well as the white.

 

 

If you’re looking for a change with leeks in the kitchen, try sautéing them in olive oil with a little chopped garlic and plenty of finely ground black pepper. When soft and sweet, cool, and spread over flaky pastry, and roll up to form a long, thin tube. Coil the tube to create ‘leek snails,’ dampen their tops, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cook as you would sausage rolls.

How to cut a Leek

Freezing

Freezing Leeks is super easy but they do require blanching.

Step 1: Wash your leeks thoroughly, remove most of darker green leaves but you can leave a small amount of darker green leaves on and cut into small circles about a 4 or 5cm or whichever way you will want to use them for cooking later on.

Step 2: Get a large pot of water and bring to the boil.

Step 3: You will need a large basin or similar to create an ice bath, fill with cold water and plenty of ice. You will need to replenish the ice after each batch

Step 4: Blanch in batches this is easier. Once the water is boiling add the batches of leeks. You only need to blanch for 2-3 minutes, remove with a slotted spoon and then straight into the ice cold water bath

Step 5: Let them cool in the water for a few minutes and you can move them around the ice bath to quicken the cooling process. Remove with your slotted spoon into a colander to drain off the water.

Step 6: With every batch you will need to top up the ice in your water bath/ bowl

Step 7: Once the leeks have drained they can be dried on on a large absorbent tea towel or an old bath towel. You will need to dry them off as much as possible. Once this has been done, also use a handee towel afterwards to get out more moisture, this is ideal before sealing.

Step 8: Add to your freezer bags and get out as much air as possible. A vacuum sealer is ideal as you dont want the leeks loose in the bag. It is important to get out as much moisture as possible because when you seal them the sealer will also drag out the moisture preventing it from sealing well.