February 6, 2009 In the Garden

* If you growing rhubarb, you may well still be harvesting it now. Food TV’s Delia recommends adding a little chopped fresh ginger as you stew or bake it and we can endorse that recommendation. Alison Holst’s technique of stewing rhubarb with sago used to make this fruit more palatable to our children when they were very young. Rhubarb is a perennial plant which is a gross feeder – in other words it grows best in rich, well nourished soil conditions. It needs feeding and watering to keep it producing and to maintain strength in the plant as you strip its stems and leaves.
* South Taranaki gardeners on town water supplies are facing their usual summer water restrictions. As this is now an annual feature, gardeners should have the message by now that their practices must take into account the certainty of watering restrictions. Much of this preparation takes place in advance. Plant trees and shrubs in autumn and winter(not spring) so they can get established and not need summer watering. Cultivate soil well so it is friable and rich in humus and can hold moisture, and get a mulch on before the soil starts to dry. Plant hard wearing lawns and accept that a brown lawn is a sign of summer. Devise techniques for recycling household grey water or collecting rain water. A lush green garden at this time is more likely to be a sign that you are breaking the rules and lacking in civic spirit than that you are a great gardener.
* As you harvest stone fruit (most likely to be plums in this climate, but also including peaches, apricots and nectarines), prune the trees. This encourages them to form fruiting spurs for next year, rather than leafy growth.
* Don’t delay on doing any tree surgery and pruning on cherry trees. Fruiting cherries are different to ornamental cherry trees . Alas it is unlikely that you can successfully grow beautiful Black Dawsons or similar in our climate. They do best in poorer soils with cold dry winters – such as in Hawkes Bay and Central Otago. Ornamental cherries will flower well here but tend not to be long lived. If anyone has a wonderful fruiting cherry, please let us know.
* If you have green tomatoes which have holes in them, the likely culprit is the green loop caterpillar. There is not usually a heavy infestation so shaking the plant or picking it over carefully will uncover the culprit and avoid the need for resorting to insecticides. If you need to spray, there is an approved organic spray available. It is specifically for caterpillars and will not attack beneficial insects. Ask at your local garden centre. It will contain a bacteria (bacillus thuringiensis) as the active ingredient. Keep fortnightly copper sprays on tomato plants to stave off blight.
* Mark proudly announced that we have attained self sufficiency here – but alas it is only in garlic, courgettes and cucumbers so far. The juicing of courgettes (flavoured with fresh orange juice) was reasonably successful last week. This week’s juice is cucumber and fresh lime. Fortunately the garlic keeps well so there is no need to devise a juice based on garlic.