In the Garden, March 5, 2010

Mark surveys his field of buckwheat, swan plants to the right

Mark surveys his field of buckwheat, swan plants to the right

  • This is the first year we have tried buckwheat as a green crop and we notice it has the added benefit of feeding the bees. Bees are critical for pollination so having a bee-friendly style of gardening can help counteract the well publicised problems with declining bee populations. We bought the buckwheat from Kings Seeds (www.kingsseeds.co.nz). Green crops are a time honoured method of restoring fertility to land which is repeatedly cropped and are just as relevant today for the home vegetable gardener as they were hundreds of years ago when readers may remember from school history lessons about early agricultural practices of leaving a field fallow.
  • More than just a green crop, if you let the buckwheat go to seed, it can be used as bird food for hens or pigeons. Feed the whole seed head out and the birds will do the rest.
  • It being March, the winter vegetable planting calls. Fresh vegetables tend to be quite expensive in winter so home produce can be economic as well as satisfying. If you are anything more than a dilettante, ignore the trendy advice to grow your vegetables all together in a style reminiscent of the herbaceous border. This means you can not possibly practice rotation where you alternate different types of crops through the same piece of ground. A green crop is followed by the greedy feeders such as potatoes and corn, followed by brassicas and leafy crops and ending up with the root vegetables which do better in soil which has not been freshly fertilised.
  • If you can’t remember the sequence of crop rotation, it is good practice to always plant a different crop to the one just finished. This greatly reduces the chance of building up diseases in the soil and pesky pests in the surrounds.
  • It is time to be festooning outdoor grapevines in netting to keep the birds out, if you want a crop. As soon as they start colouring, the birds will be in like a shot. Even when netted in, they will find the one hole or gap you may have left.
  • Feed deciduous fruit trees and plants now so that they have time to take up the nutrition before they go dormant.
  • As a postscript to my column last week about monarch butterflies, a reader rang with the handy hint to use spring clothes pegs to suspend chrysalises which have become dislodged. You can only do this where there is sufficient stem attached to the top of the cocoon – do not peg the cocoon itself or you will damage the butterfly forming inside. She also commented that when a caterpillar in the process of metamorphosis becomes dislodged (that is the stage when the caterpillar hangs like an upside down question mark and starts to turn green) she has had success constructing small hammocks out of Chux dishcloth. They can still turn into a chrysalis and she then pegs the Chux so they subsequently hatch out successfully. There is a slight question mark over Mark’s dedication in that he has yet to enter the stage of constructing chrysalis hammocks.