In the Garden: Friday December 31, 2010

• There is a rumour that now Christmas guests have mostly headed home, summer is going to return. There were hollow laughs of disbelief from our house guests when we talked about the drought, the earlier hot temperatures and the fact that we started swimming in late November. Personally, I lean to the theory that it was the disaffected surfers from down the coast conspiring to keep the best points of Taranaki secret, lest we be inundated by fans. At least the drought is over and our lawns are green again.

• All the rain means high humidity levels which encourages every nasty fungal spore to multiply. Keep a very close eye on your tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, courgettes and the like and take action immediately you spot blight. We don’t worry about mildew (seen as white powder) at this time of the year because the plants will generally grow out of it. You can get a certain distance taking off the affected leaves and stems but remove them entirely from the site. It is safer to put them out in the rubbish than to trust your compost, unless you know you make a hot mix. Cold composting doesn’t kill the fungal spores and you will merely be spreading it. Keep conditions as open as you can around the affected plants. A spray with copper is the recommended treatment for blight (follow the instructions on the container), and you can use baking soda for mildew if you wish (a teaspoon to a litre of water).

Clematis - pretty as a picture but junk those that are prone to mildew

Clematis - pretty as a picture but junk those that are prone to mildew

• Given that we usually have high levels of humidity in our area, we are leaning to the removal of some ornamental plants that consistently turn a silvery colour, indicating powdery mildew. Some clematis are far more vulnerable than others. We have given up persisting with ones that get affected every year and have dug them out in favour of varieties that show good resistance. The same goes for roses.

• Seed sown vegetables will probably need thinning in the veg garden. Most of these thinnings can be eaten as micro veg and they are delicious at the juvenile stage. If you don’t thin the rows, there won’t be sufficient space around individual plants to allow them to reach a decent size.

• Mark was amused to read a recent column in our local paper where the writer mentioned summer employment jobs in his youth. One was separating the Greenfeast peas from the Onward variety. Despite the fact that the writer’s university days were a long way back, these two varieties of peas remain Mark’s recommendations as the best to grow here. Over the years, he has tried many other varieties but now falls back on the tried and true. The bean crop here has not been up to its usual standard but the pea harvests have been abundant – far more than even I could ever eat raw from the garden. That said, it is the wrong season to plant peas now. Wait until early autumn to sow the next crop. Mildew will hit summer pea crops hard.

• Outdoor Classroom next week will be on the topic of summer care of apple trees, in case you are puzzled by what to do with yours.