Tag Archives: Grow It Yourself

Grow it yourself: aubergines

GIY – aubergines

Goodness knows why these are described as eggplants – some varieties are egg shaped? The texture can be a little like an over-boiled egg in its shell? Aubergine is a much more attractive name for what is widely seen as a sophisticated vegetable, showing up ever more frequently in modern NZ recipes. The problem with aubergines is getting your timing right because they need maximum heat all summer long. Essentially you need three to four months of warm weather to get a worthwhile harvest and, being a plant from warm climates, it will succumb as soon as temperatures drop in autumn. For most of us, this means starting the plants in pots under cover so they have some size before planting them out when soil temperatures rise in November. You can either buy a few plants from the garden centre or start from seed. If you choose the latter, you may do better if you go for quicker maturing varieties with smaller fruit.

Aubergines are solanums along with potatoes, capsicums and tomatoes but they are not as easy to grow. They like humus rich, friable soils in full sun. Once you have planted them out, treat them like a capsicum or even a tomato. They may need staking if they start to fall over. They will benefit from early pinching out of new shoots to encourage them to be bushy. They will need watering in dry summer times. But the bottom line is that you don’t have established plants in the ground by the beginning of December, you have missed the boat.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Grow it yourself: onions

Is it worth growing onions when the product is so cheap to buy with consistent quality? Possibly not if your vegetable gardening is suburban dabbling and you have access to a good farmers’ market or another reliable source. We grow them because we aim at self sufficiency (even though we don’t always make it) and we like to know where our food comes from. If you grow your own, you can also go beyond the usual brown, red or spring onions. Kings Seeds have at least 10 different types listed. If you want the range, you will have to grow from seed. Alternatively you can buy bundles of seedlings which look like baby spring onions, at the garden centre.

Onions don’t like heavy soils. They do well in light, sandy soils but you need to build up the soil fertility by using manure, a green crop, compost or fertiliser. They don’t have big root systems. In fact they don’t have a lot of top either so you have to make sure they don’t get swamped and shaded by competitive weeds. Onions get planted any time between autumn and spring though you won’t be harvesting until next summer and autumn. However, different varieties of onions have different planting requirements in that time span so check the instructions.

Spacings depend entirely on the variety. Some are small so can be grown close together while others need room to develop. While commercial production uses a non bulbous variety (Allium fistulosum) for spring onions, home gardeners know that any thinnings and surplus juvenile plants will fit the bill.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Grow It Yourself: Potatoes

The history of the potato is a remarkable one and surely warrants further exploration at a later date. But is it worth growing at home? If one potato is much the same as the next to you, then probably not, because they are so cheap to buy. But if you love your taties and can tell the difference between varieties, then of course you will be growing them. And the message from the Head Vegetable Grower here is that if you want new potatoes for Christmas dinner, you will have to get them in this very weekend because most early varieties take from 75 to 90 days to mature, though Swift and Rocket can do it in 60 days. Potatoes are vulnerable to disease so it pays to start with fresh certified seed potato from garden centres each year rather than using your own old potatoes which are shooting.

Potatoes are heavy on space. Because this is not a problem for us, we do them in rows digging narrow trenches about 20m deep and wide (full sun, well cultivated friable soil, fresh ground if possible), piling the soil to the side of the trench. The potatoes are then laid on the bottom of the trench and covered with 10cm of compost. As the shoots reach about 20cm, more soil is layered on top – a process called mounding. The potatoes form on the stems so you need to encourage stem growth and keep a thick enough layer of dirt to keep the potatoes well covered and stop them going green. The mounding process continues until the plants have flowered and it may be necessary to water in dry spells because the mounds lose moisture.

In smaller spaces, the stack of tyres is a popular technique, though hardly aesthetic. Potatoes need good drainage so it is better to build your stack on dirt rather than concrete. Start with one tyre and fill with good soil or compost, making sure you fill the rims as well. Plant about three potatoes and, as mounding is needed, add another tyre and fill with soil. You will probably end up with a stack of 3 or 4. If you plan to use potting mix instead of soil, they will become expensive potatoes.

One of the reasons for getting potatoes in now is to try and get crops through before the dreaded blights hit. In our experience, if you are not willing to spray your potatoes regularly with copper (about every fortnight), unless you know what you are doing, get your crop in early and manage them very well, you will get disease. Don’t use nitrogen based fertilisers as they are a root crop. Favourite early varieties here are Liseta and Jersey Benne, for main crop Red Rascal and Agria.

GIY Sweetcorn

I am married to one of the world’s biggest fans of sweetcorn. Maybe he has been reincarnated from an indigenous tribe from the Americas, where our modern sweetcorn has its antecedents as the primary carbodydrate staple. He has planted his first seed of this season into small pots to get them started under cover and he will plant them out, in accordance with NZ tradition, at Labour Weekend. From there, he will sow in succession through as late as the end of January in order to get fresh corn for a period of five months of the year. Sweetcorn is worth growing at home because the freshly picked product is infinitely superior to anything you will buy. The natural sugars start turning to starch almost immediately on picking.

Corn can either be sown direct into the ground (well cultivated soil and full sun, as with most vegetables) or started in small pots. He Who Grows the Corn here does not subscribe to the advice sometimes given to sow closely together. Quite the opposite – too close and the tall stems lack strength and fail to develop full cobs. You only get one or two good cobs per plant anyway. He recommends spacings of 20 to 30cm between plants and up to a metre between rows. They need lots of sunshine and light and growing in open conditions means the stems will be stronger and hold themselves up. Corn is a gross feeder so needs plenty of compost added and they respond well to superphosphate if you want to add a general garden fertiliser.

Modern corn is far removed from the old heritage crops which are more akin to tougher maize. These days we save our own seed but started from Honey and Pearl which is one of the newer generation hybrids which made corn more palatable to eat and easier to prepare.