Embrace the ‘grow your own’ trend with Mitre 10

Life has never been more expensive, and the cost of groceries seems to go up every week – meaning there has never been a better time to start growing your own produce. Whether you’re getting started or have produce in your garden already, there are things you can do this spring to ensure a fridge full of fresh produce.

Time to prepare

  • If you haven’t already prepared your soil, spring is the perfect time to get started. If it doesn’t need turning over then spread a couple of bags of compost over the bare soil and dig through the top layer before you plant.
  • Empty your compost bin onto the garden. You’ll know it’s ready when it is the consistency of lumpy soil – but don’t plant straight into it, it will be too rich. Leave for a few weeks before planting.
  • In the meantime, sow your seeds – carrots, parsnip, beetroot, silverbeet, peas, lettuces, leeks, cabbage, tomato, capsicum, courgette, melon, cucumber and eggplant are all great choices. Transplant your seedlings to your garden as the weather warms around September and October, and when they are showing at least two sets of true leaves.
  • Sow peas, snow peas, runner and bush beans directly into the ground and try to protect them from any frosts using a barrier, garden blanket, or even an old sheet. Just remember, planting seeds too deep can lead to decay. Aim for 2.5-5cm deep.

Keeping organic

So, what is organic gardening? It is simply gardening without the use of any man-made chemicals or processes. However, you’ll be glad to hear there are many natural solutions that can do the same job, preventing problems and keeping those pests away.

Growing organically is better for us, better for the environment, and when done well produces seasonal food all year round. The key is to prevent problems before they happen so that you reduce the need for intervention.

Healthy Soil

Good gardening starts from the ground up – and soil is the number one thing you need to look after if you want to grow organically. Healthy soil will promote strong, vigorous plants that resist disease and insect attacks, and need little or no fertilising.

Companion plants

Plants grow best with good mates. Companion planting is the grouping of plants together in a combination that is beneficial to them or other plants around them. This increases the health and success of the harvest and significantly reduces the need to spray by helping repel unwanted insects or attract beneficial insects. It also nourishes the soil and helps control diseases. For example, planting basil near your tomato plants will ensure both will flourish, and some flowers are best grown near edible crops in order to attract insects for pollination.

Some ideal companions for Spring:

  • Carrots pair well with bush beans, lettuce, tomatoes, sage and any other strong-smelling herbs. Unsuitable companions for carrots include dill and parsnips.
  • Beetroot grows well alongside cabbage and lettuce, but doesn’t pair well with beans.
  • Courgette pairs well with nasturtiums.
  • Capsicum and basil are great companion plants.
  • Cucumber grows well with celery and lettuce.
  • Leek and celery are considered great companions, as are eggplant and capsicums.
  • Basil, parsley and celery are great companions for tomatoes.

Healthy plants and crop rotation

A healthy plant overcomes effects of diseases or pests better than a weak one. If you have a plant with a pest problem, try to work out why it is so vulnerable.

Does it need more or less water?

Does it need more or less nitrogen or other nutrients?

Does it need more sun?

Grow plants that do well in your local soil and climate. Young, tender seedlings are more vulnerable to pest damage than older, more established plants, so make sure the soil is good enough to give the plants or seeds a rapid start in life, and remember to water frequently to encourage steady growth.

Crop rotation is also important for organic veggie gardens. Pests and diseases can build up in soil and attack specific vegetable families each year. To help, divide your annual vegetable plot into sections and rotate what you grow in each section every year for three or four years. This also helps the soil fertility as different crops have different nutrient requirements.

Growing from seed

  • Seed sowing is not only rewarding, but it can also be a very cheap way to feed your family.
  • Seeds – like plants – need set heat, air and moisture for germination. Many plants are better started off in seed raising trays or containers.
  • You can control the temperature, moisture, light and the mix used to germinate the seed.
  • Follow the instructions on the packet, especially the guide to the planting depth as planting seeds too deeply can lead to the seed decaying.
  • As a general rule, most seeds should be sown in trays as new shoots are tender and small and can find it difficult to push through the soil’s crust.
  • In seed trays, you can protect your seeds from weather and pests, and they also offer the proper drainage that is necessary to prevent the seed rotting off.
  • Once the sachet is opened, the seed is exposed to light, moisture and heat, causing it to deteriorate. An opened packet of seed should be used within six months.

For more info on growing and going organic visit mitre10.co.nz/guides-and-advice/gardening-guides

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