With a great number of first time gardeners growing their own vegetables, a question that I am often asked is; when is the best time to plant various crops?
This is a difficult question to answer as conditions vary greatly in different parts of the country.
To make matters more complicated, you can have a situation where the growing conditions can be different just half a mile away which is a result of what we call micro-climates.
A gardener with a good micro-climate; as a result of the terrain, or by established trees, making a sheltered hot spot which can be planting out a month or more before it is safe for another gardener to do so, a bit further down the road.
When you buy packets of seeds you will find on the packet the average best sowing times for various regions.
This information is general and unless you know your own growing conditions, succession sowings should be made about 2 to 4 weeks apart.
If the early plantings fail through weather conditions, your later ones will be more successful, as the weather settles.
Over a period of years you will become a better judge of when to sow and plant out.
A gardening diary giving weather conditions each week and sowing times will make a great reference for the future plantings.
Keen gardeners like to beat nature and grow plants out of the normal season so they can have early crops and this can be done with a glasshouse, or the use of plastic film over wire hoops to warm the garden soil and protect the germinated seedlings from adverse weather conditions.
Early plantings can also be assisted by placing plastic bottles over the individual plants after cutting the bottom off and removing the cap.
The most important aspect is when not to plant out seedlings of vegetables.
Late plantings of vegetables towards the end of autumn means they have only a small window of growth, which is progressively slowing down day by day.
In mid winter growth can reduce to zero and immature crops will just sit waiting for better times.
As the daylight hours extend and the soil warms, they then get a growth spurt but because of the previous conditions the plants feel their lives have been threatened and will only grow on a bit and then go to seed (bolt).
Thus the crop is a failure, a waste of time and money. Crops of winter vegetables are planted in summer to grow to near maturity as winter sets in.
In doing so they will mature ready for use in winter and hold nicely over the cold winter months.
For instance leek seedlings will be planted out in December through to February for succession, winter harvesting.
Brassicas, such as winter cabbage and Brussel sprouts will be planted out later in January through till March, dependent on varieties (maturity times) and succession requirements.
The worst problem with brassicas grown for winter is that the young plants have to face the problem of the white butterfly’s caterpillars when the pests are most active.
By placing Neem Tree Granules in the planting hole and sprinkling some onto the soil, around the plants will greatly assist in control.
Refresh the granules every 6 weeks with a few more onto the soil.
Stress on vegetables that are not grown for their fruit (cabbages etc as apposed to say tomatoes) can make them go to seed prematurely.
Two ways this can happen, one is purchasing seedlings that are in punnets and have become root bound and likely have suffered stress through inadequate waterings.
Always look for the very young fresh seedlings of non fruiting plants to purchase, even if you need to grow them on in their punnets till they are of a nice size to plant out.
The next problem can occur during the spring when weather conditions fluctuate from nice warm sunny days to cold miserable days.
The plant’s growth responds to the sunny warm days and then they sulk in the cold windy days.
This stress of change, makes the plants believe that conditions are not good and their lives are threaten, so all they want to do then is reproduce themselves, so then they go to seed.
Often not straight away as they have to reach a certain level of maturity to be able to flower and thus several gardeners have contacted me recently to ask why their early spring plantings have gone to seed.
Either of the above can be the cause of bolting.
A number of gardeners also like to do late plantings if they live in areas not prone to early frosts.
Late plantings of sweet corn in January can often result in a second harvest of cobs before winter sets in.
Tomatoes sown from seed in December and January should give you more ripe fruit after your earlier plantings have finished.
You do not even have to sow seed, as you can strike the laterals (side shoots) to make a new young plant, once it has rooted up.
To do this; fill a small pot two thirds full of compost and fill the balance to the top with sand or fine pumice.
Remove a lateral which should be about 6cm long and place it into the sand to about the depth of the sand.
Moisten down and keep moist. When the plant stands up and shows some new growth then the early roots have formed.
If you spray the laterals with Vaporgard a day before you remove them off the parent plant, you will have a new young tomato plant quicker.
When removing laterals off tomatoes or old leaves, it is most important that you do not do this during humid or moist times as a disease can enter the wound and you lose a good plant.
Remove laterals on a nice sunny day when the air is dry and as you remove each lateral, spray the wound with Liquid Copper.
It is still not too late to plant seeds of summer crops unless you live in an area prone to early frosts.
Keep the soil moist at all times using non chlorinated water. (Put a filter onto your tap to remove the chlorine)
It makes the world of diff.erence and your crops will grow quicker and healthier.
Gardeners that use tank water or are fortunate to live in a town/city that does not dose the water supply with this chemical poison, do not have to worry about a filter.
If you do not have room for a vegetable plot then use containers or planter boxes to grow as many vegetables as possible.
Fill the containers with a good purchased compost, not potting mix.
Much better for your health and pocket.
Image credit: Markus Spiske
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Products mentioned are from Wallys Range of products and can be found in some garden shops or by Mail Order on www.0800466464.co.nz