Crops and flops

By: Andrew Steens

What a summer this has been! If global warming means day after day of hot, humid weather, interspersed with the occasional heavy downpour, then I’m all for it. My garden is just loving the growing conditions, and I’m loving not having to water so much. With it being so hot, though, less gardening time means more thinking time. It’s a good idea to use the midday heat to lie in your hammock, review the past year and think about what cropped and what flopped.

Garlic and shallots were a complete flop; miniscule garlic bulbs and three-quarters of the shallots rotted in the ground. The cause? Too much rain over winter and spring. The solution? Look at putting a temporary plastic cloche (small translucent cover) over the bed to keep some of the water off if next season looks as rainy. I think the cloche should go on in early spring as the bulbs are shifting their energy from growing leaves to growing bulbs.
Strawberries were a raging success. One 4.8 metre bed produced at least a punnet of berries every day from early September right through to mid-January. They are in their second year of production under a rigid wall cloche that has its roof removed and replaced with bird mesh once fruiting starts. This extra protection, plus mature plants and decent amounts of fertiliser, ensured a good crop. I’ll have to set up another bed this autumn though, as I expect production to drop off as the plants get too crowded in their third year.

Plums have been a complete washout – literally. Warm winter conditions reduced flowering. Kereru did their best to eat the remaining flowers, then the wet spring kept bees in their hives. Insult was heaped on injury when the few fruit that did develop became infested with guava moth. Blackbirds cleaned up what was left. So many issues I don’t know where to start, but I’m giving serious consideration to buying something called cherry fruit sleeves, which are basically a sock made of insect-proof mesh that slips over the branch. This prevents both birds and bugs from getting at the fruit. Angela isn’t so keen, though, no doubt envisaging lots of white branches waving in the breeze at the back of the garden.

Insect-proof mesh has been the saviour of my tomato crop again this year. At a guess we’ve harvested over 20kg of fruit from just six plants. Lucky we didn’t have to freeze any plums this year. We planted the non-vining Russian Red variety with liberal amounts of fertiliser. They were grown under a cage of insect-proof mesh and suffered no blight, no green vegetable bugs, no whitefly, no guava moth, no aphids or the dreaded tomato psyllid, no caterpillars and no bird damage. Best of all, there was no need to spray the tomatoes, and they fruited about a fortnight earlier than normal. Looking back on the season, all I can say is I am glad to no longer be a commercial grower, particularly in this heat. However, home gardening does keep the brain active, trying to keep one step ahead of Mother Nature.

Andrew Steens


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