Attack Of The Triffid Clones

ivy-413686_1920It’s happened in my vegetable garden again.  I’ve got triffids, especially with the hot weather we’ve been having in Southland over this past summer.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the old sci-fi classic, a triffid is not the official name of a plant that you can ask for down at your local gardening centre.  In the book from the 1950s by John Wyndham, a triffid is a carnivorous plant that can move and hunts down humans, with the risk that they are going to TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!!!  In your garden, however, a triffid is any plant that threatens to take the whole lot over.

Triffids might be confused with weeds, but there’s one major difference.  A weed is any plant that people haven’t found a use for yet.  With a garden triffid, the plant in question is useful and desirable, but it’s spreading everywhere and is threatening to crowd out everything else that you’ve planted.

Sometimes, triffid behaviour is exactly what you want.  The best ground covers for decorative gardening areas are those that spread fast and take up all the space so weeds don’t have the chance at any sunlight, space or water.  Having a good ground cover is a very efficient and cost-effective means of controlling weeds in borders and garden beds – much cheaper and/or easier in the long run than continually weeding the garden manually and definitely better for you and your garden than having to use weedkillers.  They’re even better when you use them in combination with a good mulch.  Occasionally, you will have to trim back the ground cover triffid so it doesn’t overwhelm the other plants you actually want in the garden bed.

My favourite ground covers for garden beds are violets, native grasses, mondo grasses and Erica (heather).  However, these aren’t the only ground covers that you can use in landscaping a new garden.

 

foodiesfeed.com_strawberry-mint-milkshakeIn the vegetable garden, triffids are a bit more problematic because you can usually eat or use the plant in question, and it seems so wasteful to pull it out.  Take one of the most vigorous and enthusiastic triffids in my garden: strawberries.  I love strawberries and they’re a delicious treat in summer.  However, as well as producing lots of lovely berries (which you have to cover or race the birds for), they also send out suckers that go a surprising distance from the original parent plant.  For some reason, it just doesn’t feel right to pull strawberry plants out in favour of broccoli and beetroots…  Throwing strawberry plants into the compost heap seems even worse – and they’re probably likely to take the compost heap over as well.  What I’ve ended up doing is to dig up the little “jumpers” and pop them into pots to give away as presents or to inflict on the neighbours.

Perhaps it was a mistake to have planted strawberries in the same raised garden bed as the rest of the vegetables.  This was something I’d learned much earlier for mint.  All species of mint are even more vigorous triffids than strawberries and keep on growing for longer.  The best way to keep mint under control is to plant it in a large tub or a planter of its very own.  Mint is very happy in shady spaces, so if you’ve got a spot in your garden that doesn’t see much sun and you want to do something productive with it, a tub of mint will thrive there with sufficient water, and keep you with enough mint to serve with roast mutton, add to carafes of water or mix with cucumber for a refreshing summer salad.  Put it in your main vegetable patch and you will regret it – and because they can re-spawn from tiny bits of root, it’s very hard to get rid of.

I have occasionally wondered what would happen if I took an old bathtub, set it up as a planter (gravel down the bottom for drainage, then plenty of compost and potting mix, with a good dollop of sheep pellet fertilizer), and planted mint at one end and strawberries at the other.  Which triffid would win?

Another surprisingly stubborn triffid that you might think that you have eradicated but haven’t is the common potato.  Spuds can hide underground for years and pop up unexpectedly where and when you don’t expect them – sometimes years later.  Years before we bought our place, our next-door neighbour’s kids used to throw potatoes at the cats yowling on the fence at night.  Those kids have grown up, left home and had children of their own, but I am still pulling little potato plants out of the floral border under said fence…

foodiesfeed.com_huge-pumpkin-on-a-marketSome vegetables can also become triffids but they aren’t quite as long-term.  These quasi-triffids don’t clone themselves as they spread like strawberries and mint do, but they do take up a lot of space.  Pumpkins are what I’ve got in my garden, a lot of which I didn’t plant on purpose.  You know how it goes: you buy one commercially bred pumpkin from the supermarket on special in winter and chuck the seeds into the compost heap, then come spring once the frosts have finished, up they all come wherever you’ve used that compost.  We’ve currently got pumpkins trailing all over the potato patch at the moment and sending little scout-vines out onto the lawn (the ones we planted deliberately are sending vines over the fence into the neighbour’s place).  However, as I’ve got at least dozen actual pumpkins growing and ripening, I’m not complaining.

You shouldn’t avoid triffids of any type, whether you’re planning a vegetable garden or a decorative area.  The golden rule is that if you know that something spreads like mad, put it in a tub or bed of its own so it doesn’t smother everything else.  If you need help with setting up a raised garden bed, a new garden or a vegetable garden (or with pulling triffids or other weeds out from where you don’t want them), give us a call and we’ll help you out.

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Aphid Agony

foodiesfeed.com_romanesco-broccoli-in-grocery-storeContrary to all those jibes about the cobbler’s children going barefoot and mechanic’s cars being in terrible condition, my garden isn’t in too bad shape.  The veggie garden certainly isn’t in bad shape and this year, I put in plenty of nice, healthy broccoli.  This required all the usual preparation; you don’t just pop your veggie plants or seeds in the ground and hope that they grow.  This meant that a raised garden bed had to go in – after some fairly heavy-duty landscaping going on, including ripping out unwanted shrubs and levelling off the ground.  The raised garden bed was filled, first with some gravel for proper drainage, then with good topsoil and compost mix.  Then the broccoli went in, along with a ton of other veggies, some rhubarb and the strawberries.

The nutritional experts tell us that broccoli is one of the superfoods that’s absolutely brilliant for you because of all the nutrients in it. I probably don’t need a nutritionist to tell me this.  It’s obvious that broccoli has tons of nutritional value because that’s the plant that all the pests, large and small, go for first.  The white cabbage butterflies go for the broccoli.  When we had goats, they went for the broccoli if they broke loose (and that’s another story!).  And this year, the aphids went for the broccoli. The conditions in Southland must have been just right because there were heaps of them.

Oddly enough, all the other delicious plants that tend to get singled out by pests, such as roses, didn’t get touched by the aphids this year.  I did notice that the aphids on the brassicas weren’t the same colour as the ones that turn up on roses: they’re grey, rather than green.  A quick bit of research revealed that aphids aren’t a single species.  Far from it: there is a whole aphid family and yes, there is a species that specialises in brassicas and it does all the annoying things that aphids do that make them into a right royal pain.

Attack Of The Aphid Clones

Aphids breed at a rate that makes rabbits look like they’re on the Pill.  This is partly because aphids are capable of producing hundreds and hundreds of offspring and they mature even more quickly than rabbits do (they have a lifespan of 20–40 days on average).  In addition, a rabbit needs another rabbit to breed. Aphids don’t.  They can reproduce by parthenogenesis or virgin birth, where one single female aphid can produce dozens – hundreds – of clones of herself.

This means that if you attempt to deal with the Attack of the Clones, you have to get them all.  Otherwise, attempts to ensure that your broccoli is pest-free become like those impossible to win computer games or some particularly bad sci-fi plot.

You may ask why on earth you need to bother about killing aphids on your broccoli and other brassicas.  What harm do they do to your plants anyway?

Aphids are like little vegetarian vampires, sucking the nutrients out of the plants that you would rather eat yourself, thank you very much.  What’s more, they leave a sticky residue all over the leaves and stalks that provides lots of nutrients for mould and bacteria to grow in. The end result is a sticky, sickly plant covered with mould instead of the burgeoning brassica you hoped to add to your stir-fry.  Aphids will even start in on any caterpillars that try to establish themselves on the brassicas, with rather dire results for the caterpillar.

Even if the aphids haven’t got to the stage of damaging a plant because they didn’t start their invasion until the plant in question was well developed, they’re still a nuisance. This is because they are extremely difficult to remove when you want to eat that particular vegetable.  In the case of cabbages and kale, the situation is relatively easy: you sluice those nice wide leaves under running water and the aphids go down the gurgler, especially if you help the process with a finger or a dishcloth. However, broccoli and cauliflower have all sorts of little nooks and crannies where aphids lurk and the ordinary rinse doesn’t remove them.

There is no simple method of removing aphids from broccoli once they’ve established themselves.  At one point, I tried soaking the florets in warm soapy water, then triple rinsing them before storage then rinsing them before boiling, then one final rinse before serving and I’m sure that I still saw a few very dead, very clean aphids still clinging to my broccoli.  Your only hope is to pinch out the young growth tips of the broccoli florets where aphids congregate and hope that there’s enough like you, or reconcile yourself to “extra protein” and realise that you can be a vegetarian or you can eat organic broccoli but you can’t do both.

Attempts At Organic Control

“Why,” you may be asking, “is a professional gardener like you not doing something about the pests?” Well, we did.

One of the many reasons why people like to grow their own vegetables and establish a vegetable garden is because they want to eat organic.  I thoroughly agree with this.  After all, as a professional gardener, I have to deal with garden sprays and I know all the safety precautions and equipment and conditions that using them requires.  So when we spotted those aphids on the broccoli, the battle began.

We tried the finger-and-thumb method of squishing and scraping them off.  This removed a lot of them during the early stages, but obviously missed a few, because in a few days, those grey little horrors were back in force.

We doused the brassicas in derris dust.  This certainly dealt with all the white cabbage butterflies and most of the aphids, but there were a few that managed to hide where they didn’t get touched.  Then one of Southland’s rainy summer days came and the derris dust washed away, leaving some aphids still alive…

Out came the neem tree oil, which usually does the trick on the roses.  Again, this mostly worked and killed most of the aphids, as well as leaving a distinct taste on the broccoli that blended nicely with a curry (if you haven’t tried dressing steamed broccoli with a little grated cheese, oil, salt and curry powder, you’re missing out on a treat).  But there must have been a few that escaped because sure enough, they were back again three days later…

It was time to bring out the big guns in the form of Conqueror Oil.  Although Conqueror Oil is a branded product put out by gardening giants Yates, it is technically an organic control method, although its active ingredient is mineral oil.  As this is a petrol derivative, it’s debateable as to exactly how organic this is.  It doesn’t leave lingering toxins in the soil or on the plants, but I certainly wouldn’t want to eat the stuff.

The Conqueror Oil worked well enough.  The last few brassica plants were free enough from aphids, which was a huge relief. After that, the weather started turning and we had a few small early frosts, like we do in Southland.  The weather plus the Conqueror Oil seemed to do the trick.

However, it left me wondering: you know all those commercially grown broccoli you see in the supermarket? There’s not an aphid to be seen on them.  What on earth do they spray on them?  They must be using something pretty potent…

All in all, I think I’ll stick with home grown organic vegetables, even if it does mean a bit more hard work and the occasional bit of “extra protein”.  If you’d like to grow your own and need some help setting up your garden beds but aren’t sure how, then get in touch and ask us to do this for you.

 

November Ramblings

tulip-flower-garden

Southland has had such a wonderful winter and spring that all the gardens are looking very healthy and full of spring colour.  Particularly of note have been the tulip and daffodil displays around the district.

With the flush of new spring growth, things have been quite busy here at Leaf It To Me.  Various jobs that have recently been completed have been things like creating new garden beds, re-barking garden beds to freshen things up again, setting up some new vegetable plots and lots of weeding, mowing of lawns and pruning of hedges.

One thing that seems to be apparent with some of the garden beds is that if maintenance in the garden has lapsed for any lengthy period, the weeds set in and can take over.  If your garden has gotten too far out of hand because of the busy lifestyle you lead, don’t hesitate to give us a call and get the extra help you need in the garden.

Sometimes plants get a little tired and garden beds lose their shape.  If this is you, then how about discussing with us what plants might be good as part of a new garden design.  Get in touch with us at mcfoster.leafittome@gmail.com.  There is nothing like a specially designed garden to really set off your property.

November is a time of the year that has the gardener working busily on many tasks.  Mowing lawns regularly is important, and as the weather becomes hotter it’s important to remember to raise the blades a bit to avoid stressing out the grass too much.  Now is still a good time to feed and weed the lawn.  Get in touch if you need help with this.

Hoeing and weeding as often as possible is necessary through these late spring and early summer months.  This is essential for a happy and healthy looking garden.  Mulching around plants is also timely now in preparation for the upcoming drier months of summer.  Keep an eye out for fungal diseases, and don’t forget to protect your veggie garden bed from snail and slug attacks!

Cheers Bruce

Southland Garden Maintenance in June

Here we are at last!  It’s chilly as in Southland on the 1st of June – the first day of winter.  In saying that, the day has started with a beautiful clear day and a good hard frost; and these days, more often than not, are fine and sunny for the continuation of the day.  If you get a chance, and it’s a clear day, get a look at the Takitimu range covered in snow and looking spectacular over winter.  There are still plenty of autumn colours about, with all of the deciduous trees and shrubs putting on a fine display this year.  I’ve been particularly enjoying the rich golden tones in our little Acer tree in the front garden.  So, what’s there to do in June/July?  Planning for the next growing season can be done now – a nice easy indoor job when the weather is a bit nasty outside.

Takitimu Mountain Range

Takitimu Mountain Range

Plants’ need for food and water diminishes as the cooler winter months settle in, so feeding lawns and most other plants during winter with granular fertilisers is not beneficial at this time of year.  Direct foliage feed is more beneficial for plants at this time of the year, where the foliar feeding will help strengthen the plant and its root system; you could think of it as being a bit like an immunity system booster.

When to Prune Trees In Southland?

The process of winter pruning can be done June/July for Malus (apple) varieties.  For Morus (mulberry) trees, you can do them later in winter when the sap has stopped rising.  You don’t want to overprune them, however.  Don’t be sucked into pruning the Prunus (peach, nectarine, plums, etc.) varieties during winter.  They are best pruned as soon as fruiting has finished because the weather is drier and there is less chance of spreading disease.  Almonds need to be pruned in drier summery days for the same reason.  Covering pruning cuts with a sealant is a good idea to stop any spreading of disease.

Any shaping of ornamental trees can be done during the cooler dormant months.  Trimming and shaping of shrubs is a fun and rewarding job.  If plants are getting to tall/big, careful pruning shrinks their size and maintains a nice shape.  Lopping off branches that have encroached over from the neighbour’s fence can be done now.  They are more likely to be indoors at this time of year, anyway, and are less likely to commentJ.  Conversely, you could look out for any of your trees that are hanging over your neighbour’s fence and/or blocking their sunshine.  Again, if there are trees or shrubs in your garden that are starting to block out the sun from entering in through your windows, use the winter months to get these jobs done.

Check your power and telephone lines out and see if there are any trees getting too close to these.  It’s best to keep on top of these sorts of jobs so that the job remains small and inexpensive – the bigger the job, the bigger the bill.

Do let me know if you need any help with these sorts of jobs, as pruning and trimming tasks can become larger than one might expect.  Any of this type of work around powerlines is best kept for the professionals.

June and July are good months for improving soil fertility in preparation for spring.  For those who love their vege plots, giving these beds a good dressing of dolomite lime can be done now.  Building up your soils with compost and humus will also help to prepare the soil structure for crops planted in August/September.  Any winter vegetables can be hoed around when the soil isn’t too wet; this aerates the soil, improves drainage and helps them to grow.

June and other wintery months are a great time for any landscaping work, putting in any new pathways, correcting drainage issues and building raised garden beds.  Consider raised garden beds particularly where soil drainage is an issue.  Vegetables and other plants prefer well-drained soils and plenty of sunshine to grow their best.

Some other tasks for June and July are general clean-up jobs as well as moss and mould removal.

Give us a call on 021 2111 787 or drop us a line at mcfoster.leafittome@gmail.com if you’d like any help around the garden.  I would love to help, and we service especially Invercargill and anywhere west of the city in Southland, including Te Anau and Queenstown.

Magnificent May

Southland’s autumn is having an Indian summer season, where the long drawn out warmer weather is still enabling growth in the garden.  Sensational sunny Southland days are enjoyable, and the lack of really cold southerly fronts has meant that the day’s average temperature is sitting well above the ‘normal’ for this time of year.  The best advice I can give is for you to get out and enjoy it in the garden, and out of doors, while the beautiful weather lasts.  Farmer’s inform me that there is still a lot of good grass growth for the season.  Hopefully this will cheer them up with the low milk prices continuing.

Look out for the autumn colour that is evident in the Betula, birch and Liquidamber trees around the district.  Strike it lucky on a day off, and with the fine weather head on down to Otautau’s Arboretum to check out the autumnal colours on display with their numerous deciduous trees providing a stunning display.  Of course, there is Invercargill’s own Queens Park autumnal display of fabulous established trees.  Don’t miss out!

The month of May still finds some delicious home-grown pears ripening on the tree.  The dessert pear, ‘Doyenne du Comice’ is really at its best now, fresh or bottled.  If they are a little under ripe, you can pick them and let them ripen in a fruit bowl for a richer, sweeter taste.  Other food available to those who love to forage is walnuts.  You’ll find mature walnuts starting to drop on the ground.  Keep an eye out for these.  It’s best to gather them and store them in mesh bags while they dry out and become ready to shell them for eating.

In the vege garden you can sow brassicas, peas, spinach, swedes and winter lettuces.  Obviously you can head down to a local grower or supplier of seedlings and plant the brassicas, lettuces, silverbeet and spinach straight in to the garden beds as small seedlings.  You can continue to plant new leeks and mound up older plants.  At this time of year we’re also in a good space for planting out trees and shrubs, particularly those that are heading into their dormant period.  You might like to get some fruit trees planted out as part of an orchard, or look at putting in some new shelter belt plantings which are ideal for sheltering stock when the weather does turn foul.

If you need any help with planting out your garden, landscaping work or redesigning done in your garden, give Bruce a call on 021 2111 787.

Shelter Belts

Shelter Belts

What To Do In April

It’s early April in Southland, and the weather is remarkably settled and warm.  Yes, we have had a mild frost or two, but the sun is shining a fair bit, keeping the midday temperatures comparatively balmy.  So what’s there to do in the garden at this time of year?

The leaves will be starting to fall from the deciduous trees, and these can be raked up and added to the compost heap.  There is still some growth in the lawns so these can be mown as needed and the clippings added to the composting mixture.  Weeds are also making the most of the warmer temperatures along with reasonable levels of rainfall, so weeding frequently and hoeing garden beds is beneficial to keeping the garden looking tidy and free from weed competition.

One of the activities of April that is really enjoyable is the planting of bulbs like daffodils, tulips and hyacinths.  These can be planted about twice as deep as the bulb is tall.

blackberry pie

Keep your eyes out for the ripening blackberries either growing in a controlled manner in your garden or wild about the roads.  There are still some apples available on some roadsides, too, so make the most of foraging during April.  We just drove back through Canterbury over Easter and I have never seen so many beautifully ripe blackberries covering some of the roadside slopes on the inland Kaikoura route.  Apple and blackberry pie is the perfect treat for pudding at this time of year.

April is a great month for weeding, cultivating, pruning and harvesting.  Some veges to plant during April are brassicas, beets and lettuce.  Broad beans can be sown, and April is a good time to get some berry bushes planted.

 

Those Pesky White Butterflies

 

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Gardening always has its challenging aspects.  During the latter months of summer, the White Butterfly is often seen in the Southland garden.  There can be so many of them that the drive from A-to-B on country roads has them splatting all over the front windscreen of the car.  The cabbage butterfly is particularly fond of Brassica plants, and it’s on the leaf of the brassica plant that the adult butterfly likes to lay its eggs.  Once the larvae hatch from the egg sacs, the caterpillar will dine out on your cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower etc…

Here are some of the better ways of getting rid of the caterpillar stage of the life cycle, and preventing the caterpillar from destroying your brassica crop.  You can sprinkle Derris Dust over the plants regularly during the egg and caterpillar period.  The Derris Dust is a natural insecticide that is made from natural plant root extracts.  Derris Dust is toxic to the caterpillar but has low toxicity to humans, bees and wildlife (except fish).  It’s easy to apply via a shaker container and it will control caterpillars and other sucking insects.  Lightly dust the plants directly from the shaker at first sign of White Butterfly, choosing a still morning – preferably when dew is on the foliage.  While the White Butterfly continues to fly, repeat Derris Dust application every 7-to-10 days, or following rain.

Not bullet proof, but you can tediously rub the eggs off the brassica leaves.

Neem tree oil is also an excellent form of control.  Neem tree oil can be bought from any half decent garden shop, and is mixed with water and sprayed over the leaf surfaces.  The oil is absorbed into the plant’s vascular system, and as soon as the caterpillar starts chomping on the brassica leaf, the Neem tree oil is ingested into the caterpillar (or any other biting or sucking insect).  The compound causes insects to reduce or cease feeding, can prevent larvae from maturing, reduces or interrupts mating behaviour and, in some cases, the oil coats the breathing holes of insects and kills them.  Neem tree oil is not considered harmful to humans when used in the correct way.

It’s always nice to have great veggies on the table, caterpillar free!