Hot Season Crop Tips
Increase the yield of your brinjals by pinching out the growing tip when five or six leaves have formed. This encourages the plant to branch, which increases the number of flowers. Don’t neglect watering and feed with a potassium-rich fertiliser, like Vigorosa, for more flowers.
- Seedlings are ready to be transplanted when they have two or more true leaves.
- Transplant in the afternoon, when it is cooler. This allows the seedlings to settle in overnight.
- After transplanting, water with lukewarm water rather than very cold water, which is another shock to the system.
- Protect newly transplanted seedlings from birds and pets by pushing small sticks around the plants.
PLANT IN TRIANGLES FOR HIGHER YIELDS
Planting seed or seedlings in triangles rather than in squares or rows can increase the yield, as more plants can fit into the same space. Some veggies, like cabbages, won’t reach their full size or yield when crowded, but leafy salad veggies, rocket, spinach and Swiss chard don’t mind rubbing shoulders. Bush beans can also be planted fairly close together, as can beetroot, if you plan to harvest the tops as greens
Make your space work for you. Plant three fast-growing crops one after the other in the same space during the same season. Use seedlings (or transplants) rather than seeds, choose fast-maturing varieties, and renew the soil with compost each time you replant. For example, start with early lettuce in spring, followed by spinach, and end the season with beetroot (or vice versa).
Alfalfa, black mustard and buckwheat are green-manure crops that can be sown from February through to the end of April in beds that will be rested during winter. Come spring, chop off the plants at root level and let the tops decompose. This fixes nitrogen into the soil and adds organic material, improving the soil structure
- Pick green beans (bush and runner) before the seeds in the pods begin to swell.
- Leave tomatoes to ripen on the bush or pick them as they are turning red, then ripen them indoors.
- Pick baby marrows while they are still small for sweeter, crunchier fruit.
- Be careful not to leave carrots in the ground for too long or they might become tough.
- The ideal size to harvest beetroot is when the swollen root is 5-8cm in diameter.
- The more you pick spinach and Swiss chard, the more they will produce. Harvest 2-3 of the outer leaves from each plant at a time.
- Radishes are much sweeter if picked small.
- Sweetcorn and mealies are ready for picking when the kernels are juicy and give way slightly when squeezed. The tassels should be dry and withered.
MINUTES TO SPARE
Run your hands lightly over the tops of the seedlings. This helps them to grow into stronger, robust plants. The theory is that this fools the seedlings into believing that they are under threat from animals moving above them so they increase the growth and strength of their cellular structure to withstand the stress.
HOLIDAY SEASON STRATEGIES
Even the most committed veggie gardener needs a holiday, especially in December. Here are some tips for helping the veggie garden survive without you:ll Harvest as much as you can before leaving. Tomatoes can be left to ripen indoors. Beetroot and carrots can be eaten as baby veggies.
- Cover the soil with a thick layer of mulch, but leave a gap around the stems. The mulch allows the soil to stay moist for longer and suppresses weeds.
- Make arrangements for the garden to be watered at least twice a week.
- Weed thoroughly so that the garden is
not overgrown when you return.
- Pinch off the growing tips of vine-type
TURNAROUND TIME FOR COMPOST?
The right time to turn a compost heap is when the centre starts to cool down. Check by putting your hand into the middle of the heap. Make a base of sticks or branches for good aeration, and transfer the heap, top-down, onto the base, watering each layer. When the heap has been turned two or three times it should be ready. The compost should be dark, moist and crumbly, with an earthy smell.
VEGGIES THAT KEEP THEIR COOL
The large leaves of squashes appear to wilt in the heat but this is how they conserve water and energy. They will revive in the evening. If they are still wilted by the next morning then watering is necessary. Sweet pepper and chilli pepper leaves may also wilt during the day but revive when it is cooler
Potatoes are ready for harvesting when plants start to die down and the leaves start turning yellow. Reduce watering; when there are no green leaves left on the plant, stop watering altogether. Dig out one or two tubers to test if they are ready for harvesting – if you can rub off the skin with your thumb, then they need another week or two just to harden up. However, if you can’t rub the skin off, then lift your entire crop. Store them in a cool dark place and only wash them as you use them.
MAKE YOUR OWN DEGRADABLE SEEDLING POTS
Newspaper is a great medium to use to make your ownseedling pots as they can be popped into the ground intact and the paper will eventually break down into the soil. Make your seed pots by folding a sheet of newspaper to form a cylinder or a cube. See how to do this on our website www.thegardener.co.za. Fill with seedling mix, sow seed, water and cover. Keep damp. When the seedlings are big enough, plant each seedling and its capsule into the ground.