surviving the holidays

Surviving the Holidays

December is holiday month and gardening generally goes into holding mode. Getting away for a week or more means the veggie garden needs to survive with minimal care. There is nothing worse than returning to a heat-frazzled, pest- and weed-infested garden. It undoes all the good of the holiday. These are our tips for surviving the holidays!

No free lunch for pests

Pests are at their most active from November to February. Before you go on holiday, start a preventive pest-control programme that eradicates or substantially reduces the pests that could wreak havoc on the veggies, especially tomatoes.

  • Use an all-in-one preventive spray cocktail of Ludwig’s Insect Spray and Margaret Roberts Organic Fungicide. They are both organic and can be used together in a spray to prevent whitefly, aphids and other sucking insects as well as fungal disease.
  • Start with intensive spraying (three times in 10 days), and weekly spraying for a month after that. The combination can be used on almost all vegetables.
  • For caterpillars, spray weekly with Margaret Roberts Biological Caterpillar to catch the larvae when young, prior to entering fruit. Ludwig Insect Spray (harvest 48 hours after application) will deal with young and older larvae if contact is possible at time of application. Efekto’s ECO Insect Control is also a good choice, and will also control various leaf miner species.
  • Put out snail and slug traps or use an organic snail bait like Ferramol.
  • Birds love young seedlings and the best protection is bird netting. Make sure the netting doesn’t sag or the birds will perch and eat through the netting.

Tidy up

The secret is to tidy the garden before you go away. Pull out diseased or heavily pest-infected plants to reduce the disease load. Vegetables that are at the end of their productive life should also be pulled out. That leaves more water for the remaining veggies. Pinch off the growing tips of vine-type vegetables. Stake or tie up climbing or rambling vegetables. Trim plants that are spreading towards others so that they don’t smother them. Make sure the nozzles in the irrigation system are all working.

Weeds away

Make it a quick daily task to pull out the weeds so that the garden is weed-free by the time you go on holiday. A layer of mulch will also suppress them.

Don’t fertilise or plant

Avoid planting before you go as young plants will struggle to become established if the ground dries out. It is still possible to plant a last crop of tomatoes and most other fruiting vegetables at the beginning of January, especially if you opt for three- or four-week-old seedlings. Hold back on fertilising. This encourages new growth, which needs more water. Fertilise, if necessary, at the beginning of January and water well afterwards.

Stay cool

If watering will be infrequent or not at all, use shade cloth to protect the vegetables from drying-out in the midday sun. Under shade the soil stays cooler and moist for longer, and the leaves are less stressed. Make a temporary framework by pushing poles into each corner of the bed, draping 30% or even 70% shade cloth over them, and fixing it in place with pegs or whatever other system you can devise. Mulching also helps around larger vegetables like tomatoes, brinjals, peppers and chillies. A light-coloured mulch has a greater cooling effect because it reflects away the light. Don’t pile the mulch against the stems or make too thick a layer (2cm is ideal) because this prevents water from penetrating the soil.

Pick everything

Harvest everything possible before you leave, or ask your neighbours or those looking after the garden to help themselves. Tomatoes can be left to ripen indoors. Beetroot and carrots can be eaten as baby veggies.

Classy corrugated iron

There are some great options for container gardening these days, but few are more fun, interesting and classy than the corrugated iron planters from RainQueen. They are available in a range of shapes (oblong or circular) as well as heights (400mm and 800mm), and from 550mm to 3000mm long. And if you love the corrugated iron look, have a look at the RainQueen website (www.rainqueen.co.za), because they also make composters, pools, ponds and more. There’s even a beautiful garden shed that we’re lusting after!

Garden tasks for December

  • Water as early as possible in the day or late afternoon, if there is time for the leaves to dry off. In very hot weather that should not be a problem.
  • Check the vegetables daily for harvesting, especially quick producers like green beans. The longer the fruit stays on the plant, the less productive it is.
  • Watch out for insect infestations and spray with an organic spray once a week.
  • Turn the compost heap and moisten if necessary.
  • Stake and support fruiting vegetables.
  • Fertilise green leafy vegetables to encourage healthy new leaves.
Did you know? Gently tapping the trusses of tomato flowers releases the pollen and improves pollination, which results in better fruit.

5 minutes to spare

Make you own compost tea. To do this, put a handful of compost (worm compost is the best) in a large sock or a close-weave veggie bag, tie it closed and put it in a bucket of water, or tie the bag to a piece of wood so that the bag is suspended like a tea-bag in the water. Stir every day until the water looks like strong tea, then use it as a drench, diluted 50:50 with water. This is a very affordable liquid fertiliser.

10 minutes to spare

Save money with a home-made trellis for cucumbers. Place a pole at either end of the bed with additional poles placed by each plant. Run wires between the poles. With a little bit of help it won’t take long for the tendrils to attach themselves to the wire.