By Janet Luke
Growth has slowed to a crawl, but that means it’s the perfect time to plan for summer, plant an urban orchard, start seedlings and harvest winter fruits.
Ripe for the Picking Casana’s (a close relative of the Tamarillo ) and Casimiroa (white Sapote) are ready to pick. Many citrus are also ripe. Pick your mandarins in the early morning after a frost and pop into your mouth for an instant frozen sorbet. Beat the birds to your persimmons. Try hanging old CD’s in the trees to protect the last of the crop from hungry birds. Pick kiwifruit and then give the vine a severe haircut. Cut out all old wood. Jerusalem Artichokes, carrots, celery, yams, kohlrabi and early planted brassicas may all be ready to harvest.
Plant coriander seeds throughout the winter months. I just freely scatter the seeds around and under any other crop, where ever I can find some bare soil. Tarragon is a great herb to have with that roast chicken. Plant French tarragon. When you bite a leaf of tarragon your tongue should tingle. If it tastes like grass it’s probably the inferior Russian tarragon! Pot up cuttings of this herb now for spring planting.
Now is the time to order fruit trees from your local nursery and plant. When planting, dig a square-shaped hole at least twice as big as the root ball. Remember to stake well. Last chance to spray fruit trees with a copper spray to kill any fungal spores. Prune any apple or pear trees. It is best to prune on a warm sunny day as this helps prevent any disease from entering the pruned sites. Cut any berry canes which have fruited last Summer back to the ground. Plant out young strawberry plants. You could spray your strawberry plants with copper too. This prevents leaf spot.
Plant your garlic. Choose the largest outer cloves and plant pointed end up, 5cm deep under rich compost. I buy NZ grown garlic from my Farmers market and plant. As the shoots become visible mulch to deter weeds. Garlic does not like sharing its patch with any weedy interlopers!
If you have a warm space keep sowing seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce, spinach and silver beet. You can still plant seeds of peas and broad beans directly into your garden. I find the birds love eating the tender pea tendrils. Cover with netting or branches of the native shrub Muehlenbeckia astoni (wire netting bush).
Get making compost with all the late autumn leaves and lawn clippings. In a small space a compost tumbler is a great option. This system allows you to make quick and constant batches of rich compost to feed your plants.
Don’t throw twigs and branches in the rubbish when trimming trees or hedges. Reuse in the garden as supports for peas to scramble up or around broad beans as support.
Many chooks are finishing their annual moult. During this time they stop laying as they are putting all their energy into growing new plumage. It is important to feed them a high protein diet as this conditions them for another season of laying; crushed maize and sunflower seeds are good. For something special you can treat them to Jellymeat or cottage cheese. This will make them ‘purr ‘with delight – well almost! Your chooks that moult the fastest are generally your best layers. The ones that only slowly lose and regrow their feathers are probably not your most productive stock. As their combs redden and return to a plump shape they will begin laying again.
In the following months you can read about breeds of chooks that are best suited to city living. Barnevelder: This is a Dutch breed. The hens have quite a small frame and are very attractive with their glossy brown and black-edged feathers. They are quiet, but can be a little timid. This breed lays around 200 dark terracotta coloured eggs a year and gets on well with other breeds.
Move your worm farm into a space where it receives some winter sun. This keeps the worms warm. Warm cosy worms are happy, hungry worms that continue to eat good quantities of food scraps.
Janet Luke is a landscape architect with a passion for sustainable living. When she is not teaching courses from her home garden or running her business Green Urban Living, she is looking after a menagerie of chickens, ducks, rabbits, bees, a dog, a cat, a one-eyed frog, three young boys – oh and a husband.
Her first book – Green Urban Living – is available in September, 2011.
Visit her website at www.greenurbanliving.co.nz