We're now into the last month of winter, and it's finally time to start sowing seed for spring. It's a tricky time of the year, as it's possible to get snow here in Dunedin even into the first week of October, so there's nothing worse than sowing seeds too early, and then having to try and keep them alive if there's a late frost or snow in early October. Last year we had snow laying on the ground the first week of October, and a couple of frosts the weeks after that, so it was a stressful time trying to keep all my seedlings alive, looking after my growing potato plants, as well as my new dahlias which had just popped out of the ground. Seedlings don't get transferred outside and into the vegetable garden until Labour Weekend, which is the third weekend of October, so that's a long way off right now.
I have a specific order in which to germinate seeds, so that I don't have too many plants sitting in the glasshouse for such a long period of time. The first seeds sown are my tomato plants. I grow enough plants for our own needs, but also for family members as well. I usually have at least 12 plants growing in our glasshouse, and poke any others that are spare in free space I have in the vegetable garden. We eat a lot of tomatoes fresh throughout the summer, but the bulk of it is frozen away for using in autumn and winter cooking.
This year I'm growing the following tomato varieties:
Franchi Sementi Pomodoro Red Cherry - A red cocktail tomato with great taste. This is no longer for sale in New Zealand, I save this seed every year.
Kings Honeybee F1 - I haven't tried this one before, I wanted to try another cocktail tomato, we'll see how this goes. One of my sister's grows her tomatoes outside, and it's far easier to ripen smaller tomatoes in Dunedin's short summers.
Kings Tomato Juane Flamme - Our favorite tomato, an orange tomato with the best taste of any tomato I've ever grown.
Tomato Grosse Lisse - A beefsteak tomato that was a favorite of my grandfather. The best tomato for putting a slice on a hot piece of toast, and eating it with a pinch of salt on top.
Tomato Island Bay Italian - I haven't grown this tomato variety before, but I've heard good things about it. Good for eating fresh and processing apparently.
Tomato Lebanese - Also a new tomato variety this year, I'm hoping it will have good disease resistance, and tastes good too.
The next seeds to be germinated are my chilli and capsicums plants. I've successfully grown chillies in our greenhouse, but I haven't had any luck with the big traditional bell pepper capsicums.
This year I'll be growing the following chillies and peppers:
Chilli Serrano - I had a huge crop of chilli last season, so I'm growing this variety again.
Alma Paprika Pepper - Trying once again to grow my own paprika. Last season they didn't grow as well as I hoped, am trying again for the last time.
Capsicum Marconi Red - A prolific sweet Italian variety. I'm hoping that it's narrow shape will mean it ripens faster.
Capsicum Orange Sun - My last attempt at growing a bell pepper variety.
Capsicum Red Bell F1 - Also another last attempt at successfully growing a bell pepper variety.
The tomato and chilli seeds were sown into two mini greenhouses, and placed in a warm sunny spot in our dining room. It's warm in there on sunny days, and also thanks to the benefit of our wood burner being in that room, they're kept warm in there every night in winter. I'm eagerly waiting for the seeds to germinate.
The next seeds to be sown are all my sweet pea varieties. I've collected quite a lot of Keith Hammett varieties over the years, he's a New Zealand breeder who produces the most stunning sweet peas. Sweet peas germinate in cool temperatures, so they are now potted up and put into the glasshouse.
The last of the seeds to be sown for now are the herbs coriander and dill. Coriander prefers to grow in cool temperatures, otherwise they will bolt, so I sow one lot in late winter, and another in early autumn. They don't like to have their roots disturbed while planting into the ground, so I sow a bunch of seeds into a biggish pot, and then when it's time to transfer them into the herb garden, I plant the whole container worth in one spot, I don't separate out the seedlings at all. For the dill seeds I do the same thing as with the coriander, it ensures I get a relatively big crop of leaves without the problem of using up a lot space.
The sweet peas, coriander, and dill are all now sitting in my glasshouse. We're were expecting snow down to 200 m last night, so I've put off doing any more seed sowing tomorrow. Hopefully soon they will be joined by a lot more seeds as the month goes on.
Have you started seed sowing yet? I'm interested in what choices you've made for the coming growing season.
Have a wonderful day
Some of my favorite fruits of all time to grow are citrus. I love growing lemon, limes, and mandarin bushes, not only for their fruit, which I love using in food and drink all year round, but also for their shiny bright foliage which looks great when the plants are grown in a patio setting.
Back when we lived in Tawa, Wellington, I was able to grow lemon, limes, and mandarin plants outdoors throughout the year in the ground at our hillside home, and only had to protect them from frost for about ten nights each year. When we moved back to Mosgiel, in Dunedin in October 2019, however, I knew I had to make a decision on how to grow my citrus plants. From previous history, I knew that I couldn't just plant them in the ground and leave them to fend for themselves in Dunedin's winters.
The suburb of Mosgiel where we now live is blessed with its own microclimate which is far different from that of the rest of Dunedin, as it lies inland, in a sheltered valley 6 km from the sea. In summer Mosgiel is warmer and sunnier than Dunedin, and in winter is is colder and frostier. I love this about Mosgiel because it is more like Central Otago/the Mediterranean, than the rest of Dunedin, which nearly always get cool sea breezes from either the south-west or the east.
Warm, sunny summers are great for citrus plants, but cold and frosty temperatures in winter, along with the occasional snow, are not, especially when temperatures drop down to -6˚C. So I decided to put my citrus plants into very large plastic terracotta-like pots so that I could shift outside to our patio in late spring, and then bring them into our glasshouse in autumn for protection over the winter months. I also chose to plant the most cold hardy varieties that I could find, to give the plants their best chance at life.
The first citrus plant chosen is the lemon variety Lemon Meyer. It is the hardiest of all lemon varieties, is a heavy cropper, and the juice from the lemon isn't too sour. It was the first citrus plant I planted. It has flourished in it's position in the patio during the summer months, and now bears many fruit each year.
The second citrus plant chosen is the lime variety Tahitian Lime. We mostly use limes in our favorite soup recipe, Tomato, Capsicum and Lime soup, and this variety works perfectly for our needs. As limes do not like the cold at all, we were very surprised to see it growing and flourishing over the last three years. The first year we had two limes, and now each year we are getting dozens of limes off the bush, so many in fact that we are now giving our excess away.
The last citrus plant we chose was the Satuma Mandarin variety. Mandarins are one of my favorite fruits (much easier to peel than oranges), and are the perfect size for snacking on. They went into our last citrus pot, and along with the lemon and lime plants, they grew healthy and strong during it's first and subsequent summers. I am currently awaiting on it's first harvest, hopefully I can eat some soon.
Each year, at the beginning of October, they are moved out of our glasshouse, and into our patio, where we have just enough space for the growing plants. Over the spring and summer they are fed both a monthly and long term fertiliser, and are watered nearly every day to ensure the pots don't dry out. I recently also added Ecowitt Soil Moisture sensors to each pot to keep an eye on their moisture levels, so I know exactly how each plant is faring, and if they need to be watered.
They stay there all summer long until the end of March, and then we drag them back into the glasshouse for the winter.
Because of the many cold and frosty days ahead I take a multiple layered approach to keeping them healthy over winter. The first is to keep them safe in the glasshouse over winter, which keeps them safe from high wind damage and protects them from small frosts.
The second layer of protection is the use of Vaporgard Liquid frost cloth. It is an organic wax made from pine resin which helps protects leaves from frost damage down to -3˚C for 2 to 3 months. I usually spray my citrus plants with Vaporgard twice over winter in the glasshouse, and once more when they go outside in early October, since we sometimes get late frosts even up to the end of October. The good thing about Vaporgard is that it can also be used in summer to slow down moisture loss from plants.
The last layer of frost protection is my ever trusty frost cloth. I have a container full of it which I drag out of the shed each autumn. I usually drape a single layer over the citrus plants on frosty nights, but if I know that a big cold snap with snow, or a prolonged period of frosty weather is about to happen, I double up the frost cloth layers. On frosty mornings I don't unwrap the citrus plants from their frost cloth layers until the glasshouse has defrosted in the sun.
This multilayered approach to frost protection has worked really well with my citrus plants until now, but now I have a problem. My citrus plants have outgrown their pots, and they have gotten too big to transport to and from the glasshouse each winter. I need to find space in the garden for them to grow and flourish, and this means I have to plant them into soil. They are in the glasshouse for the last time this winter, and come this spring, they will be planted into the ground.
This means I am currently undertaking a winter garden project to rearrange the sunniest and warmest part of our garden to fit the citrus plants into this coming spring. And then after this summer and autumn I will be undertaking another project to figure out how to protect the citrus from frosts the next winter after that.
It's a big winter garden project at the moment, but it'll be worth it once the plants are happy, and thriving, and give me much more citrus to eat and drink in the coming years.
Have a wonderful day
I can't resist a good plant catalogue, well any plant catalogue really. If one shows up in my mailbox with the plants all decked out in bright and colourful flowers, how can I resist buying bulbs in autumn for the coming spring?
Well I can't of course, and especially when they're tempting me with miniature plants. As you will see in spring, for some time I have been adding to my crocus and Tete a Tete daffodil collections. The tinier the plants the better, in my opinion.
Well this time the Garden Post plant catalogue offered me miniature irises. Teeny tiny irises that would be only 15 cm tall at most, and would be one of the first bulbs to flower in spring. Before I knew what I was doing, four different varieties were in my online shopping cart, and it wasn't too long before 28 bulbs arrived by courier. I ordered miniature irises in shades of blue and purple (Alida, Blue Note, J.S. Dijt, and Painted Lady).
The next weekend I weeded an area of the back garden, near a very small plastic pond with a waterfall that is solar powered. I pulled out my trusty bulb planter I bought a couple of years ago, and got to work.
I use my bulb planter for not only flower bulbs, but garlic bulbs also. The planter has a handy measurer on the side, so you know how deep to dig the soil depending on what bulb type you are planting. When you pull the plug of soil out of the ground with the planter, you just pop your bulb of choice into the hole, and then by squeezing the handle, it will release the soil back into the ground. If you are planting large amounts of bulbs, the planter will not only save you time, but also wear and tear on your joints too.
It wasn't long until all my new precious bulbs were in the ground. And now I wait, through all of autumn, and then winter, and hopefully fingers crossed, as we move into spring, my new miniature irises will appear. I can't wait to photograph them in all their glory.
Autumn has been such a busy time of year with many harvests and processing of produce happening at the moment. But not only that, I've recently had sinus surgery, followed, by a small complication, and now a sinus infection. I'm hoping to continue recovering from both the surgery, and the infection very soon, so I can get back out into the garden. The weeds are taking over, even though the weather is cooling considerably.
Have a wonderful day.Julie-Ann