The persistent spring winds have done much to dry out gardens countrywide. Conserve what water you have by holding it in the soil with mulch. This will also suppress any thirsty weeds that might take valuable moisture away from growing crops. Regular and even moisture levels are key for many summer crops to help produce a harvest that is both tasty and has the right texture. Thirsty plants are stressed plants and can be more susceptible to disease so see all your hard work and investment gets to where you want it to by keeping a watchful eye on the garden. With the holidays and Christmas approaching, December is a busy month away from the garden with lots to do elsewhere so plan your time outdoors efficiently. It might help to organise time in the garden by task – such as feeding, watering or mulching – and complete each thoroughly, one at a time.

We visit artist Sarah Smuts - Kennedy at her abundant Mahurangi Peninsula garden. Sarah produces 90% of her vegetable supply, and her energy and passion are inspiring.

Visit POD TV for more tips on watering, mulching and caring for your crops.



December
SOW & PLANT

There is still time to plant seedlings of aubergines, cucumbers, capsicums, chillies, pumpkins, dwarf and climbing beans, sweetcorn, tomatoes and zucchini. If you get these in now and feed and water them regularly you should be in time to enjoy a harvest from them before summer is over Make successive sowings and plantings every few weeks of basil, beetroot, carrots, lettuce, peas and salads to keep your harvest rolling right through into autumn. Even though summer is only just getting underway, if you have room you can start sowing and planting for winter (especially in cooler areas where summer is less prolonged) with broccoli, leeks, Brussels sprouts and parsnips.

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December
HARVEST

Pick your fruit and veg as they ripen to stimulate continued flowering and fruiting. Leaving mature fruit or veg on a plant tells it that it has done its thing and doesn’t need to bother producing any further. Delicious berries are on offer with blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants and gooseberries at their productive best. Plums and apricots are the first of the stonefruit to become ready. Many vegetables and herbs are ready around now too with basil, the first beans, chillies, zucchini, new potatoes and tomatoes adding to the excitement. Keep moving around your garden and check crops daily so you can anticipate the best moment to pick produce. With so much coming to fruition this can be a bewildering time as you play catch-up with your harvest – but that’s the sort of problem we like!

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December
SEASONAL TASKS

Plants like aubergine (egg plant), cucumber and melon can benefit from hand pollination to help them produce a good crop. In some years cucumber and melon harvest can start earlier than others – delays can come from colder springs causing an early lack of pollinating bees. If flowers appear to not develop into fruits before withering then use a soft paintbrush and hand pollinate on a warm, sunny day by dabbing gently from the centre of one open flower and onto another. The male flowers have a slim base and stalk and the female flowers have a small swelling at their base, just brush from a male to a female. Bees are not overly drawn to aubergine (egg plant) flowers so when they appear, hand-pollinate the flowers by using a soft paintbrush and gently brushing across the centre of each flower. Each flower has male and female parts so all you are doing is making that all important momentary connection.

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DENNIS LE COUILLIARD's TIP
FOR December

Thin seedlings when small

"Ideally when they have their first set of true leaves (these come after what are know as the cotyledon leaves that are first produced from the seed). Thinning at this stage makes the whole process faster and easier. "

 



December FEATURED TASKS

Cabbage White Control

From now till April Cabbage White butterflies are a common sight in the garden. Their hungry caterpillars are often the culprits as plants like cabbages, kale and broccoli start to develop holes in their foliage. The butterflies are fairly fast flyers and will leave a plant they are perched on as you approach them so it can be hard to target them. You may be successful if you whack at them with a badminton racket or a fishing net. Plants can be protected with fine mesh netting. Scattering broken eggshells around the base of your plants is said to deter butterflies from landing on what they believe to be plants that are already infested with other butterflies. Planting nasturtiums near your brassicas draws Cabbage white butterflies away from your plants, they will lay on the nasturtiums that can then be removed and composted along with eggs and caterpillars.

CHECK OUT CABBAGE WHITES

 




Green Shield Bug Control

Green shield bugs appear in the garden from early spring through summer to autumn. They have strong mouthparts with which they pierce leaves, stems and fruit of plants so that they can suck sap and juices. This causes plants to wilt and produce becomes impaired with holes that can cause fruits to rot. Tomatoes, beans, melons, squashes, grapes and capsicums are popular targets. Adult shield bugs can be picked off leaves by hand and should be the number one target as a female can lay hundreds of eggs over summer. Best time to do this is in the early morning when they are still sluggish. Once the sun warms them up they move fast and can even fly to escape capture. Often they’ll simply fall off plants and then scurry away, if you hold a jam jar underneath them before they leap off a leaf they’ll fall in and can be disposed of.  If you do catch one, squeeze it and throw at the base of a plant. Any shield bugs in the vicinity will act on this warning sign and jump off plants to play dead on the ground. If you put a sheet underneath plants it makes it even easier to spot and collect the fallen bugs. Dispose of them permanently, chucking them out of the garden will only see them returning in next to no time.

CHECK OUT GREEN SHIELD BUGS