Thursday, April 21, 2011

Garden Tour (Winter Projects)

Now that I've finally figured out how to add a video to my blog I thought I'd take you on a tour of the garden to show you a few of the jobs I've got planned over the next few months.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Growing Grapes

I've been meaning for some time to do a post about my grapes. This is the second year since I planted my vine which is called Albany Surprise – a red variety. The season is over now but I have carefully observed the grapes throughout the season so I could report on how it did. 

As with all my fruit trees, from the moment the first buds start sprouting there's a keen sense of anticipation about the fruit it will yield. 

Last year I was advised by a commercial grape grower to pinch out all the fruit so that the roots would have a chance to get really well established. This I reluctantly did, but I wasn't too happy to hear them recommend I pinch out at least half the fruit this year. I was hoping for a bumper crop but as I've learned, patience is a much needed virtue when it comes to growing any type of fruit — so I complied with their instructions...

...but not before I at least got to see how much the vine could grow.

Watching the tiny bunches unfurl seemed almost miraculous — it's the first time I've ever observed it so closely. Everything seemed so perfectly formed.

Shortly after this it started flowering, which is when the bees arrived to do their thing. Of course grapes need pollenating like every other fruit in the garden.

Meanwhile, I was keeping an eye on how the vine was growing as a whole as I wanted it to grow over the pergola I built last year. I strung some wire between the uprights then tied the vine to the wire.

Then the fruit started growing although rather unevenly. It looked like I was going to get some weird shaped bunches.

But before long the bunches started forming nicely...

...then ripened up to a nice dark red colour.

It wasn't a huge crop because I had to cut half of the fruit off, but I'm sure it will pay off later as the vine gets established. Some of the fruit was a bit sour and the bunches didn't ripen up evenly so I found myself picking at grapes off the vine rather than picking whole bunches of ripened grapes. 

But it didn't matter, I was happy enough with seeing and tasting the first fruits this year. 
Now I'm looking forward to seeing how it does next year.


Picture taken December 2012...

The grape season (2012-13) seemed promising to begin with. Unfortunately most of my fruit shrivelled up on the vine. I thought grapes liked long hot summers. I understand grape growers throughout NZ had a good season. We had a drought this year. Perhaps I should have watered them more...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Potato Crop Failure

As mentioned in my previous post about sweet potatoes (kumaras), my attempt at growing ordinary potatoes this year was a bit of a failure. I am trying to view it more positively and as an opportunity to learn something but I must say I'm a bit stumped as to where I went wrong... 

I had a great year for potatoes last year in this same general spot where I grew these so I'm satisfied that potatoes can grow here. They get sufficient sun and I watered them just as well as last year. If anything's different this year it would be the soil, so I'm picking that's where the problem is. But I'm still not sure what I did wrong. This is what I did...

First I dug in heaps of compost into my new garden (mixing it in well), then after marking where I would grow my rows of spuds I dug a few trenches and planted the seed potatoes at a depth of about 20cm (8 inches). I covered the seeds with about an inch or 2 of soil to which I'd added some 'potato food' fertiliser. As they started to sprout I kept adding the soil mounding it over the new growth until eventually the soil was mounded up about 20cm above the original ground level. I made sure it was watered regularly.
I grew 2 different varieties in 2 separate locations (although I mixed them up). There were 32 seed potatoes in total but I got less than 5kg of spuds from the whole crop which was very disappointing. 

To all appearances the spuds seemed to be doing well (at least above ground) and I'm thinking that might be a clue to where I went wrong. Perhaps there was too much nitrogen causing all the growth to happen above ground instead of below. I was kind of relying on the potato food fertiliser to make sure it had the right mix of nutrients but perhaps the soil was already high in nitrogen. 

I'd be interested to hear any tips anyone can give me...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wasps in the Garden

When visiting the garden today I discovered it was swarming with hundreds of wasps. Wasps seem to come and go in my garden at various times of the year but when they're around it's not such a pleasant place to be. However, while wasps can be a nuisance, they do apparently provide a much needed service in the garden. I found the following paragraph on this site here: 

Wasps, although annoying, should be thought of as beneficial insects.
They prey mainly on other insects, many of which are pests. In general, they avoid human activity and should only be considered a nuisance when nesting near homes or high traffic areas.

Hopefully this will mean an end to the green stinky bug that's been ravaging my cabbages and other leafy greens lately. That's not to say I want the wasps sticking around for too long at least not in such big numbers. The above mentioned site also had a few instructions for making a wasp trap so I thought I'd try making one and see what happens.

Using a water bottle, I cut the top off it, put some water with a bit of dishwashing soap in it, then smeared some jam 'round the neck of the bottle. Then I turned the neck part upside down and stuck it back in the bottle and sealed it with a couple of bits of tape. I also added some yellow paper around the top of it to help attract the wasps.

I guess it's just a case of waiting now to see what happens, but there's still plenty of wasps around where I left the trap. Apparently if you catch a queen the wasps will relocate elsewhere.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Growing Kumaras (Sweet Potato)

Back in October last year when I first established my new Top garden, I was keen to make use of this nice sunny spot and have a go at growing Kumara, which is the Maori word for sweet potato. Kumara is mostly grown in the warm northern part of New Zealand – they need a long hot summer to grow well. So after preparing the soil I got hold of a bunch of Kumara seedlings from the local nursery.

There were 25 shoots in total which I planted out in a 5x5 square on Oct 17.

They were quite slow to get started taking 7-8 weeks to get to this point (shown below). As you can see everything else in the garden had taken off before they'd even taken root properly.

I wasn't too worried as I figured most of the activity was happening under the ground. However it still took until February (the height of summer) before they were showing any signs of real vigorous growth...

After it got really hot they were starting to dominate the garden, even sending out laterals across the lawn. 

With the weather now starting to cool down I thought it must be time for harvesting, although they reckon the foliage needs to die down first or at least start to turn yellow. It's taken such a long time – 5 1/2 months so far so I couldn't resist digging up a corner of the Kumara patch to see what was happening under the ground. It took quite a bit of digging around before I found anything but I eventually found 2 big tubers which was pretty encouraging.

Unfortunately, it seemed to me there will be maybe only one tuber per seedling planted, so there may not be so many. But they're a reasonable size so I'm pretty happy about. I'll probably be harvesting them in the next week or two so I'll post the results then.


One of my successes in the garden this year was Capsicums. I've tried growing capsicums before but with limited success. However, now that I've established more garden space where there's a bit more sun, it's quite amazing the difference it's made. You can see 2 of them in the centre of the photo (above). I planted another 2 in a different spot to see which ones did better. The 2 plants above did the best.

In the past capsicums I've grown have yielded maybe 4 or 5 fruits on a plant over the whole season, but these 2 plants have been amazingly prolific. It was difficult to show in a single photo but each plant has grown about 10-12 fruits so far and new fruits are still coming on, although now that it's cooling down I'm not sure how big they'll get.

I know they're supposed to turn red and yellow in colour. I'm not sure what causes them to change colour, but mine didn't, they were all green.