February in the Kitchen Garden with Di-Di Hoffman



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February in the Kitchen Garden with Di-Di Hoffman

We are into the second month of establishing our kitchen garden and already there are results.

The newly sown rocket and beetroot have germinated and space is being cleared for sowing lettuce, spinach and carrots.

To prevent the seedlings from being eaten by the birds, or dug up by pets, I covered the bed of newly sown beetroot and rocket with a metre of plastic mesh bought from the local hardware store. This was raised about 5cm from the ground by twigs. A quick home grown solution and it has worked.

Marlaen Straathof of Kirchhoffs gave me a tip for watering the seed bed with a watering can. Start watering away from the bed and then swish evenly it over the bed, making sure that when the water is almost finished that it is away from the bed again. This prevents that spurt of water in the beginning and at the end from washing the seeds away.

If you haven’t yet started your garden there is still time to get going. Spinach, lettuce, rocket, carrots and beetroot can be sown, and you can also start on the winter vegetables - cabbage, Swiss chard, radishes, and peas.

Try and keep space for succession planting. This is simply the practice of sowing seed at three weekly intervals so that the harvest is staggered. This prevents having a glut of vegetables at the same time.

Seed sown in January will probably be ready for thinning out towards the end of this month.

Herbs
Annual herbs like dill, coriander, nasturtium and flat leaf parsley can also be sown and this is your last month to sow basil to ensure a harvest before the first frost. Coriander will tend to send up mature leaves. Discard the bushes and rather replace with new ones.

If you don't like propagating your own herbs you can buy all the recommended herbs (Sweet Basil, Dill, Chives, Coriander, Mint, Oregano, Flat-leaf (Italian) Parsley Rosemary and Thyme) and transplant into permanent beds or bigger containers. The same goes for veggies. Buy seedlings from your local nurseries.

The herbs that I planted last month as well as those were already established are growing well and we are harvesting on a daily basis. Don't hesitate to prune the herbs to keep them in shape and if any have grown too big or leggy they can be cut back hard, about half to a third of the bush. Pinching out the growing tips of herbs encourages bushy growth.

Remove flowers from annuals, especially basil and parsley to prolong their lifespan, but spare the nasturtiums. Use them in salads, as cut flowers, and let some go to seed. They will self-sow for a winter crop or you can harvest the seed to sow in early spring.

Watering
Check your beds and containers daily during hot spells, especially salad crops and chili bushes.

Supplement rainfall (in summer rainfall areas) with thorough watering. Try watering early mornings, or late in the afternoon. But not so late that the plants don't get a chance to dry before nightfall. This helps combat diseases.

A thick mulch (at least 5cm) will conserve water and protect your plants roots. Ask your nursery to recommend a suitable, locally available, material.

Fertilizing
In this heat and with good watering, the plants will grow at a pace and to build leaves and promote a good harvest, fertilize once with a liquid fertilizer, or every fortnight with a liquid fertilizer at half strength.

Containers will love a diluted feeding once a week.

Pests, diseases and weeds
Weeds also love the watering and fertiliser and although it is a bit of a chore, remove weeds regularly as they appear. Don’t give them a chance to flower and seed.

Be on the lookout for aphids, caterpillars and red spider mite. In this heat, and without rain, the conditions are especially conducive for red spider. Deal with it as soon as you see it, because red spider multiplies like wildfire.

You can cut the herbs right down, or try spraying with milk and use a red spider spray – but this is always a last resort for herbs.

TomatoesTomatoes will need regular spraying with a fungicide in summer rainfall areas.

Planning and Recordkeeping
I really recommend the keeping of a weekly garden diary.

It is a good record of what and when you plant, the occurrence of pests and diseases and any measures taken, with the results.

It is also fun to record your thoughts, triumphs and disappointments, and compare your actual results and actions with your plans and make notes for next year where necessary.

Di-Di Hoffman is the owner of Bouquet Garni Nursery, potted herb growers and marketers. For more information visit www.herb.co.za and access the free Timeless Herb Secrets e-newsletter.

For more information contact Bouquet Garni at (012) 8081044, or visit http://www.herb.co.za/newsletter/subscribe.htm or subscribe to the free email herb newsletter by emailing

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