With the Manutuke community garden near the Maori Battalion Marae entered in the Gisborne Community Garden Competition, Soraya Pohatu EIT horticulture tutor, the mother of many of the region’s community gardens –has been out tidying up with her students.
Even if you have watched in dismay as weeds caught the spring sun and rain that should have been growing your vegetables, there’s still time to act, she says.
“At this time of the year everything’s in full bloom, taking off and growing — including the weeds. It’s been ideal conditions, it’s been warm, we’ve had some rain, it’s ideal – for snails too, there are a lot of them about, we use plants and our feet and some pellets to control them.”
Rip your weeds out and layer them lasagne-style with some leaves or seaweed to form compost. Give your soil a dig and feed and you can still have great vegetables, says Soraya.
“Stick in some seaweed, compost, blood and bone. If you have some old leaves or bark, it’s good to add that to boost the carbon levels in the soil as well as the rich nitrogen material. We’re saving some rye grass we have growing for that, we will save the seeds and put the stalks away. We have sunflowers popping up over the place which are great also. We have mustard, and lupins — we try to chop them up so they sit on the ground.”
She believes strongly in covering soil (“Papatuanuku is not meant to be naked”), and plants in triangles rather than rows to get canopy closure to reduce weeding. She cautions against mulching with grass, which is also growing fast at the moment.
“When grass sits it gets that mould and a real sour smell to it. I reckon too much of that is not good — you have to have the right combination.
“I use fresh grass clippings as a quick liquid fertiliser to give plants a foliar feed. Put it into a sack or an old pillowcase and dip it so it’s just the fresh juice and the sugar. It’s a quick fix, but I don’t want it sitting on the ground because it brings other problems.”
Once you have your soil happy again, get some seedlings and plant them.
“For me it’s not too late to be planting — we’ll plant right up to early December. If you’re doing late spuds it’s better in boxes or tyres filled with compost, because the psyllids don’t get them.
“There are seedlings at the Farmer’s Market and in town. Stick in beetroot, spring onions, kamokamo, even strawberries. You might not get them for Christmas, but that’s alright for a community garden. Most people are away spending time with their families.”
If you have left it late, you can take some comfort that it’s not entirely your fault either, says Soraya.
“The weather hasn’t been great for getting the ground ready for planting and planting. There were times when you could read the indicators about what weather was on its way but it’s much harder to read now.
“The important thing though, is to make a start, because that ties you in!”