What’s going on with weather effects in our gardens this year?

What’s going on with weather effects in our gardens this year?

What strange seasons we are experiencing at present. The plants seem somewhat confused.

Early spring bulbs are flowering now – and it’s not even winter yet! Jonquils [also called ‘Erlicheer’] began flowering here first week of May.

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One Choko vine has been producing prolifically; and another large vine has no fruit yet. Strange.

chokos - assorted sizes
chokos – assorted sizes

 

The pumpkin crop is very small this year – and very late. It’s getting too cold to harden the skins properly so I doubt they will store at all well. Previous years we’ve had heaps.

 

Tromboncino squashes [the long ones] are REALLY late producing fruits. Also none of storage quality this year whereas last year we had more than 20 stored for months. We are only now getting small ones to eat fresh – very late.

 

Leafy greens

The summer and autumn heavy rains also affected crops of leafy greens for commercial growers as well as home growers. Lettuces don’t grow well submerged in water as happened for some market gardens!

Many leafy greens, including our lettuce crop, were affected badly by caterpillar damage –  mainly ‘green-looper’ caterpillars which hide under leaves and chew the juicy, tender leaves.

I hand-picked off dozens from lettuces this year – and went back a few days later and found more I had missed – they are so good at camouflage and can chew through lots of seedlings! It’s much easier to grow good lettuces in cooler seasons when they stop being such a pest.

Lettuce, silver-beet, broccoli

 

I have covered the chilies with a plastic bag to protect them a bit from the cold southerly winds here. More ripen under plastic than out in the open with frosts likely now.

Also the snake beans – putting a plastic cover over them was more of an effort as they have climbed up poles as tall as me and straggled along posts. They are nearly finished for the year, but have given us such a great harvest I am hopeful to get a few more beans – even though it is now May and they are from warmer climates than Auckland.

Also, under the snake beans a tromboncino squash sprawls along the ground and has some fruits – with a covering we are more likely to get some fruits to eat.

 

The apricot crop was very poor – possibly affected by the warmer winter – we didn’t have any frosts at all – and apricots need chilling to fruit. Maybe this year. It’s worth having frosts to convince stone fruit trees to fruit! And to freeze caterpillar pests so next year’s crops have a better chance to grow well.

 

Overall,

The warm winter then cool, wet summer/autumn seems to have confused many plants. It will be interesting to see what does well next season.

We plant lots of different crops and varieties – some usually do well even when others don’t so we have a harvest of something we enjoy.

 

Have you found similar oddities too? or different ones? Or has your garden grown well through-out the seasons? If so, that is wonderful!

 

May you and your garden flourish!

Heather

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Planting by the moon phases, is it useful?

Planting by the moon phases, is it useful?

HOW could the moon [300,000+ km away] affect germination and growth of seeds in our gardens as it moves through phases reflecting sunlight?

From ‘dark of the moon’ to ‘new’ moon [1st Quarter], 2nd Quarter, ‘full’, 3rd Quarter, 4th Quarter and back to darkness.

moon phases

The physical mass of the moon is the same whether we can see it at full moon or at new moon.

Gravity effects maybe?

The mass of the moon close to the Earth creates high tides by attracting water to it – like a bulge. The ‘water bulge’ flows around the world as the moon goes round our planet leaving a lower tide on the other side of the Earth, away from the moon.

The ‘pull’ of the moon also works on water in soil, in us and in plants. Seeds and plants grow best with optimal water in and around them. More info on these effects – here.

Add in the sun’s large mass with it’s ‘gravity-pull’ effect, even though it is much further away [150 million km]. When the sun and moon are on opposite sides of Earth at full moon, the 2 ‘pulls’ are opposite. When the sun and moon are on the same side [at new moon] it adds. There is need for more clarity around these effects.

 

Light effects maybe?

Full moon can light our surroundings or there can be darkness when there is no reflected light from the moon.

At ‘full moon’ the reflected light can be very bright! As the moon reflects the sun’s light, in it’s silvery way, it also affects plants and people – some people have trouble sleeping at full moon.

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Plant photosynthesis depends on light so maybe this extra light can drive production too. I am unclear how it can affect seed germination when seeds are sown below the soil surface, in darkness.

What else?

People talk about the ‘energy‘ of full moon. When we can feel an increased ‘zing’ or drive to achieve. When we can work longer hours or more dynamically. When confidence and a ‘can-do’ approach arise more easily. [And, when in excess, we can feel really ‘scattered’, all-over-the-place, or worse.]

During the dark of the moon, energy sinks and often people drag themselves around, lethargic, un-motivated and want to sleep more.

Plants also respond to this energy. One day science may document how it works. Aren’t we and our world interesting?

The effects of this sort of energy on plants was explored in the bio-dynamic agriculture movement over the past 100 years. They have run many research projects comparing planting success of different sowing schedules.

Biodynamic agriculture describes the universe as ‘a whole’ with the same energy under-lying everything with all parts are connected and affecting the rest.

The variations in this energy have similar effects to those of variations in color which either support plant growth or not. For example, ‘Gro-lights’ are needed for flourishing plants indoors as ordinary lights don’t provide the wave-lengths for photosynthesis.

When many of the subtle energy aspects line-up in one way, seeds germinate easily and grow strongly. When they don’t line up, seeds struggle or don’t even begin.

There is still much debate as to how this works. Maybe you might like to run your own experiments to see what works for you?

 

Calendars for ‘planting by the moon’  

There are many varieties – not all the same! I find this interesting in itself.

So I look for examples from people who have researched carefully rather than simply perpetuating something they have been told. Also, northern hemisphere calendars are different to southern hemisphere ones.

I use a simple version and add in useful information from the calendar of Thomas Zimmer in Australia. His calendar is available here.  A review I saw some years ago found his calendar more accurate than others they compared.

 

The sowing/planting calendar I use

1st Quarter/week: after the ‘dark of the moon’ into the ‘new moon’ phase

1st Quarter/week: after the ‘dark of the moon’ into the ‘new moon’ phasemoon-13897

  • energy is picking up, growing stronger
  • movement seems to be upwards
  • sow seeds for lush leafy greens

 

2nd Quarter/week leading up to full moon

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  • has even stronger energy of above-ground growth
  • sow seeds for strong growth of fruits, flowers and seeds [think, tomatoes, zucchinis, marrows, sunflower seeds, etc]
  • leafy greens sown now will bolt to seed fast rather than grow lots of leaves. Root vegetables will too [eg carrots, etc]

 

Full moon, maybe the energy is too strong, so most calendars recommend no planting then.

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3rd Quarter/week after the full moon

  • energy is moving downwards to the soil
  • strong root growth [Maria Thun even reflected that this might be a good time to start many seedlings as a strong root system is important for good growth of the rest of the plant]
  • plant for root crops [eg carrots, beetroot, radish, parsnip, etc]

 

4th Quarter leading up to ‘dark of the moon’: 
As the moon nears its smallest visible ‘dark of the moon’ phase

  • energy fades
  • associated with spindly, weak growth so poor results – take a week off from planting or sowing seeds
  • cultivate if needed instead or
  • prepare ground for a new cycle next month/season

 

For more information about planting by the moon, Organic Lesson gives their over-view. I like exploring such ideas for myself rather than just trusting and believing. Here’s the link: https://www.organiclesson.com/planting-by-the-moon-the-starters-guide/  Google also shows many others.

 

An interesting experiment, is to plant the same seeds in rows right beside each other [so all other conditions are identical], and label the rows with the date of planting. Then sow seeds from 1 packet at weekly intervals, each week in a new row. Then observe how each row grows and what sort of harvest each gives. This way you can compare for yourself.

You can see how the recommendations for best/worst seed sowing outcomes from moon-planting guides work for you. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t.

I enjoy experimenting with such ideas – and if only I can rescue the rows from the snails and black-birds, I might even get some results to share!

 

A tip:
If you keep records and photos of your experiments, trends and effects become visible which may not be clear when we rely on memory over months, or even years. Specially if you do lots of different experiments.

Have fun with experiments.

 

At the minimum, these planting guides remind me to plant SOMETHING, plan a little, and help me have a continuous supply!

 

May you and your garden flourish!

Our exploration to grow healthy, vibrant kumera [sweet potato]

Our exploration to grow healthy, vibrant kumera [sweet potato]

Kumera [sweet potato] is usually a tasty, easy-care vegetable that grows readily in warm climates.

It’s great steamed, boiled, baked or even fried. We use the tuber sliced/diced/chunks in curries, baked meals, even stir-fries.

The challenge now is growing great tubers!

Over the years we’ve grown different types of kumera – with variable results.

Last year we even grew 4 varieties but got disappointing results.

The growing plants looked terrific, with plenty of leaves and vines. The harvest seemed OK. But when we came to eat the tubers, many were corky, the skins were rough and broken and these tubers tasted yuk.

So this year we are keen to get clean shoots to plant [called slips]. We want to grow tasty, edible, nutritious tubers which also store well.

Light-bulb moment – do some research on better methods!

With thanks to ‘Aunty Google’, we found a great post from the Koanga Institute which hopefully solves our problem.

Growing Kumara

Next: do an experiment

Use starting stock already growing on our kitchen bench.

kumera [sweet potato] growing slips on our kitchen bench
Kumera [sweet potato] tubers sitting in jars of water to grow slips for planting
CUT the slips off in the new growth and leave old growth on the tuber.

Any fungus/disease on or in the tuber stays there and is [hopefully] not transferred to the new slips. If any part of the tuber is taken with the slip then so may disease infection too.

Place cut ends into water to see if they form roots.

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Cut kumera slips in a jar of water – day 1

Wow – by  day 3 – yes, they do form roots! See the tiny white rootlets growing from the red-brown stems?

kumera [sweet potato] slips in a jar of water
Cut kumera slips – day 3
We’ll leave these roots develop more and soon we will plant the slips into ground which has not grown kumera for some years – hopefully free of disease.

So, hopefully this year we will grow lovely disease-free tubers.

 

PS  Here’s a close up of the tubers root growth in the jars of water.

Kumera tubers on jars of water to grow slips for planting

See the difference in root growth between the two?

I was intrigued that one tuber grew heaps of roots and heaps of strong, healthy-looking shoots. These are the shoots I cut off and used for slips.

The other tuber has grown no roots and its shoots are also small – both tubers started at the same time.

From this, I’ve realized it’s a good idea to set out a number of starter tubers and pick the best. If I set out just 1 tuber to grow slips, it might be like the good, healthy one – or not!

 

A tale of tomatoes

A tale of tomatoes

I’d like to start by telling a story – a tale of tomatoes in our garden this summer of 2015. It starts with a Seed Savers meeting last year when it was mentioned there were few varieties of tomatoes in the seed bank. Now, I also have been interested in tomato research by Mark Christensen of the Central Tree Crops Trust into lycopene availability. They found orange tomatoes have a different form of lycopene than red ones and it is absorbed from fresh tomatoes whereas red ones need to be cooked for the lycopene to be absorbed. We eat lots of fresh tomatoes so this was interesting information.

Orange, red and black tomato varieties of diverse sizes grown in research experiment 2014-15
Orange, red and black tomato varieties of diverse sizes grown in research experiment 2014-15

So I acquired seed and grew a dozen varieties in our small yard. They are near each other; some under insect mesh nets, some took their chances. It’s amazing how different the outcomes are

  • Some plants grew really well, some grew poorly.
  • Some fruited well, some poorly.
  • Some were early and some only fruiting in April.

Fascinating! Question: what’s going on? Answer: Maybe different varieties ancestors developed in different conditions?

  • hotter/ cooler
  • rain /dry
  • wind / sheltered
  • long summer / short summer (seasons) early / late so day length becomes important
  • latitudes – high / low
  • altitude – high / low
  • unique soil types, etc so different use of minerals in each form

Growing them altogether in our yard – some felt at home and some didn’t. If I’d only planted 1 or 2 and they cropped poorly, I might think it was me or our yard or ‘I can’t grow tomatoes’. Ever felt something like that? So for each of you, if you have a good crop – excellent – conditions in your plot were good for that crop at that time. It’s really useful info for everyone trying to grow this crop. Your insights are helpful. Was the year hotter than normal/ cooler; wetter / drier; windy / calmer? If a crop produced poorly then the conditions do not match the ancestral conditions which it is adapted to. This is also important information. (NB I’d like also to note it doesn’t mean you are a terrible gardener!). Often really excellent feeding can overcome the mismatch of other conditions. So if you really want to grow a variety outside its conditions then feed it really well! This is true for any type of crop – not only tomatoes. Also each season is different each year. Sometimes summer is early and dry; sometimes late and cool. So it’s a great idea to grow a number of varieties and hope at least one will do well that year! If you wish to read the outcome for the varieties we grew this year, read the research here. Best wishes with your experiments too!

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