At the moment, there is a shortage of fresh veggies at the supermarket in New Zealand and prices are ridiculously, unbelievably expensive due to the difficult summer we have had, which included cyclones and floods. It is very depressing and affects pretty much everyone, as most people include fresh veggies in their diet. While I was in the produce section of the supermarket last Friday doing some shopping, I noticed that the other shoppers looked incredibly unhappy and you can’t blame them for feeling that way. For example, new seasons pumpkins are $14. At this time of the year (the beginning of autumn in NZ), they should normally be $3 as they are usually ready for harvesting now. I have included a photo above as evidence incase anyone overseas is reading my blog and thinks I am making up a story. What is even more worrying than the price is the fact that there were only half a dozen pumpkins at the biggest supermarket in my area. I don’t know whereabouts in the country they were grown but I have harvested twice as much as that from our suburban plot in Auckland (where sections are usually smaller than other parts of the country) and there are still quite a few more pumpkins on the vines which are not quite ready to be harvested. Commercial growers have a lot more space than me, not to mention knowledge (some gardening businesses have been in the family for several generations), qualifications, technology and personnel. I almost didn’t sow pumpkins in spring because mum was against the idea and said that they are cheap enough but in this instance she was wrong and she is really glad that I did grow them. I don’t do a cost-benefit analysis of the garden because it’s just a hobby, but our entire harvest outweighs the cost of the seeds many times over, even though we didn’t have what I would consider a great crop this season either.
The recent blog posts I have written on the subject of climate change (you can read them here and here), (along with the topic of pests and diseases in New Zealand, which probably became worse because of climate change) have by far been the most difficult and depressing ones to date but I can’t hide from these subjects as they are very topical and affect home gardeners and commercial growers alike. Instead of complaining about a problem, I like to try and think of something to do about it, which is more constructive and positive. I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post with some thoughts I have on gardening as we move into autumn and winter in New Zealand. I hope that my blog post might even help people in other countries too, depending on the climate and what you can grow there, because gardening principles are generally universal and we can learn a lot from one another.
If you are lucky enough to have an autumn harvest inspite of the worst summer I can recall in Auckland, make sure you look after it! We are still picking Cobra runner beans, so I haven’t removed those plants yet as part of my annual autumn clean up. Check pumpkins regularly to see if they have died off the vine and are ready for harvesting. If you leave them in the garden, you run the risk of rats and mice nibbling at them as they tend to come out at this time of the year as it gets cooler. It’s a good idea to wipe any pumpkins that you have harvested with a damp cloth before leaving them to dry and storing them in a cool, airy place.
In the off-chance that you have surplus despite these less than ideal conditions, I highly recommend freezing or bottling it if you can. People often laugh at homesteaders for doing this as it is very time consuming and decent preserving jars are quite expensive in NZ whereas tinned goods are usually plentiful and cheap, but it isn’t funny anymore and is actually a really good idea. I don’t really look at the price of tinned and frozen veggies as we try to eat out of the garden as much as possible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the price of that increases, too.
Planting a garden for autumn and winter
There is no better time to have a veggie garden but the problem is that the conditions are less than ideal. While it hasn’t rained in Auckland for awhile and we haven’t had a cyclone or flooding since Cyclone Gabrielle, I have noticed that temperatures are constantly fluctuating. Yesterday was an absolutely beautifully warm sunny day, whereas today is overcast, windy and freezing except for the early afternoon when it suddenly got really hot. This makes it hard to get tender seedlings established. You can imagine how much havoc another cyclone or flood would cause to young plants should that happen again. I had to think quite creatively to come up with some tips for veggie gardening in such challenging conditions.
Because temperatures are generally cooler than usual at this time of the year and they keep fluctuating, it’s a good idea to germinate and raise seedlings in a greenhouse, if you want to raise your own plants from seed. While plants purchased from the garden centre give you a head start, they have become really expensive and it is more economical to raise plants from seed, especially if you have a large garden. I haven’t been to the garden centre in awhile, but the last time I was there, there weren’t actually many seedlings because of all the cyclones and floods. I’m not sure if the situation has changed or if garden centres will order less in future because of the weather we had over summer.
Because it’s not as warm as it usually is in March, I recommend placing any punnets containing seeds that you have sown inside a plastic crate (I use the brand Sistema) with a lid on it, so that it functions as a mini greenhouse within the greenhouse for extra warmth and protection. I did this to germinate flowers from seed back in December and January, with great success. Here is a picture of the stock, snapdragon and statice seedlings I raised using that technique.
To be honest, I am not actually raising veggie seedlings myself, at least at this point in time because these seedlings need to be planted into the garden which will take up a lot of space. I can’t purchase plants from the garden centre either, because all our dahlias are still flowering and are taking up a lot of space. The foliage probably won’t die down until the end of autumn and I will lift and store them in late May or June, so it is too early to raise plants from seed for planting out then.
What you can raise from seed or plant in the veggie garden now
Here is a list of veggies that can be sown or planted now in most parts of New Zealand.
Don’t forget that some veggies and varieties are suitable for growing in containers which is ideal if you’re short on space. The other advantage is that the soil temperature is usually a bit warmer than in the garden, so plants might have a better chance of survival. We enjoy growing lettuce in containers and harvesting the leaves as we need them. Here are some of our lettuce plants in plastic round bowls from spring.
If you are lucky enough to have a tunnel house, greenhouse or glass house, by all means use it! If you have space and are a keen gardener, or want to become a gardener, it is something worth looking into. You need not necessarily spend a fortune either. Today someone posted a photo of a glasshouse they had made very cheaply using recycled windows. If you have DIY skills, you might be able to do the same thing without spending much money or maybe even nothing at all if you are able to pick up bits and pieces for free.