With veg, timing is everything

Posted by Laura Grant on April 17, 2009
Posted in Garden

cucumber-1
My “stick it in the ground and see what happens” style of growing vegetables has been surprisingly successful. Since I started in late November, I’ve grown green beans, tomatoes, lettuce, chillies, beetroot, cucumbers and broccoli.

cucumber-skin

Skin surprise: I grew two types of cucumber, both of which had spiky skins, completely unlike the kind you buy in supermarkets. The spikes washed off easily. I peeled them before eating and they tasted exactly like ... well, cucumbers.

The cucumber and broccoli I’m particularly proud of because I had no idea what to expect. Thanks to a misleading picture in a gardening book, I thought cucumbers grew on small trees. Happily, I’m a little less ignorant now.

It hasn’t all been blissfully easy, though. I’ve had to admit defeat with a few of the things I planted. For months I watched my watermelon and butternut plants form tiny baby fruits that just shrivelled and died. I tried to fortify the plants with worm tea and seaweed fertiliser, and great dollops of compost, but eventually their leaves developed a patina of grey fungus and I had to pull them up. A Malawian former subsistence farmer I know said that I had planted them too late – I should have done it in early October, not late November.

butternut

Infant mortality: My butternut plant grew many tiny baby butternuts like this one, but once the flower dropped off, the baby butternuts turned yellow and then shrivelled up

I’m amazed that two months would make such a difference. It’s a lesson in that seasonal food thing and, I suppose, that’s the way of nature: it just wasn’t their time. I’ll try planting them again in October this year and see what happens.

I lost the battle with the aphids on my beans as well. At first I could keep them under control by spraying them with a hose pipe, but the infestation got progressively worse. Spraying them with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water helped for a short while (thank you to the people who suggested this), but then I think the plant just got old and tired and the aphids took over. I decided euthanasia was the kindest option – and I didn’t want the aphids to spread to other parts of the garden. Once again, it’s the seasonal thing – plants seem to become more susceptible to pests at the end of their growing season.

fly-on-tomatoes

Beautiful stranger: I watched this fly-thingy with fascination as it poked a little spike at the back of its abdomen into my tomatoes. I tried to shoo it away but it kept coming back. It must have been laying eggs, because later white larvae crawled out of the tomato.

Then there’s the weather. My tomato plants were doing fabulously until the weather turned unusually British for a while in the middle of summer. The leaves turned yellow and blotchy. I frantically thumbed through gardening books to see if I could identify what was wrong. Like a hypochondriac reading a medical text book, I worried that I had a dread disease like potato blight and that I’d have to dig up everything and burn it all. Then a colourful fly-type thing started to lay eggs in my nearly ripe tomatoes. One morning, I watched a tiny white larvae, which must have been the fly’s progeny, crawl out of a tomato and fling itself onto my beetroot. Then little, red insects flew in en masse and ate great holes in my tomatoes. That was when I conceded defeat.

Probably the most useful factoid I read in my books, though, is that tomatoes don’t like getting their leaves wet, it apparently encourages fungus, so you have to water them from below. I’m beginning to believe that maybe it was the fortnight or so of drizzle and sunlessness that did them in. Even the man at my local nursery blamed the weather. “The plants don’t know if they’re coming or going,” he said when I asked him for advice on a magic potion that could cure my tomatoes. There was nothing to be done but start again. And, interestingly, the new plants that have grown up since that bad patch of weather all seem to be fine. I’m already getting a new crop of cherry tomatoes. And, so far, there are no insects.

But I’m waiting to see how long these new plants will last now the weather is getting colder and drier. I know now that there’s only so much you can learn about growing vegetables from a book. The only way to learn is to stick it in the ground and see what happens. It’s all about trial and error and, most of all, patience.

So if anybody reads this and knows (from their own trials and errors) what you can plant in Joburg in April and May. Please let me know.

Comments

3 Responses to “With veg, timing is everything”

  1. Tracy
    April 18th, 2009 @ 6:53 am

    Hi Laura, congratulations on your bountiful harvest.

    I have a suggestion about the butternuts, the same thing happened to me when I was growing them in an allotment in England, and a friend of mine who is a dab hand at growing butternuts advised me that they weren’t being pollinated properly and that I’d have to do it by hand.

    Once I did that, they started producing beautifully. Basically you need to take the male flower (the ones without mini-fruits beneath them) and rub the flowers into the mommy flowers (the ones with the fruits) to get them properly pollinated.

    If pollination is the problem with yours, maybe this will help. It’s probably worth a try anyway.
    :)

  2. Lynnette
    June 5th, 2009 @ 7:53 pm

    Hi Laura,

    Your garden sounds lovely.

    Here is a very good hint which I received and hope to use in my own veggie garden which I will be starting soon. Use Jayes Fluid to spray all unwanted blights on the plants. Kills all the baddies but is harmless to us. Tomatoes can be sprayed and eaten one hour later. Can be used on all other ornamentals trees, shrubs etc.

    Mixture is: 1 teaspoon to 10 litres of water. You can spray as often as you like and it is best to spray early in the morning or late afternoon when it is cooler.

    Hope this works for you.

  3. Riaan
    November 12th, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

    The grey stuff on the leaves are downey mildew. The best way to reduce it, or prevent it, is to only water in the mornings. If leaves are wet overnight, it helps the formation of the fungus.

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