There’s still time to get those potatoes in the ground for the summer break

by HomeDecorBeauty

I had a call from my partner’s friend, Faafeita, in Mangere, asking if it was too late to get potatoes in the ground for Christmas. Short answer is yes, because depending on the variety they can take 9-21 weeks to mature for harvest. And, as everyone knows, Christmas is only six weeks away. But of course, he can still plant potatoes now and eat them after Christmas and during the summer holidays.

I wondered if her friend was having me on, though, because he is in his 70s and has been gardening all his life. But she assures me he’s not. He loves gardening, but English is his second language, and he finds it difficult communicating with other gardeners or writing an email to Get Growing. He just wants to talk to someone about his garden.

By the way, his call to me came via my partner. They’re both Samoan. Her friend has gardened all his life in Samoa and is finding the different soil and temperatures of Auckland difficult to gauge for “the palagi vegetables”. That said, he is successfully growing taro leaves and bananas and assures us that one day he will work out how to grow the taro tuber.

Run potato rows from north to south, so the morning sun warms one side of the mound, and the afternoon sun the other.


Run potato rows from north to south, so the morning sun warms one side of the mound, and the afternoon sun the other.

Isn’t that the best thing about gardening, being able to share your knowledge and produce with others. That’s why I really like working at NZ Gardener. It’s a place where gardeners feel comfortable to freely share information. There are a myriad of opinions. No one is right or wrong.

* Tomato growing guide
* Why it’s time to get outside and start gardening with your kids
* Gardening for health and happiness

So what else are we planting?

I live in a region which is reliably frost free at this time of year – if you do too, you can sow basil, dwarf and climbing beans, beetroot, bok choy, cabbages, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, pumpkins, radishes , rockmelons, scallopini, spinach, spring onions, sweetcorn, watermelons and zucchini.

You can also plant out punnet seedlings such as beetroot, eggplants, kumara, onions, peppers and of course tomatoes.

And what about down south in the colder climes?

This week I spoke to Christchurch grower and regular contributor to NZ Gardener Mary Lovell-Smith about her vegetable patch.

“Right now in Christchurch we are still planting tomatoes, peppers, celeriac, sweetcorn, courgettes and most of the cucurbits. Except in the case of cucumbers, I’d suggest small fast varieties as our summers are shorter and cooler than Auckland and smaller melons are a better choice than bigger ones.

“When it comes to varieties in the Garden City, I’d say that the plants for sale in garden centers and nurseries should be fine for guiding what to plant in your local area.

“But small batches of lettuces, radishes, spring onions, carrots and beets can be sown through the next few months. And we’re planting beans now, as it’s getting too late for snap peas.

“You can plant coriander and lettuce but it needs to be out of the heat of midday sun as it tends to bolt.

Radishes grown in a bucket.


Radishes grown in a bucket.

“My big tip is to keep up watering – long and deep. Christchurch and the east coast is way drier than Auckland, so if you’re in these areas give your veges a good long soak.

So what are you harvesting in the south at the moment?

“It’s a slightly lean time but we’re harvesting the last of winter crops such as celery, silverbeet, and the leeks need eating before they go to seed. Some of our winter-planted brassicas are ready.

“Early potatoes may be ready in some gardens, and then there’s lettuces, silverbeet, snap and sugar peas,

“You could be eating the broad bean tips, if not the beans and very early courgettes, which may be ready if they were planted early in sheltered sunny spots.”

The fruit is also starting to come on, she says.

“Strawberries are ripening fast in the heat but get to them before the birds.”

Plant five or six strawberry plants per person in your household.


Plant five or six strawberry plants per person in your household.

And when it comes to what jobs gardeners are doing, Mary says some people are thinning apples now, taking off a percentage of the fruitlets for larger but fewer fruits.

What else are gardeners eating now? I got an email from keen gardener and Get Growing reader Chris Archbold who was positively feasting on homegrown goodness eating rhubarb and the first strawberries.

Chris lives in the beautiful township of West Melton – southwest of Christchurch.

“My garden is looking great at the moment – some of the rhubarb was picked yesterday – what a delicious breakfast this morning,” Chris says.

The corn is up and looking fabulous. And the tomatoes and potatoes are flowering and will likely be ready for Christmas. But Chris and husband are waiting patiently for signs that the runner beans are growing.

“My Lebanese cucumber plant is looking a bit fragile, but it will be fine.”

The first lot of carrots were pathetic, but a second attempt is looking better, and the currants are fruiting, as are the gooseberry bushes, Chris says.

Gooseberries ready to be picked.

Stephen McCarthy

Gooseberries ready to be picked.

“The apples – well if I manage to beat the powdery mildew – will be delicious. But the plums were thinned by strong winds, so I’m gutted. And the cherry tree is struggling with aphids, but hopefully we’ll win that battle.

“Lastly we’ve, just last week, emptied half-a-trailer load of horse manure into the compost heaps. They’re certainly busy, but exciting times.”

Keep tidying

Our indeterminate tomatoes are maturing, but the lowest leaves are turning yellow and need to be removed to improve air flow and help control disease. We’re also removing dead and yellowing leaves from other varieties, being careful not to completely defoliate them.

And the deadwood on our fruit trees needs a bit of a prune. I’m a little wary of pruning in spring and summer as warming temperatures, humid weather and fresh wood cuts are a perfect recipe for encouraging pests and disease. But we’ve had some strong winds through our patch and a lot of branches have broken and remain dead hanging in the tree.




The pear tree especially is laden with fruit, making the branches heavy. It’s a good reminder to start thinning the fruit. Experience has taught us that too many close bunches of fruit encourages disease and keeps produce small.

Keeping on top of the weeds is an ongoing task. I find a little and often is better than spending two to three hours of my weekend time on this job. My first gardening boss always recommended pulling out weeds as soon as you noticed them and/or as you walked past.

Keep watering

If temperatures climb and drying winds blow, it’s essential your tomatoes are watered regularly.

Too little water means nutrient deficiencies and stunted growth; too much dilutes flavour. Irregular watering can also result in blossom end rot and split skins.

We’ve worked out a watering roster in our house, written and pinned to the wall. We both like watering, but this sometimes results in double watering and sometimes no watering as we assume one has or hasn’t done the job at least once during the day.

Dad has also reminded me to go get some more hose fittings and fixings to repair any leaks as we want to keep the water bill as low as possible. We don’t want any leakage or wasted water.

Gardening by the moon

Continue doing odd jobs around the garden until November 19 but hold off on the sowing or transplanting during this time. Sow root crops, spray and prune November 20 to 21. From November 22 to 25, plan for the fertile period ahead.


This is potentially the busiest month for your gardening calendar and one where all regions will be working towards full planting, mulching, watering if there is insufficient rain, and pest and disease management. November 4 and the period from November 7-9 are good days for kūmara planting. All kūmara for this season should be in by the maramataka phase Ōrongonui or November 20 – otherwise they will be small and/or unproductive. Encourage birds in the garden, as most fruiting plants and trees are now setting fruit and young vege plants are a magnet for many pests. November 8 is the Rākaunui or the full moon and in colder areas you will need to protect young emerging plants such as potatoes and taewa from overnight and cold temperatures. Following this three-day period (November 8-10) the risk of frost should be over. The new moon is on the 24th, so from November 20-25, avoid planting and focus on other activities that support your māra. Dr. Nick Roskruge

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