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homegrown salad with the right amount of crunchWherever I am in the world, I love vis­it­ing edible gar­dens. Garden­ers are con­stantly doing inspir­ing, innov­at­ive and inter­est­ing things. If I dis­cov­er only one meth­od to adopt or a single vari­ety to grow, then it’s worth the trip. There are also sur­pris­ing sim­il­ar­it­ies between many gar­dens. Tech­niques and tra­di­tions that work are shared and adop­ted by garden­ers in many cli­mates and situ­ations. From per­son­al exper­i­ment­a­tion in my Wel­ling­ton garden, here are ten things I’ve found to be true.

  1. Ask­ing boys of all ages to pee beneath a lem­on tree will be rewar­ded by glossy green leaves and pro­lif­ic fruit pro­duc­tion. All cit­rus enjoys a reg­u­lar well-aimed dose of nitro­gen and water, par­tic­u­larly in summer.
  2. Increas­ing the organ­ic mat­ter in the soil will solve many garden­ing prob­lems. It adds nutri­ents, helps wet soil drain and keeps dry soil moist. I spread mulch, add com­post or grow green manure in each garden bed at least once a year. It’s a long-term game.
  3. Bare soil is bad soil. Soil covered with mulch or plants, or prefer­ably both, stays moist and pro­duct­ive, grows few­er weeds and stays put in a gale.
  4. Aer­at­ing soil is effect­ive and easi­er than dig­ging. I use a large garden fork to gently lift the soil in lines about 20cm apart after clear­ing an area for plant­ing. It allows air, water and roots to pen­et­rate eas­ily. Com­post on the sur­face will fall down the cracks to where the plants most need it.
  5. Knee-high fences formed from strips of con­crete rein­for­cing mesh placed around beds will pro­tect crops from dogs and cats. Covered with wind-break cloth and topped with bird net­ting, they’ll keep out wind, some insects and birds too.
  6. Stor­ing seeds in an air­tight con­tain­er in a cool place with some silica gel keeps them dry and fresh. Some seeds will keep well for a few years if sealed up this way, par­tic­u­larly brassica, lettuce, bean, pea and many herb seeds. Parsnip seeds, how­ever, are best bought fresh each season.
  7. Keep­ing a pile of news­pa­per sheets on the kit­chen bench makes it easy to col­lect kit­chen scraps for a com­post heap or worm farm. Wrap­ping them makes them less smelly and slimy, so it’s easy to clean your com­post buck­et and the worms will enjoy the newsprint.
  8. Seed labels, includ­ing the vari­ety and date of sow­ing or plant­ing, are my garden diary. I use a Sharpie fine per­man­ent mark­er on plastic labels so they last long enough to be use­ful. If some­thing is worth repeat­ing, I know when and what to do next year.
  9. A head-torch hung by the back door helps me find slugs and snails on damp nights or pick my crops in the dark. I use it reg­u­larly and know where to find it, so I can rely on it when there’s a power cut too.
  10. Home-grown lettuce is a treat as long as the only crunch is from the fresh­ness of the leaves. I soak salad and herbs in a large sink of water to which I’ve added a tea­spoon of salt for ten minutes and swish around to release grit, bugs and slugs. A salad spin­ner is an indis­pens­able gad­get in my kitchen.

Try one or two of these tips and see if they are true for you too. Or test your own truths by exper­i­ment­ing with tech­niques and tra­di­tions bor­rowed or inven­ted to make your edible garden a unique, deli­cious and reward­ing experience.

pine needles make a good mulch for strawberries

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