Planned preserves: Crops to grow for next year’s store cupboard

Get Growing top tasks

  • Preserves that bridge the hungry gap
  • Healthy soil equals healthy produce
  • Plant out punnets of colorful radicchio
  • Last chance to plant garlic and shallots
  • Tidy up your berry canes before spring
  • Gardening by the moon
  • Gardening by the maramataka
Eat your pantry!  Preserves are for eating, not just looking pretty in the store cupboard.

SALLY TAGG/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Eat your pantry! Preserves are for eating, not just looking pretty in the store cupboard.

Preserves that bridge the hungry gap

Early spring is a time of planning, planting and anticipation. All the new season’s crops are going in and we have high hopes of bumper harvests to come. But it’s also a lean time known as the hungry gap – winter crops are tatty or going to seed but the spring and summer vegetables aren’t ready to pick.

Last summer and autumn’s bottled, frozen, dried, and pickled produce can help bridge the gap. Preserving and storing excess produce is an essential part of food cropping. The trick is to actually use what you set aside for the lean months. Not only will you get the benefit of all the hard work that went into growing and preparing the preserves, you’ll also be making room for the bountiful harvests of the coming season.

I think there are a few reasons why we tend to overlook home preserves – they end up forgotten at the back of the pantry or the bottom of the freezer. Perhaps they lack versatility, or maybe they’re just not very nice.

Not only should you never grow things you don’t like eating, but you most certainly shouldn’t preserve them! So, give some thought now to the crops you’ll grow to preserve as well as those you’ll eat freshly picked.

Whole frozen tomatoes are versatile and give massive returns for minimal effort. They’re the ultimate in easy-peel too – just rinse under the hot tap and the skins will pop right off. Use anywhere you’d use tinned tomatoes.

Bottled tomatoes, tomato paste concentrate and savory mixtures of tomatoes, chillies, onions, and herbs take more work (on sweltering hot summer days!) but take up less room in the freezer or pantry and are so handy for pizza toppings, soup, casseroles , pasta sauces and more.

'Wildfire' chillies: Freeze chillies whole, or turn them into sweet chilli jam.  An easy way to deal with a glut of chillies is to don a pair of rubber gloves, deseed them by the dozen and then finely chop the lot in a food processor.  For every cup of chopped chili, add 2 finely chopped red capsicums and 1 cup of cider vinegar.  Bring to the boil and stir in 1kg jam-setting sugar.  Boil for 5 minutes then pour into jars and seal.

IVAN DZYUBA/123RF/Stuff

‘Wildfire’ chillies: Freeze chillies whole, or turn them into sweet chilli jam. An easy way to deal with a glut of chillies is to don a pair of rubber gloves, deseed them by the dozen and then finely chop the lot in a food processor. For every cup of chopped chili, add 2 finely chopped red capsicums and 1 cup of cider vinegar. Bring to the boil and stir in 1kg jam-setting sugar. Boil for 5 minutes then pour into jars and seal.

Chillies are a breeze to freeze – just pop them whole into a bag ready to retrieve for any dish that needs a flavor boost. Chillies are generally very productive, but their heat levels vary enormously. While the “world’s hottest” peppers might appeal to the masochist in you, they’re often of questionable value.

Although I love spicy food, last year’s chilli plant was either mislabelled when I bought it or went rogue, as it produced eye-watering, fiery bullets. Half of one of these lip-burning morsels is more than enough for a recipe and my fingers tingle for hours after I touch them. How much use are fifty frozen chillies if a single one is more than I can use in a week? I’ll be careful this year to choose a more palatable variety.

READ MORE:
* How gardening can save you money: Grow these prolific, easy-to-store vegetables
* How gardening can save you money: Grow these fruits
* Gardening to save money: These leafy greens & herbs can boost your food budget
* How to grow and prune raspberries

Add fertilizer to the soil before planting and side dress with extra fertilizer a couple of times during the growing season.

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Add fertilizer to the soil before planting and side dress with extra fertilizer a couple of times during the growing season.

Healthy soil equals healthy produce

It’s far easier to fix soil issues at the beginning of the season, when you still have easy access to empty beds. Beds need some time to settle before planting so lay out new beds and sort out issues with perennial weeds, drainage, and soil fertility before the rush to plant spring crops.

Compost adds humus to the soil, improves the texture, increases the moisture retention of sandy soil and improves the drainage of clay soils, but it’s not the only thing your plants need.

Compost is not a fertilizer – it is not a complete plant food providing all the nutrients required for healthy growth. If you’re gardening year-round, it’s important to add nutrients back into your soil.

There’s a huge range of specialist fertilisers for almost every type of plant – roses, citrus, leafy crops, camellias, orchids and so on – but as a general rule you only need two types of fertiliser: a nitrogen-based blend to kick-start growth in spring, and a flowering/fruiting formulation for later in the season, when you want plants like tomatoes to concentrate on fruit production, not more foliage.

And on that note, tomato fertilizer can be used on all fruiting plants… from strawberries to beans. The exception to the rule is potted plants; it’s best to buy a specialist container food for them, as potting mix leaches nutrients more quickly than standard garden soil.

Chicory, radicchio and Belgian endive are all names for different varieties of the same plant.

ISTOCK/Stuff

Chicory, radicchio and Belgian endive are all names for different varieties of the same plant.

Plant out punnets of colorful radicchio

Radicchio (or chicory) adds a wonderful punch of flavor and color to salads and stir-fries and is quick and easy to grow. A punnet of seedlings transplanted now should be ready to eat in 6-8 weeks. Plant seedlings in full sun and – for the hearty types – space at least 20cm apart to give them room to grow. In colder regions it might pay to cover seedlings with a cloche until they get established.

Read more: Chicory and radicchio: growing tips and variety guide

It's getting late to plant garlic cloves.  If you haven't bought garlic cloves yet, save time by planting punnets of pre-sprouted garlic plants from the garden center.

123RF/Stuff

It’s getting late to plant garlic cloves. If you haven’t bought garlic cloves yet, save time by planting punnets of pre-sprouted garlic plants from the garden center.

Last chance to plant garlic and shallots

If you still have garlic or shallots to get into the ground, do it soon, as they need a period of winter chill to form bulbs (otherwise all you’ll get are leaves). And if you still haven’t bought any garlic cloves to plant, you can buy punnets of pre-planted cloves in garden centers.

Summer fruiting raspberries.  In autumn or winter, remove the older canes that produced fruit in the previous season, cutting close to the crown at the base of the plant.  Take care not to accidentally remove or damage the newly grown canes, as these will produce the first crop of berries in the following summer.  Your goal after pruning is to have 10-12 fruiting canes per plant (or per meter, if growing in a row).  Next, remove any wandering canes – the ones that appear, sprouting outside the designated raspberry bed.

RENEE DAVIES/Stuff

Summer fruiting raspberries. In autumn or winter, remove the older canes that produced fruit in the previous season, cutting close to the crown at the base of the plant. Take care not to accidentally remove or damage the newly grown canes, as these will produce the first crop of berries in the following summer. Your goal after pruning is to have 10-12 fruiting canes per plant (or per meter, if growing in a row). Next, remove any wandering canes – the ones that appear, sprouting outside the designated raspberry bed.

Tidy up your berry canes before spring

Give your berry patch a clean-up before their growth starts up again. Gently tug at all defoliated canes and dispose of any that snap or pull away easily. Also remove any wiry, weak or tangled canes plus those that have crept into places they don’t belong. Any runners that have taken root can be used to establish new beds in other parts of the garden.

Attach brambles and berry canes to their supports. If you’ve only got one or two plants, tie up bunches of the canes into tepees. They won’t need stakes, just some twine at the top to keep them together. Once growth begins, this job will become all but impossible, so don’t mess about. Weed among canes before spring too – it’s not much fun once thorns are involved!

Gardening by the moon

Continue to feed actively growing plants with warmed liquid feeds until August 28. The period begins on August 29. Sow leaf-crop seeds into well-worked soils; lettuces and peas do especially well.

Gardening by the maramataka

The wet traditionally follows the cold – this month is known for the wet. It is also the month that we start to see the tohu or cues that tell us spring is imminent. Watch for signs of early flowering, lack or masses of flowering, new shoots, bird and insect behavior to initiate our preparation for kōanga (spring). But before spring, we need to see out the winter. In te reo, the prefix “here” means to bind or support and this month is prone to winds, especially during the first week of the month according to the maramataka. The māra will therefore need your support to ensure plants are stable and not prone to damage. Pruning should be completed by now (that is part of the support against the winds) and waste material taken away. In the north, establish the early tāpapa or pārekere (kūmara beds) to initiate the new season tipū for planting around October. Dr. Nick Roskruge