Gardening: Plant your Christmas feast

Potatoes
Harvesting and eating fresh new potatoes is a joy.

Potatoes are an easy crop to grow, taking between three to four months to mature and be ready for harvest.

The key ingredient for a tasty crop is lots of sun – spuds don’t thrive in the shade.

Varieties for New Zealand conditions include:

Christmas Day – Cliff Kidney, Jersey Benne, Maris Anchor, Swift
Roasting – Moonlight, Agria, Rua
New potatoes, boiling – Nadine, Jersey Benne, Cliffs Kidney
Mashing – Moonlight, Agria, Ilam Hardy

If you don’t already have a vege plot, dedicate a sunny part of your back or front yard for fruit and veges and break the ground.

Potatoes suit being planted into freshly broken ground, and they don’t need perfectly prepared soil to get growing. Just ensure it’s dug over and grass-free. If you get some early season potatoes in the ground in September, you will be harvesting small new potatoes in time for Christmas dinner.

Potatoes should be planted in trenches, with only a little compost – too much of a good thing means lots of leaf growth and fewer tubers.

Dig the trench to around 20cm deep, and put the soil to one side. Place the seed potatoes around 30cm apart and just cover with soil. As the plant starts to grow, regularly mound the soil up the shoots, and the potatoes will form along the length of the stem.

About 80 per cent of the potato crop is grown above the spot the seed potato was placed.

Strawberries
A popular sweet treat at Christmas is strawberries. Plant them in well-drained, cultivated soil and ensure the crown of the plant is above soil level. Mulch with straw to keep the developing berries off the soil and prevent fungal problems.

As soon as the berries begin to blush, cover with bird net or your dessert will be snapped up. Strawberries will happily grow in pots, with the berries hanging over the sides and clear of dirt.

Each year take runners off your strawberry plants, and plant elsewhere to increase your harvest.

Plant beans, cucumbers and tomatoes
Plant beans, cucumbers and tomatoes in well-composted soil. If you’re using shop-bought compost, you will need to give it a boost with an organic fertiliser such as blood and bone. That’s why home-made compost is best. It tends to be richer and full of nutrients for your plants.

Traditionally, tomatoes are planted on Labour Weekend, but you can plant earlier if you protect the plants from frost.

Runner beans twine around vertical stakes and will often grow over 2m high, so ensure your stakes are sturdy and secure.

Poke three or four bean seeds at the base of each stake. That way the odds are in your favour, and apply eco-friendly snail bait.

To ensure you have enough beans for Christmas Day, pick regularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas, blanch by dipping in boiling water for a few seconds, then put in freezer bags, pre-cut and ready to go.

Salad greens can be grown closer to Christmas and sown in situ for “cut and come again” harvesting. Think outside the square and make your salad festive with edible flowers tossed in.

Hot coloured and peppery flavoured nasturtium, or the milder flavours of star-shaped blue borage or purple chive pompoms, will add colourful festive appeal to your meals.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Fruit: Plums start ripening in December, just in time for your Christmas spread. Add to puddings, slice up fresh pieces on a cheese board, or give plum preserves as gifts.

Herbs: Plant sage and thyme for stuffing, and parsley or mint to serve with new potatoes.