New World Little Gardens

Growing hints and tips

Chilli and garlic bug spray

pest protection sprays4The stuff that makes chilli hot to taste (capsaicin) works in this spray to repel caterpillars and ants. Cats don’t like it either, so try this to keep kitties out of your vege patch.

Make sure an adult is with you at all times while preparing or using plant spray.

Take care when making and using this spray, as the chilli will hurt you, especially if it gets in your eyes or nose. Wash your hands thoroughly after preparing and using this spray.

Ingredients

  • 4 fresh red chillies 
  • 3 cloves garlic 
  • 2 onions 
  • 2 litres water 
  • squirt of washing up liquid

Method

  1. Put all the vegetables in your food processor. Add two cups of water and blend. If you don’t have a food processor, chop the vegetables into small chunks, then add the water.
  2. Pour the mix into a jug and add the rest of the water (hot but not boiling). Leave it to steep overnight. 
  3. The next day, strain to remove solids, add a squirt of washing up liquid (that makes the spray stick to the leaves) and pour into a spray bottle. 
  4. Apply once a week if there is no rain, but two or three times a week in wet weather.

D.I.Y. Compost

DIY compost

  • Compost is made up of layers of green material (high in nitrogen) and brown material (high in carbon). Green materials are lawn clippings, manure, fruit and vege scraps, coffee grounds, seaweed and green plant material. Brown materials are wood ash, paper, cardboard, sawdust, dry leaves, straw hay, and woody plant material.
  • Select a sunny spot (shade will work too, but things will happen faster in full sun) in your garden for your compost pile or invest in a compost bin. You can buy ready-made compost bins, but any large container that’s open at the bottom will work.
  • To start your compost, pile green material and brown material in alternating 10-15cm layers (add a little Blood & Bone to speed things up). Sprinkle some water on each layer as you go, because the compost has to remain moist. Congrats, now you’re composting!
  • For bonus points, you can add a layer of sticks at the bottom of the heap. This will help create pockets of air, which the good bugs. Plus, they’ll help stop your compost from getting slimy and smelly.
  • Maintain your compost heap by mixing the layers regularly (turn them over with your garden fork), and keep adding those green and brown materials. 
  • Over time, the compost will become dry, brown and crumbly. This is when it’s ready to go in the garden!
  • If you don’t have room for a compost heap or are worried about the smell try trenching: Just dig a trench approximately 30cm in your vege patch, pile in your fruit and vege scraps, fill it with soil again and plant in the top.
  • Living in an apartment? Try a Bokashi composting system: it ferments kitchen waste, including meat and dairy, and turns it into a safe soil builder and nutrient-rich tea for your plants. And it fits under the sink.

Compost No No’s

  • Don’t add meat, bones, dairy or fat to your compost. This will make the compost smelly and can attract rats and mice. 
  • Don’t add seed-heads, bulbs or runners of weedy plants. 
  • Don't add diseased plants or grass clippings if your lawn has been treated with herbicide.

Encouraging the good bugs

bug hotel

  • Helpful bugs like ladybugs, parasitic wasps (which eat caterpillars, including those of the monarch butterfly, so protect your swan plants with an insect mesh as soon as you notice the monarch caterpillars there), bees, spiders and hoverflies will all appreciate you creating a habitat for them. These good bugs like to hide in nooks and crannies, so to create a simple bug hotel cut the end off a plastic bottle and pack it full of sticks, twigs, pine cones, short pieces of bamboo (or anything with hollow stems) and bark. 
  • Make sure you place your bug hotel close to your Little Garden in semi-shade and grow nectar-rich flowering plants such as your Little Garden Purple Tansy nearby. 
  • For a more elaborate insect apartment block, stack bricks and two or three short pieces of wood into a bookshelf and pack all the crevices with sticks, stems, pine cones, straw and hay, dry leaves, stones, bricks and rocks.

Garlic bug spray

pest protection sprays5Garlic is rich in sulphur, which is toxic to a range of pests, including aphids and white cabbage butterflies. The soap helps the spray stick to the plants.

Make sure an adult is with you at all times while preparing or using plant spray.

Ingredients

  • 30g pure soap (Lux flakes or grated soap) 
  • 100g roughly chopped garlic 
  • 1 litre water

Method

  1. Dissolve soap in hot water, then cool. 
  2. Mix ingredients and let stand for 48 hours. 
  3. Strain and store in a plastic container. 
  4. To use, dilute 15ml per litre of water.
  5. Apply with a sprayer.

Help! My seedling hasn’t sprouted!

seedling sos

  • Seedlings are commonly affected by a soil-borne fungal infection called “damping off”. 
  • The symptoms include seedlings which failing to sprout, or wither away at soil level and collapsing from the base. Unfortunately affected seedlings can’t be saved, so dispose of any unhealthy seedlings and soil and start again. 
  • Damping off occurs when seedlings are overcrowded and/or over-watered. Keep your seedlings in a warm, airy place, don’t over-water them (keep the soil moist, but not soaking wet) and pick out some seedlings (this is called thinning) if they’re packed in too tightly.

How to plant your Little Garden seed mat seedling kits

  1. Put the soil tablet on a saucer or in a container and pour 50ml (10 teaspoons) of water over it.
  2. With gloves on, use your fingers to mix the water into the soil, make a wet mixture and watch it expand.
  3. Use most of this to fill up the pot about 2/3rd full.
  4. Place the seed mat on top of this – but don’t push down too hard.
  5. Put the rest of the soil on top and cover the seed mat. Some seed likes to be buried deeply, others will do best just lightly covered with soil. The depth that suits each seed type is covered here
  6. Wash your hands.

How to plant your Little Garden seed sachet seedling kits

  1. Put the soil tablet on a saucer and pour 50ml of water over it.
  2. Put on gloves and mix the water into the soil with your hands to make a wet mixture and watch the soil expand.
  3. Use most of your soil to fill up the pot about 2/3rd full.
  4. Carefully tear open the sachet and place the seeds on top of the soil (take care not to press down too hard).
  5. Now use the remaining soil mixture to cover the seeds. Some seed likes to be buried deeply, others will do best just lightly covered with soil. The depth that suits each seed type is covered here
  6. Wash your hands.

How to raise seedlings

how to raise seedlings

  • Be patient and gentle with seeds. 
  • Don’t sow seeds too deeply, as they may not be strong enough to break through the soil and will never grow up to be plants. Let the size of the seed guide you: bury a seed no deeper than twice its own height. Tiny seeds like lettuce should just be pressed into the soil. 
  • Seeds need a warm soil temperature to grow, and won’t sprout at all if it’s too cold. Keep seeds in a sunny spot inside, and move to a warm spot overnight. For example, a sunny window-sill is good during the day, and the top of the fridge is ideal overnight.
  • When seedlings are popping out of the soil, give them bright but indirect light. Direct sun will fry them, and shady corners will stretch and strain them unnecessarily.
  • Water your seedlings in the morning, so the soil can dry out during the day and the plants don’t sit in damp soil all night.
  • If your seeds aren’t sprouting and you suspect it’s because it’s too cold, give them some extra heat: move your seedling pots to the top of your fridge, or create a mini-hothouse by putting each seedling pot in an upside down glass jar.
  • If you’re shifting your seedlings into pots, use a good seed-raising or potting mix. Don’t use your garden soil because it’s likely to be full of weed seeds and fungal infections.

How to re-pot your Little Garden seedling

  • If your Little Garden seedling grows too big for its seedling pot before its warm enough to plant it outside then you’ll need to re-pot it in a larger pot. A sign that your seedling needs re-potting is if you can see the roots of the plant growing through the drainage hole at the bottom of the seedling pot.

  • If you are transplanting your seedling into a pot as an interim measure, use a small or medium-sized pot. If you are planning to grow your seedling in a pot for a long while, then use a pot that’s big enough for what you are trying to grow. Crops like lettuce and herbs will cope in relatively small and shallow containers, but in tomatoes and vining crops (like cucumberspumpkins and watermelons) need a pot that’s at least 50cm in diameter. In general the bigger the pot, the better.

  • If you’re shifting your seedlings into pots, use a good seed-raising or potting mix. Don’t use your garden soil because it’s likely to be full of weed seeds and fungal infections.

  • To re-pot your seedling, fill the bottom two-thirds of your pot with potting mix and ease your Little Garden seedling out of its seedling pot - try not to disturb the soil around the roots. Place your seedling in the centre of the pot and fill the space around it with more potting mix, pressing it down with your hands. When the soil around the plant is firm, gently water, making sure you don’t wash soil away from the roots of your newly planted seedling.

  • The seedling pot is biodegradable, so you can also plant the seedling and the pot straight into the soil, as the wood pulp should break down and allow the roots of your seedling to push right through it. To assist the pot breaking down, soak the whole pot thoroughly in either water or a very diluted liquid seedling fertiliser, before planting it in the soil. Make sure the biodegradable pot is completely covered and the top lip is not left sticking out of the ground, as it will act as a moisture wick and draw water away from the roots, where it is needed.

Know your soil

know your soilFind out what kind of soil you have in your garden with these easy tests

Test 1: Get your hands dirty

  • Take a handful of damp soil and roll it between your fingers, then open your hand. 
    • If the soil forms into a solid sausage, you have clay soil. 
    • If it falls apart as soon as you open your hand, you have sandy soil
    • If it holds together at first but falls apart when you poke it, you have loam: this is good soil for growing pretty much everything.

Test 2: Get scientific (white lab coat optional)

  • Get a jam jar, and fill it about halfway with soil. Add water, put the lid on the jar and shake it for a few minutes. 
  • Leave the jar for a few hours so the soil can settle into layers, then carefully inspect the size of the layers that form: the bottom layer is sand, the middle layer is silt and the top layer is clay. Good soil is 40% sand, 40% silt and 20% clay. 

Test 3: Check the pH levels

Knowing the acidity levels of your soil can be useful for …..

  • To find out your soil's pH level (whether your soil is acidic or alkaline) start with two jam jars and put a handful of soil in each. 
  • Add ¼ cup of vinegar to one jar. If the mixture bubbles, your soil is alkaline. 
  • Add ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of water to the other jar. If the mixture bubbles, your soil is acidic. 
  • If neither jar bubbles your soil has neutral pH of about seven, and this is ideal for most plants.

Make your own fertiliser

make your own fertilizerFertiliser is packed with nutrients your Little Garden needs to grow. Here's a couple of fertiliser recipes you can make at home.

Make sure an adult is with you at all times while preparing or using plant spray. 

 

Seaweed fertiliser

Seaweed is packed with the nutrients your Little Garden crops need.

To make your own fertiliser, gather seaweed from your local beach (check your council restrictions first, because collecting seaweed is prohibited on some beaches), and wash it to remove excess salt. Put it in a lidded barrel, then fill with water. Drill a few holes in the lid and seal the barrel.

After a couple of months, stir it and dilute it with water so it’s the colour of weak tea and apply to any plants needing a boost.

Make sure you put a lid on the barrel and place it downwind of your house as this stuff stinks.

Milk and baking soda spray

pest protection sprays2This milk and baking soda spray will slow down or prevent fungal infections that might affect some of your Little Garden crops, particularly in late summer and autumn. 

Make sure an adult is with you at all times while preparing or using plant spray.

The first symptom of a fungal infection is a white or grey film or spots appearing on the plant leaves. If you see anything like that, remove the affected leaves and apply this spray on the whole plant as often as required. If your plants are affected by fungal infections, you’ll need to keep treating them until the end of their lives, as the spray won’t stop the infection, only slow it down and allow any fruit on the plant to ripen.

If you’re using this spray to prevent an infection, spray plants weekly and reapply after rain.

Ingredients

  • 500ml full-fat homogenised milk 
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda 
  • 4.5 litres warm water 
  • A squirt of washing up liquid

Method

  1. Mix all ingredients and pour into a spray bottle.
  2. Go out and spray your plants.

Pest protection

pest protection spraysIf you notice your plants going missing or having holes or bite marks, you could have a pest problem. Tender seedlings are a tasty treat for slugs, snails, birds, rabbits and other pests, so be vigilant. 

  • Use bait to stop slugs and snails or go out at night when they’re most active and pick them off and squash them.
  • Use bird netting or chicken wire as a physical barrier against hungry rabbits and birds.
  • Make dome covers (called cloches) for delicate plants like lettuces, by cutting a large plastic bottle in half. Just put each half over your plant, and you’ve made a safe place for your plant to grow under. Put some soil around the cloche to stop it from blowing away. Plus, the bottle will act like a mini greenhouse! Bonus.

 You can also make your own pesticides:

Planting and harvesting guide

Our handy guide lets you know when is the best time to plant your Little Garden seedling, when it should be ready for re-potting and when to harvest your crop.

Download a copy to save and print.

Planting calendar

Prepping your seedlings for life outdoors

prepping seedlings

  • Before you move your seedlings outdoors, they need to get used to life outside. This process is called hardening off: put seedlings in a warm and sheltered spot for 1-2 hours a day and return inside for the night. Do this for 4-5 days, leaving them outside for a little longer each day and gradually moving them into more direct sun, before you shift them out into the garden forever.
  • Hardening off is particularly important with heat-loving crops like tomatoes and basil. They won’t grow at all if you shift them out while the conditions are too cold, and a night frost will kill them off.

Rhubarb leaf bug spray

pest protection sprays3Rhubarb leaves contain oxalic acid, which is toxic for aphids but safe to use around bees. 

Make sure an adult is with you at all times while preparing or using plant spray.

Wear gloves when making and using this spray and don’t use the pot again in your kitchen. This mix breaks down quickly, so use it up within a couple of days. Do not use this spray on edible parts of edible plants, and wash your harvest before eating it.

Ingredients

  • 1.5kg rhubarb leaves 
  • 30g dishwashing liquid or soap flakes (don’t use laundry powder) 
  • 3.5 litres water

Method

  1. In a large old pot boil the roughly chopped rhubarb leaves, soap and water for 30 minutes. 
  2. Strain and cool the mixture, then pour into a spray bottle.
  3. Spray on plants affected by aphids, snails, slugs and caterpillars, coating the plant and ensuring you cover both sides of the leaves. Spray every two or three days, ideally on windless evenings, until the infestation is controlled. 

 

Soil basics

soil basics

  • Potting mix usually contains more nutrients than seed-raising mix. It also normally contains a fungicide and a wetting agent so it can hold water. It should also contain a controlled-release fertiliser which will feed your plant for up to six months and is a great choice if you plan to grow your Little Garden seedlings in pots.
  • There are special mixes available for growing just about every type of plant. These mixes contain the right combination of nutrients and is good soil growing conditions for a specific plant-type. You can use specialty potting mixes for your Little Garden crops or a general purpose potting mix.
  • Be careful around any bagged soil mix as there’s a small chance these can contain a harmful micro-organism that causes Legionnaires disease. Open bags slowly using scissors, rather than tearing them open, especially if the mix is dry, and keep the bag away from your face. Avoid using bagged mixes in unventilated indoor spaces. Wear gloves when handling potting mix and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.

 

  • If you’re growing your Little Garden crops in pots use a commercial potting mix. Soil from your garden can contain weeds’ seeds and spores that will cause fungal infections.
  • Commercial seed-raising mixes are a great choice for seedlings as most contain a fast-acting fertiliser to feed your plants and a fungicide to prevent fungal infections. Seed-raising mix also holds water around your plants’ roots without getting waterlogged and is suitable for seeds and seedlings, in pots and outdoors.

 

  • Compost is a great friend to the gardener, but don’t fill up your pots with compost and plant your seedlings directly in it as it’s too rich in nutrients and can burn your seedlings’ roots.
  • Compost is a great soil conditioner and adds important organic matter to your soil. Mix it in to your vege beds a week or two before you plan to plant your seedlings and keep adding it as they grow.

Soil fixes

soil fixes

  • Poor soil? Try growing your Little Garden crops in raised beds or in pots where you can use potting mix to give them the nutrients and drainage they need. 
  • Improve heavy clay soil by digging in Gypsum and compost and mixing in bought topsoil to the upper layer before you plant.
  • Improve light, sandy soil by adding organic matter.
  • Adding organic matter (compost, but also aged manure, pea straw, any sort of organic mulch, green manure and lots of other things) is a great way to improve soil structure regardless of what sort of soil you start with.

The birds and the bees and pollination

birds bees2Without pollination, plants wouldn’t produce fruit, and flowers wouldn’t bloom, so to have lots of crops we need to encourage pollination. Some plants (such as sweetcorn) use wind pollination, but most plants rely on other living things to move their pollen around.

  • Bees are among the most important pollinators, so it’s important to attract these busy workers to your Little Garden. Butterflies, moths, flies, birds and even small mammals can act as pollinators.
  • To get your garden buzzing, ensure you have plenty of flowering plants to attract bees and other beneficial pollinators. It’s good to have a wide variety of flowering plants so there’s always something in bloom: try planting marigolds, cosmos, salvia, alyssum, lavender, poppies and echiums in your garden too.
  • Bees are especially attracted to yellow, white and blue flowers, while butterflies prefer red, orange and purple blooms.
  • Extremely wet or cold weather while your plants are flowering can mean insects are less active, which can mean poor pollination and fewer fruit. In contrast, excessively hot and dry conditions can cause flowers to drop off which also affects your harvest, so be careful not to let your Little Garden crops dry out.
  • If you’re using sprays in your garden, even organic ones, use them in the evening when bees are not active, and don’t spray actively flowering plants.

 

Tips for growing your plants in pots

plant pot

  • The soil in pots dries out quickly so before you fill your pots with soil, line them with old plastic bags to keep water in the soil around the roots of your crops. Put a few holes in the plastic bags first or else your Little Garden seedlings will drown.
  • If you are growing in pots, bigger is better as the smaller the pot the more quickly it will dry out and the more careful you will have to be about watering.
  • When watering crops in pots, set your hose to the softest setting or use a watering can otherwise you risk blasting the soil away.

Watering

watering

  • To ensure seedlings get all the water they need, create slow-release watering tanks: take a large plastic drink bottle (1.5-2 litres works best) and cut off the bottom. Leave the cap on the top, and carefully poke a few holes in the top third of the bottle, then bury the bottle in your vege patch (with the open end facing out of the ground). Fill the bottle with water. It will slowly seep into the soil right where it’s needed by your thirsty crops.

  • With most plants, once they are established, a deep watering once or twice a week is better than a light sprinkle of water every day. It will encourage your plants to send their roots deep into the soil and that makes them less vulnerable during dry spells.

  • Water only where it’s needed. Sprinklers might seem like a labour-saving option, but they give weeds water too. It’s better to water slowly at the base of the crops you want to grow.

Weeds

weedsWeeds compete with your crops for the available water and nutrients, so make sure they don’t get a foothold in your garden.

  • Use a paper barrier: before you plant, put wet newspaper several pages thick, or wet brown cardboard over the bare soil. Cut holes where you want to plant your Little Garden seedlings. The paper barrier will help stop weeds getting established around your crops.
  • A free, organic and effective weedkiller is boiling water. Every time you boil the kettle, pour whatever is left in the jug on weeds popping up in paths or cracks in concrete, or over lawn weeds like dandelions (although do so carefully as it will kill your lawn too).
  • To maintain a weed-free Little Garden, check for weeds often: smaller weeds are easier to deal with than large and established ones. If you don’t have time to pull out the weeds, cut off any seed heads you see and throw them away in your rubbish, not your compost.

Your questions answered

Are you looking for some expert advice to get your Little Garden growing? Send us your question and we’ll put it to our Little Garden community and gardening expert to answer - questions are normally responded to within a couple of days. Or, feel free to browse around and view our existing questions and answers.  For all school related queries, please email hello@schoolkit.co.nz  

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