Hei Mahi Māra
Te Kaha o ngā Hua Raumati – The Power of Summer Fruits

A beginner’s guide to growing organic vegetables
Nā Tremane Barr

It looks like the spectre of COVID-19 will continue to haunt us for a while – and
I wrote about the kai with the vital nutrients necessary, such as vitamins A, D, C, zinc and selenium, to help keep the immune system strong in the last issue of TE KARAKA.

The good thing about summer is that we can look forward to berry fruits which provide a great vitamin C boost along with many other minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients crucial for our health. These include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries and boysenberries.

Most important right now is vitamin D and the best part is that at this time of year our bodies make it free when we are out in the sun. There is no better way to get a good dose than working in the māra (or at the beach)!

Strawberries are one of the easiest super fruit berries to grow and with some care and attention can produce prolifically during the summer. There are three main factors that contribute to keeping strawberry plants productive: they need to be well fertilised with compost and supplemented regularly with a liquid fertiliser once a week; they need watering; and regular weeding is important.

Some people use a weed mat when they plant their strawberries in winter and early spring, but I prefer not to use plastic. Straw is a good alternative as a mulch to keep moisture in the soil, the weeds away and the berries off the soil. Strawberries are packed with antioxidants that neutralise free radicals as well as promote the body’s own production of B12 and a delicious treat that always tastes best fresh from the māra.

Whether you grow them or just buy them, you can’t go past fresh berries as the ultimate summer health booster.

The good thing about summer is that we can look forward to berry fruits which provide a great vitamin C boost along with many other minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients crucial for our health.

Technically, tomatoes are also a fruit because they are seed bearing and develop from the ovary of a flowering plant just like cucumbers and zucchini.

However, from a nutritional perspective they can be categorised as vegetables due to their lower carbohydrate and sugar content. Tomatoes are the one crop I put the most effort into because they provide the best return. Compared with commercially grown tomatoes, you can’t beat growing your own, particularly with heirloom varieties that can suit your taste. Grow in pots in sunny spots if you don’t have a large space. I grow them in a tunnel house and outside because this gives the best balance of early and late tomatoes with plenty to go into the freezer for winter soups.

It also allows for a wide variety from productive staples like Money Maker, Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and Beefsteak through to heirlooms like Black Krim, Brandywine and Black Cherry.

The key to growing healthy and productive tomato plants, which are heavy feeders, is to ensure the soil is well fertilised. I start with lots of organic compost, mineral fertiliser, dolomite lime and blood and bone. It needs to be regularly supplemented with liquid fertiliser to the leaves as a spray and to the roots once the fruit is visible.

I usually alternate with one every other week. I use an organic seaweed for the liquid fertiliser spray because it also helps combat fungal growth. Biofeed Compost Tea is used on the soil around the roots and I add in Epsom salt from January onwards. January is also the time when tomatoes in the tunnel house need another layer of compost to allow fruit to be harvested until late May or early June.

Another key is regular watering. During the summer heat a long soak is much better than a quick squirt, although avoid waterlogging the roots. In a tunnel house this watering is done best by only applying it via the soil to avoid water getting onto the leaves as this encourages fungal growth. For this reason, tomato plants growing outside are best watered by sprinkler in the morning. This avoids the risk of fungus and other diseases starting on the leaves.

Plants also need to be well tied to stakes and/or string in the tunnel house, so they don’t collapse once the fruit starts growing. Side laterals need to be regularly pruned to keep growth focused on main stems which produce flowers. Without lateral pruning, growth becomes uncontrolled with little fruit.

Keep an eye on pests and diseases. Aphids and whitefly can pose a problem in a tunnel house and I use an organic pyrethrum spray when necessary. Companion planting with basil can help deter whitefly and alyssum helps attract aphid predators. There are organic sprays available to combat fungus, but I stick to feeding the tomatoes what they need and pruning diseased leaves as soon as I spot them.

It’s also important not to let the temperature get too hot in a tunnel house. Tomatoes don’t like it over 32deg for long periods of time.

Best of all tomatoes (and strawberries) from the māra are cheap and packed with nutritional vitamins, fibre and lycopene with its proven health benefits against cancer, diabetes and heart attacks. Bon appètit!

Hei Mahi Māra – Kai to Power up the Immune System

Tremane Barr is Ngāi Tahu/Kāti Māhaki ki Makaawhio. He has been gardening organically for more than 30 years. Tremane is currently a self-employed mauripreneur whose whānau owned and run business sells essential oils and natural skin care products containing native plant extracts: https://zurma.co.nz/