Week 7…Otago Polytechnic horticulture students hit the road!

What a great two days this week visiting the Waitaki Valley and Oamaru area, checking out the local horticulture and viticulture.

After enjoying the snow on the Lindis Pass, we saw a beautiful new winery near Kurow which is about to open, to process grapes from the Waitaki area. The new bottling plant will mean the winery is independent. The amazing purple timber on the winery floor certainly turned a few heads.Oamaru Trip 002Thanks to the Turners for our visit.

We learned lots from other visits to Oregon Nurseries and Headford Propagators. I especially enjoyed seeing  the tiny Oamaru Trip 013Pinus radiata seedlings being grown at Oregon Nurseries for their GF…(growth factor)and the organised seed storage area at Headford.


The tart cherries were the stars! Thanks so much to John Newlands for coming out and telling us about his unusual crop. It was great to try the freeze dried product and the frozen pitted Montmorency cherries- they disappeared in no time!

  Pricking out

Back in the Nursery after our Field Trip, we checked all our seedling trays, thinned basil and coriander pots, and decided what was ready to prick out into punnets. We were looking for seedlings with their first true leaves appearing.So there were trays of geraniums, dianthus and pansies ready to go on to the next stage. Remember to lever the seedling out with a tool, handle only by one cotyledon and pop into a preformed hole in the punnet, made with a dibber.

We deadheaded our hanging baskets for the last time, as they need to start flowering now ready to go out into the township of Alexandra for the Annual Blossom Festival. Great effort for our local community.

In the afternoon we dug heaps of raspberry suckers to pot up. The variety was ‘Autumn Bliss’,which flowers and fruits on the tips of one year old primocanes late in the season.For autumn raspberries, after primocanes have finished fruiting, all canes are removed. The following season, new primocanes grow and bear fruit on the tips in autumn. The first crop can be harvested eight months after planting, so a return is achieved in the first growing season.

All for now…see you all in the nursery next week!


Week 6….pricking out is starting

Whew…what a busy practical day today! I won’t list all the jobs we did.

After a close inspection of all our sowings, we moved trays of germinated seedlings through to GH4 for hardening, and then began pricking out our spring crop- do not feel left out if you didn’t do any, as there are millions more to do.

Geraniums were beautifully sown by Rebecca and Sebastian, making a much easier job to prick into punnets. Remember we are using a special mix for our punnets with Osmocote mini 3-4 month CRF.

Ben and Cindy pricked out Arbutus unedo seedlings from seed they had harvested, extracted, sown and germinated themselves. Good job – well done; make sure you write up in prop book.

Chris and Suzette and Ken did herbaceous cuttings of Anthemis punctata var.cupaniana, (pictured below R) into sand, with Seradix No. 1 hormone to aid the rooting. Remember herbaceous plants never get woody.

The group pricking out the Cyclamen hederifolium (pictured on the L) did a terrific job, to the extent of lining all the first leaves in one direction. Sreekumar, I am worried about your perfectionist streak.We enjoyed seeing the lovely white marbled markings on the tiny leaves, and noticed how differnt some of them were

Our deciduous hardwood cuttings (table and ornamental grapes) were well rooted, and potted into 1.5 litre pots. Good to get them done before too much leaf movement.


Viaksh and Maju and their team worked in the hydroponics, putting in chives, parsley and strawberry runners.

The big crew weeded in the peony patch, practising their seedling weed ID…millions of tiny cleavers coming up.

Ken potted up his banksia rose cuttings – awesome! Won’t be long before they look like this Ken.

Now I have a question for you all…below is a seed pod of a species of plant we pricked out today.

Any ideas what plant this is from ???????

Seedpod photo John Lonsdale

Week 4..spring seed sowing galore

Suzette sowed Antirrhinum 'Madame Butterfly'

Suzette sowed Antirrhinum 'Madame Butterfly'

Geranium 'Maverick Appleblossom' which Sebastian sowed
Geranium ‘Maverick Appleblossom’ which Sebastian sowed

Only 72 days until our Giant Plant sale on October 24th, so time to start sowing all the annual flowers, vegetables and herbs!

Everybody got involved after we went over the seed sowing techniques, and we sowed geraniums, delphiniums, dainthus, pansies, lobelias, snapdragons, liatris, chives, Italian and triple curled parsley, basil and coriander.

As I write this four days after our practical day on Thursday, the geraniums are coming up!!! Very speedy seeds. Rebecca sowed the white geraniums which will go to a local client’s wedding venue (no pressure Rebecca!). Suzette sowed Antirrhinum ‘Madame Butterfly’, which are quite small seeds, using our special fine white sand to guide her sowing.

A big team sowed mixed basil seeds directly onto 1.5 litre pots, and a batch of coriander pots. These will be used for snip and eat herbs for kitchen windowsills.

How much covering to put on the seeds??  A perennial question when sowing seeds…too much and the seed may not make the surface; too little and the young root may push the seedling up off the mix surface. We used a light covering of fine grade vermiculite, deeper on larger seeds. The largest seeds need some seed raising mix on top of them.

Hellebores are glorious herbaceous perennials which flower in very late winter and early spring

Hellebores are glorious herbaceous perennials which flower in very late winter and early spring


The days are getting longer, the weather milder and the willows are greening.

Snowdrops and crocuses are out in my garden, and hellebores are flowering outside the potting shed door on the campus.Make sure you have a look inside their nodding  flowers – they are beautiful.

Roll on spring!!

Week 2 – end of July and it is hot :-)

So hot that Gandhi ALMOST had his black jacket off today!

We have had a great productive day in the nursery, beginning with filling hanging baskets with dried sphagnum liners, potting mix and many colours of pansies..red, blue, orange, white and yellow. We used 72 punnets in 35 baskets. Crystal rain, an absorbent polymer was wetted and incorporated in the mix to help buffer the moisture when the baskets are hanging in Alexandra for the Blossom Festival. A great effort by the students for our community. Well done everybody – what a team!

Will our baskets look like this?
Will our baskets look like this?


Pansies are cold tolerant annuals suitable for early spring colour
Pansies are cold tolerant annuals suitable for early spring colour

Sreekamur, Sunny and Gandhi made a terrific effort to finish cutting the inside of our x Cupressocyparis leylandii hedge around the nursery, with help from Ben.

Maju and Vikash led the team of Chris, Suzette, Michael (welcome to you today)in the Hydroponics, removing old crop, checking gully flows, checking CF, pH, and nutrient tanks, cleaning filters and sweeping. We also sowed seeds for new crop…lettuces, pak choi, curled parsley and Italian parsley, chives and chervil to keep up the supply to our chef students in the kitchen.
The rest of the crew potted cuttings  and seedlings we had prepared last term. Callum potted up Olearia laxiflora cuttings into 1.5 litre pots, and Sophora microphylla and Carex testacea seedlings were potted.It was great to see lots of roots poking out of trays in GH1, and that our sweet chestnut seed had completed stratification.CHITTING…say it carefully!!!!!! The lily scales have started producing bulblets also!
A big team worked hard to remove old cladding from our coldframe, wrestling with rusted nuts with spanners, hacksaws, and finally the drill. Well done for perservering. Murray our caretaker will put the new cladding on ready for hardening punnets for the spring sale.
What a great day…..roll on the spring!!!!!!!    🙂

Term 3, week 1 – Welcome back…spring is coming

Welcome back for term 3, and welcome to Chris, Rebecca and Suzette starting their studies with us in Semester 2.

Term 3 is traditionally a busy term for theory studies. It is important that you maintain your progress this term. If you are having any difficulties with your studies, meeting deadlines or with general course requirements, please contact your lecturers – they are there to help. Please note that term 4 is very short and full of practical units. It is difficult to catch up if you are behind going into term 4.

 The weather has been cold over the last term, in fact it is the coldest since the 1950/60’s. Hopefully this term will be warmer and by the end of term we will be well into spring conditions.

 There are a number of events and activities occurring this term, including:

  •  Students from the Philippines beginning catering course
  • Welcome back BBQ for students – lunchtime Wed 22nd July – all welcome
  •  Theory classes continuing for all programmes
  • New student toilets will be complete – thanks for you patience
  • Viticulture competitions for apprentices aiming to reach the national finals – 1 August – all welcome at Bannockburn Road for a day of events
  • Preparations for the October 24th plant sale gear up
  • Redevelopment of berries at Bannockburn Rd
  • Restoration classes begin for stonemasons
  • Turf work experience begins again
  • Block courses for Diploma in Hort and Vit students on-campus – please help them out if they look lost!

So there are a number of events and activities planned during the term. Please keep up to date of changes to your timetables via your lecturers and please note that there may be more snow events. Please ensure you have appropriate clothing for outdoor activities so that you can make the most of your practical sessions and our unique/beautiful climate.

 Have a great term, and its great to see you all back.

Week 9…lily scaling

Lilies are gorgeous! One of my favourite cut flowers.

Lilium regale is one of the most scented lilies, a native of China, discovered by the famous plant explorer, Ernest Wilson in 1903. This is the plant that he wanted to be remembered by.

Some people call this the Christmas lily, but more correctly that is Lilium candidum

Today we learned how to propagate Lilium regale from scales, by snapping the scale off at the base, ensuring part of the basal plate comes with the scale. We placed the scales in damp vermiculite, in a plastic bag loosely tied, then onto the heat bed at ~20 degrees Celcius. In about 6 weeks we should find small bulblets like peas forming along the broken edge of the scale.

 Progress report in six weeks time!

Learning to propagate lilies by scaling

Learning to propagate lilies by scaling

Lilium regale ready for scaling
Lilium regale ready for scaling

Week 8 …Jack Frost is here

Black currants grow on a bush and are high in Vitamin C

Black currants grow on a bush and are high in Vitamin C

A big high over the lower South Island…leading to radiation frosts, getting colder each night. Wednesday night was minus 5.5 C, and last night colder. My irrigation dam at home is frozen over for the second time this winter and we haven’t even reached the shortest day yet!

Yesterday we practised skills at making deciduous hardwood cuttings -batches of  black currants , figs and Virginia creeper cuttings were made.

Black currants grow well here and the health benefits of the fruit are amazing – there is a lot of research into nutraceutical products made from these intensely flavoured fruits.

Sebastian sowed Cotoneaster franchettii seed he had processed the previous week, and the tray went out to the shade house to chill and stratify the seed.

We also made the most of the sunny afternoon to spread schist chip mulch (20mm grade from the Gibbston quarry) on the newly renovated campus garden, which will keep weeds down and conserve moisture in our hot  dry summers.We also clipped Pittosporum and Griselinia hedges.

Thanks so much to Chris and Sue for the delicious soup and bread !!!

This week we also visited the local worm farm, Wormworx. A huge operation with an estimated 10 million employees, or tiger worms. We learned how vermicast is harvested from the worm beds, and where all the worm food comes from – apple pulp left over from the local juice factory, green waste from the supermarket etc.Maju seemed reluctant to touch a worm but Callum and Vikash were much braver. Thanks to Robbie for a great tour.

Some of the Wormworx employees - tiger worms galore

Some of the Wormworx employees - tiger worms galore