Ask and ye shall receive (free advice!)

'Tomatoberry' cherry tomatoes: super sweet (and even sweeter when they're self-sown freebies from last season).

‘Tomatoberry’ cherry tomatoes: super sweet (and self-sown from last season).

Gosh, time flies when you’re having… ahem, babies.

It has been almost 18 months since I last updated this blog. Suffice to say that when you’re juggling a writing career, a bit of broadcasting, a ridiculously large garden, two toddlers, a husband (not that I could actually juggle mine, what with him being 6ft4in tall and tipping the scales at 115kg), two kunekune pigs, eight chooks, four cats, two dogs, some cattle and a dozen or so sheep… life gets a bit busy for blogging too.

But my youngest son, Lachie, turned two yesterday, and when he blew out the candles on his (storebought) birthday cake, I was sure I could see the light at the end of the toddler time-evaporating tunnel (I’ve even ceremoniously biffed the high chair and given the cot away), so I’m back.

Apologies to all of you who have asked unanswered questions in my absence (though I’m not so sorry about the 278,853 spam messages in my trash). And with that in mind, I thought we could kick things off with a free-for-all gardening advice session. Got a tricky question? Hit me with it!

Here’s a perplexing problem of my own. In my absence, I also developed a serious contact allergy to tomato plants. (I know, who has ever heard of a gardening writer who was allergic to tomatoes?) But I can’t touch them without my hands swelling up and erupting in an angry, and insanely itchy, rash of blisters. I should know better, but this morning I picked a lovely basket of self-sown ‘Tomatoberry’ cherry tomatoes. And I thought I was careful, but I wasn’t careful enough, which is why I am up late on the computer instead of sleeping. It’s either type or scratch my hands off.

36 thoughts on “Ask and ye shall receive (free advice!)

  1. Yes its great to have you back where you can ask questions. Kumara….. your advice a few years was really good and the grow tops well but am I meant to trim the runners so that they grow bigger tubers? Thanks Linda G (Hunterville)

    • Hi Linda,
      The trick with kumara is… to pray to the weather gods for a long, hot summer. If you get the runners in after the last frosts, you then just have to keep your fingers crossed that they’ll grow fast enough to fatten up the tubers sufficiently by harvest time. You don’t need to trim the rampaging vines but it helps to lift them up every now and then to stop them producing too many aerial roots. When they do this, they peg themselves down and run off for another couple of metres, wasting valuable energy that should be being stored in those lovely kumara.

  2. Hi Lynda. Sorry to hear that. It’s a bugger (plus more choice words) when there is nothing u can do. Maybe wear gloves but who wants not to feel all the lovely textures of home grown fruit. I don’t even wear them for weeding cause invariable I pull out more plants than weeds so up the gloves !!!

    Hope you get better soon. Just had to tell u that Lachie is gorgeous – no doubt takes after his mum just like my gorgeous boys.

    Look fwd to seeing you again at another gardening function. X

  3. I have recently moved to Hunua and want to put in an Orchard, the property is on a north facing slope and as you probably know is mainly clay. Do you have any suggestions on planting techniques? Or varities best suited to the Hunua area?

    • Hi Amie,
      Welcome to the ‘hood! My advice would be to dig a pretty good sized planting hole (at least four times the size of the rootball) and work in lots of compost to loosen up that clay before you plant. Plant in winter, when the trees are dormant. If possible, don’t just plant varieties grafted onto dwarf rootstock as we get some wicked winds here and the trees won’t have the roots to hold themselves upright (most of my pears and apples are on a lean now). The varieties that do best for me? ‘Granny Smith’ apples (awesome flavour and nothing like the bland ones in the supermarket), ‘Sultan’ and ‘Damson’ plums, ‘Beurre Bosc’ pears, ‘Blackboy’ peaches, ‘Healy’s Peacherines’ and ‘Mabel’ nectarines. You’re welcome to pop up the road and look at my trees sometime. I take the approach that you should plant fruit trees then step away. Don’t water, feed or pamper them. If they can’t make it on their own from day one, they never will. Also, join the local branch of the( They’re a great bunch of generous gardeners with local knowledge.

  4. So wonderful that you’re back!! You were sorely missed. Lovely surprise to find a post from you in my inbox this morning. Love hearing about your life in general. You’re kinda my idol and girl crush… 🙂

  5. That is pretty bad. How do you go eating them, or is it only the leaves you’re allergic to? I would wear gloves and then have a shower, but is that worth it…. you might have to stop growing tomatoes.

    • Hi Joanne,
      It’s only the foliage. I have started wearing gloves (mostly because now that I’m 40, my hands are getting wrinkly and the dirt gets stuck in the wrinkles hehe), and yes, a good wash down afterwards is advised. This year I didn’t plant any tomatoes; I got my friend Fiona to plant them for me, and tie them up out of my way, but it’s hard to completely avoid the leaves when you’re picking the scrumptious sun-ripened fruit!

  6. Hi Linda, welcome back, and congratulations on your little ones 2nd birthday. It is very hard being a busy mum, and being so thinly spread out. No gardening questions today, just wanted to Welcome you back and I hope that allergy clears up soon. I never considered that one could become allergic to tomatoes over time… and i do empathise. Have a lovely day. Chonel Chapman, retirement village gardener, mum, avon rep, d.i.yer hahaha.

    • Hi Chonel,
      Thanks. Apparently it’s reasonably common for people who work in tomato hothouses to eventually develop contact allergies to the plants too. Mine developed really rapidly last season and I ended up on a cocktail of steroids and antihistamines. I was hoping it was a one-off, but sadly no! Sounds like you’re pretty busy too!

  7. Hi Lynda. Thanks for the garden tour earlier this month. Very interesting. I liked your slices of tree trunk under your pumpkins. I’ll be doing this too for my very first pumpkins to keep them from the damp. Re the allergy – years ago in ChCh as a child I weeded Mum’s garden and got rid of the nightshade. Unfortunately it was damp and I came out in blisters on my hands and arms. Cycled to Public Hospital and we decided it was an allergy to nightshade – is this from the tomato/potato family? These days I often wear thin plastic surgical gloves in the garden as it prevents getting hands so dirty – easier than the fabric or knitted gloves. Great to see you back here, thanks.

  8. There’a a really good soothing cream on the market, its Pawpaw (red tube) from Aussie, I think, & I’ve seen it work miracles on sore skin. Doesn’t help the actual problem, but might give some relief. 🙂

    • Hi Linda,
      Yes – it’s called Lucas’ Pawpaw Cream (I know this because we used it on my son Lucas’ butt when he was a baby!). It’s great once the itching phase passes and the horrible healing/cracking bit kicks in. Which will hopefully be soon!

  9. Hi Lynda, Are you battery run? I don’t know how you manage to find the time for all that work. Overalls, gloves and boots is all I can suggest.
    On the subject of tomatoes – 2013 my tunnelhouse tomatoes got the wilt virus. I replaced the soil with a fresh clean lot and still 2014 same thing happened. The tomatoes growing outdoors are fine.
    What can I do so I can grow them in the tunnelhouse again. Maybe I have to stick to peppers in future as they grow well.

    • Hi Linda,
      I’ve never had a wilt virus attack (thankfully) but there are a couple of things you can do. The first is to give your tunnelhouse a good scrub out this winter. The second is to bomb the place with an insecticide to get rid of any sap-sucking pests such as thrips that can act as a vector for the virus. And the third is to grow your tomatoes directly in bags of fresh tomato mix (cut slits into the bags) next season. And if none of that helps, take a full year off tunnelhouse tomatoes (and peppers and potatoes, as they’re in the same family).

  10. Thrilled that you are back. Sorry about the tomatoes. What about other plants in the same family? Be careful of the solanums.


    • Hi Di,
      So far, only tomatoes, but I am nervous around courgettes and pumpkins too, as they have that same sort of irritating foliage. I wonder if I should be extra careful around my pepper crop too. Gloves it is from now on!

  11. Welcome back Lynda! I wear an old, long-sleeved cotton shirt with my gloves pulled up over the cuffs when weeding in my zucchini and cucumber beds, otherwise my arms itch and come out in red, sore blotches. Ouchies. Added bonus of keeping the sun off, too.
    I love seeing the things you manage to achieve – hugely inspiring and motivating. You must fall asleep before your head hits the pillow every night!

    • Hi Ange,
      It has been such a hot summer that when I do wear gloves and long sleeves I end up sweating so much that my sunglasses need windscreen wipers! At this time of the year I do sleep pretty well 🙂

  12. I sympathise Lynda! I too suffer from this allergy, it is very frustrating for a tomato fanatic! Nothing has worked for me either…except ALWAYS wearing long cuffed ansell washing up gloves (as you may have found out, when the fabric of gardening gloves gets wet the tomato ‘allergen’ seeps through and I end up with the blisters) when dealing with tomato plants….the neighbours must think I am mad, especially on 36’days!!

    • Hi Rachel,
      I am also intolerant to those lightweight latex gloves (and sticking plaster, but I promise those are the only peculiar allergies I have!!) Every time I take the kids to the doctor I pinch a handful of the latex-free ones, but they make your hands sweat so much in the heat! I’m sure my neighbours think I’m loop-de-doop already, what with gardening at dawn and again at dusk with a headlamp on!

  13. Last year the potatoes in one bed had a mystery ailment. When you cut them the flesh looked watery and had brown speckling, They were also crisp to cut. I didn’t plant any potatoes in that bed this year but some came up anyway and they have the same problem. Any ideas?

    • Hi Penny,
      Sad to say but you’re describing the exact symptoms of a tomato-potato psyllid infection. These irritating and destructive pests were first found in NZ in 2006 and have since spread over much of the country. They have bad dental hygiene and infect potatoes, tomatoes, tamarillos and capsicums with a bacteria that causes (among other things) yellow foliage, rotting fruit, poor yields and the condition known as “zebra chipping”, where potato tubers turn brown in the centre when cooked. I deal with this problem by only growing early season spuds. The psyllid is at its worst from late January, so I make sure all my spuds are harvested by then. You can also spray with Mavrik from Yates, but you have to spray the undersides of the leaves, and religiously: every fortnight.

  14. Hi Lynda
    So glad to have you back again. I am appreciative of your advice & wisdom in all media. I do have a query re rhubarb. Mine is large & healthy looking & only a year old. However there is little or no red on the stalks. I’m not sure of the variety. Could it be s ‘green’variety or is there something lacking. It faces north.
    Thankyou Kathy

    • Hi Kathy,
      Some rhubarb strains are definitely much redder than others, but I am currently pondering this very same perplexing issue, as I have an entire bed of rhubarb that I put in as a trial. They were all very red when they went in, but they are mostly green now. Go figure. Too much nitrogen? Could be. I am going to ask expert rhubarb growers to find out, and when I know, I shall report back!

  15. Hi Lynda, I have a question about our supposedly ‘dead’ lime tree. We hauled it out of its pot and stuck it behind the garage about 6 months ago after it appeared to ‘die’ from something eating its main trunk. Now it seems to be alive with shoots growing out of the ‘dead’ trunk. Is it worth giving it another shot? Or best to just buy another. I would love to save it – it was a wonderful fruiter!

    • Hi Steph,
      Citrus trees can definitely return from the dead, however you’ll never get a nice shaped tree again. More of a multi-stemmed bush, and it will take about four or five years to get back to a fruiting size, so possibly better to cut your losses and buy a new tree (do save the runt, though). Just be careful that it’s not the rootstock resprouting. If the leaves are split into three (trifoliate) and the stems are very thorny, that’ll be the rootstock, not the original tree. You can, however, take cuttings from the rootstock and have a crack at grafting your own citrus later on…

      • Thanks for your great advice Lynda,
        yes, time to buy a new tree, methinks. I always love an excuse to visit a garden centre!

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