IF YOU’RE the kind of person who loves growing a few vegetables in the back yard, but have no idea whether you should be planting beetroot or tomatoes at this time of year, you’re really not alone.
Few could deny the feeling of satisfaction derived from tucking into a meal bursting with home grown vegetables, but like anything in life, practise makes perfect when it comes to a verdant veggie patch.
But any inexperienced gardener would likely know the disappointment that comes from heading to a nursery that sells seedlings well out of season and planting corn at the beginning of winter.
Instead of the juicy big cobs you envisioned, you get three months down the track to find a few scrabbly stalks with heads that would barely qualify as baby corn.
To help avoid this confidence-killing situation, Hampton garden guru Justin Russell has plenty of tips on what we should be up to in our patches at this time of year.
Mr Russell reckons winter has a bit of an undeserved bad reputation as a season for gardening and is, in many ways, better than summer.
It’s a time to replenish your soil, take care of any minor pruning, plant out green manure crops in your dormant beds and of course, get your crops in for spring.
Mr Russell said the first step in deciding what to plant and where should be figuring out whether you’re in a warm temperate area or a cold temperate area.
His own small acreage property is at Hampton and easily classifies as cold temperate and frost-prone, but there are certainly parts of Toowoomba and surrounds that stay a tad warmer.
If you don’t get frosts in your patch, you’re most likely in a warm temperate zone and will have a little more freedom to get your spring seedlings out earlier.
It’s not all bad news for those in the cooler zones, because it means you can still be planting collards like kale, broccoli and cabbage right now, where those in the warmer areas may have just missed the boat.
Mr Russell said there are plenty of things out there that will happily grow through winter, albeit a little slower than in spring or autumn.
“Right now you can plant things like broad beans, peas and snow peas, but they sometimes take a while to get going in the cold,” he said.
“These are also really easy to grow and you can sow most legume seeds straight into the soil because they’re large and sprout easily.”
The second step is to improve your soil with some compost and/or some aged manure, which will have your seedlings reaching for the skies in no time.
As mentioned earlier, you can also throw a green manure crop in any dormant beds.
These are annual fast growing crops, usually a legume (a pea or bean) combined with a grass (barley, oats and sorghum are perfect), that are grown to build both organic matter and nitrogen levels to improve the soil.
There are huge benefits to planting out the odd green manure crop including the possibility of breaking a disease cycle, improved soil structure, attracting beneficial insects, increasing organic matter and water efficiency, and they can even smother persistent weeds.
“I always use a mustard green in my green manure crops as well because they function as a natural biofumigant,” Mr Russell said.
Last on your list of things to do in the veggie patch is the all-important planting stage.
Check out our planting guide below for a few hints on what you can put in your patch and what you should be getting ready to plant in the next month or so.
New things to try
Why not step outside the box and try planting a few new things in your garden? Here are some ideas for interesting things that grow in our area, taken from Maleny organic seed company, Green Harvest (www.greenharvest.com.au). Not all of them are ideal at this time of year, but keep them in mind for your spring and summer plantings.
- Cape gooseberry – Enjoy the tart fruit straight off the bush or turn it into jam. Sow now.
- ‘Popcorn’ corn – This one speaks for itself. Grow your own popping corn at home, or harvest this variety early to use as baby corn in stir-fries. Sow around September/October for this area.
- Mexican sour gherkin – Fruit are about the size of grapes, look like a tiny watermelon and taste like lemony cucumbers. Eat them raw in salads, cook them in stir fries or pickle them. The plant is also incredibly hardy. Sow direct in spring.
- Soybean (edamame) – A large-seeded variety of soybean eaten as a vegetable. In Japan these are commonly served lightly cooked and sprinkled with salt to go with a beer. Sow late spring to summer.
- Amaranth grain – An ancient Aztec food grain that is higher in protein than wheat or rice. It grows vigorously and tolerates drought and heat. It is pest-resistant. Cook it like porridge, pop it like popcorn or grind it into flour. Sow late spring to summer.
- Jicama (climbing yam bean) – A climbing plant from Central America with a delicious, sweet, crisp tuber, which can be eaten raw or cooked. Sow this in early summer for this area.
- Luffa – Most of us are more familiar with these in their dried form, which are commonly used as an exfoliating bathroom sponge. You can eat the young fruit like you would any squash variety and keep the more mature ones for your own natural bath sponges. Sow in spring.
What you should be planting now
- Beetroot, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, peas, radish, snow peas, strawberries, spring onions, spinach, silverbeet