If your vegie patch is anything like mine at the moment, it’s probably looking pretty battered and bruised from the constant deluge of summer/autumn rainfall. It’s turned most of our summer crops to mush, so the time has come to bite the bullet, and clear the last of these struggling plants to make way for something new. I’m talking winter crops folks, and there are so many options in this change of season… in fact I think it is the most rewarding time of year for subtropical vegie growing.
At the top of the list would have to be the cabbage family, including all forms of cabbages, broccoli, kale, cauliflower… and just a note on caulies, it’s vital you get seedlings in a.s.a.p. because they need a good three months of cool weather to form a nice plump head. It’s also important to protect all of this family from the cabbage white butterfly… they’re busy laying eggs at the moment, and when their young emerge, they can destroy your crops in a matter of days. Friendly bio-products like Dipel and Success work well in keeping numbers down, but this year I am throwing a fine net over all of my cabbage crops to keep adult butterflies away so they lay their eggs elsewhere.
Root crops love this season, so I’m busy planting beetroot, carrot, radish, turnip and parsnip… and if you’re on the coast where there’s no frost and winter temperatures are fairly constant, then this is the ideal time to dig in some spuds. I like to use a method where you actually don’t bury the spud at all. Instead, I simply place the seed potato on the surface of the prepared soil and cover it with mulch… that allows me to drag the mulch back from time to time to steel a few ‘new’ potatoes for the pot while the plants are still growing.
There’s still time to plant beans, but it’s their cousins peas and snow peas that truly savour the cool conditions. And if you want to have a go at broad beans, plant their seed straight away. They’re another crop that demands a few months of cool to allow time to develop their pods before temperatures rise again. You don’t need a trellis support for broad beans; they are largely self-supporting, as long as you plant them in a block of at least three short rows. However, it’s worth driving a stake into each corner of the block, and running some twine around the outside just to keep the plants in place when it gets windy.
It’s also a good time for onions in our climate, white, brown, red, spring onions… as well as shallots and my favourite, leeks. I don’t bother with seed, I prefer to buy a punnet full of seedlings ready to go, and you can be as rough as you like when separating these, then when it comes to planting, all you need to do is drag a trowel through your prepared soil to form a channel, drop your individual seedlings in the row then cover the roots with soil – job done. And if you want leeks or shallots with extra-long white stems, be sure to hill up some soil around the plants, gradually as they grow to deny the lower sections of light… that’s what turns them white.
You can go crazy with leafy greens right now: lettuce, rocket, pak choy, endive, Mizuna, silver beet… and don’t forget the superior English spinach… grab some seed of these and get them in the ground for many months of tasty fresh spinach leaves for pies, salads, soups and stir fries… and for winter herbs… if you love coriander, get planting, and make some room for some dill as well as some Florence fennel. There’s so much you can be planting right now, so make sure you get out and enjoy the season.