What to plant in June (Cool-Temperate climate)

 

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My greenhouse increases the variety of crops that I can grow over winter…and is a great place to potter on a cold, wet winter’s day.

June, being the start of winter and cooler weather, marks the start of a quieter time in the vegetable garden. There are some crops though that need to be planted now; it’s time to sow onion seed (brown, red, white and spring onions), sow a succession crop of english spinach, broad beans, snow peas and broccoli (in punnets). It’s also time to divide or plant asparagus crowns which are now dormant, as well as rhubarb, artichokes (Jerusalem and globe), shallots and chives.

If you are fortunate enough to have a greenhouse with vegetable beds to extend your growing season, then you can still plant out any of the seedlings from the May planting list into these beds. Lettuce, rocket and other salad greens as well as herbs such as dill, chervil, parsley and coriander will all thrive and give a regular harvest over winter in this protected environment.

 

 

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How to grow Yacon…the apple of the earth

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A good harvest of Yacon tubers all from one plant!

Resembling a sweet potato, Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is sometimes referred to as ‘the Peruvian ground apple’, an apt name for this crisp, sweet, underground tuber that can be eaten raw like an apple. This ancient-looking plant from the Asteraceae family, originated in South America and is grown for its sweet edible tubers which were known to be valued and cultivated by the Incas and are a staple in the diet of South Americans today.

I first started growing Yacon about fifteen years ago by planting a small rhizome bought from an online nursery. I instantly fell in love with this amazing plant after tasting the tubers from that first long awaited harvest. Since then I always grow some each year both in my own garden at home and my garden at work; where I love introducing new food gardeners to Yacon’s tasty tubers.

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A row of yacon plants in my garden at work

Yacon is an impressive plant, growing up to 2m in height with large arrow shaped furry leaves and small yellow daisy flowers which are produced in autumn. It is relatively easy to grow and can be grown in most mainland areas of Australia. Around the base of the stem of a Yacon plant, clusters of small rhizomes are produced which are very different in appearance to the larger edible tubers which form below.

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Purplish coloured rhizomes that form at the base of the stem, just below the ground, are used to propagate new Yacon plants

These rhizomes can be divided and planted out mid to late spring after the last chance of frost or when they start to sprout. Each plant produces many rhizomes, so there are always plenty of extras to share with other gardeners; once you have a Yacon rhizome you’ll never need to buy more. Plant rhizomes, containing a few growing sprouts, about a 70-100cm apart, a few centimetres below the surface, into deeply cultivated soil enriched with plenty of compost and manure.  Yacon requires a long growing season and will take 6-7 months to reach maturity (after flowering). Water regularly and consistently as sudden changes in moisture levels can cause the tubers to split.

yacon ready to harvest

Yacon’s less than impressive small flowers are dwarfed by the size of the rest of the plant…people often think my Yacon are very strange sunflowers

Harvest Yacon after the foliage dies back in winter after flowering, by carefully loosening the soil around the plant before easing the entire root system out of the ground.

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The edible tubers can then be snapped off from around the crown and the rhizomes kept and divided for a new crop. The edible tubers can grow up to 30cm long and weigh as much as 1.5kg. It’s not unusual to get twenty or more tubers from one plant. Allow them to dry in the sun and store in a dark cupboard for a week to sweeten further. Don’t wash them, but just brush the excess soil off before storing, they will keep for a few months.

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Rhizomes ready to be divided for planting out in spring after the last frost

Yacon has an interesting apple-carrot flavour with a texture similar to nashi pears. Tubers can be peeled and eaten raw, boiled or baked. The skin needs to be peeled off before eating as it can be a bit bitter. Once peeled the flesh discolours quickly so sprinkle it with a little lemon juice to prevent this and peel just before needing to add it to a meal. I love eating it just as I would an apple or pear, but it is also amazing cooked in a stir fry where it retains its crunchy texture and absorbs the flavours of the other ingredients. You’ll find many yummy recipe ideas online. Interestingly the main stem of the plant can also be eaten; it’s eaten like celery when young and traditionally the leaves were used to wrap other food during cooking.

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A tasty snack of Yacon slices (consumed while writing this blog post)

Despite its sweet taste, Yacon has a low kilojoule content and is high in fibre. It contains high levels of inulin, a form of sugar that is hard to metabolise making it a popular choice for diabetics. Inulin also aids digestion and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine. Yacon is a good source of antioxidants, contains a great balance of 20 amino acids and is high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. What more reasons do you need to give this amazing vegetable a go!

How to grow broccoli

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Broccoli and its fancier relatives (Brassica spp.) would have to be one of my favourite vegetables to grow, both for this nutritious vegetable’s many culinary uses and for its shear beauty. Most people are very familiar with the common supermarket variety of green broccoli, however less well known (and rarely available in supermarkets) are Broccoli Raab, Romanesco Broccoli and Sprouting Broccoli (with both green and purple varieties available).

Romanesco broccoli

Beautiful Romanesco broccoli with its spiralling patterns which are a natural representation of the Fibonacci sequence (one for all you math geeks!)

At home we eat broccoli several times a week and hence I try to grow it for most of the year. In our Melbourne climate this is possible if you plant seedlings every 4-6 weeks throughout spring, summer and autumn. Unless you have a greenhouse, seedlings planted in the cold of winter tend to struggle, so plant some extra throughout autumn to get them off to a flying start while there is still some warmth left in the soil. I avoid planting at the hight of summer too as seedlings often struggle with the high air temperatures. You may have some success planting into a garden bed shaded from the afternoon sun (by other plants or taller vegetables) at this time of the year.

the garden

The vegetable garden at the side of our house with many members of the Brassica family off to a good start before winter.

Broccoli and its relatives like a nutrient rich soil with plenty of compost and some organic fertiliser added and with a pH between 6.5 and 7 , to learn how to test your soil’s pH click the link- Testing the pH of your soil . You can sow seed in seedling punnets and transplant into your garden bed once your seedlings have their second set of true leaves (the first leaves to appear are seed leaves and look different to the true leaves). Plant your seedlings deeply (right up to the first true leaves) as plants can get top heavy and are prone to toppling over on windy sites. Most varieties of broccoli will need to be planted about 30cm apart however, sprouting and Romanesco broccoli, are large plants at maturity and may need to be planted 50cm apart.

During spring, summer and early autumn you can cover your broccoli plants with an insect exclusion tunnel (click this link to learn How to make an insect exclusion tunnel ) to protect them from the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly. Alternatively you can spray with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) sold under the name Dipel, which is a bacteria that acts as a stomach poison in caterpillars and is an allowable input in organic gardens. You will need to spray regularly though, wetting all leaf surfaces, as Bt washes off with rain and irrigation. Keep an eye out for aphids too, especially during warmer weather. They often appear if plants are stressed from lack of water or fed too much nitrogen, so make sure to water your broccoli regularly and don’t over fertilise. If aphids do appear you can spray with soap sprays or natural pyrethrum.

broccoli in May

Once the weather is cold enough (usually in May in Melbourne) you can take your insect exclusion nets off as the cabbage white butterflies are gone and your broccoli will benefit from the extra light and air flow.

Broccoli can take about three months to grow (depending on the time of year), before it is ready to harvest. With broccoli that forms a main head, once you harvest, leave the plant in the ground as you will get a second harvest of smaller side shoots. Sprouting broccoli forms many small florets that can be harvested as needed but are best harvested before the florets open up. Any broccoli heads that aren’t harvested and that flower are not wasted as the yellow flowers are edible and make a great addition to salads and stir fries and the bees love them too!

The art of procrastination…aka, taking photos of bees

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Most of us have busy lives these days and mine is no exception. As I work four days a week, the one weekday I’m home is usually crammed full of all the running around jobs that don’t get done on the weekend…paying bills, buying stuff needed for school projects, car servicing, housework (ugh!), however there is also gardening… walking the dog…watching the chickens and their antics…feeding the goats…observing the bees as they enter their hive…following an echidna as it waddles along our bush track…checking each snow pea seedling’s progress as it climbs up the trellis…yes, it’s easy to get distracted when there is so much life in the garden.

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So it’s not surprising that with a long list of things to get done today, not only am I now writing this blog post when I should be vacuuming the house, but I’ve spend the last hour following the bees around my garden, as they feed on the Salvia flowers, trying to get a good photo. The job might not have taken so long if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m trying to capture a creature which has no appreciation of the meaning of procrastination and hence doesn’t stop moving for one second as I try to get a photo, that is even remotely in focus, on my HTC mobile phone. So apologies to all you photographers out there for the quality of my photos, a great photo of a bee definitely requires a better camera.

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Nevertheless I thought I’d share these photos with you as for one, they took so long to take and secondly, it’s an opportunity to highlight the importance of having something flowering in your garden late autumn for the bees as they are heading into the cold months of winter.

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For autumn flowers you can try growing some of the larger winter flowering varieties of Salvia. They are not only a hardy and low maintenance plant to grow, but are a great source of pollen and nectar for bees on sunny, late-autumn days such as today. Some of my favourite Salvias are Pineapple sage (S. elegans), Mexican sage (S. leucantha), Salvia dorisiana and Salvia ‘Costa Rican Blue’.

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Tomatillos

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One of the best things about growing your own vegetables is that you can grow things you usually can’t buy at the local grocery store. Unusual vegetables are great to add interest to meals especially when cooking for your friends and family. One such vegetable I discovered a few years ago is the tomatillo (pronounced to-ma-TEE-yo). I recently gave a fruit to my sister to try and she’d never heard of them, which got me thinking they’d make a great topic for this blog.

Tomatillos, like tomatoes, are best planted in spring. I’m harvesting the last of our tomatillos at the moment in early May now that the weather is getting colder. They’ve managed to outlast the tomatoes which gave up a couple of weeks ago already. As the name suggests tomatillos are related to tomatoes and are native to central America, they are a must-have for any Mexican cuisine. The plants have a bushy sprawling growth habit and are best supported with stakes or mesh to keep the fruit clean and off the ground. Care for them as you would tomatoes. You will need two or more plants to get fruit for cross pollination as the plants aren’t self-fertile. Tomatillos are very prolific and three plants will provide you more than enough fruit for an average family. They grow very easily from seed, so save some seed from your fruit before the season ends to use for next year.

tomatillo bush

Tomatillo fruit develops in an inedible papery husk which eventually turns a tan/brown and splits when the fruit is ripe and about the size of a golf ball. Tomatillos have a citrusy, sweet-tart flavour and the flesh has the texture of an unripe tomato, but isn’t as juicy. I grow the purple tomatillo which starts of green and develops a purple blush when ripe. It is a little sweeter than the more common green tomatillo which is traditionally used for salsa verde. Leave the husks on until you are ready to eat the fruit as they store longer that way. You can store fruit on the kitchen bench or for up to two weeks in the fridge. Once you remove the husk, the fruit will feel sticky but this sticky coating simply washes off.