What to sow in September (Cool-Temperate Climate)

Spring seedlings

Nothing signals the arrival of spring more than blossoming fruit trees, a greenhouse bursting with vegetable seedlings waiting to be planted out and the birth of baby animals. However with a very cold winter behind us, don’t be too quick to plant out all your spring vegetable beds in the first week of spring, as we may have more cold weather to come. Staggering the sowing and planting of your crops throughout the growing season will also give you a more gradual harvest and helps to prevent getting caught with a glut of vegetables.

spring chickens

Our new Spring chickens are still a bit camera shy!

It’s still too cold outside too for our new additions to the hen house and they are keeping warm inside the shed until the temperatures outside become a bit more pleasant and their feathers have fully grown.

There are lots of sowing calendars available online for different climate zones, but really the best way to learn what to sow in your own garden is to take the advice given and then experiment a bit with your garden’s own particular micro-climate. In my garden I might plant a particular vegetable in a different month of the season depending on whether it’s going into my front or backyard vegetable beds or in the greenhouse, as they all have very different micro-climates.

Spring

Parsnips and Red Chard

My work garden is a certified organic vegetable garden (with NASAA) so I’m required to keep notes on what I’ve sown, when I’ve sown it, how much I’ve sown and what garden bed it went into. For my own information I also add notes on how well things grew or if there was any unseasonal weather or pest/disease problems. It sounds like a lot of work but really it doesn’t take that much time at all to record it on a chart and it has become a valuable tool to look back on when planning what to sow the following year. You can do something similar for your home vegetable garden and over time this will allow you to see what does and doesn’t work and you’ll create your own sowing calendar. Remember too that each year is a bit different, weather and pest wise, so don’t be disheartened if something doesn’t grow well, take notes, learn and try again the following year.

Seedlings ready to plant

Here’s what seeds you may want to sow into punnets in September for planting out later in Spring:

Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Asian Greens, Spinach, Silverbeet, Rainbow Chard, Leeks, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Eggplant, Capsicum, Chillies, Cucumber, Zucchini, Pumpkin, Squash, Celery, Endive, Spring Onions.

You can also sow directly into your vegetable beds the seeds of:

Radish, Carrot, Beetroot, Parsnip, Swedes, Turnips, Spring Onions, Peas, Snow peas, Rocket and Endive

You can plant out seedlings of:

Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Asian Greens, Spring Onions, Spinach, Silverbeet, Rainbow Chard, Leeks, Lettuce, Celeriac, Globe and Jerusalem Artichokes and Rhubarb.

September is also the time to plant more seed potatoes as well as most herbs.

Note: This advice is based on my experience in growing vegetables in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges areas.

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How to grow potatoes…

chitted potato

A chitted potato ready for planting

As a Dutch-born Australian my diet while growing up featured a lot of potato meals: curly kale mashed with potatoes, beetroot mashed with potatoes, carrots and onions mashed with potatoes, sauerkraut mashed with potatoes…you get the picture! As an adult I still love potatoes (and I still serve them up mashed with other vegetables from the garden) but now they taste even better as I grow them myself.

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A colourful variety of heirloom potatoes

There are many more varieties of potato available to home gardeners than the small selection of commercially grown ones you’ll find at the supermarket. Heirloom potatoes come in many different shapes and colours and  you may want to try some of these great heirloom varieties: Bintje, Burgundy Blush, Brownell, Kipfler, Pink Fir Apple, Purple Congo, Red Norland, Russian Banana, Salad Rose and Sapphire to name a few. To get started purchase certified disease-free seed potatoes (google heirloom seed potatoes in your country or state to find a retailer), this way you won’t risk introducing soil born pests and diseases of potatoes into your garden. These pests and diseases can also be prevented by not planting any vegetables in the Solanaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, eggplant and tomatillos) in the same garden bed each year, but have them on at least a 2-3 year rotation instead.

potato bed ready to plant

Potato bed ready for planting

It is time to plant potatoes once there is no more risk of frost in your garden. I plant in late August here (as my garden is protected from frost) and by the time the potato shoots emerge above the soil, spring has arrived. You can sow successive crops of potatoes throughout the warmer months here in Melbourne by choosing a cooler part of the vegetable garden to plant them in during summer, that way they won’t get heat stressed. Make sure though that the last sowing has at least three months to mature before the first frosts arrive in late autumn. The instructions below are for growing potatoes in the ground or a raised bed but you can also grow potatoes in cylinders made from chicken wire, in hessian sacks or in a no-dig garden.

potatoes laid out

It’s best to plant your potatoes 30cm apart in rows about 50 cm apart

Potatoes prefer a soil that is rich and free draining with plenty of organic matter, such as compost, added and some pelleted organic fertiliser. To plant your potatoes dig a trench about 20 cm deep and plant your seed potatoes 30 cm apart in rows of 50cm apart. Fill the trench with soil and hill soil up around the potato plants as they grow and emerge from the soil. Keep your potatoes well watered especially during the warmer months. When the plants get even bigger, spread straw thickly around the potato plants to exclude any light from getting to any potatoes that may be developing just under the surface of the soil. Potatoes exposed to sunlight will develop a green colour, which is chlorophyll and enables the potato to photosynthesise and sprout. At this stage it also develops a poisonous chemical called solanine which makes the potato taste bitter so animals are discouraged from eating it. You should therefore never eat potatoes that have developed green patches on their skins.

potato trench

Your seed potatoes should be planted about 20 cm deep as most of your potato crop will develop above the original seed potato.

Potatoes are usually ready to harvest in around 12 weeks after they’ve flowered and start to die back. If you have trouble waiting that long, you can harvest a few early potatoes by carefully digging around the base of your potato plant with your hands after about 8-10 weeks, but you’ll get a bigger harvest of larger potatoes if you’re prepared to wait! Once harvested, let the soil on your potatoes dry so you can brush most of it off and store your potatoes in a cool, dry and dark place. Don’t wash your potatoes before storing as this will make them more prone to developing rot during storage, the aim is to keep them as dry as possible. To store, you can put your potatoes in a hessian sack or in a cardboard box underneath a few layers of newspaper to exclude them from any light but still allow good air circulation. Any potatoes whose skins were cut or damaged during harvest should be eaten first and not stored with the rest of the potatoes. Regularly check your stored potatoes and discard any that develop rot. Stored properly your potatoes should stay good for at least 2-3 months.

Reconnecting with nature…no Wi-Fi required

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Nature can be breathtaking…don’t forget to look up!

Imagine a medicine that was not only free, but also had no adverse side effects, was available to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and which was guaranteed to improve your health and wellbeing within minutes. Surely we’d all take such a medicine everyday. Unfortunately many of us, absorbed in the day to day chaos of our technologically driven modern lives are forgetting to take our medicine…the restorative powers of the natural world.

My personal journey through life has been closely connected to the natural world. After many years of studying our animal, plant and marine environments at university, I am grateful to have been able to spend the last twenty years in occupations that have enabled me to work outdoors. Getting my hands in the soil and observing the many wonders of nature always revives me after time spent indoors or behind a computer. Nature has been my medicine many times in life. While completing studies in Horticultural Therapy last year, the broad application of nature as a tool to promote wellness and aid recovery from illness, was reaffirmed through the many scientific articles I read. Horticultural Therapy uses plants and gardening based activities and settings to help promote the social, emotional and physical well-being of people. It is practised today in many hospitals, rehabilitation centres, aged care facilities, disability services, prisons and in a range of community settings, including schools, community gardens and private backyards.

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Teaching the benefits of growing your own vegetables using the no-dig garden method.

The health benefits of simply spending time or actively engaging with our natural environment are well documented and go back many decades. A landmark study by Roger S. Ulrich published back in 1984 concluded “All other things being equal, patients with bedside windows looking out on leafy trees healed, on average, a day faster, needed significantly less pain medication and had fewer post-surgical complications than patients who instead saw a brick wall.” Another study by Katcher and Beck in 1987 found “Too much artificial stimulation and an existence spent in purely human environments may cause exhaustion and produce a loss of vitality and health”. It all sounds pretty obvious to me but in case you are still in doubt, consider reading Richard Louv’s inspiring book “The Nature Principle, Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age” published more recently in 2012. This book is full of ground breaking research into the restorative powers of the natural world on our physical, psychological and spiritual health. Louv also stresses “The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

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Two cheeky blue tongue lizards which have set up home in an abandoned rabbit burrow in the garden at my work.

So why does nature have such a positive effect on our wellbeing? Psychoevolutionary Theory maintains that the positive reactions humans experience in nature are programmed evolutionarily. This evolutionary biophilia is embedded in our psyche and genes through our close interaction with nature and our reliance on the natural world for our food, shelter and medicine throughout our existence. We are attracted to things which have supported our survival and we become anxious when we are around things that may put us at risk or harm. We need and are in fact a part of the natural world, something that is easy to forget in a world full of prepackaged food, bottled water and cities full of air-conditioned and centrally heated buildings.

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A quiet place to sit and enjoy my garden

So how can we apply the benefits of nature into our daily lives? Although nothing beats the real thing, if you are stuck in an office all day, simply looking at a poster of nature on your wall or an image of nature on your computer screen will have a positive affect. Even better, take a break and go for a walk in a garden or nearby park. When the weather is fine, do your daily meditation outside. If you have a lot of reading to do, again take it outside. Start a vegetable garden at home and visit it daily for fresh vegetables and herbs. Make a cup of herbal tea (from your own herbs of course) and drink it outside and just sit and take in the natural world around you. You’ll be amazed at the activities of the many insects and birds you begin to notice when you sit still. If you don’t have a garden, get involved in a community garden or a friends group that looks after a local nature reserve and make your reconnection… no Wi-Fi required!

References:

Katcher, A. and Beck, A. (1987) Health and caring for living things. Anthrozoos, 1, 175–183.

Kellert, S.R. & Wilson, E.O. (Ed s). (1993) The Biophilia Hypothesis. Island Press, Washington DC.

Louv, R. (2012) The Nature Principle, Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Algonquin Books, New York.

Ulrich, R. S. (1984) View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224, 420–421.