What to grow in February (Cool-Temperate climate)

 

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The Gawler Foundation herb garden in full bloom.

There is still a month of hot weather ahead, hopefully we won’t experience the extreme temperature fluctuations we had last month, which were not great for planting out vegetable seedlings. If you are planting seedlings this month remember to give them a regular deep soak with water and shade them from the afternoon sun.

If you have some empty spots in your vegetable beds, this month you could try planting seedlings of:

Red and Green Cabbages, Broccoli, Cauliflower (try beautiful Romanesco or Purple Cauliflowers) Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Leeks, Spring Onions, Silverbeet, Rainbow Chard, Asian greens (Bok Choy, Pak Choy, Tatsoi etc.), Lettuce, Celery.

You can also sow from seed direct into your vegetable beds:

Carrots, Beetroot, Parsnip, Turnips, Radish, Coriander, Rocket.

Remember to cover any seedlings from the Brassica family with insect netting for the next couple of months until the Cabbage White butterflies are no longer around or spray your seedlings regularly with Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis).

 

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What to grow in December (Cool/Temperate Climate)

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I’ve been so busy with my garden at home and at work lately that before I knew it, the first week of December had already passed…so apologies for this late blog on what to grow this month. We’ve had a very high rainfall so far in December (a bit too much in some areas) and combined with the warmer temperatures, your vegetables should be growing right before your eyes.

If you’ve got some space left in your vegetable garden here’s what to grow this month:

You can plant: potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, capsicum, chillies, eggplant, zucchini, squash, spaghetti squash, pumpkin, corn, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, spring onions, lettuce, leeks, basil and other herbs.

You can sow from seed: kale, silverbeet, lettuce, beans (bush and climbing), beetroot, Asian greens, corn, cabbage, carrots, leek, spring onions, zucchini, squash, spaghetti squash, turnips, swedes, parsnips, smaller pumpkin varieties, cucumbers, perennial spinach, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and celery.

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What to grow in October (Cool/Temperate climate)

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The warmer weather is finally here and now that the soil is also warming up you can get busy planting out your vegetable beds with a huge variety of vegetables and herbs.

Early October you can plant/sow:

Silverbeet, Rainbow Chard, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, Cauliflower, Asian greens, Cabbages, Spinach, Leeks, Lettuce, Celery, Endive, Spring onions, Radish, Carrots, Beetroot, Parsnip, Swede, Turnips, Peas, Snow peas, Rocket, Celeriac, Yacon, Potatoes and most herbs.

Late in October you can continue to sow/plant the vegetables listed above, as well as sow/plant into a warm part of the garden:

Tomatoes, Tomatillo, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Bush and Climbing Beans, Chillies and Capsicums.

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

october seedlings

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.

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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.

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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.

How to grow potatoes…

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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.

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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.

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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.

What to sow in August (Cool-Temperate climate)

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Late winter in my garden…

One more month of winter and relative calm in the garden to finish of some winter projects like my new garden/potting shed, the recycled wash station for my vegetables and yes, I’ve found another spot I can squeeze in and build one more raised vegetable bed. Once the warmer weather of Spring arrives there’ll be no more time for such projects as everything (including the lawn and the weeds) starts growing at a breakneck speed.

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I’m chitting my potatoes in egg cartons before planting them out

Late August in Melbourne is a great time to plant your first potato crop of the year (you can plant more potatoes right through to the end of December for successive crops). It’s also time to plant Jerusalem and Globe artichokes, shallots, onion seedlings, asparagus and rhubarb crowns.  You can sow into punnets for planting out in late September the seeds of; broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, silverbeet, rainbow chard, kale, celery, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, mibuna, spinach, bok choy, pak choy, wombok cabbage and any other Asian greens. August is also time to sow directly into the garden the seeds of; delicious sugar snap peas, snow peas, broad beans, turnips and swedes.

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Broad beans…I love them!

If you have a very warm spot, such as a greenhouse, and are impatient for spring to arrive, you could start sowing into punnets the seeds of tomatoes, capsicum, cucumber, pumpkin and eggplant for planting out mid Spring. They will need to be planted out into your warmest spot in the garden or they’ll just sit there until the soil warms up in late Spring. If you’re in a colder area wait until next month with these seeds.

If you have asparagus growing in your garden, keep a close eye on them…your first asparagus spears for the season should be popping up soon…Enjoy!

August seed sowing

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.

 

 

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.

yacon uncovering roots

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!

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.