Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Winter vegetables

Image above: North-Eastern corner of our garden

Winter is truly upon us. We have had some freezing nights, and more cold weather may be on the way. I really like the early mornings, when the fog is still settled on the mountains, and everything is covered in white frost.

People in Canberra often wonder whether you can grow anything edible in winter, and many won't even try.

However, despite the temperatures, there is an amazing number of vegetables that will happily grow and keep us well fed, as long as they get a chance to "defrost" during the day. In fact, given our increasingly hot summers, I have come to wonder whether winter may even be a more productive time than summer when it comes to growing food.

We have been eating the most beautiful purple sprouting broccoli (from seed I saved last year, image left in its "frozen" state early in the morning) and various leafy greens suitable for cooking such as Tuscan kale, a range of different kinds of silverbeet, spinach, collards, Chinese kale and mibuna.

There are red and green cabbages that are coming along nicely, and my "living salad bowl" (image right, image again taken early in the morning, when the leaves are covered in frost) supplies us with a daily bowl of all sorts of beautiful lettuces, arugula and Asian greens such as mizuna and tatsoi.

I have also planted various root vegetables which are still growing strong, ready for harvest sometime in the near future, including turnips, swedes and carrots. Some of the alliums, such as bulb onions, garlic, spring onions and leeks are also in various stages of growth, ranging from very immature (onions) to close to harvesting (leeks, spring onions).

I believe the success to my winter garden has its root in a few things that I have learnt over the last few years:

The better you prepare your soil, the more likely you are to be successful.

If you didn't get around to preparing the ground as well as you wanted to, or you didn't have enough manure or organic matter when it was time for planting, try top-dressing the soil around your plants.

I tried it this year, using a mix of straw and chook manure, and found it to be very beneficial. In fact, even those parts of the vegetable garden that I had prepared well benefitted from extra mulching half-way through the season, as most of the winter vegetables, particularly the brassicas (cabbages, broccoli etc) really like loads of nutrients.

And last but not least: make sure your plants get enough water. It is easy to assume that because it is cold, you don't need to water, but many plants in winter fail because they are thirsty. To check whether the soil is getting too dry, stick a finger in. If it feels dry below the knuckle, it is time to give them some water, ideally at the beginning of the day rather than in the evening.