I wonder how many of you out there are gazing at a mass of weeds where your vegetable garden should be? Perhaps the summer got all too busy and, despite your best intentions, there just wasn't enough time to tend the plot you so carefully sowed in spring. Or perhaps everything was going smoothly until you were suddenly overtaken by drought/ torrential rain/ white butterfly/ convolvulus/ the calves breaking down the fence/ the chickens scratching up your carrot seedlings/ the children demanding to be taken to the pool just as you were about to start thinning the beetroot ...
Vegetable gardening isn't always easy, and when life get hectic, it can be the first thing to go. Yet the wonderful thing with a garden is that you can always start again. The soil is still there – under that carpet of thistles and dock. The spade and the rake are very likely to be around the place somewhere (head for the kids' sandpit when all else fails)... And you know what? We may be nearing the end of summer but there's still oodles of time to stick something in the garden, and more of an opportunity to do it now that the children are back at school.
You may have left it too late for root crops, but late-ish summer is the perfect time for planting seedlings that will mature right in the middle of winter, or early spring, just when you most need them. Don't muck around with raising your own seedlings at this stage. Instead, bite the bullet, and head straight for the nearest garden centre to buy yourself a few punnets of seedling cauli, cabbage, broccoli, and hardy kale. Be sure to take home some silver beet plants, too, and grab a packet or two of easy-grow Asian veggie seed such as mizuna, mibuna, and daikon radish. Unless you really think you're going to have time to source some animal manure, forget organics for once and shout yourself a bag of all-purpose fertilizer.
Back home, don't fuss with the soil. Getting the seedlings in the ground is much more important than having the garden appear manicured. So grub off as much of the those weeds as you have energy for, scatter the fertilizer, and give the soil a rough turn over with the spade. Pop the seedlings in, and give them a water. There'll be time enough in the next week or two to throw some rotten baylage or straw round the plants to keep the emerging weeds at bay. And time, too, now that you're enthused about the possibility of a winter garden, to till a little soil more finely for a couple of rows of seed. Why, if autumn turns out to be warmer than you expected, you may even get time to bring in some more ground and pop in some broadbean seed.
Last-minute gardening may feel like a rush and a chore, but a taking along to the neighbourhood mid-winter dinner a cauliflower cheese, tangy coleslaw, or silver beet quiche made from your own garden produce is about as satisfying as it gets. Especially as the alternative was going to be nettle soup or dock salad!