Careful, methodical picking is my rule for this chilliest of months. That’s because whatever is still growing in the garden or greenhouse must be treated with kid gloves to maintain its condition and avoid disease taking advantage of winter weaknesses. Kales, silver beet, Asian greens, celery, Brussels sprouts and rocket are ‘pruned’, not ravaged. With the exception of Brussels sprouts, I prefer to harvest individual leaves with a knife to avoid tears to main stalks, and while I’m about it, any leaves showing the first signs of disease are removed and fed to the chooks (who are also grateful for any greens the garden is providing them with at this time of year). When pulling daikon radish and forking carrots and parsnips from their beds, I always replace the soil from the holes where the roots have been so that the remaining roots are protected from frost and rain. I weed as I harvest, and bring in mulch to replace any areas of soil that are exposed to the elements. It may seem like a lot of work but it takes no more than a few minutes and it is all done at the same time that I am harvesting.
While my garlic and shallots will wait at least two more months to be planted in the garden, those in warmer climes, whose beds are well-drained, will already be enjoying the sight of new green tops. Keep them in top condition with feeds of liquid manure, and mulch well to suppress weeds (at this time of the year you don’t want to be standing on the beds to weed).
My broad beans and spinach will also be waiting for late August or early September to be sown but in the northern parts of the country, these vegetables will already be through the ground. If temperatures take a plummet or conditions are more unfavourable than usual, don’t hesitate to throw over a light sheet of clear plastic until the worst of the weather has passed. Use clothes pegs to anchor it sticks pushed into the ground.
Around mid-July, I will begin sowing just a pinch of brassica – cauli, cabbage and broccoli – in individual pots. By sowing in this manner rather than in punnets with several seed to a container, my ‘singles’ can remain in their roomy pots until such time as temperatures suggest they can be transplanted into the garden. Never underestimate just how long seedlings take to develop in the colder seasons. In spring, your seedlings may be ready to transplant in just 4-5 weeks but in winter, it may be 8 or 9 weeks until this can take place. Allow plenty of time to raise seedlings or you may find yourself dashing to the garden centre for an expensive handful of seedlings because your own are not ready when you need them.
Out in the potting shed, I’m checking my seed yams and potatoes, making sure they’re getting plenty of sun to turn them green and get them sprouting. Without adequate light, sprouts will become thin and delicate. You are looking for short, stout sprouts that will tolerate the weight of soil on them once they are in the ground. If any aphids are gathering on the ‘eyes’ and young shoots of the vegetables, sprinkle them derris dust.
It’s not too late to add compost, manure and sea weed to the garden although, at this stage, it will be best left lying on top of the ground rather than trying to dig it into soil that is too wet. Don’t forget to cover the compost pile with a sheet of plastic if rain has been heavy. Soggy conditions are not conducive to your compost breaking down.
Now that the cold weather is here with a vengeance, I’m keeping a close check on any stored root crops and apples to ensure rot is not setting. And, more importantly, I’m remembering to use a little of my stored supplies each day. There is little point in growing, harvesting and storing food that, come the end of winter, is biffed into the compost pile because it has gone bad. If you’re not getting through your stores, give them away so that others can enjoy them before they are spoiled.
Winter is a time to slow down, but wise gardeners never entirely put their feet up!