Beating the Autumn Blues

daikon radishIf you're not careful, late autumn in the garden can get you down. With the arrival of cooler weather and shorter days, the super-energetic have a tendency to think that life as they know it has come to an end and won't return until next spring (and that's months away). Slackers, on the other hand, depressed that their dreamed-of garden never got off the ground, tell themselves they've failed (again). But I have another take on the situation because I see autumn as a challenge. Yes, there is still time to sow seed, and get that veggie plot up and running, even in the coolest spots. In fact, with some crafty choices, the hitherto gardenless will even be able to impress family and neighbours.

Daikon radish tops the charts for autumn sowing. It's God's gift to those who want to see results – and fast. Overwhelmingly crisp, delicious, versatile, and easy to grow, it reaches huge dimensions in the blink of an eye without ever becoming hot or woody. In mid-winter, when the rest of the world is heading to the supermarket for veg, I'm grating it, along with carrot and chopped celery, into salads, or slicing it into miso soup (it's also perfect for the kids' lunchboxes). With a shift to Asian eating, daikon is now so much in demand that if you decide to sow a few extra rows, even in the paddock, you're bound to find a ready market at the closest veggie store.

Leafy greens are a goer, too. Faithful frost-resistant mizuna, rocket, and autumn mesclun mix will see you right. Just remember to cover your seed rows with some plastic to hurry along germination (or sow directly into your glasshouse). Perpetual beet and silver beet is a little slower growing so grab a few seedlings from the garden centre to pop in the ground – and some celery and Flower-of-Spring cabbage plants to go with it. Heck, why not even try some non-hearting lettuce? What's the worst that can happen – an early frost? Even leek seedlings planted now will fatten to spring onion thickness come winter. And if we get a cool spring, they'll very likely do some more bulking out before they head to seed in the warmer weather.

So, don't despair. There's still time to play in the garden, and what better way to do it than to include the kids by letting them sow some chook-salads for the girls in the hen-house. Right now, I'm preparing chook salads by loading as many seed trays and old boxes as I can find with a mix of homemade compost and crumbly garden soil. Into them I'm sowing a fabulous seed-blend of "Chicken Greens" which I bought from Kings Seeds. At around $3.95, the packet is just bulging with seed, and includes a whole range of chookie delicacies from dandelion and plantain, to clover and parsley. (You could easily devise your own mix with a few handfuls of non heat-treated wheat, a sprinkling of purslane, miner's lettuce, mizuna, anything in the beet family, and any almost-past-their-use-by seed that you have on hand.) When those wet, snowy old winter days arrive, and the girls huddle miserably in their run, too cold to go out foraging, I'll surprise them with a tray of delicious greens which they can snip to their heart's content, turning my morning eggs a rich shade of organic orange. Yum!

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