Now’s the time edible gardens spring to life — so keep on top of nurturing those seedlings.
It seems increasingly unrealistic to expect the seasons to behave according to time-honoured planting calendars so food gardeners need to hedge their bets, especially in September when the first signs of spring are anticipated.
The traditional early spring seedlings now appearing in garden centres — leeks, onions, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, silver beet, spinach, lettuce and peas — will benefit from protection: try cloches or bottomless plastic drinks bottles (see photo below). Not only will the DIY cover stem late frost damage but it will also deter hungry birds and slugs.
When planting early potatoes such as Jersey Bennes, Cliff Kidney or Rocket cover with cloches to keep off excessive spring rain and to protect from late frosts and snow. Or cover using corrugated Clearlight, or similar, held securely in place with stakes, string or wire.
If you have space either indoors or in a greenhouse, it is well worth germinating seeds of the more tender vegetables (fruits to be technically correct) such as tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, cucumber, melons, squashes and courgettes. All of these can be germinated in seed-raising trays filled with moist, fine seed-raising mix. Once they have their first true sets of leaves they can be carefully teased out of the seed mix with an ice-block stick and transplanted into larger pots (called ‘potting on’) where they can continue to grow indoors until they are ready for planting out, usually mid to late-December. Starting these plants as early as possible gives them maximum time to grow which equates to a larger yield of fruit.
Broad beans will appreciate a sprinkling of either wood ash, finely crushed egg shells or gypsum around the base of the stems.
Dig up and chow down
Any remaining cabbages, cauliflowers, Brussels sprouts and parsnips planted last late-summer/autumn, along with silver beet and broccoli, should be picked and eaten before they bolt to flower and seed.
The first tender asparagus spears will be appearing in a few canny gardeners’ plots.
From garden to plate!
Here are some quick and easy ways to enjoy your in-season harvest.
For a delicious twist on mashed potatoes, roast cauliflower with a spray of olive oil until soft and golden then purée in a blender with olive oil, parmesan, salt and pepper. Or boil or steam cauliflower florets until very tender. Mash cooked cauliflower with some grated parmesan cheese and reduced-fat spread.
- Use a peeler to make parsnip ribbons then stir-fry ribbons with garlic and oil and serve as a tasty side dish.
- Use parsnips instead of carrots next time you make a carrot cake. Delicious!
Creamed silver beet
Peel and slice 3 cloves garlic. Trim stalks of a large bunch of silver beet, wash leaves, shake off water and shred silver beet. Spray a large frying pan with oil. Cook garlic over a medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Add and toss silver beet for 3-4 minutes until wilted and bright green. Add 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream and a pinch of nutmeg. Cook for 2 more minutes, stirring now and then. Serve immediately.
Q: "We have a wee garden down the side of the house which gets minimal sun: it gets some morning sun and some evening sun. What can I grow there that doesn’t require full sun? I tried corn but it was dismal!"
A: A good rule of thumb to follow is that plants you are growing for their fruit or roots require the most sun and those grown for their leaves can be grown in shady spots. Broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts will all fare well in a shady spot, although they are heavy feeders so be sure to apply a slow-release vegetable fertiliser as this will supply an even release of essential plant elements to vegetables for up to three months. Lettuce, salad greens, peas, silver beet and spinach will also thrive in a shady spot as will coriander: it’s the only way to grow this herb in summer as it either wilts or bolts to seed when in the sun.