If you want to enjoy fresh vegetables over the winter, now is the time to get busy in the garden. It's hard to believe, when the full flush of autumn harvests is coming to bear as it has been in my Wanaka garden, that soon things will stop growing. But if I don’t get on with it now, I’ll find it’s all too late and my plants won’t come to ripeness before the shortest day.
Of course if you're in the northern hemisphere this will be the least of your worries as you count the days until you can start breaking ground on your spring garden.
Wherever you are in the world, different plants have different requirements in terms of both diurnal (daylight) hours and soil temperature.
For example, broccoli seedlings take about 8-10 weeks to mature (the colder it gets the more slowly the plant will mature). So at this time of year I keep planting every three or four weeks to ensure a constant supply in my garden. Broccoli is one vege I hate to be without, and I use it in everything from summer salads to party nibbles, so luckily it grows well right through the year. The same applies to all the different kinds of brassicas such as cabbages and cauliflowers – plant at intervals between now and the end of autumn for harvests through winter.
Ditto for the cucurbit family (zucchini, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash). These take a full season to grow and as soon as the heat drops off their ripening processes slow down and eventually stop – if they don’t get frosted first.
It’s a good time now to plant seeds of beetroot, carrots, parsnips, spinach, rocket, coriander and Asian greens such as bok choy and gai lan.
If you are container gardening then packets of mesclun (mixed salad leaves), rocket, coriander and spinach are good to sow now and will provide a steady supply of “cut and come again” greens in just four or five weeks.
At this time of year I always like to let one plant of each crop in my garden (usually the strongest one) go to seed. When the seed heads are just starting to dry and drop I cut the stems and place them upside down in a big paper bag tied at the top with string.
The bags hang in the garage in a dry, warm place until the seeds have fully dried. I shake them until the seeds all fall off into the bags, then transfer the seeds to small, labelled envelopes. I use some, such as coriander and fennel seeds, in cooking, and keep others for planting again next spring.