Growing your own winter vegies during COVID lockdowns (in S-E Australia)
With many people now working at home, we are spending more time in our back yards. So what better time to start a vegie patch.
If you live in south-east Australia, and want to grow your own vegetables this winter, now is the time to plant your winter vegie seeds and/or seedlings.
Plant according to the moon: it really works
- Always plant bottom vegie seeds (and seedlings) during the waning moon – e.g. carrots, spring onions, parsnips, radishes, etc.
- Always plant top vegie seeds (and seedlings) during the waxing moon. E.g. pok choi, lettuce, rocket, broccoli, cauliflower, herbs (thyme, parsley etc.).
Grow all the vegies your household needs throughout the winter
Whether you can grow enough vegetables for your household throughout the winter will depend on the size of your family (i.e. how much your household eats) and whether you have room for a vegie patch big enough to feed them. As long as you have plenty of room for a vegie garden, you can decide how many seeds or seedlings you plant based on the size of your household.
Our family’s vegie patch (see photo above) gives us all the fresh vegies we need throughout the year, except for:
- potatoes (because we eat a lot of them),
- tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, peas and some other summer vegies. (However, I always preserve or freeze as many of those as I can during the summer, so we are able to eat them in the winter.)
Every new/waxing moon (starting end March), plant a small number of half a dozen different ‘top’ winter vegies (pok choi, rocket, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower), and every waning moon, plant a small number of half a dozen different ‘bottom’ winter vegies (carrots, radishes, beetroot, parsnip etc). I plant the seeds in seedling trays and plant them out in the garden as seedlings, but some people plant them straight into the vegie patch.
If you keep planting new batches of seeds every waxing and waning moon, and not too many each time, and then keep planting your seedlings in the vegie patch to mature, you’ll end up with plenty of vegies on your table, throughout the whole winter and into spring.
Start planting in early Autumn (end March)
As winter vegies grow really slowly, it’s good to plant in early autumn rather than waiting till late autumn or winter – i.e., now (late March/early April). If you haven’t planted your broccoli or cauliflower by the end of April, you’d better buy some reasonably-sized seedlings because plants grow very slowly in the winter, especially if you live in a cloud, rainy place like Gippsland.
The main winter vegies
- Some winter vegies are: broccoli, cauliflower, rocket, lettuce, pok choi, radishes, onions (including spring onions), beetroot, kale, silverbeet, carrots, and the much-maligned broad bean which is very high-producing and one of the best winter staples you will find.
- Your vegies won’t always grow as quickly as the seed packet says, especially in the winter. Many plants need lots of sunshine to grow reasonably quickly. Some vegies, like broad beans and carrots, need the whole winter to grow to maturity. If you wait until May to plant your winter crop, be prepared for a long wait for your vegies.
- These vegies take ages to grow and mature in the winter, but they will eventually get there: carrots, parsnip, broccoli, cauliflower, snowpeas, lettuce, kale, silverbeet. But if you don’t plant them until the winter, they may not be ready until nearly spring; that’s why you need to plant them early (March/April), so they get a head start before the winter.
- Vegies that grow fairly quickly in the winter, even if you don’t plant them until later in the winter, are: rocket and pok choi.
- Broccoli: just pick each floret as it matures, and the broccoli plant will usually keep producing all through the winter and into the next summer. The leaves can also be picked; they are delicious, especially when mixed with kale or silverbeet (chopped fine and either steamed or stir-fried).
- Cauliflower: when it matures, pick the floret and pull the whole bush out, unless you want to eat the leaves (in which case, leave the plant growing).
- Kale and silverbeet: just pick off bunches of leaves as you need them; the plant will keep growing.
- Broad beans: when picked small, they taste good (you can eat the whole bean at this stage). Podded seeds, from large, mature beans are also fine to eat. When planted in March/April, my broad beans give me three good crops during late winter/early spring. (Tip: cook broad beans for only about a minute, rather than cooking them till they are grey, as your mother may have done.)
- Pokchoi, lettuce or rocket: you can pull up the whole plants if you have a lot of them, to create room for more planting. If you’re a bit short of plants, just pick off the leaves as you need them and the plants will keep growing.
Collect your own seeds
With pokchoi, spring onions, tomatoes, peas and beans and a few other vegies and herbs, I either collect my own seeds, or (if I’m not going to rotate that patch of the garden) I just let them self-seed; e.g., I usually don’t worry about rotating my herb gardens but just let them self-seed, year after year.
Pesticides and herbicides
Absolutely not necessary. I always plant spring onions between the seedlings that bugs love (e.g. broccoli and any green-leafy plants) and it keeps the snails etc. away. The bugs and caterpillars do sometimes eat some of your vegies but they don’t tend to destroy whole plants. To minimise bug-damage, always pick your vegies as soon as they are mature. Don’t use herbicides: manually weed your garden. (Call me strange, but I love weeding.) Note: raised garden beds tend to attract far fewer weeds than ground-level ones.
Rotate your crops
You will also need to rotate your crops from one season to the next. Rotate bottom and top vegies, except tomatoes and potatoes (because they don’t like one another; carrots are a good bottom vegie rotator for tomatoes). Also, rotate so that you give each bed a rest every two to three years. And remember to give your soil some food every now and then (garden compost and/or blood and bone; also a little aged chook poo, but not too much). And if you are ‘resting’ a garden bed, make sure you cover it with mulch to keep it happy (I always use organic sugarcane mulch).
Note: the above information is based on my experience in growing vegies in Latrobe Valley, Gippsland. These methods may not work as well, elsewhere in south-east Australia; may not apply to south-western Australia (as I haven’t ever grown vegies there); and don’t necessarily apply to northern climes.
Photo: our vegie patch (summer crop), Moe, Latrobe Valley.
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