Happy New Year dear reader! Hoping you’re enjoying abundant harvests from your own edible oasis and wishing you health and happiness in your garden, body and soul 🙂 !
Now is the time to plan your winter harvest, especially if you want to grow from seed. If you’re not an experienced gardener, it may seem a bit early, but they need the warmth of autumn to get going so you can enjoy them over winter when growth is very slow. Any area that gets enough sun through winter can be planted with edibles.
Some typical winter crops are cabbages, cauliflower, celery, kale, iceberg lettuce, endive, fennel, leek, spinach, broadbeans and peas. But you can also grow carrot, beetroot and most lettuces all through winter if you’re in Wellington and don’t get too much frost in your garden – or you can cover them with a microclima cloth when the frosts come.
So: think about all the things you’d like to eat this winter, from April through to October… Once you have an idea of what you really would like to harvest in winter, think about the space they take up. For example, cabbage or cauli generally have a diameter of 30cm or more when fully grown, so don’t plan to cram them any closer together than that. On the other hand, a carrot only need 5-6cm! Thinking about the space they take up will help you decide how many plants you can grow of each. Then you’ll know if is smarter to raise them from seed, because you need many, or buy seedlings, because you’ll only plant a few.
If you’re raising plants from seed, check that you’ve got what you need:
- the mix – I buy Dalton’s Organic Seedling raising mix
- 6cm deep trays
- the seeds
I prefer to buy NZ grown seeds, mostly from Koanga Institute who have a great range online for members, and a smaller retail range available at Commonsense Organics‘ stores. Some seeds and bulbs I get from Setha’s Seeds, download a catalogue here. As these seeds have adapted to our climate over generations, they are more resistant and most often better flavour compared to imported seeds.
Some wintercrops need to be sown as soon as possible: brusselsprouts, leeks and parsnips. Leeks and parsnips can be really slow to germinate, so I do them in trays where I can keep the tiny seeds moist all the time. Garlic is another special plant: plan so you have space to plant the cloves in June, with plenty of good quality compost.
For other crops, you just need to decide on how much you’re going to plant, where and when, so that you can get them into the ground straight away when your summer crops have finished – or even before! Old big plants like tomatos make great nursery crops, protecting the young seedlings from too much sun and wind. Instead of pulling them out at the end of the harvest, simply cut them just under soil surface with a sharp knife or a “shark” tool to avoid disturbing the new plants. The roots stay in the soil and feed the soil life while the tops go in the compost.
Another way of making the most of the available space is to direct sow fast-growing microgreens, baby salads or spinach, mesclun and radishes in the gaps that appear. These are ready in less than a month and also support soil health, protecting it from the sun and the wind. If you have plenty of parsley or coriander seeds, these also make great baby-herbs for salads and grow well in the partial shade under summer crops.
If you’d like to learn more about planning your winter garden, the “Garden in Time & Space” workshop runs again 4th February, in time for you to plan and plant (but not for raising seedlings from seed). Other upcoming workshops are just to the right of this text (or below if you’re on a phone), please register.
N.B. All edibles need sunlight to grow well. If part of your garden gets less than 4 hours of direct sun in winter, just cover with a deep mulch when your summer crops come to an end, don’t bother trying to grow wintercrops in that area.