As our erratic warm season subsides, autumn is now calling out and so is the renewed enthusiasm to get back in the patch. Perhaps your edible garden is still resembling a plant graveyard – full of overgrown, burnt tomato plants or powdery mildewed zucchinis. Maybe they are still producing fruit as they give out their last whimpers of life? While the pragmatic part of you says let them be, every other bone in your body is craving to rip them out, paint your face red and do a rain dance to bring about a fresh change in the season.
Of course with the new season comes the promise of more frequent rains (come on big guy…) and less intensive garden management, so if your eagerness for the veggie patch took a couple of steps south over the preceding months, rest assure the future is looking brighter and we’ll be complaining of the cold and wet in no time.
The who’s who of autumn planting is extensive and varied; such is the attitude of Australia’s climate, the door policy is relaxed and many can get in to our patches and most times of the year. It’s the way it should be. Leafy greens, root vegetables, the alliums, all the brassicas – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower – and legumes of broad beans and peas are chomping at the bit to become part of the autumn plant out party. Maybe a door list isn’t such a bad idea? Here who’s wanting to get in…
Herbs (all perennials, i.e. not basil!)
Lettuce (all varieties)
While I’ll never turn down a challenge, the autumn gardener in me generally seeks comfort. At this time of the year I feel comfort in knowing that I will spend more time by the fire place enjoying a glass of red than out in the patch funnelling water down my back and into my jocks. Care-free vegetables is what I’m after.
Leafy greens, such as kale and mustard greens, are simple to grow and maintain and do not require much sunlight. Picking them leaf-by-leaf will also ensure a perpetual harvest. Growing these is a no-brainer and my garden is often made up of only these entirely during the cooler seasons.
Kale in particular, the self-dubbed ‘super vegetable’, is high in iron and vitamins and will look impressive in the garden. It is a care-free substitute to the challenging brassica crops and rather than hanging around for months waiting for a single harvest (as is the case with the cabbage) kale will have leaves ready for picking within 4-6 weeks and provide for up to six months.
Another leafy vegetable, mustard greens, is much more suited to autumn/winter planting than the warmer months when it’s prone to heat stress and bolting to seed. Like all leafy varieties it will appreciate compost rich soil that drains well and is not too fussed about sunlight; 2-3 hours a day (filtered, reflected or direct) will suffice.
Be careful for slugs and snails at this time of the year. You can do your part too by habitually watering in the morning to avoid leaving plants wet throughout the night when these guys are active.
Root vegetables – beetroot, radish and carrots – are perennial performers that shine in the cooler months. Beetroot in particular, loves the cooler weather with more consistent moisture and while initial growth may not be as prolific as in spring/summer, once set this helps develop crisp, full heads that keep well in ground.
The key with all root vegetables is moisture and nutrition. In terms of nutrition, your job is not to be excessive; that will translate to excessive foliage growth at expensive of the root. Prepare your patch with a lightly composted soil and consider an application of potash mid way to help root development.
In terms of moisture, keeping it even and consistent will develop healthy roots. This will be largely reliant on what is thrown at us from above, but the ability of your soil to drain will help regulate that. Do your best to prepare a friable, free draining patch.
Of course, autumn is still the perfect time for growing herbs, and basil aside any herb can be grown and then thrive in the cooler months. Even if you don’t have much space for an edible garden, pots and herbs are grand old friends and perfectly suited to each other. Choose a pot size that will allow your herbs to grow into the space; kind of like buying your 12-year old boy football boots 3 sizes too big. You want to get some value out of them. Make sure you use good quality potting mix, with price generally an indication of quality. It is the ideal time to reconvene your battle with coriander and dill, two troublemakers that often misbehave in the heat. Good luck.
Finally, garlic – breaking up a head and popping them somewhere in the garden is an absolute must (learn how to here). This vegetable is a test of your will. It simply asks you to forget about them for a good six months before having a feel around to see how developed the heads are. It’s a lottery and whether or not they resemble the size you find in the market is not the point, every head of garlic is a winner, and well worth the wait. Even when eagerness gets the better of you and you dislodge little more than a sprout, you still win. Garlic sprouts are pure magic.