The Winter Garden

Think of all the heart warming pastimes of winter – hot baths, slow cooked dinners, getting friendly with a bottle of red, warming your backside at the fireplace within an inch of its life. Most, if not all, are enjoyed within the safe confines of your own home, and for this reason, trudging out into the garden beds to tend the veggie patch won’t often make the highlight reel of a comfortable cold season. So despite gardening fundamentally occurring outdoors, winter is a time when we prefer to observe the patch at arms length.

As lifestylists we must adapt to the seasons at hand; while watering the patch with a beer in hand is the obligation of summer, funneling cold water down a rain jacket and into your jocks should have nothing to do with your winter plans. Nope, we want to be watching the patch thrive with our underpants warm and dry and preferably plonked on our favourite armchair, and so choosing low maintenance varieties is essential.

If you were forward thinking, your garden by now should be on auto-pilot; established and regularly watered by the big guy upstairs, the only responsibility will soon be to take the glory of the harvest. For the majority of us that missed this opportunity (perhaps still reeling from a brutal summer and the Groundhog Day that was the beginning of ‘autumn’), do not despair, now is still an ideal time to plant the patch with heritage seeds.

Leafy greens, meaning literally any type of lettuce and the almost perennial performers of silverbeet and kale, are perfect to start now. Because none are particularly fussed by the transplant, all can be grown from seedling to give you a jump on the initial growing period. Assuming your soil is relatively fertile and friable, and the big guy delivers on his promise, they will barely bother you for any sort of upkeep and this is aligned with our winter strategy. Kale, in particular, is an ideal alternative to the troublesome brassicas.

Dubbed the ‘supervegetable’, kale is high in vitamins (thought to prevent cancer), is relatively pest free and can picked on a leaf by leaf basis, giving you a perpetual harvest. When compared to its brassica cousin – the cabbage – a vegetable that has a long life cycle, is taunted by the white cabbage moth and then produces a single head for those that are lucky, kale is the no-brainer alternative.

For anyone willing to give a true brassica a shot, Broccolini – broccoli’s better looking, less fussy European cousin – is worth considering. As a safety precaution net your young seedlings from the white cabbage moth and make sure to prepare your soil with plenty of compost before planting. If you are into the technique of crop rotation and are fortunate enough to have the space, place these seedlings where your summer beans previously lived. For those growing in pots, use good quality potting mix and a pot that is at least 20-30cm deep and in diameter.

Winter is a time when all root vegetables thrive as the cool conditions and consistent moisture help to develop firm and well developed roots. The only issue is that the initial growth can be less than prolific and for those of us that have an attention span no larger than a fly’s arse, this can come as difficult news. The radish is, however, the saviour.

Throughout the warmer months we can find ourselves picking radish within a month of sowing the seeds, but with the roots growing so rapidly, missing the picking window of opportunity is not uncommon and the roots can quickly turn tough and fibrous. Throughout winter, however, the soil provides the radish with free storage and roots keep viable for much longer. As one of the easiest vegetables to grow, radish are another fuss free variety that should be part of your winter repertoire.

And finally, with the gardening stars aligned, why not renew your battle with coriander? This may be the occasion when you grow more than seeds to stock your spice cabinet and actually get a harvest of leaf matter. While autumn can throw a number of summery days that can stress the cooler varieties, it's unlikely coriander will now suffer from heat stress. With that you have the advantage.

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