We don’t like to pick favourites, in fear of some patch karma cursing the crops we fail to mention. We do however want to share the plants we think of most fondly, the ones that don’t keep us up worrying at night and that say “hey! you sit back on the couch while we do the dishes.”
Leaves aren’t the only thing changing this season, it’s time to change your opinion about autumn gardening. Don't be a flaky friend to your patch that only turns up when the good times are rolling and the sun is shining. 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. Here are our top 5 autumn plants that we reckon you should put in your patch this season.
When we think of garlic, we need to think outside the bulb. This baby may take 9 months to grow, but don’t set your heart on knitting jumpers and making mobiles in the interim, there’s some harvesting to be had. Garlic will begin producing long green stalks, called scapes. Trimming these scapes will keep your garlic bulb cravings at bay for 9 months and add a tasty x-factor to your cooking. Garlic is certainly a slow burner, but it is also a set and forget type of crop with benefits beyond the produce. Having organic garlic in the patch is a brilliant natural pest repellent and is a particularly helpful companion to strawberries.
This one is hard to silver-beat when it comes to ease and prolific growth. For the gardeners who have lost their confidence, the just starting out, or someone who got told to eat more greens, silverbeet or Swiss chard is for you. Hardy, shade tolerant, spectacularly beautiful and can be grown all year round, it really should be a part of every veggie patch. Rainbow Chard is a treat for the eyes and the patch, although technically an annual it can grow without fuss beyond 12 months, producing tender and sweet leaves that come in a full spectrum of colours. Prepare your soil with fresh manure and compost a fortnight before planting and sow directly into the veggie patch from seed.
The broad bean is to autumn what the tomato is the spring, and it’s the variety we get unusually excited about when the leaves start to fall. As a youngster I remember the clumsy swagger of the broad bean plant alongside my itchy knitted threads. In winter I’d wander through my Nonna’s garden and a forest of ‘bob’ - as she would call it - and the battle would be on to protect her greatest autumn asset. She would have to use all her powers of distraction, persuasion and the wooden spoon to keep my mittens off. Thankfully we now have raised garden beds to make it an unfair fight with the next generation and my broad beans are more than safe.
Growing from seed sowed directly to the patch is our preferred method. We find that with the right timing, and in a well prepared patch, you can bypass the seed tray and send them straight to work in the garden.Given that my Nonna was obsessed with both broad beans and tomatoes, it made the rotation between seasons the smoothest of transitions. The broad bean - a nitrogen fixer - should always follow where the tomatoes once lay. In the absence of tomatoes, let them proceed sweet corn, eggplant or capsicum. Try to avoid planting in the same part of the patch where you had summer beans - also a nitrogen fixer - and if starting afresh, incorporate only a moderate amount of compost to your soil. As always, ensure it is free draining.
Before planting, soak your seeds in a glass of water overnight. The broad bean, much like regular beans and peas, has the ability to hold moisture that will aid its germination. A soaking will help increase its reserve as well as reveal any unviable seeds. Those that float to the surface should be discarded. When planting, drill in rows and columns that are spaced 20-30cms apart. As the seed needs to be planted twice the depth of its diameter, each hole should be approximately 3-4cms deep. Plant two seeds per hole - because we’re conservative and in case one fails to germinate - and then thin out if you happen to have two seedlings sprout.
Foodies and gardeners alike often find coriander to be among the most polarising plants in the patch, eliciting equally passionate responses of both love and hatred. While there is nothing that we can offer to change your taste, gardening haters may need to accept some responsibility. Rather than pointing the finger, it may be time to address our own shortcomings.
Coriander can sometimes feel like a tumultuous relationship that you keep going back to. But have you ever considered that maybe coriander is not the difficult partner we make it out to be, rather it always seems to be dating absolute duds? That’s right, we need to stop trying to change coriander, and rather try to understand it better.
The first part in getting to know coriander is understanding when to plant it. Despite some marketing attempts to promote ‘slow bolting’ varieties, the fact is that when you plant it in summer and the warmer parts of spring, all varieties will want to bolt to seed. Planting just before, or even in, the cool of early winter is a time suited to this herb. Make sure that if you're planting when conditions are cold, some overnight protection from frost. Even a plastic bottle sitting over the top of a young seedling will be of great help.
If you build a trellis structure, they will come. You can find climbing plants for your garden year round. Once you bump out your cucumbers, we suggest putting in some snow peas for an almighty floral display you can eventually snack on. They're a little clingy and will need a trellis to hold onto, who doesn't in these colder months. The sweet, crunchy pods make them difficult to resist; great garden snackage that may not even make it past the patch into the kitchen.
When preparing to plant add chicken manure to your soil prior to planting and ensure you soil is well-draining. They will also benefit through an application of lime as part of the preparation. Allow the ingredients to settle for a week before planting. Sow them directly to your patch at a depth 2-3 times the diameter of the seed. It is easiest if you use a chop stick or pencil to form holes 2-3cm deep and then place two to three seeds in each hole, cover over, pat down and water in. Plant them in full sun, up against a fence, this will save you so much growing room and also brighten up your dull fence (put down the paint can let the peas do the work). Plant where you have previously grown or are intending on growing tomatoes, eggplants or capsicum.