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It took me a few years to work out that a winter veggie garden is not planted just before or in winter. (OK I admit, I can be a tad slow) The winter garden is one that is planted in late summer or very early autumn, with very little planted in winter. In winter all growth either slows down or just plain stops. So to get your winter crops, most of what you are going to be eating will need to have 70-80% of its growth completed before winter sets in. It’s no use waking up in April or May and deciding to plant a winter garden. Now is the time, especially with most of summer behind us and only 3…maybe 4 growing months left, what can or should one put into the ground now?
Very simply you should be looking at short season crops and winter veggies. These two groups are very broad and many vegetables fall into both groups. I’ll start with the short season crops as this is what needs to go into the ground ASAP to make sure you get a few harvests in before autumn sets in and the first frosts start to paint the countryside white.
Bush beans are a great one but they need to be in before mid/late Jan. If you plant enough now you can get a good few kilo’s into the freezer before frost kills the plants. Give them plenty of mulch and organic matter to speed up growth and keep them at their best.
In the warmer area’s you can still plant some squashes, typically patty-pans, marrows or a quick crop of little gems. I find however that if we plant after Christmas we never get a good yield and the plants are plagued with mildew. So if you don’t mind spraying then go ahead.
Peas are a good late summer / autumn crop, we plant about 60 meters of double row peas every year. Our kids hate shelling the pea’s but always love to eat them. Where we live the heavy winter frosts kill the peas off, so we need to make sure everything is harvested before the heavy July frosts knock the plants out.
Carrots, now here is a good all year crop, you can basically plant them any time of the year except the dead of winter. Plant a few rows now and another in a month’s time. With the slowing of the seasons they will store quite well in the ground. Over winter we hardly ever lift our carrots as the winter chill keeps them dormant, and in the ground they stay fresh. If you have some of our Purple Dragon Carrots leave at least 10-15 plants in the ground and grow your own seed. Don’t incorporate fresh organic matter into your carrot planting as the organic matter will give you deformed roots. Rather plant the carrots into a bed that was well improved for the previous crop.
Beetroot, also another good all season crop, treat it the same way as your carrots and either process a whole lot or leave in the ground and use as needed. We often do a few meals with the small sweet plum sized beets that are thinned out to make space for the ones growing on. The young leaves also make a great addition to salads.
Spinach is a crop that just keeps giving. Plant a few and reap the rewards. My wife makes our spinach in a simple way that just brings out the flavor. Fry up some onions until they are clear, add some water (1/4 cup) add finely chopped potato until it’s reduced to mush, then add the chopped spinach and let it simmer down. Add Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. It’s also good to make a huge pot and freeze the balance for later.
Lettuce is actually a cool season crop, and performs better when temperatures drop slightly. Now is the time to plant them for a great harvest in the next 2-3 months.
The Brassica’s. Now is the time for brassica’s… Cabbage, Cauliflower, Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Broccoli etc. If you want to have success with these vegetables, just simply prepare. Smother your beds with compost and organic matter, these puppies are hungry. They are what’s termed as gross feeders, and will handsomely repay you with outstanding crops if you feed them well. Plant some seed into cell trays and plant again in 2-3 weeks time and then again 2-3 weeks later. One of the benefits of heirloom brassica’s is that they tend not to ripen all at the same time. Each plant has a slightly different growth rate so the 3 week window will give you a good spread for the dinner table. With the Hybrid stuff they all ripen at the same time and then you are up to your ears in one or other variety… which can get a bit tedious.
Don’t look at planting tomatoes, potatoes or peppers or other long season crops now, as they will not make it before winter. Especially on the Highveld. Elsewhere or if you have a green/hot house may be different.
If you plan your winter planting now, you will have the best producing winter garden ever. You will be able to put fresh produce onto your table and be able to bless a few friends with your winter harvest. So have a walk through your garden one evening, with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer and look at where you can free up space for a winter planting. Decide what you would like to plant……… and get sowing.