Tag Archives: winter vegetables

Garden Lore

“Our trees rise in cones, globes and pyramids. We see the marks of scissors upon every plant and bush….I would rather look upon a tree in all its luxuriancy and diffusion of boughs and branches, then when it is thus cut and trimmed into a mathematical figure; and cannot but fancy that an orchard in flower looks infinitely more delightful, than all the little labyrinths of the most finished parterre.”

Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719)

058Autumn planting

Autumn is about more than colouring foliage. Despite an indifferent summer, we are gently morphing into autumn. When the autumn rains arrive – which they will and probably sooner rather than later – it is a signal that optimal planting time is here, particularly for woody trees and shrubs which includes hedges. Planting in autumn gives time for root systems to start developing before growth slows down or stops in winter, positioning the plants to take full advantage of spring growth. It means most plants will be well established before the potential stress of drought next summer. The more traditional spring planting dates back to the days when garden centres did not get delivery of new season stock until late winter. Nowadays, most nursery stock is container grown and available all year round but old gardening habits die hard. The more drought-prone you are, the more important it is that you plant before winter, not after it.

While you are waiting for the autumn rains, you can be planting out winter vegetables. The reference to “winter veg” does not mean you plant them in winter. They need to be planted in autumn because they make most of their growth before winter and can then be held in the ground through the lower temperatures to be harvested fresh as required. White butterflies are still very active, so if you are planting winter brassicas (and that includes rocket and many of the Chinese greens as well as the usual cabbage, cauli and broc), you may need to erect some sort of cover to stop them becoming caterpillar fodder in the early stages.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

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Grow it Yourself: Cavolo nero (Tuscan black kale)

Buffy, the contrary cat, tries to convince us that kale is delicious

Buffy, the contrary cat, tries to convince us that kale is delicious

Cavolo nero - photo Joe Mabel

Cavolo nero – photo Joe Mabel

In the odd world of fashionable vegetables, Cavolo nero ranks high enough to be showing in trendy recipes, putting it above even options like cardoon and burdock. It is a kale, a member of the brassica family, but coming from Italy and being of an interesting appearance, it is seen as a sophisticated option. It does not form a heart but instead has very long leaves in a palm-like formation, heavily crinkled or puckered (like a Savoy cabbage) and blackish green in colour. We tried growing kale one season but found it tough and unappealing. Mark commented that there may be reasons why our forbears preferred other brassicas to kale. Our cat at the time, the contrary Miss Buffy, confounded us by eating the cooked kale we rejected, but that should not be taken as an affirmation of taste and texture. Kale is very hardy and reliable in conditions where even other brassicas struggle.

Despite its unusual appearance and trendy reputation, Cavolo nero is a typical brassica – cold hardy, will hold in the winter garden but best avoided for mid summer growth because it is just as vulnerable as others in the family to white butterfly and aphids. You are unlikely to find plants for sale so will almost certainly have to start with seed. You can source seed from Italian Seeds Pronto or Kings Seeds. If you are really keen, you could try an early spring sowing for harvest two months later though it is more commonly sown in late summer to grow through autumn and to hold in the garden for winter harvest. Frosts are reputed to intensify and sweeten the flavour, somewhat akin to swedes, but some of us think this may have more to do with wishful thinking.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

Grow it Yourself: Broad Beans

People either love or hate broad beans but they are worth trying in the home vegetable garden where you can harvest them before they develop the tough grey outer skin which is so off-putting. Indeed, I have a friend who will only harvest them to eat when she can cook the complete young pod. We find them tasty at all stages and once the hard shell has developed, we let them mature and store them dry. The dried beans are delicious when reconstituted though I admit I peel off the outer casing of each bean after soaking them. Broad beans are often called fava beans overseas and in upmarket eateries where they have enjoyed a recent revival as a fashion ingredient.

Broad beans are one of the few crops which continue to grow through winter. Autumn planting means you will be harvesting in spring when there are not a lot of other fresh vegetables which are ready. Plant the beans directly into the ground at finished spacing. We favour a double row about 30cm apart and the plants in each row at least 15cm apart but not more than 20cm. The plants need some support as they grow, or they will fall over under their own weight. The quickest way we know is to support them either side with a long piece of horizontal bamboo suspended at about 60cm off the ground and supported at both ends of the row. You could achieve the same support by running a wire along but bamboo is good because you can easily incorporate cross pieces for added support. It saves having to stake individual plants. Once the plants have reached about a metre in height, we nip out the tops to eat as fresh greens.

If you sow in succession from autumn through to late winter, you can be harvesting from August to Christmas.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Grow it yourself: cabbage

Cabbages are part of the brassica family, which includes broccoli, cauli and Brussels sprout. This means they are gross feeders (gross meaning greedy or hungry in a gardening context, not revolting) growing best in heavily fertilised soils, rich in nitrogen. To hold up their large heads on a single stem requires a good root system in firm soil so get the ground right from the start. You can plant for most of the year in warmer areas, though we avoid summer for the brassica family to avoid problems with white butterfly. Cabbage can be grown from seed sown directly into the ground or from small plants. Don’t get too carried away – consider how many cabbages you want to eat. They can be difficult to give away. Every plant is also going to need about half a metre clearance all round to give it space to grow. Cabbages take two to three months to mature so planted now, will be ready in winter.

However, for those of us are who are less than enthusiastic about large heads of cabbage with lots of white stalky centre bits (there is only so much cole slaw and stir fried cabbage one can eat), there is a much larger range available now for the home gardener. There used to be a choice of large red, green or crinkly savoy. Now there are a number of mini growing varieties available with heads around 1kg instead of up to 4kg for the larger types. There are also conehead types with softer leaves, assorted quick maturing Chinese cabbages and even the Italian Cavolo nero (which is more like kale). Check out the Kings Seeds catalogue for a good range which might encourage a rethink on the role of this vegetable garden standby.

For the record, we do not for one minute think there is any truth to the current theory that white butterflies are territorial so can be discouraged by eggshells on sticks. Wishful thinking.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

Grow it yourself: spinach

Silver beet and spinach are close relatives. Indeed, somebody very close to me claims they taste the same when cooked, which I can’t argue against because it is so long since I have eaten the former. Texturally, I much prefer the finer, softer leaves of spinach and will happily eat those. Spinach is a winter vegetable. It will continue growing in colder temperatures but as soon as the weather warms in spring, it will bolt to seed. It is not quite as amenable as silver beet to grow and while you can leave plants in the ground and just pick as much as you need, it does not have the same cut and come again characteristics.

Well cultivated, well drained soil rich in nitrogenous fertiliser and full sun are the keys. Spinach is usually direct sown from seed and most of us now know to pick the thinnings and eat them as micro greens in salads or stir fries. The final spacing is in the 10cm range. In the right conditions, it is a quick crop because it will mature within a couple of months and you may have been eating immature leaves all that time. Some gardeners like to sow successive crops every few weeks to ensure continued supply.

There are a number of different spinach varieties, including New Zealand spinach or kokihi which is a different plant altogether (though similar taste and texture) and is our one great contribution to the global world of vegetables. While most spinach are spinacia, it is Tetragonia expansa. We recommend shunning the heirloom strawberry spinach (Chenopodium foliosum), being of the opinion that the reason it has been around for over 400 years is because it seeds so freely it is nigh on impossible to eradicate once you have it. The leaves are pleasant enough but the so-called strawberry seed heads are not.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

Grow it yourself: silver beet

Call it silver beet, chard or Swiss chard. It is what you start planting as space becomes available from now on to offer a reprieve from frozen peas in winter. In fact you can grow it pretty much any time of the year but there are more delicious crops to eat in summer. Some of us think there are more delicious crops to eat in autumn, winter and spring as well but it is the proven ease and reliability which has made silver beet such a longstanding vegetable garden staple. Some people even claim to like it.

Being a leafy green, silver beet likes lots of organic matter, nitrogen and water. This is a crop where you can dig in animal manures, preferably composted first (and definitely composted if it is poultry manure). Sow the seed and cover lightly to a depth of a couple of centimetres. You can eat the thinnings as fresh salad greens when young, achieving a final spacing of around 30 to 40cm per plant. Silver beet can be a handy plant for tucking into odd spaces instead of a uniform row. It will sit there for a long time until it bolts to seed in spring because usual practice is to harvest a few leaves as you need them, rather than picking the whole plant at once. It is that cut and come again ability in cool conditions that makes it so handy. Just don’t cut too much at once or you will weaken the plant.

The rainbow coloured chards with red, yellow and pink stems and leaf ribs may add a decorative element in the garden and to raw salads when young, but they taste no different to the usual white stemmed version and the colour disappears entirely if you do more than the lightest blanching. However, they may encourage children to take a more kindly attitude to what is essentially an obliging but utility vegetable which is dead easy to grow and high in iron.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.