Start Planting for Winter NOW!

I’ve just heard the weather report and they are predicting 36º today and 37º tomorrow so you may think I’ve already been touched by the sun when I say now is the time to start planting for winter. I’m not.

Let’s break this down a bit. As a very new gardener I was surprised, to say the least, when I discovered that winter is actually a very productive time in a Canberra garden. Yes we do swap scorching summer temperatures for frosts but there are many plants that happily survive the frost and require cold temperatures to be productive. So as we plant in late winter/early spring for summer crops we need to be doing the same now to produce winter crops.

The plants that seem to love the cold weather best are brassicas, root vegetables and lettuces. I know the lettuces sound odd but again they seem to cope with frosts remarkably well and don’t bolt to seed as quickly as they do in summer. Rocket is another plant that is also at its best in winter. If you don’t like green leafy veggies then perhaps you can just keep harvesting your current crops, keep up your succession planting and otherwise have a break until late winter.

Here are the planting recommendations from two sources you may consider more reliable than me. Firstly the Organic Gardener Calendar suggests planting turnips and carrots now (we are talking seed here as root crops grow best, not to mention straightest, when planted as seeds in drills). Jackie French who you might already know I consider the best source for Canberra gardening advice, says plant cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, peas and collards. You can also plant Tom Thumb tomatoes to over-winter in a pot. I won’t be as we don’t have any suitably protected space to over-winter them. BTW she also suggests that you keep planting beans, corn, lettuce, carrots, silver beet, cabbages and potatoes with a view to getting crops out of them before winter.

A winter suggestion from our own personal experience is to grow some kale. Cavolo Nero is now widely available and to my taste has a much fuller flavour that is preferable to your average cabbage. There are also several kale varieties with frilly leaves that will also do well in Canberra. We’ve also had better luck with cauli’s than cabbages, picking off the White Cabbage moth caterpillars is a real chore and if you don’t keep onto it they can strip the leaves of your plants quite quickly. Unfortunately the moths also like kale but the open leaves make it easier to spot the caterpillars. If you really have a problem you can apply Dipel, which is an organically approved spray of bacteria that kills the caterpillars but leaves other good insects alone.

I’ve placed our order for some winter seeds with the Lost Seed company last night (www.thelostseed.com.au). Our choices this year are purple sprouting broccoli (recommended by both my new ‘friend’ Elspeth Thompson and Hugh F-W), salsify a root crop that looks a bit like a parsnip (sometimes known as the Vegetable oyster because of its supposed hint of oyster flavour), lettuce -Australian Yellow and Red Velvet, onions – Walla Walla and Stuttgart, French Breakfast radishes and Bunching Spring onions.

Of course when you are planting seeds in this weather you must water them daily or you will lose the lot before you get going (just ask how we know!). You will also need to keep an eagle eye out for the first seedling shoots and protect them as you see fit otherwise snails and slugs will ensure nothing green will survive the night. When you are directly seeding a very light sprinkling of sugarcane or pea straw mulch (hold a bunch loosely in your hand and shake it letting the smaller bits fall through your fingers) will help retain moisture but will allow the seedlings to break through easily. Seedlings will likewise need protection from predatory animals, including birds and possibly possums – a half circle of small chicken wire should do the trick for the birds and I know one friend at least raises her plants in wire mesh enclosures to keep the possums off.

Happy planting!

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