Top left As summer crops finish, pull them up to make way for planting winter vegies. Above Add compost, well-rotted manure and organic fertiliser to the vacant spots in your vegie patch then fork and rake it in.
There’s nothing like a change of season to stimulate some serious action in the vegie patch. Autumn is like the beginning of a new gardening year, a time when we say farewell to the last of the summer crops and welcome all those wonderful winter vegies that provide a steady supply of fresh, nutritious homegrown produce through the cooler months. This includes all the brassicas, such as cabbage and cauliflower, the pea family including snow peas and broad beans, as well as onion and leek, and a huge range of delicious leafy greens. In the tropics and subtropics where winters are mild, you can also grow things such as tomatoes and cucumbers, which like the warm conditions.
The good news for first-time vegie growers is that the cooler months can be one of the easiest times of year for growing. There are generally fewer pests and diseases to deal with and, since it’s cooler, the soil doesn’t dry out as quickly, so the plants are less stressed. There’s never been a better time to make a start!
If you’re in an area where winters are cold, you need to plant early this month to ensure plant roots are well established in the soil before the ground gets too cold. If it’s still hot where you are, prepare the ground but hold off planting out heat-tender winter vegies for a month or so (see Too Hot to Plan!, overpage).
If you’ve got an existing patch with a few summer vegies that are still cropping, keep picking and enjoying the harvests, but once each crop is done, pull it up and prepare the clearing ready for planting. For every square metre, tip on a bucket or two of compost or aged manure (more if you can spare it) and a good handful of blood and bone, and then lightly fork it in.
When you’re starting a new patch, try to find a spot close to the house where you’re more likely to give it regular attention. Most vegies grow best with six hours of direct sun a day, but if you don’t have that luxury, there’s still plenty you can grow. Leafy greens, carrots, beetroot, leeks and popular herbs, such as parsley and coriander, will thrive in as little as three to four hours a day.