September In The Vegie Patch

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broccoli shoots

September is all about greens – broccoli shoots for africa (so useful aren’t they!), cabbages, leeks, celery and leafy greens galore.

Leafy greens are the best! They may not be as glamourous as a tomato or trendy as a kohlrabi, but they’re the easiest, by far and away the most nutritious and so very generous. If you keep up with picking the outside leaves for dinner and removing the old ratty foliage regularly from the bottom, they’ll go for ages. Some over one whole season, others over 2 seasons and many for years! If there’s one thing worthy of your gardening time, let it be a swag of greens.

Try a few new ones each season and steadily build a diverse collection that’ll take you through the year. That way, no matter what happens in the outside world – you’ve got nourishing fresh greens, every night for tea.

cavalo nero, bishops flower, borage and dahlias
Cavalo Nero, bishops flower, borage and dahlias

Go diverse and grow lots of different ones. Stirfries and salads are much more flavour-some and exciting with a bunch of 12 or so different greens. Spunky ones like cavalo nero, bronze fennel or russian red kale, spicy ones like land cress, mizuna or rocket, creamy ones like miners lettuce bok choy or komatsuna, crisp ones like little gem lettuce or gai lan, bitter endive, dandelion or chicory for inner mojo, pretty ones like chard, coriander or italian parsley, nourishing chickweed, lovely lemony sorrell, refreshing mint and fragrant dill …. so many cool ones to choose from.

Chard seedlings for winter greens planted in the flower garden

Grow them in containers or along the picking edge for ease of harvest with herbs, flowers, roses or under fruit trees as well in the vegie patch. Leave the ones you love to eat, go to seed and let them resow themselves everywhere. Free seedlings! There’s nothing cooler than a forest of useful leafy greens turning up right when you need them, without even lifting a finger.

Eat Up Winter Crops

harvest all the roots before the weather warms up edible backyard nz

Put a concentrated effort into eating overwintering rootcrops still in the ground. As weather warms they’ll gear up to seed getting a hard core up the centre or they’ll start to crack and split and do other crazy things – get them up before they go past their best… 100 ways with carrots!! Keep an eye on your leeks as well. Better to eat them small than with a hard core.

Keep the Soil Covered + Fit Heaps in a Small Space

Living mulch of chicory, parsley + naughty marietta marigolds. No room for weeds! Harvest a chicory and cover the space right away with a new plant or seed or some mulch. When parsley gets too rambunctious – simply snap off the extra and make pesto or use it for mulch.

Make this your garden mantra. This one simple thing brings so very many benefits. The less we bare our soils, the stronger the soil life ergo the less pests and disease we have and the less fertilisers we need.

Mulch is easy, just spread it on in any gaps, its so fab for soil health, especially if its a mixed, varied mulch and not the same one season after season.

April in the berryhouse - salads brassicas leeks and leafy greens planted amongst zinnias and marigolds

Breathable fabric like sacks, shadecloth, old sheets – are also awesome. A collection of bits + pieces of fabric is super useful in the garden shed. I always cover freshly sown seed with fabric. This keeps the moisture in and protects seed from birds, rain, wind et all making for faster germination. I also use fabric as an emergency soil cover when I run out of time to finish my garden missions or can’t be bothered gathering mulch.

Plants though (include weeds in this lot) are the very best soil cover of all, because soil life – those ambassadors of abundance – gather on plant roots. The more plants you jam in an area the more soil life collects. The greater variety of plants you grow in an area the greater variety of soil life.

greenhouse tomatoes planted amongst saladings ediblebackyard nz
Greenhouse tomatoes planted amongst existing saladings

Keep the soil covered with plants by sowing or planting new crops at the feet of finishing crops. Trim off older ratty leaves on the older crop to give a bit more light and once the new crop is established chop the old crop off at the soil line, leaving its roots in place. This continuity of cover is called a living mulch. It takes time and practice to get into the rhythm of it, but once you get there you got it all going on. Very little weeding to do and best of all you start to pump out an incredible amount of produce in a very small space.

A Quick Fix for Weedy Spots

Black plastic covers a weedy patch

Sort all the weedy spots in your garden this month so the ground is ready to plant next month. Dont put your back out and ruin your soil structure by digging the soil out, grab a bit of plastic, lay it on top of the weeds and weight it down. You could also use card and mulch or just thick mulch. Forget about it for a while and when you return all the weeds will have melted into the soil in the most nourishing of ways. Spread some compost and get ready to sow or plant!

Beneath black plastic the weeds are cleared
After the plastic is removed – weeds are melted into the soil and hello worms!

In the Vegie Patch

bee on borage edible backyard n

Take your cropping success next level and check your soil temperature before planting or sowing anything. Align your crop choices with it. Nature is finely tuned to temperature and one of the biggest reasons for crop failure is that they were planted in soil thats too cold for them.

In the Garden

Purple Sprouting Broccoli underplanted with redclover parsnips and red clover

Plant out celery, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, silverbeet, parsley, salads, onions, leeks, potatoes.
Direct sow carrots, kohlrabi, beetroot, turnip, parsnip, rocket, chicory, endive, spinach, mesclun, miners lettuce, corn salad, salads, bok choy, gai lan, kale, cress, komatsuna, snopeas, peas, broadbeans, fennel, dill, coriander, shallots, spring onions.
Tray sow celeriac, salads, silverbeet, parsley, chervil.
Companion flowers Direct, or tray sow, or plant as many as you can cram in! eg: calendula, cornflower, poppy, nasturtium, borage, sweet pea, snapdragon, aquilegia, viola, wallflower, larkspur, hollyhock.

In the Greenhouse (or under cover)

greenhouse toms1

Tray sow tomato, chilli, pepper, aubergine, zucchini, cucumber, melon. Because I live at the foothills of the Tararuas, these will all be grown in my greenhouse.

Don’t jones out and rush into summer crops if you live somewhere cool. Patience grasshopper. Planting heat lovers when its hot means less stress, less pest, more crops, happy gardener.

Direct sow dwarf beans, salads, courgette. Love my greenhouse for providing a warm place to grow these guys in this early on.

Begin your kumara shoots.

Lay the mother kumara in a sandbox

Here Comes The Asparagus!

asparagus-november

Blimmey, could it get more exciting! Asparagus is popping up and soon to be part of dinner. Hopefully your patch is weed free, composted, mulched = ready for a productive season. If you’ve yet to weed be ever so careful – the spears are super fragile and break off with the slightest knock.

New Potatoes For Christmas + My Potato Planting Plan

spuds in buckets

Having spent a good portion of my life coaxing vegetables from soil, I’m weather wary. Between now and the arrival of summer there will be days for shorts, days for raincoats, and days for beanies. I’m cautious with the planting out of tender crops like potatoes – such a waste when they get bowled over by late frosts.

If you live in warmer climes you’ll be able to get your spuds in ground. Steer clear of cold, wet soil though, potatoes prefer loose soil at 10 – 13 degrees. Or even better, if you have a stash of organic matter, grow them under a pile of it. One desperate spring I poked some spuds under a pile of old grass clippings and got a decent crop – they’ll grow in anything! As you’ve probably already noticed – those rogue potato seedlings turn up in the strangest of places. I leave these where they are by the way. Every extra kilo of delicious homegrown potatoes is most welcome in my house.

potatoes growing in a pile of weeds and hay
Potatoes growing in a pile of weeds and hay

We’ll likely get a few decent cold snaps in Horowhenua in the next month or so, so my first lot of spuds go into buckets – a great use for cracked, broken buckets or sacks, boxes anything that’ll hold soil is fair game.

If you want spuds for christmas then choose fast growers like Rocket, Swift, Liseta or even Cliff Kidney. Otherwise take your pick.

Make holes in the bottom for drainage and line with about 10cm of compost or good garden soil.

seaweed potatoes

Lay your seed potato in (one per 10litre bucket), on top of a few bits of seaweed if you’re lucky enough to be seaside or a bunch of comfrey if its up at your place. Top the bucket up with compost/ or straw/ or old hay or a mix of the above to bury the spud – and you’re off!

When the weather starts to heat up you’ll need to move the bucket amongst taller crops or flowers to keep the soil cool but leave the tops in the light. This is never going to produce the same amount were the tubers in the ground, but it gives those of us on heavy wet ground the opportunity for early potatoes.

planting seed potatoes

Potatoes are the only crop I dig the soil for. I plant my first inground lot in October, again in November and if summers dragging her heels, again in December. Potatoes aren’t fans of heat. In recent years I’ve also done an autumn lot, depending on how the soil and season is, in my attempts to spread the harvest because storage is difficult.

Another string to my bow are the potatoes that are happily growing semi wild beneath my deciduous fruit trees. They began in the way of all my gardens – with cardboard laid on top of the ground. A generous shovelful of compost or good garden soil or a layer of seaweed or comfrey beneath the seed potato and on top, a mash up of whatever organic matter I could scrounge piled about 1m high. That’s it. A handy dandy supply for between harvests.

Wild potatoes growing beneath figs

Left alone they’ve spread about the place, winding amongst all the fruit tree companions. Fossick about beneath the mature tops to find the purple delights within. Wherever you remove potatoes be sure to replace with a bucket load of mulch as a sign of your gratitude, a lovely bit of give and take and impetus to keep up the good work.