Each week our resident gardener Fi Morgan will share her wealth of garden knowledge. So let’s get gardening!!
Hello there all you new food gardeners of Bellingen and surrounds. Welcome to the family!
A bit of housekeeping before we get into things…..
Please, STOP PLANTING CORN.
And for that matter, please, stop planting pumpkin, tomato, capsicum, eggplant, zucchini, chilli, beans, okra, basil….
These are all warm season plants. If you have these seeds, congratulations, you are all set for spring. They won’t grow and feed you now.
Welcome to seasonal, local food.
You might get away with planting potatoes now, but in the Bellingen area they are best planted in January and August.
If you get garlic in right away you should be alright, though before April is best.
You might get away with CHERRY tomato seedlings, not the big tomatoes (and not at all up on the plateau). There are self sown ones going bonkers in my garden right now. They won’t produce once winter really hits ie from mid June.
What to plant now?
Plant what you like to eat!! It helps with getting used to using what you grow. Plus there’s no motivation to do the daily check-in for a food you don’t know or don’t like.
We’re going to go over fast growing, easily grown foods, just right for Bellingen so you will continue with your gardening efforts. I’ll give a nod to the plateau where I’m sure of something, but it is a different (colder) climate up the mountain and I’m hoping some experts up there will chime in with plateau-specific advice. If you’re on the coast, your growing climate is really similar to Bellingen, with less frost and a slightly longer warm season.
Easy to grow in Bellingen for winter
- -Broadbeans; eat the beans and leaves
- -Snowpeas; NOT peas unless you are on the plateau as it’s too humid and warm for them
- -Radish; including daikon
- -Silverbeet & chard; not spinach unless you are on the plateau as it’s too warm for spinach
- -Kale; you kale lovers will be pleased to hear this stuff is so hardy it would survive a nuclear winter along with cockroaches (yes I hate it)
- -Cabbage; may be a challenge for beginners but the leaves are edible even if you don’t get a proper cabbage head
- -Asian greens; chois (pak, bok, whatever), wombok, gai lam, choy sum, shungiku (edible chrysanthemum)
- -Lettuce; all kinds, butter, mustards, wasabi, tatsoi
- -Spring onion, chives; way easier and way quicker than onions
- -Coriander; this is the best time of year for it!
- -Globe artichoke; sorry, only if you’re up the mountain otherwise it’s not cold enough
- -Perennial spinaches; okinawa & longevity spinach are subtropical multi-season spinach substitutes that grow from cuttings if you can find them. They can’t tolerate frost.
- -Sweet potato; eat the roots and leaves, keep away from frost and rats (bathtub?)
- -Ginger, turmeric, taro; these are all easy, however you will be planting now for next year as they each take around 12 months.
My Not for Beginners List:
Most of the chunky fruiting vegetables are just harder to grow well than the leafy ones. You could give these a go but don’t expect store bought quality.
Cauliflower (prefers alkaline soil), broccoli, carrot, parsnip, fennel, celery, leeks, turnips, onion, beetroot (prefers alkaline soil). We generally have acidic soil around Bellingen.
And it’s not all about you!
Plant flowers. The bees and pollinators need feeding too; the helpful predator insects as well. Variety confuses pests. These will all grow now: calendula, echinacea, cornflowers, marigolds, pansies, violets, johnny jump ups, yarrow, nasturtiums, snapdragons. This is not an exhaustive list of flowers to plant now, it is however a list of edible flowers to plant now.
Got your list of veg to give a go?
There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the best time to sow seeds for winter veg was back in the last half of February. Think about it, most veg take 12-16 weeks (3-4 months) to produce, so planting a cabbage seed in Feb means you get the cabbage in May-June.
The good news is that it’s not too late to plant now.
Which brings us straight to how much to plant?
Estimate how many of a plant you would eat per week (admittedly a bit easier for cabbages than broadbeans). Multiply by the number of weeks between now and the end of the season (end of Sept). Then double it.
There is a high attrition rate in food gardening and if you have a bumper crop you can easily give or swap it away. Also, it means you can afford to not be so worried about pests. There’s plenty for everyone to eat.
If you have seedlings already, great. We’ll talk about where to place your garden next week.
If you have seeds, let’s get sowing. Sow into containers to get going. That gives you about a month to prep your garden beds before they are ready to plant out. Although you can sow directly into the spot where you want the plants to grow, I find much better success with sowing in containers, babying the seedlings, and then transplanting them out into the garden. Besides, beans & peas get eaten by rats if sown direct. Also, despite persistent rumour, root veg grown from seed in punnets transplant out just fine. I knew an organic farmer who was renowned for his carrots who transplanted all his carrots from seedlings.
Where to start?
You’ll need seed raising mix, Searles is my favourite. Don’t spend $5 at Bunnings for cheap seed raising mix, it’s a waste of money. Buy yourself a coffee with $5 instead, it won’t make you cry. At the moment with the huge interest in gardening, seed raising mix is hard to get hold of. You might have to sieve good quality potting mix to get rid of the chunks in it that tiny baby plants aren’t strong enough to push out of the way. Seed raising mix needs to be fine like sand, have good drainage and stay damp (not wet).
If you don’t have seedling containers, you will have something lying about that can be used. Egg cartons are too shallow in my opinion. Use containers that are about 2 inches (5cm) deep. Think drink containers such as milk, fruit juice, yoghurt, cream, butter tubs. To get good drainage, stab holes in the bottom and don’t be tempted to line the bottom with newspaper to keep the soil in if the holes are too big. Too wet means seeds rot. Put up with losing some soil. Cardboard toilet rolls are great for broadbeans and snowpeas. Finally, a use for all that hoarding.
As a beginner, make life easy for yourself and use fresh seed. Don’t mess around with older batches if you don’t have to. Fresh seed will germinate quicker and more reliably than older seed.
When sowing, the general rule of thumb for how deep to place the seed, is twice the height of that seed. The other rule of thumb is to follow the directions on the packet as they are there for a reason.
Lightly water your newly sown seeds and keep them safe…. from sun, drying out, wind, birds, snails and rats. Truly, I find this easier in punnets than in the ground.
To be more specific,
- Keep your seeds damp not wet.
I find putting them under shadecloth in the sun works well. Uncovered means they dry out too quickly. Check daily. You miss a day, you pay. Gardening will teach you consistency!
- They need good drainage.
The water needs to be able to drain out of and away from the container. Wet seeds rot.
- Watch that wind.
Keep your sown seeds away from wind strong enough to knock containers over.
- Confuse the snails.
Most, not all, snails will be foiled by raising seed containers off the ground. Pick off the rest.
- It’s not a bird playground.
Cover your seed containers (shadecloth is dual purpose!) so birds can’t have a worm-digging party.
- Rodent proof.
Especially for large seeds otherwise you’re just putting out a buffet for rats. Chicken wire or bird cages work well. Autumn is rat season.
Basically a shadecloth covered cage on legs works well!!
When I remember, a weekly drink of liquid fertiliser or seaweed tea really helps the seedlings to grow quickly and robustly. Quick is good to avoid a bitter taste. The advantages of robust should be obvious.
That should keep you busy until next week, yes?