The zucchinis are done, and the cucumbers long gone. We picked the last of the pumpkins on the weekend, and collected the beans that we left to dry out on the vines. We still have tomatoes hanging on, trying their hardest to ripen in the lovely Autumn sunshine we’ve had lately, but this week’s forecast for cold nights will pretty much do them in if I don’t pick them now.
This is the end of the summer crop. It’s a bittersweet time in the garden.
It’s lovely to be harvesting the last of the summers bounty. Pottering around picking beans in the afternoon sunshine, while the bees buzz in the borage. There is still enough herbs, lettuce, and spring onions to make a salad for dinner and still flowers in bloom. Just enough growing to let you imagine the warm days aren’t quite over yet.
But they are.
There dews are heavy and there has already been one light frost. The coming heavy frosts will kill off even the hardy nasturtiums and soon there won’t be much left in the garden to add to our dinner. It’s time to pull out the last of the summer crop and start thinking about what we might plant for winter.
We don’t plant a lot over winter. I am a fair weather gardener. I don’t like the cold, so I don’t intend to spend hours working in the garden when it is cold, wet and miserable over winter. But there is something about growing things that gets under your skin… I can’t rip out the zucchinis without thinking about what I could plant in their place. The seed catalogue lures me in and makes me think that perhaps the winter isn’t entirely too cold to garden…. I mean it’s not like it snows here or anything (well not often!)
So I will plant a winter garden, just a small one, but I’ll keep to my usual gardening ideals…
A Busy Mum’s Guide to Growing Veggies – in Winter!
Grow what you eat.
This the most important thing…. plant the stuff that you and your family like eating!
There is no point having a garden full of exotic Russian Kale if no one in your family will eat the stuff. We will grow bucket loads of broccoli and cauliflower because we like broccoli and cauliflower, and I can put it in lots of different meals, as well as freeze it if we have too much.
Plant what grows well in your garden.
There are some things I just can’t grow. Even though those things are supposed to be ‘easy’ to grow, in our garden, they just won’t. For a while I tried and tried and tried, then I got wise and gave up. I put my efforts into growing things that do well in our garden. We grow enough rhubarb to supply an army because for some reason, rhubarb grows in our garden even with severe neglect, and those are the best kind of plants, especially in winter! Another good winter plant for us is silver beet, it requires very little input from me to thrive.
Plant lots and put them close together.
Jackie French taught me this trick – ignore the planting distance written on the seed packets and punnets, put your plants close together. Some of them may not grow as well because they are crowded, but odds on they’ll still do ok and you can often pick those ones first and enjoy them as ‘baby broccoli’ or ‘pea sprouts’ etc. Planting close together and planting lots will mean less space for weeds, and more chance of success, especially if you are planting from seed.
Think ahead but don’t get too hung up on technicalities.
When growing veggies you do have to think ahead, at least a little. I need to plant garlic and potatoes in winter to have them in the summer. I need to think about how big plants will grow and where to put them so they don’t shade or crowd out other plants. But I try not to get too hung up on technicalities.
There is lots of great advice about companion planting, crop rotation, permaculture and all kinds of other fabulous gardening information, but I just I can’t seem to keep any of that information in my head. I’ve let got of having ‘the perfect garden’ and just settled for ‘a garden’ and so far, despite some failures, it’s been ok. I am sure when I have more time and my brain is not filled with sleep deprived mush and concerns of what on earth to put in school lunches, I’ll master crop rotation, but till then I’ll let it go.
Plant something for the kids.
If your life is full of small children, like mine is, it is unlikely you’ll ever get time to potter around the garden alone. I’ve found that planting something that kids can pick and pick and pick and never kill is important. We have lots of mint in our garden, which some people may think of as an invasive weed, but I think of as a play thing. My kids can pick the mint bare without any damage to the plant. They make potions out of it, or just collect it in a bucket, keeping them entertained for hours.
Also planting something the kids can eat straight from the plant is also a good idea. Peas are good in the cooler months
So there you have it… my probably almost fail safe, might work for you, if you want to give it a try, I’m not making any promises, guide to growing veggies. Of course these tips work equally as well if you are lucky enough to be on the other side of the world and enjoying spring instead of autumn!
Do you have some gardening tips for busy mums (or dads, or whoever) to share?
Do grow a winter veggie garden? What are your favourite winter veggies to plant?