Gardening: Plant your Christmas feast

By Meg Liptrot

New spuds and strawberries spell Christmas Day for Meg Liptrot.

Sowing fruit and veges now will give you a delicious summer harvest, and save you money. Photo / Meg Liptrot
Sowing fruit and veges now will give you a delicious summer harvest, and save you money. Photo / Meg Liptrot

No one wants to think about Christmas right now, but with a bit of planning your garden will save the day and the dollars come December.

Now is the right time to start growing part of your Christmas feast, as well as food that will help provide for visiting relatives over summer.

If you don't already have a vege plot, dedicate a sunny part of your back or front yard for fruit and veges and break the ground.

Potatoes suit being planted into freshly broken ground, and they don't need perfectly prepared soil to get growing. Just ensure it's dug over and grass-free. If you get some early season potatoes in the ground in September, you will be harvesting small new potatoes in time for Christmas dinner.

Early season potato varieties include Cliffs Kidney, Swift, Jersey Benne and Rocket.

Harvest the first new potatoes (which are smaller than the main crop) when the plant starts flowering.

Main crop potatoes can be harvested in March once the plant dies back, and they have better keeping qualities.

Potatoes should be planted in trenches, with only a little compost - too much of a good thing means lots of leaf growth and fewer tubers.

Dig the trench to around 20cm deep, and put the soil to one side. Place the seed potatoes around 30cm apart and just cover with soil. As the plant starts to grow, regularly mound the soil up the shoots, and the potatoes will form along the length of the stem.

About 80 per cent of the potato crop is grown above the spot the seed potato was placed.

A foliar feed of liquid seaweed helps prevent disease and keeps the potatoes growing healthily. Remember, your potatoes shouldn't be grown on the same ground two years running, and not where other members of the solanum family, such as tomatoes, have grown before.

Rotate your vege family groups to avoid build-up of pests and disease and to ensure the soil is not being overtaxed by one crop.

A popular sweet treat at Christmas is strawberries. Plant them now in well-drained, cultivated soil and ensure the crown of the plant is above soil level. Mulch with straw to keep the developing berries off the soil and prevent fungal problems.

As soon as the berries begin to blush, cover with bird net or your dessert will be snapped up. Strawberries will happily grow in pots, with the berries hanging over the sides and clear of dirt.

Each year take runners off your strawberry plants, and plant elsewhere to increase your harvest.

Plant beans, cucumbers and tomatoes in well-composted soil. If you're using shop-bought compost, you will need to give it a boost with an organic fertiliser such as blood and bone. That's why home-made compost is best. It tends to be richer and full of nutrients for your plants.

Traditionally, tomatoes are planted on Labour Weekend, but you can plant earlier if you protect the plants from frost.

Runner beans twine around vertical stakes and will often grow over 2m high, so ensure your stakes are sturdy and secure.

Poke three or four bean seeds at the base of each stake. That way the odds are in your favour, and apply eco-friendly snail bait.

To ensure you have enough beans for Christmas Day, pick regularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas, blanch by dipping in boiling water for a few seconds, then put in freezer bags, pre-cut and ready to go.

Salad greens can be grown closer to Christmas and sown in situ for "cut and come again" harvesting. Think outside the square and make your salad festive with edible flowers tossed in.

Hot coloured and peppery flavoured nasturtium, or the milder flavours of star-shaped blue borage or purple chive pompoms, will add colourful festive appeal to your meals.

TIPS AND TRICKS

Fruit: Plums start ripening in December, just in time for your Christmas spread. Add to puddings, slice up fresh pieces on a cheese board, or give plum preserves as gifts.

Herbs: Plant sage and thyme for stuffing, and parsley or mint to serve with new potatoes.

Flowers: Freshly cut blooms and greenery add the finishing touch to your table setting.

Keep a few chickens in your backyard and make use of their eggs for Christmas dinner by:

* Whisking up a rich hollondaise sauce to serve with freshly steamed beans and new potatoes.

* Slice eggs into salad nicoise (the other ingredients include new potatoes, tomatoes and green beans).

* Make traditional custards with egg yolks, or treats such as creme caramel or creme brulee.

* Male a pavlova of your homegrown strawberries coated in a sugar and lemon syrup.

(Use chicken manure to give compost a boost.)

- Herald on Sunday

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