Every year up until now, I have stripped every shred of edible green stuff from the vegetable garden in summer and found myself, come autumn, with nothing to eat.
Autumn and winter gardening has never excited me - probably because I remember what my mother fed me from her winter garden in the deep south and I've never really got over it.
But despite my continued abhorrence for swede, I am determined to have an ongoing garden this year, and I'm planning for it now.
All the dead and failed vegetables in the garden need to be removed and thrown in the compost, and the soil rejuvenated for the next lot of planting. Depending on how scientific you want to be, or if you're concerned about your soil, you could have it tested. You can buy simple testing kits fairly cheaply at hardware stores and it's always interesting to find out what, if anything, is lacking.
Pull out any stakes, obelisks and trellises, and if you plan to reuse them, give them a thorough clean first before you reinstate them. Otherwise, clean up and store in a dry place for the winter.
Now, the trick to finding a bit of enthusiasm for planting vegetables that don't really appeal is to first find fantastic recipes for them. I have a recipe for an easy silverbeet souffle, which is an absolute winner (email email@example.com if you want it) and it has completely changed my mind about silverbeet. A couple of years ago, I was only growing it for the chooks, but now it's as carefully nurtured as anything else in the garden. Not that it needs nurturing - silverbeet is as tough as old nails and matures in a couple of months. Plant 30cm apart and water regularly.
Cabbage is the great value - it's a versatile vegetable for autumn and winter, and while I'm not a major fan, The Partner is. So he'll plant wintercross and savoy and I'll try to find ways to cook them so they taste like something else. Now's the time to get the cabbages in so they get plenty of sun to start them off. Plant them in a well-drained, fertile soil.
Broccoli likes cool weather and our summer crop certainly testified to that. It was prolific and tasty but leggy and open, so we'll wait for the weather to cool down a bit and then plant. Rule of thumb is 45cm apart, and you should be eating it in 50 to 70 days.
Celery is a fantastic winter vegetable and adds flavour, body and colour to winter soups, casseroles and stir fries. You can plant some in autumn if you're frost-free and can offer full sun and well-drained fertile soil. Water it heaps. Put your plants about 20cm apart and your rows 60cm apart and give it 100 days to mature.
Which brings us back to swede. I've read it's a good idea to plant it where beans and peas have grown before, and to put the seed in at a depth of three times the diameter of the seed, around 20cm apart. The soil temperature should be between 7C and 30C, which you have to admit is pretty forgiving, and you should be harvesting in 70 to 100 days.
Then there's the problem of what to do with the stuff. To start with, you can cook the leaves like cabbage when they're young. For more ideas, plus everything you ever wanted to know about swedes and then some, www.motts.co.nz/html/about - swedes.html has the most astonishing information.
Honestly, even if you don't like them, you'll be fascinated. The best thing is a glossary of what other countries call them (eddies in England, rutabagas in the US and neeps in Scotland). Very handy if you're trying to get your kids to eat them and daren't tell them what they really are.
Belle of the bloom
After a discussion on swede and silverbeet, there's a huge need to feast your eyes on something beautiful - and my latest new best friend is a true southern belle.
Southern Belle hibiscus hails from New Orleans and is one of the top five most spectacular flowers I've ever seen.
Eat your hearts out, swede growers of the south - this one's not for you.
It likes to be hot, wet and sunny,
so a stream bank in the Far North (mine!) is just perfect.
Hardy hibiscus is a deciduous perennial and the Southern Belle strains have the largest flowers in the malvaceae family.
The plants will grow about 1.5m by 1.5m, and the flowers will reach 25cm across.
They come in a variety of colours including pink, white, red, rose and bicolour pink and white. They make heaps of blooms over quite a long flowering period, and nothing could do more to give your garden a tropical look.