While you may not be relishing the end of summer, it's now time to get the garden ready, writes Justin Newcombe.
Unbelievably, it's time to get things set up for the winter garden. Actually I'm running late again. Some crops have already required a lot of work and some forethought I've yet to possess in any great measure. Obviously prepping the soil is important but you've got to have something to put in it. For some of this winter veg stuff, if you get really behind, then you can pick up some punnets, but with some things that's just not possible.
Late sowings of coriander, basil and peas may prove productive if the weather holds out. If you do decide to have a go at some late herbs, I would think about using pots. It's easier to move them around, which means you can follow the sun and if need be give your young plants protection from any erratic temperature fluctuations as the weather cools. You can even plant micro-greens which are plants grown to an early stage (secondary leaves) and then harvested. All sorts of things make for very tasty salad treats including juvenile peashoots. Because the time taken to grow these is much shorter, the plants are smaller so are planted much closer together.
Some of our winter favourites like carrots, parsnip and beetroot are best sown straight into the ground or direct sown, as they cannot be transplanted. It's right on the cusp of being too late to plant parsnip but it's well worth the effort. The seed can be temperamental so fresh is definitely best and make sure the soil has a good tilth to a good depth. Pouring boiling water over the seed once you've planted it will help break down the seed coat and aid germinating. Carrots are much simpler and come in many different colours. I've found spreading seed-raising mix on the ground, sowing the carrot seed and then covering with a bit of windbreak cloth, a good way to get a good uptake. Beets can be started off in a seed tray if it's really cold, but planted in the ground is best if possible. For a tasty salad option, beets also make great micro-greens too.
Brassicas are usually the big star in the winter garden around our way and with most of them taking up a lot of space, propagating these in pots then planting them on makes sense. These are easy to propagate from seed especially if you have a cold frame. I use seed-raising mix and fresh seed. Make sure they're watered regularly and kept in a warm place. Initially brassicas can grow very quickly but will slow down once the ground temperature drops. Make sure you plant them in a nitrogen-depleted part of your garden, otherwise you'll have a lot of impressive foliage, encouraged by excessive nitrogen and not a lot of head, which is the part you want to eat.
A good insurance policy to get you through winter if all else fails, is the New Zealand spinach or tetragonia tetragonioides: the only species of edible plant originating here that is propagated around the world. If you're just planning on taking a break this winter, then plant a green crop. Mustard or lupin are the easiest, just make sure you dig them in before they flower to get a good start on spring.