Keep your garden growing with these reliable in-between crops, writes Justin Newcombe.
At the end of summer, the anti-climax in the garden can be withering on your cultivation confidence. What was once the abundant cornucopia which you proudly, yet modestly (no one likes a smartass) promoted to enhance your "alpha gardener" status, has turned into sea of mouldy, rotting, empty misery and once again you have been crushed into a horticultural untouchable.
Well, the good news is you're not alone, and all this garden degeneration is just a big green light to a winter full of gardening excellence. Yes, your star will rise again, but in the meantime you need to tide yourself over, grow a bridge from one season of bounty to another.
There are a few plants that really come into their own during the gardeners' drought and most of them are of the leafy green variety. Number one on my list of famine-busters is New Zealand spinach. The heart shaped leaves of this drought-tolerant toughie are plentiful, attractive and nutritious as well as being very easy to cultivate. New Zealand spinach , although native, was not a favourite of Maori, but Captain Cook spotted it straight out of the blocks and found it excellent for combating scurvy. It was subsequently the only vegetable cultivated in Europe that was native to Australasia for nearly 200 years.
Another famine-buster is mesclun. The name is derived from a French culinary term for "mixture". Half a pack of seed sprinkled into a square metre of tilled garden bed will, after a short wait, give you enough salad greens for six weeks. The mixtures are made up from various lettuces, rocket, chervil, arugula, endive, mustard greens, mizuna, dandelion, spinach, sorrel and others - even herbs like chicory aren't out of the question. Your best bet is to get one lot of mesclun up and growing, then follow through with a second planting about four weeks later. Mesclun is best harvested young and should be removed after the first signs of deterioration. A second planting after the first can be successful if the first one is removed before it goes to seed. It's best to plant mesclun after legumes such as beans or peas or better yet, after a green crop.
Finally, as far as being a tough no-nonsense workhorse goes you can't beat silverbeet. I like to cut my silverbeet down to a stump when I harvest it. This way it never flowers and the leaves are always fresh and free of holes. Silverbeet is mostly cooked but these young leaves are also tasty raw.
These three greens can provide a staple supply of fresh veggies while your winter plants come to fruition. They might not be on your garden A list, but when the curtain is called on your heavy cropping summer rock stars you'll be pleased you planted some plodders.
3 of the best: Uses for bamboo
Some of these need very high tepees indeed. Bamboo gives you the full pow-wow.
Intricate results can be achieved by the craftsman, and some pretty rustic ones by everyone else.
Seedling Frame Protection Units
Or as we say in the gardening game, FPUs (see the facing page). Keeping your garden safe since March 2011.