The excitement of harvesting your first beans and jersey benne potatoes used to be what Christmas was all about for me, and that feeling of delight to share lovingly-grown summer produce with those I love most around the Christmas table.
But that certainly might not be the case this year and for years to come, having experienced the most bizarre weather extremes throughout the past two months around New Zealand.
If your potatoes were lucky enough to survive the post-cyclone wind and rains, or the frosts and even snow of October, be very grateful this year. For others, the harvest won’t come until well into January.
Since such unpredictable weather extremes have become more frequent during springtime here in New Zealand, I am now a great advocate for planting in November, instead of the more traditional month of October.
I have conducted regular tests in my own gardens and found that plants started in October are often surpassed by plants started in November; which seem to thrive and produce more prolifically all season long.
With a bit of gardener’s tenacity and luck this Christmas, I hope you can enjoy a fresh garden-grown salad on your festive table, with a previously-harvested cucumber and some basil leaves, or even a delicious fresh dollop of pesto. Remember here that lettuces can be harvested via leaf picking so that you can take a few leaves at a time and your plant will regrow. As soon as your basil leaves are of size, they can be plucked too.
You might even have some young beans to harvest and enough zucchini to make delicious zucchini and feta fritters. Sliced zucchini marinated in tamari and fresh garlic also goes a treat on the barbecue.
While some have had great success with garlic this year, others have suffered with the dreaded rust. Be sure to celebrate whatever harvest you have and create something delicious and fresh with your produce.
Are mocktails or cocktails on your list for Christmas Day? If so, then I invite you to use the fresh herbs from your garden to add that extra summer zing to your drink. Thyme, preserved lemons, basil, and lemongrass all will go well with your favourite drink and yet they are often overlooked as garnishes and ingredients.
If you are baking, use some lemon balm leaves, borage flowers or even lavender in your Christmas creations to add that special touch. We tend to focus on fruit and vegetables and forget the delights of edible flowers and sweet fragrant herbs.
As the joyous time to start harvesting the fruits of our labour approaches, I encourage you to harvest often rather than leave your plant to carry the heavy load of produce. It may seem counterintuitive, but this helps your plants to grow more fruit and vegetables.
To keep your plants producing all summer long, my top tips are to give them love, feed them consistently over the summer months and harvest often - even if the produce is small. A zucchini plant will give you much more when the fruit are harvested small, rather than holding big fruit on the plant.
Pick beans often to encourage more flowers, and be sure to harvest big leaves from your basil, even nipping out the top growing points early in the season, as this will encourage your plant to get bushy and to keep producing pungent and abundant leaves.
Make a commitment to get in your garden and look under the leaves for any pests and diseases, and keep your plants in optimum health.
Celebrate the joys from your garden and give gratitude to your plants.
Merry Christmas and see you in the new year.