Cool season crop tips
5 Tips for growing Brussels sprouts
- Plant in firm soil. This will keep the plant well anchored. Space plants 60cm apart.
- Grow in full sun in a position that is sheltered from the wind. Support the plants as the sprouts develop.
- Water deeply and regularly.
- Spray regularly with an organic insecticide to control aphids, white flies and caterpillars, especially on the underside of the leaves.
- Remove the lower leaves when they turn yellow, and snap off the top of the stem when the bottom sprouts are ready for picking. The strength of the plant will then go into developing the rest of the sprouts.
Ladybirds for aphid control
Leave a patch of nettles somewhere in the vegetable garden for ladybirds to breed on, and note that they overwinter in cracks, in the potting shed, under leaves, on indoor pot plants, and just about anywhere they can find shelter. They will also breed amongst the dense foliage of conifers in mid-winter. Leave ladybirds alone – you want them in the garden.
Tuck in your wormeries
Worms also feel the cold, and wormeries should be placed in a warm, sheltered, draught-free position. Like everything else, worm activity slows down but they still need regular feeding with kitchen and garden waste.
Blanket your VIPs
(Veggies In need of Protection)
Frost can be expected towards the end of May in most areas, and the nightly weather report is your best guide. Most cool-season veggies can withstand light frost, except lettuce, which should be protected with frost cloth, cloches (made from plastic cool drink bottles) or a home-made growing tunnel. When using frost cloth, remember to remove it during the day to expose the leaves to sunlight. Should severe frost be predicted, it’s a good idea to protect artichokes, beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage and parsnips. All other brassicas, garden peas, spinach, turnips and leeks can withstand heavy frost.
Quick winter guide
- Mulch around plants to protect the roots from cold and frost.
- Water enough to ensure the soil stays moist but not wet.
- Start planning for next season.
- Brighten up the garden with borders of pansies, violas, calendulas or poppies.
- Keep clearing away old plants and removing weeds.
- Strengthen seedlings by feeding them with a liquid fertiliser, so that they can resist the cold
The big dilemma!
What do you do when space is needed to plant cool-season veggies, but the veggies like tomatoes are still taking up the space, complete with plenty of well-formed green fruit that is still ripening?
- In areas where frost occurs at the end of May, remove small unripe fruits (tomatoes, brinjals, squashes and more) so that the plant can put its energy into ripening the larger remaining fruit.
- To speed up the ripening of tomatoes, remove any leaves that shade fruit from the sun.
- If there is a danger of early frost, pull out tomatoes that still have fruit and hang them upside-down (roots and all) in a sheltered but not sunny place so that the fruit can ripen.
- Another way to ripen tomatoes is to put the green fruit on a tray, lightly cover it with brown paper, and put it in a dark room with a ripe banana, red tomato or ripe apple to speed up the ripening process.
Winter herb care
- Although growth slows down, it is still important to fertilise every 6-8 weeks, especially if you are harvesting continuously.
- Generally potted herbs only need to be watered one or twice a week in winter, preferably in the morning. Check the soil moisture levels daily because the soil should not dry out completely. Herbs don’t like wet feet so don’t put saucers underneath the pots.
- Harvest small quantities at a time and always leave two growth points on the twig for re-shooting.
Did you know?
Red cabbage has more phytonutrients than green cabbage? The vitamin C content of red cabbage is 6-8 times higher than that of the green cabbage. The red pigment (anthocyanin) that is in red cabbage and purple cauliflower is an antioxidant that can help protect brain cells and may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Use space wisely
Look at your use of space in the veggie garden and see how to make it more productive. Broad pathways are the greatest space thieves in food gardens. Reducing the width of the pathway (they only need to be 30cm wide) can provide enough space for at least another row of vegetables in spring. Vertical gardening, using trellises, is another great space-saver. Don’t put the trellis directly against the wall. Allow 10-15cm of space between the trellis and the wall so that vines can be threaded through the trellis.
Cold weather can slow the decomposition process, but you can maintain an essential core of heat in your compost heap, which indicates that crucial microbial activity is still taking place.
- Help chilly, sluggish microbes by doing some of the work for them—chop or shred both browns and greens before adding them to the heap.
- Take time to add layers of brown ingredients to your green materials. The layers help insulate the heap, trapping heat and gases inside.
- Add manure from chickens or rabbits for heat-generating nitrogen.
- Small amounts of ash from your fireplace will enhance the calcium, phosphorus and potassium content of your finished compost.
- Winter winds and low humidity can dry out the compost, so moisten the compost heap once a month. It should remain damp, not soaking wet.
- Don’t turn the compost heap in winter as this releases the heat. Wait until spring to turn the pile.
- To boost the compost heap’s external temperature, site your compost in full sun.
- Covering your heap with a canvas or plastic prevents heat and moisture loss (or too much water in winter-rainfall areas).
Prune deciduous fruit trees
- Peaches and nectarines: Remove dead wood, weak growth and unwanted branches in the centre of the tree.
- Apricots and plums: Just shape the trees. The older wood must not be cut away if you want fruit.
- Apples, pears and cherries: Remove scraggly, young shoots. Of the remaining young shoots, cut off one-third, prune one third to half their length, and leave the final third to strengthen the framework of the tree and encourage the development of spurs.