Autumn and Winter Checklist

Here’s the autumn and winter checklist of tasks in the food garden to take you through the cooler seasons.

Micro broccoli for health

Let’s face it, there are very few people who actually like broccoli, but we do know how good it is for us. So rather than eat the whole plant, try eating the sprouts or microgreens and get the health benefits without the need to steam your way through the bigger version. In fact, the sprouted version has higher concentrations of good properties than the mature version. Like all cruciferous veggies, broccoli contains glucosinolates, and broccoli microgreens have more than most. Scientists are now studying the benefits of these compounds to prevent DNA damage that could lead to cancer and help prevent inflammation that can lead to neurodegenerative diseases. While the scientist are busy, we may as well add them to the autumn and winter checklist and start eating them on our sandwiches and in our salads.

Tuck them up

A vital step in your autumn and winter checklist is to protect your sensitive plants against frost with frost-protection fabric before the first frost hits. See the calendar for an idea of the dates. Also spread compost around the bases of frost-sensitive plants to give them an extra blanket and a nutritional boost. Frost calendar Winter veggies need at least 6 – 8 weeks of good growth before a major frost. Work back from the expected date of the first frost in your area to see when you can still plant to be comfortably within the frost-free period.

These are the likely dates when 50% of each region could experience frost.

  • Northern Province: 19 June
  • Mpumalanga Highveld: 29 May
  • North West: 26 May
  • Northern Cape: 26 May
  • Gauteng: 24 May
  • Free State: 16 May
  • KwaZulu-Natal (not tropical): 2 June
  • Eastern Cape: 26 May
  • Western Cape: 9 June

Designed for the tough conditions of Africa

The STIHL 230 range is designed for challenging conditions and hard work. All models are economical to run and simple to maintain, sharing spares such as filters for convenience and limited downtime. When planting, you need the robust BC 230 cultivator, with strong, rotating 250mm blades to easily till prepared soil. This machine has been designed, like all STIHL products, to focus on operator wellbeing and practicality. The handle folds away for easy storage and transportation. www.stihl.co.za

Try something new

Are you happy with the layout of your veggie garden? Research different options: raised beds offer better drainage, narrower beds or keyhole beds are easier to work, eco-circles are good for wise water use. Changing the design of a vegetable garden not only offers new options (vertical elements, mixed herb and flower planting) but also invigorates the soil. The digging of new beds aerates the soil, while additional compost adds nutrition and improves the texture.

Picking peppers

Sweet peppers are easy to grow, and they are expensive to buy in the store. They are often harvested while green, but you can leave them on the plant to ripen into yellow, orange and red peppers, and the longer they stay on the plant the sweeter they become. Remove the fruit using pruning shears, scissors or a sharp knife to avoid damaging their delicate branches. Store in a fridge for 7 – 10 days or wash, cut and freeze for future use. Roast them, stuff them, pickle them, or use them fresh in salsas and salads.

No herb garden? Start one now…

Of all the edibles, herbs are the easiest to grow and are always available and a must for your autumn and winter checklist. You don’t have to worry about sowing seasons, pests or lack of water. They just like sun, some water now and then, and lots of picking. A herb garden can be as simple as five or six pots of your favourite herbs, or even one or two on your kitchen’s windowsill.

Quick way to dry lavender flowers

Cut the flowers before the buds open, and cut at the base of the flower stem. Lay the flower stems on a large wooden chopping board and place it in the sun, indoors or outdoors. Don’t use a metal tray, which gets too hot, or plastic, which may melt a bit. Let the lavender dry completely, which should take about a week. Check periodically to see when the stems are dry. When ready, the flowers should crumble easily from the stems.

Save by growing your own

The most cost-effective winter veggies to grow are Asian greens, lettuce, rocket and kale. Compare the cost of a packet of seed with a packet of harvested greens in the supermarket. For instance, one seed packet of lettuce (about R20) will provide five months’ worth of the vegetable.

Edible leaves and pretty flowers

Rose-scented geranium is a fast-growing perennial with strongly rose-scented leaves bearing small mauve flowers in summer. Plants grow in full sun or semi-shade. Use the leaves in a strong infusion to flavour sauces, custards, jellies and ice lollies.

Foliar feed for extra vooma

While healthy soil is the backbone of any good garden, there may be a time, when a plant is under stress or lacking a certain compound, that a quick dose of nutrients is the answer, and that is where foliar feeds come in. By spraying the leaves of the plant with a suitable liquid plant fertiliser you can get the nutrients into the plant faster than you would be able to by conventional methods targeting the roots and stems. Foliar food is usually less concentrated than regular fertilisers and there are plenty of good options available, even ones you can make yourself out of kelp or comfrey. Mix with water as per the instructions and spray in the early morning when the air is cool. Remember to spray on the underside of leaves as well for the full benefits to boost your plants.

Clean up

Autumn is a great time of the year to clean up and add compost to beds for the next batch of plants. Remove spent plants and rake the area well to reduce the chance of pests and diseases. Plant a cover crop if you are not using the area for winter veg. If you have some free space, plant quick-growing greens like spinach, mustard, kale, lettuce and any of the Asian greens.

Manage kitchen waste

Kitchen scraps and peelings should never be thrown into the bin to go to landfills, but rather used to add to compost to break down and feed your garden. This is a good time of the year to start a new compost heap and reap the benefits of having free compost in 6 weeks’ time. If composting is too much for your garden space, invest in a bokashi bin. The bokashi process will break down food waste, including cooked food, in your own kitchen.

TIP If you have a long trip to the compost heap with your organic scraps, place them in biodegradable plastic bags and pop them in the freezer for the next time you plan a trip to the compost heap.

Peas for light soil

If you have light soil that drains well, then as part of your autumn and winter checklist sow garden peas in the Western Cape, Lowveld and sub-tropical coast and warmer areas on the highveld. Peas need deep, fertile soil and love a warm wall that receives winter sun. As most are climbing varieties, train them up a trellis. Don’t let the soil dry out, and fertilise once a week when the plants start flowering. Try this RAW seeds’ ‘Tom Thumb’ is a miniature bush pea that’s good for growing in containers or tucked into small spaces in the garden. It grows 20cm high, doesn’t need staking, and the pods can be harvested when very young or left to mature for shelling.

7 tips for growing peas successfully

  • Keep the soil moist during germination.
  • For climbing peas, put the supports in place at the time of sowing.
  • Thin out the seedlings to a final spacing of 40cm between plants.
  • Water with care. The soil should be moist but not too wet or allowed to dry out. Plants that dry out don’t produce pods. Cold, wet soil encourages fungal and rotting diseases.
  • Spread a light mulch around the plants to keep the soil moist.
  • Support bushy plants by drawing the soil up around the stem.
  • Feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser once the plant starts flowering.

Sheet mulching for new beds

Avoid the backbreaking work of starting a new garden from scratch and try sheet mulching. Rather than digging out existing plants, weeds, rocks and stones, tilling the soil, and digging in the organic matter, instead layer up materials that you would use to make compost on top of the soil and let the composting process do it for you.

  1. Start by cutting any plants in the area, particularly lawn, to the ground.
  2. Add a thick layer of compost on top of this, covering any plant material. Add any green clippings on top of the compost and then water well.
  3. Cover this with a layer of newspaper (about 8 sheets thick) or cardboard to cover the entire area. Sprinkle with water to keep it in place.
  4. Top this with a thick layer of compost and then a layer of organic mulch like wood chips, sawdust or tree clippings.
  5. You can now plant seedlings or larger plants into bed, and as they grow everything underneath breaks down and forms a moisture-retaining bed with good drainage.
The Gardener