I started to plant my autumn/winter crops in the last two weeks of February. What a performance! The ground was, and still is, so dry that I had to prepare beds by digging ditches a spade depth deep before breaking up the bone-dry sub-soil with a fork. Then, using my precious tank water, I flooded the trenches and allowed the water to soak in before replacing some of the top soil, adding more water and mixing thoroughly. Repeating this process a couple of times gave me beds with enough moisture in the root zone to allow me to plant with confidence.
All indications are that early March is going to remain exceptionally dry so I might have to use the same technique for the next round of sowing and planting. I’m encouraged by the thought that increases in vegetable prices are almost inevitable as the drought continues.
SEEDS TO SOW
Sow a few broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and red cabbage every three or four weeks to give continuity of supply. I always start them in containers but they can be sown directly into a garden seedbed for transplanting later. Whichever method is used the seedlings must be protected from the voracious caterpillars of the Cabbage White butterfly. Because I don’t use chemical sprays on my food crops I prefer a simple frame to support a cover of Quarantine Cloth. This has the added advantage of providing light shade for the tender seedlings.
Spring onions, lettuce, silver beet and perpetual spinach can now be sown directly into the garden or, as I prefer, into containers to produce seedlings for transplanting later.
Carrots, rocket, radish, beetroot and parsnips can be sown directly into the garden. Covering seeds with a layer of seed-raising potting mix helps to prevent soil from forming a hard crust that can hinder germination.
Snow peas prefer cooler conditions but can be sown now in containers for transplanting later in the month.
VEGETABLES TO PLANT
March is usually a wonderful month to plant winter vegetables but for most of us this year planting will be limited by the amount of water we have available and by our commitment to applying it in a timely and effective way. Regular deep watering in the evening two or three times a week is best for most crops.
All the varieties listed in ‘Seeds to Sow’ can be planted now but, if possible, give leafy crops such as lettuce and spinach some shade from the sun. Leeks should be planted as soon as possible to give them time to mature for winter harvest.
Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay and sage thrive in hot, dry conditions. In pots they still require regular watering but once established in the garden they should be left to fend for themselves. In my garden Italian parsley seems to stand up to heat better than the curly variety. Both can be planted now but growing from seed requires patience as it is very slow to germinate.
Contributed by Chris Green, SuperGrans WBOP Volunteer
Want to know more? Come along to our monthly (1st Wednesday of the month) Growing Food with SuperGrans at the SuperGrans Offices, 14 Jocelyn St, Katikati and meet our volunteer gardening gurus! Free event, just drop in.