Winter Gardening

Working in the Winter Garden

It has been a few months since I posted a story about my garden.   Friends have been giving me a nudge and asking ….. what’s happening ….. how is your garden growing? I have not been idyll. Dressed in thermals to guard against the winter cold I have been expending energy around the compost heap. While I have been working I have also been planning a number of blogs on compost making and worm farming.

Garlic and radicchio after the last of the radish have been removed - Henny is searching for a sweet treat amongst the straw.
Garlic and radicchio after the last of the radish have been harvested – Henny is searching for a sweet treat amongst the straw with broad beans towering in the background.

However one of the most important things I have been doing is collaborating with a group of committed volunteers helping to set up Open Gardens Victoria.

Back in 1987 a small team of like-minded Victorian’s established the first open garden program. This grew into Open Gardens Australia. However in June this year  OGA ‘Closed the Garden Gates’ for the last time.  A small group of us in Victoria felt this should not be the end. Our State has a long and passionate history of all things horticultural, it is home to thousands of committed gardeners and the place where many wonderful private gardens are waiting to be discovered.

‘We had to do something’

…………….so after much work behind the scenes Open Gardens Victoria will launch its first garden at Musk Cottage in September this year. Visit www.opengardensvictoria.org.au to learn more about gardens opening this spring.

OGV Musk Cottage_Lge

Back to the veggie patch………..

My garlic is well established, the radishes have been and gone and the radicchio I planted in April needs thinning and transplanting. I have been picking coriander for micro greens, baking beautiful pies using the swiss chard planted last summer, thinning leeks for risotto, picking beetroot, parsley, lettuce and spinach. Pumpkins are still being baked or put into soup and potatoes dug when needed. A few of the last Hungarian peppers need picking, the plants look ‘shocked’ because they don’t like the cold, but the shiny red peppers bake up a treat. I go out and harvest a fresh winter salad each evening.

In the morning we enjoy stewed rhubarb on our muesli.

My garden is abundant and the crisp winter air offers a special snap to the vegetables and reminds me I’m alive and spring is around the corner.

A barrow load of compost ready to spread and the hay bale enclosure ready for the new 'hot' compost heap.
A barrow load of compost ready to spread on the garden and the newly constructed hay bale enclosure with cardboard base ready for the next ‘hot’ compost pile.  I will talk about this technique in my next posts.

POP…… radish are UP

POP…………..…

The first leaves of radish showing after only five days after sowing
The first leaves of radish showing only five days after sowing

Just 5 days and seeds of radish have germinated; another week and radicchio are also up.  A certain sign that the seed you have sown is viable is when the cotyledon leaf appears; at the same time the first roots will be forming below the soil surface.  Cotyledon leaves are often kidney shaped and appear as a pair, differing remarkably from adult leaves that will soon follow.

Baby radish and radicchio germinating between rows of garlic
Baby radish and radicchio germinating between rows of garlic

The Radish and Radicchio will provide a cheery winter crop for salads.  It is a great use of space as rows of garlic growing each side mature through winter and spring.

A sensible use of space with your radish growing between rows of garlic.
A sensible use of space with your radish growing between rows of garlic.

Small seedlings are always prone to slug and snail attack. Sprinkle some coffee grounds around – snails and slugs hate the gritty nature of the grinds. An added bonus of coffee grounds is that worms love the grit. Ask your local café if you can take some home, they often throw the spent grounds in the bin.  Any excess you can sprinkle into your worm farm or in the compost bin, it helps to sweeten the decomposing matter.  I will complete a blog on this at the end of May.

Days are now milky with cloud and nights have turned quite cold. Add the chill factor from a wind whipping through everything and we know that winter is just around the corner.

Gardener’s Lore…….. the growth on everything slows as we approach the shortest day. Four weeks each side of the winter equinox (June 21, when the daylight is at its shortest for the year) most plants slow down.   With a little luck a gardener might catch one or two days where the temperature will peak just below 20 degrees. The soil is still warm so there is time to POP a crop of snap peas, podding peas or snow peas in – choose the variety that pleases the cook in your family for a tasty late winter pick.

The size difference between dry pea seed and that soaked for 24 hours is very noticeable
The size difference between dry pea seed and that soaked for 24 hours is very noticeable

I recommend soaking the seed overnight as I did with broadbeans (see post April 26). This approach will shorten germination by up to a week. Peas sown now will be ready from about mid August. If you have a really protected spot with a warm wall that absorbs and holds heat you can bring this forward by a few weeks.

Lucky people with a mini glass house might even get them sooner!!!

Thin radish shoots and use them as micro greens to add sweetness to an autumn salad.
Thin radish shoots, wash well and use them as micro greens to add sweetness to an autumn salad.

I have thinned some of the germinated radish and will use the shoots as micro greens in a salad for dinner tonight. Mixed with baby lettuce leaves, parsley, celery and a sprinkling of marigold petals to add a peppery flavour to the salad. It will accompany pasta sauce prepared from my own bottled passata.

Baby curly red lettuce, crunchy celery, chopped parsley with a sprinkle of baby radish micro greens and marigold petals.  Autumn Perfection.
Baby curly red lettuce, crunchy celery, chopped parsley with a sprinkle of baby radish micro greens and marigold petals. Autumn Perfection.

It’s going to be warm over the next few days so if you have an opportunity get sowing and reap the sweet results.