Looking out my kitchen window I see the last of the golden leaves part from the fruit trees, gently slipping off, piling up on the ground and forming a blanket of colour – that beautiful signature of late autumn. The fall season is almost over and the coldness of winter has arrived. During early winter nights I'll sit in front of the open fire sorting through my seed collection, reading various gardening guides and planning the next wave of vegetables.
Winter's no time to let a veg garden sit idle. There is plenty to grow, especially if you have a slightly temperate/mild winter. It's also a good time to prepare the patch (in particular, the soil) for the oncoming summer (although it seems so far away). If you had a successful summer then it's likely there are some crappy looking zucchini plants, sad strawberries, sick tomatoes and a few hardy beans doing their best to hang on. This is the time of year to pull out the veg that's done its job and place it on the compost to rot into next season's base mulch. It's also a good idea to dig up the rotten material right at the bottom of the compost pile. This can be spread over the soil in the veg patch that you're about to gently till for winter planting. I tend to add in a bit of blood and bone at this point too. If it goes in now it will break down by the time it's spring planting time, providing a good source of food for warmer-season veg.
So you've dug up the previous season's left overs, dug in some of your mulch, sprinkled the blood and bone and now you're scratching your head thinking what to plant. Here are a few suggestions for temperate climates.
Easy to grow, it thrives in the cooler months then goes to seed when the warm weather arrives. I use it in salads and lunchtime rolls, or steamed/fried in butter next to some evil breakfast options like bacon and eggs. Eating baby spinach is good for you too... think Popeye.
Rocket loves winter. It's a good little salad mixer that also makes an excellent pesto for big pasta meals. It will grow well over winter without much attention until the warm weather turns it seedy and straggly.
Purple and green. Tastes great raw in a winter salad, a cheesey pasta, or steamed or stir fried. It's also a super food.
Green peas (or snow peas)
I love fresh green peas that burst with sweet flavour. They're a real treat and delicious in risotto and soups. Snow peas I could live without, but there are many fans out there and now is the time to plant them too.
A lot of different salad greens grow over winter, which means you can make a heap of warm winter salads. Marinated duck breast, poached rabbit and roast quail are all cool-climate wild meats that work well with winter salad greens.
Ever tried broad bean soup in winter? What about broad bean salad with tarragon lemon and fried prosciutto? Do it. Broad beans are legumes that also fix nitrogen in the soil, which is in-turn loved by tomatoes when the warm season comes along.
If you're new to gardening then plant these. Radishes are super because they grow fast, which means you'll be eating them in no time.
Onion, garlic, carrots
This is the time to plant these beasties, but you will have to be patient as they won't be ready until spring/summer.
Don't forget the herbs
You can go crazy this time of year with herb options. If you're setting up a new herb garden then start with the basics: rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano and the winter special... parsley,
It's worth remembering each Aussie region has a climate that will dictate what you can grow at this time of the year. Gardening Australia has a great reference guide to help you check what's suitable for your local area.
Rohan Anderson is the man behind Whole Larder Love, an online portal to an offline sowing, growing, reaping, hunting and cooking world.