Kitchen Garden Guides

Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

When sitting down to write, at 5.30am on the Monday of the week of my monthly garden guide, I look back at what I have written in previous years at this time. April, more than any other, seems to be the month full to the brim with the wonderful joy of food gardening. Topics from the last few years include deep hay, garlic, self-sown winter vegetables, the 3 stages of eating beans, what to do now to keep your fennel producing, broad beans, onions, harvesting sunchokes, bio-char, picking pumpkins, fungi and your soil, lacto-fermented pickling and so much more. I would like these, and all the 5 years’ of my garden guides, to be available for everyone to peruse so I will slowly be adding them to my blog Vegetable Vagabond, where they will be easily found.

The perennial food garden, expanded

I have patches of food throughout my whole garden, for several reasons. First and foremost because many plants are social creatures and benefit from mixing it with other, complementary friends. This is called companion planting and also permaculture guilds. That is a topic in itself for another day. Second, when something dies down, why not have something else popping up there for a while? Why not have daffodils amongst your sunchokes or scatter coriander seeds amongst your asparagus as it dies down? In my garden, marigolds, rocket and the little, native Tasmanian violets pop up everywhere there is space, all by themselves.
Here are some vegetables that you only have to plant once but can harvest year after year and amongst whom you can dot some flowers or herbs or quick growing greens, for use after the main crop dies down.
·         Horseradish - some people say it can become invasive but mine never has and I wish it would as there is nothing more delicious than hot, roasted vegetables, straight out of the oven, with freshly picked horseradish root grated over. Or, grate it and immediately pack into small jars, with a little salt. It keeps in the fridge for years! Don’t screw up your nose until you have tried it as fresh horseradish is so much deeper in flavour than the stuff in jars. Once you have dug, harvested and replanted your horseradish roots a bit later in autumn, you could plant a quick-growing Asian green like bok choy or mizuna or flowers such as alyssum, which will self-sow as well.
·         Multiplier onions - Walking onions and potato onions – I love these because I am a lazy gardener who eats from the garden everyday and they provide all year round as well as multiplying at the same time. Lucky us! Some multiplier onions are also known as “walking onions” because they form a cluster of little onion bulbs in the summer, on a seed stalk. As autumn sets in, the stalk bends over and the already-sprouting bulbs touch the soil and root. So, after a while, your permanent onion area slowly expands! These onions make terrific spring and early summer green onions and as the patch expands, I pull some up to use as well. You could have them in your asparagus patch or you could plant some in flower beds.
Potato onions also make top-set bulbs, but the great thing about them is that they also make a “nest” of rather large onions underground. Some are as large as smaller storage onions. They taste great and store very well. You can remove the larger underground onions to store or use, taking some of the smaller ones to pickle, as well as some of the larger topset bulbs. Then, by planting the smaller bulbs, both topsets and underground bulbs, you can keep your potato onion planting going forever!
·         Sunchokes – aka Jerusalem artichokes or fartichokes! Wonderful as medium to tall border plants that will grow in the toughest conditions with no care. However, you will get better bulbs for eating if you give them compost and deep mulch. I have them as a narrow hedge and backdrop to part of my garden. Once I dig them in autumn, I replant some, at the same time digging in some compost, then plant lettuce there but you could plant winter flowering annuals. Next spring/ early summer I am going to sow bush beans amongst the sunchokes, which will have started growing by then, to give them some wind protection and support, in a similar way that people sow climbing beans amongst their corn.
·         Other perennial vegetables include globe artichokes, rhubarb, fennel bulbs, chives, garlic chives, asparagus….. and many more.


Plant out soft neck varieties such as Tasmanian purple, now, into damp soil but do not water until you see little green shoots appearing, or you risk them rotting. These will be ready to harvest before Christmas, when their soft stems brown off and flop over. If overwatered at this time the water seeps down into the garlic head and can cause rot or cause them not to store well.
Plant out hard neck varieties later and into May. Later they will produce tall, curly, green stems called scapes, which are fabulously delicious. I leave some to grow scapes but most I cut off so more energy goes into growing the bulbs. These will be ready to harvest in January or even February and have a hard stem, right down into the garlic head. In a wet summer, these survive better as they are less prone to rot because of the way they grow tight around the hard neck.

April jobs
Sow now
  • Lime brassica beds followed by liquid feed with fish emulsion.
  • Make compost in 1 cubic meter bays. Cover thickly with straw. Leave for winter.
  • Plant garlic, shallots
  • Harvest sunchokes, Chinese artichokes, horseradish, seeds
  • Pick pumpkins with at least a 20cm stem and set out to dry in a dry, warm tin shed
  • Look into making biochar from your own garden debris or buy and activate
  • Use natural lactose fermentation to pickle any hard vegetables such as gherkins, carrots, radishes
Asian greens
English spinach
Broad beans
Miners’ Lettuce
Spring onions
Sugar snap peas under cover
Green manure
Sweet peas
Winter annual flowers
Plant now
Spring bulbs
Evergreen shrubs and trees

March 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

As we move into March, many trees are telling us autumn has begun, while we all hope for some steady, warm days to ripen our tomatoes. At least the wind has abated!


The recent Koonya Garlic Festival has put garlic at the forefront of my mind and I will be preparing beds this week. I went to 3 talks at the festival, all with excellent advice on growing, eating and storing garlic. What it comes down to is that, whatever garlic cultivars you choose to grow, the state of your soil will determine how well the flavour develops. The growth of the bulb itself will be determined by soil and weather.
Garlic does not need a lot of fertility but it needs humus (well rotted organic matter) and for the soil microbes to be well fed. Here is what I am going to do:
1.   Dig to a spade’s depth and loosen any clumps
2.   Dig in plenty of aged sheep manure (cow would be even better, I am saving my compost for brassicas and other greens)
3.   Dig in a well known, pelletised seaweed, fish, humic acid and manure product available in large buckets. Seamungus.
4.   Really concentrate on improving the structure of the soil, with elbow and back grease!
5.   Mention was made of lactobacillus bacteria so I might dilute some kefir or pickle juice and pour it over!
6.   Water, mulch and leave, or sow a quick green manure.
7.   Plant out at times according to what garlic you have.

The planting, harvest and storage times depend on the cultivars you grow. I will be planting my 3 cultivars from late March onwards. I cannot reproduce all the information here but I suggest you search online for “Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic” and a book called “Garlic”.

March in the Tasmanian vegetable garden

Brassicas grow wonderfully in the cold and they are so healthful for our bodies during winter. Use them in winter soups, stews and warm salads. I love a plate of cooked kale, with scrambled eggs on top. There are hundreds of varieties from all over the world. European brassicas include broccolis, cauliflower, cabbages, collards, Brussels sprouts and all the kales etc.  My tips for growing these are:
·         Get good sized seedlings into the ground NOW and cover them with lace curtains or white shade cloth to keep off the cabbage moths which are still active. (The moths will disappear when we get a cold snap.)
·         Plant seedlings into damp soil rich in compost and lime to get them growing fast before the end of May when day length and low sun angle bring a halt to further growth if the leaves are too small to provide enough energy to do more than survive.
·         Protect with iron based slug and snail pellets.
Asian brassicas can be sown throughout autumn because they grow so fast that nothing slows them down all winter. These include bok choy, tatsoi, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, mizuna, mibuna, kalian, daikon, hakurei turnips etc. Most parts are eaten; stems, leaves, flower shoots and some roots. My tips for growing these are:
·         Wet the soil thoroughly. Put your fork into it and check it is wet down at least 15cms. Keep watering until it is!
·         Spread with well rotted sheep manure and some sea & manure pellets or similar then dig it all in well, to the depth of the wet soil. If you have good compost then use that. Asian Brassicas are less fussy about pH than European brassicas but prefer near neutral.
·         Rake to a fine tilth. Sow thinly. Asian vegetable seeds germinate quickly and reliably and will provide a long season of fabulous food right through late autumn, winter and early spring. Sow every 2 weeks for continuous supply.
·         To stop birds disturbing them while they germinate, cover wire crates (from a tip shop) with lace curtains and place over the area. I use this system a lot as rain and irrigation go through, white lets the light through and the lace reduces the wind.
·         Protect with iron-based slug and snail pellets.


I have staked and tied up several old parsley, kale, chicory and fennel plants. This week I will be harvesting the very dry parsley and kale seeds to share with friends and to sow myself. But I won’t need to sow much because it is all self-sowing where it is falling. I will transplant some of the seedlings elsewhere, give many away and leave some to grow where they fell. Seeds are so easy and, to me, they are the second crop, after I finish eating a plant.
How are your beans? Did you let a few pods get away and start to become knobby? I hope you will leave them on the plants to dry off completely then save them for next year. Beans do not cross and all are so easily saved and shared.
There is nothing better for you and your family, for eliminating food miles, for food security of our region and for the health of the whole earth than saving seeds. Of all the options we are presented with to help reduce our carbon footprint, none surpasses growing food from seed that has been saved and shared in your own area.
If you don’t want to save your own seed, look for locally saved seed at any of our great Huon Valley markets.
Sow in March
Plant out now
Tas. swede
Broad beans
Asian veg.
Spring and salad onions
Coriander, pennyroyal, cress
European brassica seedlings
Spring onions
Silver beet

Evergreen shrubs and trees
Spring bulbs (ixias, daffodils etc)

Tips of the month
·         Last chance to do summer pruning of fruit trees. Wounds will heal quickly and you can see where to prune while the leaves are still on.
·         Rake up all fallen fruit to reduce over-wintering of diseases.
·         Let your chooks range under the fruit trees to get rid of codling moth larvae.