Late autumn is my favourite time of year in the kitchen garden. The harvesting and preserving pressures are finished, seeds have been collected and stored, there has been some rain, everything is green, self-sown treasures are popping up everywhere, and the sowing and planting pressures of spring are months away. Now is the time to work on the soil, to reshape beds, to make compost, to prune, to protect tender plants and to sit on the verandah in the sun and watch the light as it changes day by day. Brassicas are flourishing, Chilean guavas and cape gooseberries can be picked by the handful as you pass by, grape leaves are turning and apples are abundant. Life is good, here in southern Tasmania.
Shorter days and frosty nights
Some plants (and people) love shortening days and freezing nights and will thrive throughout winter. Such vegetables and herbs include alliums, such as garlic and garlic chives, onions, walking onions and potato onions and as well as brassicas and broad beans but also some surprising things, like lettuce and Asian greens. Two varieties of winter lettuce that readily self-sow in my garden, oakleaf and freckles, are coming up now. I prick some out and transplant to fill gaps elsewhere and some I leave to grow in situ, with no protection at all. Bok choy, mizuna, daikon radish, frilly mustard, chicory, endive and others also thrive in the cold, without any protection and even in a little shade. Winter is a beautiful time for the food gardener and forager.
Nettles are abundant too, in cool, damp spots, making excellent soup, pesto, tea and a brew for the garden. In France, nettle tea is regularly used as a tonic for plants that lack vigour, where packets of dried nettles for that purpose can be found in garden centres. In your own garden, don a pair of washing up gloves and cut nettles with scissors, leaving enough to regrow. Put the whole lot, stems and all, into a bucket with a lid. Cover with water and leave for a couple of weeks. Dilute and water over anything that needs a lift. For yourself, pick as you need, check for insects, dirt and dead leaves then, with tongs, put the whole lot into a coffee plunger, so it is stuffed full. Pour over boiling water and leave to steep for at least 10 minutes. Press the plunger down and enjoy. Refresh once more before starting again. Pesto made with half fresh nettles, half parsley plus walnuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese is the perfect quick lunch, spread on toasted, home made sourdough or scooped up with carrot sticks, celery etc.
Cook 1 onion in a pan until soft
Add lots of nettles (leaves roughly picked from stems), 1 large potato, 1 large carrot, 1 litre good, light stock and cook 15 mins or until the potato is well cooked.
Blend and add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or a drizzle of olive oil or neither.
Tasmania is surrounded by sea and yet we tend not to forage the shores and shallows for food. Did you know that our soils are low in magnesium and that this means your vegetables are too (unless care has been taken to add magnesium to the soil, usually by using dolomite lime or Epsom salts)? Magnesium is vitally important for our health. Magnesium can also be added to the soil simply by adding seaweeds to your compost or liquid feed. Magnesium can be added to your diet more directly by eating the seaweed yourself. All of the longest lived peoples of the world eat many different sea plants; think Okinawa (Japan) and Sicily.
Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is a common seaweed in Tasmanian waters but it is an introduced weed, probably arriving on the bottom of Asian ships and making a home from St. Helens to Dover. Search the internet for photos so you can identify it. I don’t know of any plants in our seas that are toxic but, the sad thing is, some of our coastline has been raped by industry plus land and sea farming which has left toxic residues in our once pristine waters.
The regulations for taking seaweeds from the beach, according to the DIPIPWE website, is for 100kgs / day. Seaweeds should never be taken directly from the sea.
Garlic varieties are many and each has its own ideal planting time. I like to plant an early, a mid and a late season variety. May is mid season. Garlic is reasonably shallow rooted so a friable, well-drained 15cms of soil will do. Poke the best cloves you can find into the soil, about 15cm apart, cover over, water once then leave them alone. All the information you need can be found on the Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic facebook page and website.
Sow in the garden now
Plant in the garden now
Mustard greens esp. frilly
Corn salad (mache)
Shungiku (edible, Japanese Chrysanthemum)
Salad and spring onions
Stinging nettles (for teas and pestos all winter)
Perennial Leek bulbils including elephant garlic
Seedlings of Asian veg.
Sow in trays to plant out:
Sow to stay in the hothouse or outside in frost-free areas:
Sugar snap peas, podding peas