Spring is slowly creeping in and the warmth of the sun is giving us lots to do in the garden. Here’s a handy checklist with bonus seedling care
What to harvest
+ Broad beans are my favourite winter crop. They cope with cold, wind and rain then produce tasty beans as the weather warms. The pods are best picked when young and the shelled beans are great in risottos or mashed up on bruschetta. You can also slice the pods for salads or stir-fries. Even the leaves and flowers taste good. Cut tops off plants (and cook like spinach) before they get too tall to harvest easily. Remember, the more regularly you pick pods, the more plants will produce. If roots are left in the ground after cropping they’ll add useful nitrogen to your soil.
+ Pick pods of green, snow and sugar snap peas when young, before they go hard (if this happens, save the seed for sowing).
+ The taste of those first delicate asparagus spears is out of this world. Asparagus is also highly nutritious, containing plenty of folate and vitamin K. If you’ve sown asparagus from seed you are supposed to wait three years to harvest it to allow the crowns to fully develop. If the wait seems unbearable start with one-year-old crowns (root divisions) and cut just a few spears in the first season, increasing your harvest every year as the plants grow.
+ Keep harvesting the outside leaves of spinach, silverbeet and leafy lettuce (eg cos) to encourage more leaves and prevent plants from turning to seed as the weather warms.
What to sow
+ In colder areas broad beans can still be sown at 5cm deep and 20cm apart. Full sun is best and soil should be well drained and rich in organic matter (compost, sheep pellets or seaweed). Plant bee attractants such as lobelia, calendula or alyssum nearby.
+ Sowing heat-loving veges like cucumber in punnets now means plants will be well established once it’s warm enough to transplant them outside. Cucumbers need at least 70-100cm between plants to avoid diseases.
+ Do the same with tomatoes. To get them off to a good start when they go out in the garden, sow seed in pots now and keep transplanting into bigger containers in a warm, light area. Plant in the garden when it warms up, normally late October onwards.
+ Broccoli seeds germinate easily but you need to sow them soon if you live in a warmer area as broccoli prefers cooler temperatures. Sow at just under 1cm deep from now until mid summer (depending on region) in punnets and trays in a sheltered, light area. Plant out when seedlings have a few leaves.
+ Parsnip is making a bit of a comeback. Seed can be sown directly into the ground now but choose a variety that suits your soil type and growing conditions. Thin out seedlings to 10cm apart when plants produce their third pair of leaves. Fresh seed is best with parsnip as their viability (ability to germinate) can be quite short.
What to plant
+ Yams are a great alternative to potatoes as they are high in vitamin C and low in calories. They’re also easy to grow. Once frosts are over in your area, plant sprouted tubers whole or cut into pieces with 1-2 eyes each. Yams need a sunny position with light, fertile, well-drained soil. If a late frost should occur the leaves might be affected but the tubers will usually sprout again once temperatures rise. Tubers normally take 6-8 months to form.
+ Keep planting seed potatoes in frost-free areas. Heaping soil onto shoots as they pop up will give you more spuds. Or if you’re by the coast, consider throwing seaweed on top of plants instead.
+ If it’s not too frosty in your area plant broccoli seedlings in a warm, sunny spot. A little midday shade might be needed in very hot regions. Soil should be well-drained but moisture-retentive and fertile so add lots of compost. As well as traditional broccoli try planting sprouting types which produce multiple purple or white heads and delicious leaves over a long season.
+ Silverbeet can be planted in warmer areas in most soil types as long as you’ve added plenty of organic matter. Space plants at around 30-40cm apart.
+ Plant lemon balm in a semi-shaded spot. Young leaves have a lemony taste and are delicious when added to cold and hot drinks, salads and Asian food.
How to transplant seedlings
Growing plants from seed will save you money. Here’s what to do once they’ve germinated and have 2-3 pairs of leaves:
- Your seedlings will now need to be transplanted into bigger pots so they will have more space to spread their roots and grow strong enough to then be moved into the garden.
- Lift out clumps of seedlings and carefully separate their roots.
- Fill a large pot with potting mix and make a small hole with a stick for each seedling.
- Hold seedling by the leaves and not the stem (to reduce the chance of damaging the plant) and place in the hole.
- Firm soil around the base of the stem.
- Repeat process until pot or tray is full then water with a fine spray.
- When seedlings are 7-10cm tall they should be strong enough to move outside into the garden or into larger containers.
Words by: Carol Bucknell.