Love celery, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, cabbage or cauliflower? Then February, early March is the perfect time for you in the garden. Plant them now!

Here is the top 10 list of crops to get into the ground in late summer:

1. Kale ‘Winterbor’. Kale is a staple crop for cooler gardens in Europe, but it’s not that common in Kiwi gardens. This curly variety is easy to grow and looks good too. Try roasted kale in olive oil with sea salt or click here for my favourite kale recipe.

2. Brussels sprouts do best in frosty climates. In an Auckland garden they grow into lush, big plants but they don’t form proper mini-cabbages up their stems. It’s getting too late to sow Brussels sprouts from seed, so if you want them this winter, plant punnets of seedlings from your local garden centre instead. Watch out for slugs and snails… you might need to sprinkle a little bait around your seedlings.

3. Celery loves moist, cool conditions. In summer it turns tough and stringy and often bolts to seed. Plant seedlings now for all your winter soups and stews. Keep celery well-watered and it will do the rest of the work for you.

4. Pak choi, bok choy and tatsoi are great for impatient gardeners. These Chinese cabbages are frost-hardy and fast to mature. From seed, they’re ready in as little as 55 days. Plus you can harvest them as baby greens before that.

5. Plant red, green and crinkly ‘Savoy’ cabbages. Cabbages are definitely underrated. I love finely chopped cabbage stirfried in a little butter (or a lot), or try this recipe garlicky cabbage. Grown too much cabbage? Make sauerkraut!

6. Swedes must also have a cold climate or you’ll end up with lots of leaf and no big bottoms.

7. Plant cauliflowers. There are lots of hybrid cauliflowers to choose from in garden centres like the Zealandia range called ‘Cheddar’. It’s a miniature orange-headed variety that’s full of beta carotene (like a carrot). We also like ‘Phenomenal Four Month’ (it’s super fast) and the purple-headed ‘Violet Sicilian’. Like all brassicas, if you’re planting cauliflowers now you’ll need to be prepared for a late infestation of white cabbage butterfly caterpillars. Fling fine mesh netting, supported on short pieces of bamboo like a tent, over your brassica seedlings. As soon as it gets a bit colder, the butterflies will be wiped out and it will no longer be a problem.

8. Your leeks should be in by now. My leeks are always skinny and miserable but this year I’m approaching it scientifically (although I said that last year too).

I’ve bought well-established seedlings from the garden centre and I’m going to feed, water and cosset the little brats to see if it makes any difference. The trick with growing leeks is to plant them deep. Use a bamboo stake to create deep holes for each seedling or plant them at the base of a trench and slowly mound them up with soil as they grow. Let’s have a growing leek challenge this year to see who can grow the fattest ones.

9. Plant a late crop of summer lettuce. I’ve just sown ‘Genuine Iceberg’ (from the Niche Seeds range), plus ‘Cos’ and ‘Little Gem’ (a miniature type of Cos). It’s hard to grow succulent lettuce in the height of summer but as night temperatures start to fall and condensation levels rise, they’re easier to get right.

10. ‘Perpetual’ spinach. I think this is the nicest spinach to grow for steaming, plus you can pick it leaf by leaf so it lasts right through from now until next summer. Grab a punnet of seedlings from your garden centre: six plants is ample for most families.

~ NZG

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