Hello June. Here are five things you could tackle in your home vege patch for the first week official week of winter.
1. Get your garlic in the ground. Garlic is traditionally planted on the shortest day of the year (coming up June 21st) and harvested on the longest, but in actual fact you can plant it any time from now until the end of July. Seed bulbs are in stock now in garden centres. Pull off the individual cloves (there’s no need to peel them) and plant 10-15cm apart and 5cm deep. Only plant the fattest outer cloves; eat the skinny inner ones. Plant garlic bulbs in free-draining, moist but never waterlogged soil with their pointy ends facing up. Keep in mind when you’re choosing where to plant your garlic that it will need full sun, regular watering and good air circulation right through summer or you’ll end up with scrawny bulbs. And don’t be tempted to plant supermarket-sourced garlic as this is generally imported and treated with chemicals to prevent it sprouting.
2. If you’re harvesting pumpkins for storage, wipe their skins with a damp cloth dipped in a weak bleach solution. Just add a splash of bleach to a bowl of warm water and use your kitchen cloth to wipe them down. This removes any fungal spores, dirt or insect eggs that might be on the skin. Store pumpkins in a cool, dry, well-ventilated spot. Your garage or woodshed are ideal.
3. Plant celery. Celery likes it cool and moist so it’s ideal for winter. Because it’s slow growing, it’s best planted in late summer or early autumn (especially if you want to start picking it for winter soups and stews), but it’s not too late to get a crop in the ground now to see you through until late spring. Buy a punnet of seedlings from your local garden centre and feed with liquid fertiliser to kickstart growth despite the cold weather. And here’s a tip for harvesting celery stalks: don’t cut it with a knife. Just hold the plant steady with one hand and use the other to cleanly twist off the individual outer stalks at the base.
4. Sick of starch already? Spuds see most of us through winter but it can get a bit tiring eating steamed or boiled veges every night. If you’re craving crunchy salads, plant lettuces in pots. ‘Cos’ types are easier to grow than heading types. Or sow mesclun salad seed mix in a trough to keep close to your kitchen. Leave the trough indoors until the seeds are up (this can take up to two weeks) then pop it on your deck, patio or porch. If you have a sunny conservatory or glasshouse, even better. That extra insulation makes all the difference on cold nights.
5. Hold the mulch. In summer we always recommend that organic mulch be laid on thick to conserve soil moisture, but in winter the opposite is true. Too much mulch can cause your plants to rot, especially if it’s piled up around the trunks of young trees or shrubs. Pea straw isn’t a problem because it’s hay-like and well-aerated but grass clippings, bark and even too much compost can smother the life out of wet soil in winter.