In the Garden with Diana O'Brien | Sow a seed for winter

While there is still time to plant nursery-raised seedlings, those who like to sow seeds will need to hurry. Even as we continue to harvest summer crops we need to think about raising some winter greens –cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflowers and Brussel sprouts.

overlap: Just because you're still harvesting from summer doesn't mean you shouldn't be thinking about your winter crops. Photo: supplied.

overlap: Just because you're still harvesting from summer doesn't mean you shouldn't be thinking about your winter crops. Photo: supplied.

The biggest advantage of growing from seed is that you can select varieties from a much larger range than commercial growers do. Many may well be imported ‘heirlooms’ from far afield, or simply favourites from relatives or friends. Others have the unexpected: purple carrots, white beetroot, green cauliflower. Google ‘seeds Australia’ for other options.

Whatever your source, it is important to know the time of harvest so note any indication such as ‘early’ or’ late’ attached to the variety name. Plant an ‘early’ too late, or a ‘late’ too early, they will do little- other than bolt to seed in spring.

Make sure you read every instruction on the back of a seed packet including the expiry date. Many seeds are long lasting while others, such as parsnips, have a very short term viability. For those that collect their own, the general rule is the larger and harder the seed the greater its potential viability.

The quality of the growing medium is equally important. Outdoor beds for winter greens need to be enriched with compost and manure with a pH according to their needs. Members of the cabbage family like a soil which has been limed for a previous crop as do peas and beans.

Root vegetables need an open sunny site with deep friable soil. Stoney ground or fresh manures will cause forking and very often an excess of fine root hairs.

The depth at which you sow seed depends upon its size. Fine seed barely needs to be covered. Soil moisture is also essential. A strip of continuously damp hessian or newspaper is a useful means of retaining moisture to shallowly sown crops.

Whether you love them or loath them, Brussels sprouts have always been one winter green that seems to be difficult to grow. Unfortunately, potting mixes are not a suitable growing medium. They need to be set into clay ground that will hold the roots firmly enough to produce equally firm pods. Shredded stir fried sprouts with slivered almonds have converted many.

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