Perfect patch ideas

When my children were small, their grandad built them a flash sandpit - two timber sleeper widths-high and complete with top plates on the sides for seats. I'll never forget carting barrow-loads of river sand up several precarious planks to the back yard to fill that sandpit - just as well it got plenty of use! oy kids have now outgrown their beloved sandpit, but it lives on in another location - as my raised vege garden.

Raising hope

Winter, with its cold, wet soil, is not kind to vege seedlings. However, there is hope for keen vege gardeners – even those in the deep south. Planting in raised beds or containers using good quality planting mix is the way to go. Raised beds and containers warm up on sunny days, providing more conducive growing temperatures.

Even though soil temperature will fluctuate, the planting mix stays warmer than cold, wet garden soil.

Containers can also be placed under cover and are useful for small garden owners and apartment dwellers who simply want to grow a few fresh salad greens and herbs.

The right mix

Quality vegetable planting mix will cost more, but is a worthwhile investment. These mixes contain fertilisers to sustain plants for an entire growing season, and the right formulation of ingredients for maximum moisture retention and conversely, free drainage. Good quality mix can also be used for several crops, so long as old roots are removed and beds or containers are topped up with fresh planting mix and extra fertiliser between crops. Buying in bulk, rather than bags, is more economical for a large raised garden.

Plant protection

In all but the warmest areas, some sort of plant cover is recommended to protect vege plants over the winter months. A greenhouse is ideal. Failing that, a simple homemade cloche will do a good job. DIY-er’s can attach an old window to an angled timber frame – simply open the window on sunny days to allow air to circulate and prevent seedlings from overheating! Alternatively, rig up a mini-greenhouse using heavy plastic, weighted down by timber battens on each side and supported by four corner stakes or metals hoops. Roll the plastic cover back on fine days.

Plastic juice bottles with the bottom half cut off are also good to protect individual seedlings from the weather and snails. Fancy grow tunnels are the Rolls-Royce option. They’ll set you back a few more dollars, but are large enough to protect plants until harvest, and can be easily dismantled for storage over summer. **

Potty about greens**

Coleslaw becomes a winter staple in our household as cabbages usually cost a lot less than lettuces over winter.

But as cabbages take a good couple of months to mature and need a lot of growing space – plus we get a bit tired of eating coleslaw – I usually sow a bunch of salad greens in autumn to sate my salad appetite. I’m already picking frilly endives, French heirloom lettuce ‘oerveille Des Quatre Saisons’ – from Kings Seeds – as well as baby spinach, rocket and Italian mesclun.

Italian flat leaf parsley and coriander provide the perfect partners to pasta dishes and curries. Salad greens and Asian greens enjoy the cooler weather and can all be sown now – under cover in the coldest areas – before winter really sets in.

Hot tip:

Shield plants from the elements and nurture them by building greenhouses out of old window frames and heavy plastic sheeting. Alternatively, there are very efficient grow tunnels available to buy from garden centres.

Good veges and herbs to plant now:

Plant seedlings:

  • Veges – Asian greens, celery, chicory, endives, mustard, leeks, lettuce, silver beet, spinach.

  • Herbs – chervil, coriander, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley and winter savoury.

Sow seeds:

  • Baby carrots, beetroot, cress, lettuce, mesclun mix, peas, radishes, rocket and snow peas.

In larger plots…

  • Plant seedlings: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages.

  • Sow seed: Broad beans, carrots and onions.

NoTE: Check suitability of individual varieties for your climate and use a cloche or grow tunnel to increase success!

Build a simple raised garden

oaterials: Quick-set concrete, four corner posts, timber sleepers coach screws, top plates for seating (optional).

  1. Mark out the dimensions on the ground. optimum width is 1.2m if against a wall, or alternatively 1.5m for freestanding beds

  2. Concrete in four corner posts, slightly higher than finished height. 200 – 300mm high is sufficient 450mm high is an ideal sitting height

  3. Attach timber sleepers using coach bolts. Stagger ends of sleepers for aesthetics

  4. Trim the tops of the posts and attach top plates to create seating, if desired.

  5. Fill with quality vegetable planting mix.

Alternatively: Google “kitset raised garden” and purchase online!

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