Patch things up to ensure a bumper crop.
JANUARY is one of the most important months in the vegetable patch. This is when new crops go in to supply great eating throughout autumn and winter.
The most successful root vegetables, especially carrots, parsnips, beetroot and swedes, are grown directly from seed because they remain undisturbed until being harvested.
Those sown in spring are big enough to eat, but overcrowded rows need thinning, otherwise competition keeps them too small.
Sowing fresh seed into warm soil ensures rapid germination — less than a week with carrots and beetroot, slightly longer with parsnips.
The real secret of success is always fresh seed, so throw away packets — particularly those containing old, leftover parsnip seeds that fail to germinate.
The best carrot varieties for deep, loamy soils are Manchester Table and the enormous but tender Majestic Red.
If sown this month, roots are big enough to eat by late April, and they can
Germination occurs in four days and the fortified plants never look back, growing with incredible vigour
then be regularly pulled throughout winter until early spring
Don’t bother using fertilisers with carrots, just whack a rake handle down hard in cultivated soil to create shallow grooves. Then sprinkle in the seeds, water in and keep constantly moist until germination. Same with parsnip seed.
Beetroot plants are boron-hungry, so fill a glass with water, add a teaspoon of boron (Borax is the same stuff) and empty a packet of beetroot seeds into the water.
The following day, scoop off and discard any seeds still floating (they’re dead), drain off the liquid into a filled watering can and sow the swollen seeds immediately.
Water them in from the watering can. Germination occurs in four days and the fortified plants never look back, growing with incredible vigour.
Silverbeet plants started in spring should now be supplying plenty of leaves. However, by late autumn most show signs of exhaustion and tend to develop rust.
That’s why fresh crops of silverbeet
should be sown in January and February for healthy, vigorous plants that will carry right through winter to late October when they finally bolt to seed. Rich, well-manured soil is essential.
Brassica (cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower) seedlings for winter-spring crops go in this month.
Kale can be raised directly from seed, which gives a far wider choice of varieties. My own favourite is the Tasmanian-bred Two Peter’s, with delicious, dark-green, highly nutritious leaves. Seedlings raised this month will provide non-stop winter picking and they love the cold.
There’s still time to sow bush bean seeds for late summer and autumn harvesting. Spring-sown beans are already bearing excellent pods, but keep them off the ground by shoving lots of dry, supporting straw tightly around each plant.
Scarlet runner beans may carry lots of orange flowers, but fail to form pods. This occurs when night temperatures remain too high. Go out after sunset and spray both flowers and foliage with ice water. This regular chilling usually does the trick.
Sweet corn plants are now growing strongly. Mulch heavily with manure-soaked straw, hard against lower stems. This encourages stem roots to emerge as ears begin to form. When this occurs, pour in water to saturate the roots every few days to guarantee well-filled, extra-sweet cobs.
Potato plants collapse naturally as crops mature. All watering must immediately cease, otherwise tubers rot in the ground. As stems wilt and leaves turn yellow, use a fork to carefully lift the potatoes, hose off all soil and leave to dry off for an hour or so. Store in cardboard boxes with all light excluded.
Long-keeping onion crops are now maturing. We can tell because leaves bend over and collapse naturally as bulbs swell and thrust themselves to the surface. Allow to dry off after being lifted and store under cover, hanging in wellventilated strings or nets.
Garlic is always lifted and dried off before leaves fully die back, otherwise bulbs tend to form new roots, causing flavour to be lost.
With pumpkins, the female flowers lag behind the males and are identified by swollen stems behind the yellow flowers.
Pinch off pumpkin runner tips beyond 3m to encourage side shoots.