Peter Cun­dall:

Patch things up to en­sure a bumper crop.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASSIE LIVING - writes PETER CUN­DALL

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.

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