With the shortest day now behind us, thoughts turn to preparing and planting for spring growth.
Ripe for the picking
Pumpkins, carrots and swedes are in plentiful supply and make great winter soups. Try some Florence fennel in stir frys or soups for a wonderful aniseed flavour. All the brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli are available fresh too.
In the vegetable garden
If your garden has received a downpour of the wet stuff it is best to try and stay off the garden beds. Wet cold soil will just become wet, compacted mud if trodden on. If you really need to get on a garden bed to harvest or plant a good trick is to form a gangplank with a long board and two wooden blocks or bricks. This way you avoid compressing the soil. There are still many cold-loving crops you can plant this month. Silverbeet and spinach seedlings can be planted as can broccoli, cabbage, carrots and onions. If your soil is very wet try creating a little free draining haven around your plants by digging a small hole and filling with potting mixture before sowing the seedlings. If your area is frostfree you can think about getting some early potatoes in. Ilam Hardy is a variety which does well when the weather is still on the chilly side. If you planted any green manure crops (nitrogen fixing plants such as lupin or beans) in Autumn they may be ready to dig in. I do it the lazy way. Cut the green growth off at the plant’s knees and just drop the vegetation on the ground to slowly rot down in time for spring planting. If you haven’t planted any garlic yet no need to despair – just get it in this month. Even in a small space you could grow some garlic in a large pot on your balcony. Choose soil which is free-draining, weed-free and has a recent application of garden lime. I just use some cloves from last year’s batch but failing that visit your local farmers' market and buy some locally grown garlic. Choose the biggest cloves to re grow. Plant each clove with the pointy end facing up and around 5 cm deep.
Chickweed ( Stellaria media)
It is said that chickweed grows in every part of the world. In most New Zealand gardens it is not hard to find! It reveals in winter weather. It has small green leaves and a delicate, tiny white flower. It grows by trailing along the ground, and thrives in any damp, shady areas. The leaves are loved by chickens and small quantities of it can also be added to salads or stir-frys.
False cardamom ( Elettaria cardamomum)
This ancient spice looks like ginger which is of no surprise as it is a close cousin. False cardamom does not produce seeds but the leaves are very aromatic and can be used at the end of cooking to impart the same flavour. You can buy this plant online – try Ginny’s Herbs. It requires a warm spot to grow well.