Rich harvest of healthy greens
Alice Spenser-Higgs explains that March is an exciting and busy time in the vegetable garden
IT IS all systems go for planting autumn and winter veggies — all those that like cool growing conditions. At the same time many of the summer veggies are coming to fruition and there are eggfruit, peppers, tomatoes, spinach, beans, cucumber, marrows and squashes to harvest.
As part of the autumn activities Garden World in Muldersdrift will be holding their annual Autumn Harvest Faire from March 27 to April 11 which includes talks and workshops on herb and vegetable gardening with gardening experts. There will also be displays of organic and natural gardening products including wormeries.
What veggies to plant in March Broccoli, cabbage, leeks, onions, turnips, peas, radishes, spring onions, beetroot, carrots, cauliflower, Pak-choi, lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard.
Herbs to plant Herbs sold in pots can be planted out throughout the year. Herbs that can be sown from seed in March are chives, coriander, calendula, garlic and nasturtiums.
Tips for growing root vegetables Carrots, beetroot, onions, radishes and turnips love the cooler growing conditions. Although each vegetable has its individual quirks, the same growing conditions apply: A good depth of soil (30cm) is necessary, worked over well, the clods broken down and raked free of sticks and stones that could interfere with the development of the roots. Light soil, on the sandy side, is best for root vegetables; heavy, clayey garden soil isn’t really suitable as it inhibits root/bulb formation. Make heavy soil more friable by digging in lots of compost. Root crops also don’t like soil that contains manure or fresh compost as their tops develop at the expense of their roots. A good idea is to plant root crops in beds that were previously enriched for tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages or broccoli. All that is needed is the addition of bonemeal or superphosphate. Spacing is important so roots can develop. Plants need to be thinned out to the spacing recommended on seed packets. Germination rates can vary and the soil should be kept moist, but not sodden, during that time. If it is still hot, water the seed beds once a day. They all do best in a sunny position. Healthy broccoli Broccoli is the most nutritionally rich of all vegetables and it helps to prevent different kinds of cancer and heart disease. It contains significant amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene), calcium, folic acid, fibre and two phytochemicals, of which one, isothiocyanates, increases the activity of a group of enzymes in our bodies that suppress cancercausing agents. Growing tips This vegetable is easier and quicker to grow than cabbage and cauliflower. Sow seed directly into beds. Allow three to four weeks between plantings to space the harvest over time. Space plants at least 50cm apart and rows should be 50 to 60cm apart. This allows the large broccoli head to develop and lets air circulate which prevents fungus disease. A month after transplanting and after harvesting the main head, feed with an organic liquid fertiliser or an organic granular fertiliser. The main head should be ready for harvesting within six to eight weeks of planting out the seedlings. The heads must be harvested before the flower buds open (start showing yellow) and are firm and compact. Remove the head with about 15cm of stem. After removing the main head side shoots will develop with smaller heads that can also be harvested when they are firm. A single plant can produce continuously for up to a month. Broccoli wilts quickly, so pick just before cooking or eating. Store in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge for up to four days.
Lettuce — ideal for small spaces Lettuce is probably the most perfect vegetable for the small garden. It doesn’t take up much room and grows easily, provided it’s planted in rich soil in a sunny spot and watered regularly. A variety with interesting or coloured leaves make super borders and bedding plants. The loose leafed varieties are the most practical because you can harvest the individual leaves for up to three months before replanting. Others, like the Butterhead or iceberg, are picked when the heads form.
Feed monthly with Margaret Roberts Organic Supercharger. Strawberries and marigolds are good companion plants. Suggested varieties: “Salad Mixed” (a va- riety of loose leafed and crisp lettuce), “All Year Round” (Butterhead), “Lollo Rossa” and “Lollo Biondo” (Loose Leafed) “Crunch Bite” (Iceberg).
Feed the soil Using organic methods is the safest way to grow vegetables because then you don’t need to spray poisons. Soil enriched with compost and organic fertiliser produces healthy vegetables that resistant to disease. Crops can be fed during their growing season with homemade supplements such as liquid manure tea or worm tea extracted from wormeries.
Harvesting For the best quality, harvest veggies as soon as they are ripe. Leaving them longer on the plant doesn’t improve their quality. Snip or twist the fruit off the plant but don’t pull it off as this can damage the plant. Fertilising when the plants are flowering and forming fruit produces a better harvest. Vegetables such as chillies, eggplant, and sweet peppers drop their flowers if they dry out and wilt. The best way to enjoy your vegetable harvest is to pick and eat the same day.
If you have an oversupply of vegetables, blanch and freeze them, making sure you remember to put the date on each packet.