5 tricky ve­g­ies

Deal­ing with pop­u­lar but prob­lem­atic crops

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

car­rots

Th­ese can be dif­fi­cult lit­tle beasts. The prob­lem isn’t so much in the grow­ing – that part is rel­a­tively easy. The main is­sues lie in the soil and seed. Car­rots love deep, well-dug soil that’s free of rocks, other­wise the roots end up stunted or forked. Turn the soil with a fork prior to plant­ing, work­ing it to a fine, crumbly tilth. Don’t worry too much about fer­til­ity. While car­rots strug­gle in very poor soil, they’re fine in mod­er­ate to rich ground.

For good ger­mi­na­tion, use the fresh­est seed pos­si­ble – old seed can be hit and miss – and be­cause car­rots trans­plant poorly, sow di­rectly into the gar­den bed. Make shal­low fur­rows, no more than 1cm deep, scat­ter seed gen­er­ously, back­fill lightly and wa­ter well.

For ex­cel­lent ger­mi­na­tion, you must en­sure the bed is kept moist un­til seedlings ap­pear in 2–3 weeks. Let­ting it dry out will have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on your ger­mi­na­tion rate. To keep the ground moist, cover the sur­face with a piece of shade­cloth or hes­sian. Check it ev­ery day and wa­ter if nec­es­sary. Once seedlings ap­pear, re­move the cover, wa­ter the plants reg­u­larly, and you’ll be har­vest­ing lovely fat car­rots in about three months.

cel­ery

I have to ad­mit to be­ing some­thing of a cel­ery loser. Although I have grown the plants rea­son­ably well, I’ve never man­aged to har­vest the kind of crisp, plump, ap­ple-green stalks that you can find at shops and farm­ers’ mar­kets.

In the wild, cel­ery grows in marsh­land, with a con­stant wa­ter sup­ply. Some of the com­mer­cial grow­ers repli­cate th­ese con­di­tions by grow­ing cel­ery hy­dro­pon­i­cally, but the eas­i­est home gar­den so­lu­tion is to grow it in fer­tile, well-drained soil, with a daily sup­ply of wa­ter. Don’t al­low your plants to dry out, or the stalks will be dry and stringy.

Cel­ery prefers mild tem­per­a­tures, so tim­ing is ev­ery­thing. In cold ar­eas, start cel­ery in either late sum­mer or early spring. In warm, frost-free ar­eas, sow your seed in au­tumn so it grows through win­ter.

brus­sels sprouts

The hum­ble brus­sels sprout is no­to­ri­ous on the din­ner plate and equally so in the gar­den. While its un­savoury rep­u­ta­tion on the plate is a bit un­fair, its rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing dif­fi­cult in the gar­den is well-de­served.

Brus­sels sprouts are very finicky about cli­mate. They are com­monly grown in win­ter, and a hint of warm weather in spring causes those lovely tight sprouts to be­come loose and blowsy, ef­fec­tively ru­in­ing the crop.

It’s help­ful to know that brus­sels sprouts grow best in tem­per­ate ar­eas, par­tic­u­larly where it’s frosty. You would strug­gle to grow them well in the sub­trop­ics. Also, you should start the plants early; don’t wait for au­tumn. In most ar­eas, seed should be sown around Christ­mas. That way, they are form­ing their sprouts when con­di­tions are cool.

When start­ing them in sum­mer, you may encounter the leaf-munch­ing lar­vae of cab­bage white but­ter­fly. To pro­tect crops, cover with fine-weave net­ting or spray with or­gan­i­cally ap­proved Dipel.

wasabi

This is widely con­sid­ered to be the world’s most dif­fi­cult food plant to grow, and two years of wasabi grow­ing have taught me that, in­deed, this fas­ci­nat­ing plant does present a chal­lenge.

Com­mon wis­dom says that wasabi re­quires a very cold cli­mate, plenty of mois­ture and a shady po­si­tion to do well – think Tas­ma­nia, hy­dro­pon­ics and cli­mate-con­trolled green­houses. In re­al­ity, how­ever, wasabi is some­what more adapt­able.

Cool to cold win­ters and rea­son­ably mild sum­mers are im­por­tant for suc­cess with wasabi, in­di­cat­ing that any tem­per­ate to cool sub­trop­i­cal cli­mate is suit­able. As for mois­ture, a reg­u­lar sup­ply is nec­es­sary but the plant is fine when grown in rea­son­ably fer­tile, well-drained soil or pot­ting mix. Mulch helps keep mois­ture lev­els even. A grow­ing po­si­tion with dap­pled shade is ideal.

The main is­sues I’ve en­coun­tered are sum­mer fun­gal dis­eases, es­pe­cially mildew, and cab­bage white but­ter­flies. I’ve also yet to get my plants to pro­duce a stem, the part that’s grated to make true wasabi paste. That might hap­pen next spring, but un­til then, I’m happy to har­vest win­ter leaves and spring flow­ers for a taste of that amaz­ing flavour!

onions

It took me years to crack the onion-grow­ing code. I’m not one to give up eas­ily, but con­sid­er­ing the mis­er­able crops I was pro­duc­ing and the cheap price of onions in the shops, I came very close. I’m glad I per­se­vered. Onions are a de­li­cious sta­ple in my fam­ily’s kitchen, and I now con­fi­dently grow ev­ery­thing from tor­pedo-shaped Ital­ian heir­looms to tra­di­tional brown keep­ing onions.

The main se­cret to suc­cess is choos­ing the right va­ri­ety for your lo­ca­tion. Onions form bulbs in re­sponse to in­creas­ing day length. Short-day (early) va­ri­eties form bulbs when days in­crease from 10 to 12 hours. Th­ese can be grown in lat­i­tu­di­nal ar­eas be­tween Coffs Har­bour and Bund­aberg, when planted in au­tumn. In­ter­me­di­ate va­ri­eties, sown May to Au­gust, need 13–14 sum­mer day­light hours, and suit lat­i­tudes south of Port Mac­quarie. Long-day (late) va­ri­eties, planted from June to July, need 15 hours or more to form de­cent bulbs, so are gen­er­ally re­stricted to south­ern­most parts of the coun­try. Fresh seed and a fort­night’s worth of pa­tience en­sures good ger­mi­na­tion.

Next month: five tricky fruits

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