Rachel Vogan gets busy with plenty of edibles to sow and plant now it’s spring.
There’s nothing like a bit of sunshine and a new season to get your gardening groove going.
Warmer days and extra sunlight hours make it tempting to fill up the garden as soon as you can. Before you go rolling your sleeves up, planting everything you can get your hands on and filling up all empty spots, take a minute to understand that spring is a very transitional season. At the start of the season the weather is still cold overnight, frosts are frequent (in parts) and the ground is generally wet, and at the end of the three months, night temperatures are warmer, the days are longer and the ground is drier. Be careful, and only plant outside now what can cope with fluctuating temperatures.
To enjoy a meal from produce you have grown is one of life’s simplest pleasures.
One of the best bits of advice I ever got was from a wonderful old chap in his 80s who had grown his own food his entire life. He mentored me when I started working in a nursery in my late teenage years, and said, “Rachel, don’t be tempted to try and cheat the growing season. Sow your seeds and put in young plants once the ground and weather is ready. If you grow too early, you will find you will spend a lot of time and waste a lot of energy in trying to keep them alive. If just left to their own devices, they do it in their own time.” Wise words.
Sow sensitive seed inside
While you're waiting for things to warm up and dry out, get a head start on summer crops by sowing the seed of sensitive crops now. Tomato, eggplant, chilli, capsicum, cucumber, courgette, sweet corn and bean seed can all be sown in trays under-cover or inside now. Seed sown in September will be ready to plant outside later in October or November once frosts have ceased.
CROPS TO PLANT NOW
New spuds for Christmas
What’s not to love about new-season potatoes, especially if you have grown them yourself? New potatoes take about three months to grow; some varieties can be ready to harvest in 60–70 days, but as a general rule of thumb allow 90 days or three months. So, get them in the ground this month to ensure they are ready for the pot come Christmas Day.
Bang for buck, these wee gems do not need a lot of space to grow, making them an ideal crop for patio tubs and pots, raised planters, or even the windowsill. Either plant in small clusters or space out in rows. Spring onions are easy to grow from seed; they just take a few weeks to be at a stage ready to transplant. Therefore, I prefer to plant seedlings in September so I can be harvesting them in a couple of months. When choosing seedlings, look for the biggest plants as any fine, wispy seedlings will take a little longer to mature.
Packed with nutrients and flavour, spring is one of the best times to plant spinach. It is worth mentioning that spinach does not thrive in the hottest or coldest months of the year. It prefers growing in spring and autumn. Seeds readily germinate and a packet of seed can last a season if only a few seeds are sown at a time. Allow a hand space or two between each plant. The smaller varieties are ideal for growing in containers and window boxes. Pick leaf by leaf or as required. Regular harvesting encourages more leaves to appear. Once the plants start to go to seed, they are finished for the season.
Celery is an easy-to-grow, low-maintenance vegetable. Its main requirements are full sun and fertile soil. Ideally, blend in compost or sheep pellets before planting. If the ground is poor and lacking in nutrients, your celery’s unlikely to flourish. Seeds are easy to grow but slow to germinate, so at this time of year I look for seedlings, which are widely available in the shops. Plant 30cm apart; celery is an ideal crop for larger tubs and raised planters.
Celery can be harvested at various stages, first as a sprouted shoot, then as a microgreen or a small salad leaf crop (think salad-size mesclun). The outside stems can be picked one by one. I find this method works well as I can pick multiple stems over a longer period while the main plant is still growing and producing more stems. Alternatively, the entire head can be cut all at once after the crop matures in about three months.
Broccoli, cabbage & cauliflower
These grunty brassicas thrive at this time of year as they tolerate cold weather well. Even though the seedlings start off small, remember the eventual width and height of each of plant is large. Therefore, allow plenty of room, around 50–70cm between plants (unless they are dwarf hybrids). Either sow seed outside now or look for ready-grown seedlings. Crops take around three months (more or less) to mature from seed sowing, or just over two months from planting a seedling. This does vary for some varieties, with cauliflowers often taking a little longer.
As with most brassicas, it is wise to cover the young plants with netting to keep the birds away in spring and the white butterflies out in summer.
Varieties to try
‘Summer Purple’ sprouting broccoli is a tasty hybrid that produces multiple shoots of purple broccoli.
‘Conehead’ cabbage is a fast-growing, hearting dwarf cabbage that has quite upright heads, that taper like cones.
‘All Year Round’ cauliflower is one of the most reliable, large white hearting cauliflowers.
Carrots for sweet roots
Spring carrots are just the bomb! Once mine are ready they never last long as I seem to find a way to incorporate them into most meals – raw, cooked or slightly pickled. Sow seed this month in shallow furrows, aiming not to bury the seed too deep and to keep the soil moist until the seed germinates. I choose to sow seed rather than transplanting seedlings, as I find the seedling plants never thrive like the seed-sown ones do. Once the seedlings raise their heads, it is time to ‘thin out’ the extras in the rows to allow room for the roots to fully mature; crammed growing conditions will result in thin spindly carrots and a poor harvest. Sow a row or two each month for a continuous supply.
Radishes for spicy roots
If you are a fan of spice and pepper-like flavours, then radishes are well worth growing. Sow seed once a month to ensure a constant supply of salad crunch. Seed germinates within a week and the roots are ready to harvest within a month. Radishes are an ideal crop for raised planters or small gardens as they don’t require a lot of root room, although the more space they have, the larger the harvest. All parts of the radish are edible, including the leaves. I only like the leaves when they are small (3–5cm) as when they get bigger, they get a bit ‘furry’ on the tongue and become bitter.
25 spring herbs to plant now
Dozens of herbs can be planted now, so take your pick to start growing.
Packed with flavour and piles of nutrients, herbs are ‘go-to’ morsels for adding that something special to a dish. Herbs often have more than one benefit too. For example, the leaf flavour may be amazing, but the flowers may feed pollinators or attract good insects into the garden, or the flowers may even be edible.
The majority of herbs can be planted out this month – except basil and lemongrass, as both loathe the cold and hate wet feet. Basil seed can be sown inside this month, but I find it’s best to hold off until October – unless you have a warm house or heated greenhouse.
Herbs to plant