Rachel Vogan looks at which edibles to focus on this month.
Pumpkins are one of the easiest edibles to grow. Even with no love, they will quietly go about their business and produce a crop. However, if you wish to maximise the capacity of your plants, with a little care you can expect a tasty and rewarding harvest.
Pumpkins take between four and six months to mature, depending on the variety. I firmly believe they taste better after a few frosts. Therefore, I leave my crop outside until June, so for me they are a long-term crop, although they can be harvested earlier.
Full sun: The more sun the better, at least half a day.
Good ground: Pumpkins have hearty appetites for manure or compost-rich soil. Before planting seeds or seedlings, prepare the ground by piling in whatever organic matter you have. This feeds the plant and also enables the soil to absorb moisture for the ground-covering vines.
Water: Although pumpkins will grow without a regular watering regime, a bucket of water once a week will work wonders when the fruit (pumpkins are technically fruits) is forming. You can use bath water, dish water or grey water from the washing machine to water them.
If you have a worm farm, you possibly have worm wee tea on tap; if not, look out for some as pumpkins love it. Drench the plants once a fortnight. Seaweed drenches work a treat, too.
If ground space is limited, pumpkins can easily be trained up a fence or a tree. This is a fun and space-saving way to grow pumpkins; simply tuck a tendril up the tree or fence and mother nature will do the rest.
Seeds or ready-grown seedlings? You choose. I go for seeds every time as each year I save pumpkin seeds from my tastiest pumpkins. From one pumpkin, you can usually harvest 30-odd seeds. Each plant will produce somewhere between three to five pumpkins, or maybe more if the conditions are perfect.
• Grey pumpkins: These traditional pumpkins are easy to grow and keep for months once picked. ‘Queensland Blue’ is a goody, as is ‘Blue Prince’. I always grow ‘Triamble’, an old-fashioned, grey ironbark pumpkin, as it tastes wonderful and keeps for nearly a year in a cool dry spot.
• Heirloom & vintage pumpkins: These are so much fun to grow, and I love that you can imagine people hundreds of years ago tending to these hybrids in the fields. ‘Marina di Chioggia’ is a hard-skinned, ironbark variety with amazing sweet flesh – ideal for baking. ‘Musquee de Provence’ produces pretty orange and green fruits that are excellent keepers. The flesh is deep orange and full of flavour, and this variety is often sold in wedges at farmers’ markets. ‘Flat White Boer’, from Southern Africa, has a pale, creamy-white skin with sweet orange flesh. The mature fruits are quite flat, making them ideal to stack and store.
• Miniature and baby pumpkins: There’s nothing wrong with being little – small pumpkin varieties often produce more fruits per plant than the bigger plants and take up less room. ‘Small Sugar’ has impressive, bright-orange skin, and the flesh is sweet and flavoursome. ‘Baby Bear’ is the perfect little pumpkin. Kids love these, and the stalks become like little handles to carry them around. They are used in pies, and the seeds are good for roasting.
It is wonderful to see increased interest in growing melons at home. Part of this is because of the New World ‘Little Garden’ promotion, back after a couple of years. When first introduced, ‘Little Garden’ saw hundreds of families starting to grow watermelons. This interest and success has given many gardeners the confidence to start growing rock melons.
Melons like a warm position, with full sun all day long. Sowing seeds and planting them out now the temperatures are warm is ideal. Seeds germinate in a couple of weeks, and each plant usually produces a couple of melons – so, if you want a lot of melons, grow a lot of plants.
The vines are not as vigorous as those of pumpkins, although they do need a couple of metres to meander. The leaves are attractive, so I let mine range free and twine through the other crops in the garden. Leave the fruit on the plant for a long time as once they get to a mature size, they still take a few weeks to ripen.
Smaller varieties will cope in a large tub, but the challenge can be keeping the tendrils away from gusty winds as they break easily.
Kings Seeds has quite a range of melon varieties now available online. ‘Spanish Whimsy’ is the most popular rock melon in Spain due to its palegreen, sweet flesh. The skin is mottled, almost like a barnacle. Very popular variety ‘Topaz’ has a golden-yellow skin and sweet, juicy flesh.
‘Tuscan Delight’ has an excellent flavour, and the traditional salmon-coloured flesh. The skin is a soft creamy green, with a fine-looking mesh membrane – much like the types you see in the supermarket, but with better flavour.
Chinese & ‘Savoy’ cabbage
These are the two best summer cabbages to grow. Both are quick-growing and ready to pick within a few months. ‘Savoy’ is super sweet, the heads loosely packed with leaves; Chinese cabbages are ready to harvest about six weeks from planting out seedlings. Both need full sun, should be planted 30–50cm apart, and will grow in containers or raised gardens.
Parsley & Coriander
It’s a great time now to plant fresh crops of both of these. Either sprinkle the seed directly onto the garden and rake over a thin layer of soil, or plant out seedlings. Allow 20–30cm between plants. Keep picking parsley and coriander to keep them going, harvesting the outer leaves first. This encourages the plant to push out more stems from the centre of the plant. Both thrive in pots but do make sure containers are not too small, as both herbs have a reasonable-sized root system.
Potatoes: Keep planting
By now, early-planted potatoes will be well up through the ground, so mound earth up around the stems to protect the crop and increase your harvest. Water weekly over the next couple of months, as this is when the potatoes are maturing.
New crops of potatoes can go in the ground too, or consider growing them in a potato planter grow bag. These are pretty cool and can be re-used year after year. I like the fact you can open up the wee ‘door’ in the side of the bag to harvest a few spuds and leave the rest to grow.