Rachel Vogan explores what crops to focus on this month.
Ever thought of growing your own spice mix? Well, it is pretty straightforward, and none of these crops need a lot of room either, so if you have limited space or have run out of room in the existing vege patch, all of these crops will happily thrive in tubs, pots and containers. For those who like it hot, these eight crops pack a big flavour hit to whet the appetite.
These fingers of fragrant goodness have a divine rich flavour and an earthy texture. Seek out seed turmeric from speciality stores or organic growers. I grow mine from roots I buy at farmers markets or food providores, as I know they’re organic and spray-free.
Turmeric hails from the tropics so most people grow it indoors. Simply nestle good-sized pieces of root about 2–3cm below the soil surface. Spikes of dark-green leaves will appear in four to six weeks. Partial shade is best, therefore keep plants away from sunny windows when growing inside.
Turmeric is frost-tender and takes a good six to 12 months to produce a decent crop. However, in the meantime, it’s a pretty indoor plant that will eventually produce you some tasty tubers.
Once you start growing your own ginger, you may wonder why you never tried it before. Fresh home-grown ginger is sweet, tender and very flavoursome. The tangy tubers fatten up over time and are easy to harvest and store once mature. Allow up to a year for crops to develop. Plants appear in the shops and are generally always available online. Plant in a similar way to yams, just under the soil. If the rhizomes are dormant when planted, shoots will appear in about a month in the warmer months.
Ginger is easy to grow from a piece sliced off an existing plant, so if you have a friend who has a larger plant, ask them for a slip. Grow inside, as the crowns are sensitive to frost; the plants are very decorative and look like an indoor palm.
This herb, also known as hot mint, is a flavour bomb, and what’s even better is that it is a hardy perennial that grows all year round. Use the foliage like you would use coriander, chilli or lemongrass. Hot mint forms a low-growing bush. It enjoys full sun; however, it will cope with partial shade throughout the day. The leaves are best used fresh. They can be dried, but the plant is evergreen, long living and grows all year so you’re unlikely to need to.
Packed with flavour, wasabi or Japanese horseradish is a highly ornamental root crop that is easy to grow. It is a member of the brassica family, meaning it is incredibly hardy. Wasabi naturally grows in wet or damp areas. Commercially, it is grown under shade to maximise growth. Plants are widely available, and seed sometimes appears on specialist online catalogues. To harvest, the entire plant needs to be dug up, then the fresh roots are grated. While the flavour is hot and spicy to taste, the intense heat dissipates quickly, meaning it is less aggressive on the palate compared to other spicy herbs and crops.
This is one hot-to-trot herb – and once you plant it in the garden, you will have it for life. The plant is very invasive, meaning if you plant it in the ground, it will be with you for your lifetime and probably longer. I grow mine in a large tub and pull it out of the pot when I want a chunk of root. This makes it easy to manage and keeps it out of the rest of my garden. The edible roots can be lifted all year round, but many choose to harvest it when the crowns are dormant in winter.
Sweet and delicious, with a strong taste of lemon, this Asian herb is a perennial, meaning it lives for years in the right spot. Commonly grown in pots as it does not like the cold, it can be a good staple tenant in the greenhouse. Plants enjoy a warm spot in full sun. Aim to repot it every year or so and divide up the segments at the same time. Seeds readily germinate, and plants are in the shops all year round. Harvest by slicing off stalks from the parent plant as needed. Lemongrass is an attractive indoor plant.
Now is the time that chillies hit the grow button, and they will start actively growing once temperatures are well above 18–20 degrees each day. New plants can go in the ground or into pots or tubs. It is a little late to sow seeds now as by the time they are ready to plant out, you will have lost six weeks’ growing time. Full sun will ensure a maximum harvest, although chillies will grow in partial shade if they have to.
Hot and spicy hybrids to look out for are the habanero hybrids. These come in red, orange and yellow, and plants are in the shops now. Jalapeños are medium-hot and can be harvested when they are green or red – you choose.
Did you know that during hot periods of weather, the flavour of chillies intensifies? I recently read this in the Kings Seed catalogue, therefore planting now will make your chillies hotter.
Summer and coriander are not great friends; in fact, many people will struggle to produce reliable crops of this pungent leafy herb for the next few months. However, if you plant it in a cooler spot, in a deeply worked soil, it will grow. Avoid planting it in small pots and placing it in hot spots as it loathes a hot root zone, which dries it out. Select a variety that is tolerant to warm weather, like ‘Picante’ from Kings Seeds – this one is slower to bolt. Seeds from Asian supermarkets readily sprout too and are very cheap to buy. Only sow a few at a time in a cool shady spot.
Harvest after the plant has flowered or when the stems near the base of the plant start to shrink and wilt. Wriggling your hands under the plant allows you to ‘tickle’ up a few spuds without digging up the entire plant.
Water and liquid plant food are the two key things this month. Avoid harvesting plants until January. Drench once a week; avoid light watering.
Thin rows, to allow plenty of air movement between plants. This helps eliminate vegetable bugs and aphids, along with carrot fly.
Plant out seedling before Christmas.
Ensure seedlings are planted before Christmas; it’s too late to sow seeds now.
Remove laterals (side branches), stake plants and water deeply twice a week, rather than a little every day.
Cucumbers and courgettes
It’s your last month to get seedlings in the ground for a summer harvest.
Lift and divide clumps now and spread them around the garden to deter greenfly and aphids. The flowers are edible and make a lovely addition to salads and egg dishes.