The vegie garden is a thing of wonder to me. Weeds grow when no grass in the paddocks does. Onions, garlic and leeks look like they’re never going to produce a thing, then you suddenly notice them after several months and there’s a whole crop waiting to be used in the kitchen.
Carrots? Well, I never, ever seem to be able to have enough carrots in the ground to give myself a constant supply, despite a concerted planting regime. And brassicas, those big leafed vegies that include broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage, well they dominate the space so much that I almost feel I need a second netted garden.
Regular readers may remember the drama I had with possums a year back. I still have the problem, but for now I’ve moved the problem from my fledgling vegies to the house block and the barn. Possums will eat most things, including roses, the leaves from your lemon tree, walnuts and every leaf and fruit from your fruit trees (even unripe quince). Locals have found their rhubarb picked to the ground, poisonous leaves and all, and my possums break into my feed bins for the pigs, into the garbage in the carport, all the while peeing and pooing and messing up the barn on a nightly basis.
So at the end of last winter I netted my vegie garden. It’s chicken wire for about a metre at the bottom and commercial orchard netting right over the top. Serious gardeners use chicken wire over the whole thing – it lasts longer.
Anyway, it’s all protected now and full of things in the ground. A lovely bloke named Chris sold me some seedlings at Hobart’s Farm Gate market a few months back. He’s an evangelist for home grown food, like so many of the wonderful folk I meet all around Tasmania and increasingly around the nation. I bought purple cauliflower. Cabbage. Broccoli. Only thing is, some of them look identical when you buy them as tiny seedlings and get them home.
But, and here’s the magic of gardening, they need the same climate, the same nutrients and the same space between them. But, they also definitely do need the space. This is one of my constant gardening mistakes, I never think a tiny seedling that’s as frail as a newly hatched bird and as small as a 20 cent piece will need a half metre or so between plants and nearly a whole metre between rows. Can’t be possible, I think. So now I have brussels sprouts rubbing, literally, up against purple cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage.
Tasmanian climate is much closer to the UK’s than the rest of Australia, and much of the gardening information around isn’t as relevant here. It’s nigh on impossible to get really good capsicums and eggplant grown outdoors on this glorious isle. So I use lots of local advice when planting, including Chris’s website hobartkitchengardens.blogspot.com though I’m just as likely to get the advice in person when he’s on the spot. Which isn’t during winter, because he, like our gardens, is enjoying a winter recess.
There’s not a lot of planting going on in my garden in winter but, in part thanks to Chris, the garden is flush – and not just with weeds. So what will you find right now?
Broad beans, garlic and onions are planted, but not doing anything much apart from a little growing. The asparagus I put in last year is dormant, awaiting its spring revival. There is cavolo nero, so called Tuscan kale, a dark green, long leafed brassica that makes wonderful soups, though you can cook it less than conventional kale. When young it’s kind of like lemony spinach. I have curly kale and my favourite of the lot, red Russian kale, with its more open structure and purple veins. There’s also a few carrots and beetroot nearly ready for the pot.
I’m loving the brussels sprouts – last year the possum got to the plants at their most vigorous and I never saw a single one. They pop out of the stem of the plant, not as tight headed as those you find in shops. But sweeter, and less sulphurous, and mighty fine tossed with bacon and garlic.
The broccoli, too, isn’t as tight as you find in a greengrocer, and neither is the cauli. To be honest, my purple cauliflower has such green stems and a loose structure that by the time it’s roasted, I refer to it subconsciously as broccoli. When I look it up in a book I find both broccoli and cauliflower are different cultivars from the same species and that purple cauliflower is actually broccoli. In the garden these close relatives seem closer than ever.