SUMMER in the vegie patch is like peak hour at the train station on your way to work – all sweaty hustle and bustle. Plants explode out of the ground and jostle for position in beds that fill up way too quick. In contrast, autumn and winter are more relaxed, refined times of the year for vegie growers.
The weather is usually fine and cool, meaning solid physical work is refreshing rather than exhausting. It's also a time when pest and disease pressures are reduced.
All those nasty cabbage white butterflies that decimated your broccoli back in January have mostly disappeared, as have the many fungal problems associated with a drippy wet season.
For subtropical gardeners living in a frost-free climate, it's high season for growing tomatoes. The wilts and blights of summer are virtually non-existent but, more importantly, the dreaded fruit fly has gone to bed. This means that large fruited varieties ripen to perfection without the need for bagging or spraying.
I love living in a cold climate, but I have to admit to jealousy when I think of all you gardeners along the coast growing blemish-free Mortgage Lifters, Brandywines, Rouge de Marmandes and Black Russians in July!
The further north you go, the more winter looks like summer.
From the warmer parts of Brisbane to Mackay you can complement your tomatoes with sweetcorn, climbing beans, potatoes, capsicums and even pumpkins and cucurbits. There is little you subtropical gardeners can't grow during winter, in fact, so this is prime gardening time.
For those of us in the highlands, and cooler inland areas, the focus of the season is on brassicas, leafy greens, roots, alliums and legumes. There's more detail about each of these in the sidebars, but the key is to get most of them in now while there's still some warmth in the soil.
You're aiming to see some strong growth before the first frosts hit. If you've left your run a bit late, it might pay to buy some seedlings and get them in, saving yourself at least a fortnight.
One word of caution: Don't fall for the great carrot seedling con. You'll see punnets of them for sale in garden centres, but you shouldn't touch these with a broomstick. Carrots, radishes, and to a lesser degree beetroot, all resent being transplanted and perform much better when sown directly into the garden.
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