With the hottest months behind us and as the soil temperatures cool, it is time to get those autumn crops planted now to ensure you have plenty of fresh vege on the menu for when winter arrives. Plant what suits your lifestyle: if you are salad people look to plant piles of cos lettuce, rocket, spring onions and carrots; if soups are more your thing, plant celery, carrots and silver beet.
With a wonderful peppery bite to it, rocket tastes great on its own and is a wonderful addition to blended salads, slaws and sammies. Seeds can be sown now, and will take a couple of weeks to germinate. Sow directly in the ground or into trays or old punnets. Seedlings are always in the shops; look for smaller seedlings rather than the older tougher-looking ones. Allow 15-20cm between each plant if you have plenty of room, but if space is at a premium just jam them in. Regular picking will encourage new flushes of growth. An ideal contender for window boxes and planters.
Fresh cauliflower is just the best. Eaten raw, roasted, steamed or however you like it, it’s a humble vegetable that is growing in popularity. To get the best results, refresh the soil with a sprinkle of vegetable fertiliser and a few handfuls of compost or sheep pellets before planting. It’s too late to sow seeds now, so look to seedlings. Allow 50cm between plants, as they are a slowergrowing crop, mulch in-between the plants to keep the weeds at bay before the leaves are big enough to cover the soil. Keep an eye out for white butterflies too; derris dust comes in handy here to prevent any hungry caterpillars taking up residence.
There really is no excuse not to be able to pick your own lettuce all year round. They are such an adaptable crop, thriving in tubs and containers as happily as in the garden. The lower frilly types look super in a hanging basket, too. This time of year, look to plant the perpetual types. Cos varieties are great, as are the frilly red and green crinkled varieties. The more effort you put into the soil the sweeter and juicer your crop will be, so be generous with a few handfuls of compost around the area in which you are planting, and plant plenty so you have a good supply.
The pineapple cabbage is a ripper of a crop to get underway now. This brassica thrives in most garden soils and, when given a little extra TLC in terms of compost and manure, it will easily grow over 1m in height. It is economical on space, too, as it grows taller, rather than broader. Plant out seedlings now, as a couple of punnets should see you through winter. As the leaves can be picked individually, this is a good one for smoothie lovers, too.
This short, fat vegetable is ready in about six weeks from planting. Allow 30-50cm between each plant. When harvesting, if you slice off the main head and leave a 5cm tall root in the ground, new smaller heads will appear in a few weeks. These are not quite as sweet, but worth eating. Seeds can be sown now, with seedlings popping up in a week or two. Ready-grown seedlings are widely available, too.
Carrots are quick to germinate at this time of year. The trick to being successful with them is to blend some organic matter into the soil prior to sowing. This helps the soil hold onto more moisture. Water the area well the day or morning before sowing to help trigger germination. Mark out the rows to show where you have sown the seed as it will take a few weeks for the seedlings to appear. Once the seedlings are about 5cm in height, thin out the plants to allow a 2-3cm gap between each plant.
If you are after sweet, juicy celery, you need to get busy now. This is one crop that needs a good fertile soil in which to thrive. A couple of months of growth now will see it through winter, too. It is a good option for pots and tubs, just make sure the container has heaps of root room and buy the best potting mix you can afford. In the garden, space the plants out about 30cm, and prepare the soil by working in rich compost or blending in vegetable fertiliser. Celery prefers a soil that holds on to plenty of moisture, so don’t skip the compost stage. Seedlings are the best option. Do not let the plants dry out at any point, or they will bolt and run to seed.
Scallions, as they are called in Europe, can be planted all year round and are a brilliant crop for tubs and planters, too. Fill tubs with fresh potting mix and place in a sunny position. In the garden they enjoy most soils except heavy clay. It’s too late now to sow spring onion seeds unless you are in the warmest regions. Look to seedlings; they are cheap as chips and often have 20-30 plants in each punnet.
What a reliable campaigner this leafy green is! Packed with nutrients and so versatile in the kitchen, it’s a no-brainer for autumn planting. Plant out seedlings any time over the next couple of months to get plants established before the soil cools down. It is one of the few crops that will cope with a little shade, and is happy in large buckets and tubs, too. The ‘rainbow’ blends looks so colourful, so maybe plant these instead of the straight green. No special care is required, but like all leafy crops, avoid letting the soil dry out.
This brassica comes into its own in the autumn months. It isn’t a huge fan of hot periods, so get new seedlings planted out now. Prepare the soil as you would for cauliflower – blend in some organic matter and add vegetable fertiliser. Allow 50cm between plants. Layers of mulch between the seedlings help to keep the soil cool and keep the weeds at bay. Plant plenty if you have the room, and remember the leaves are tasty, too. When harvesting, new side shoots will appear if you leave the trunk in the ground.