Growing Autumn And Winter Vegetables
The beginning of cooler weather doesn't have to mean the end of growing your vegetables. Autumn is an excellent time of the year to sow those vegetable and herb seeds that love cooler conditions. These will be ready to harvest throughout Winter and Spring — providing fresh produce and ingredients for your home.
Getting your Autumn and Winter vegetables to grow
With the arrival of the colder months, amateur and professional gardeners alike have a very specific set of difficulties. Cooler days, freezing nights and reduced daylight all make successfully growing vegetables harder.
Considerations when planting Autumn and Winter Vegetables
Here are some of the critical considerations for getting your Autumn and Winter vegetables to grow happily:
Sunlight is essential for all vegetables — fruiting and flowering vegetables are pretty intensive and generally require full sun to produce abundant healthy crops. Winter vegetables are no exception, but leafy greens and root vegetables tolerate less sunlight and perform well in partially shaded areas.
Remember that the sun is lower in its path across the sky in Winter and the day lengths are shorter — resulting in an increased amount of shade, especially if your garden has trees or high structures around it. Position your Winter garden in the sunniest section of your property, as long as it is not exposed to high winds or heavy frost.
Frost has a critical impact on many plants, especially young ones that are fragile to temperature extremes. If you live in a climate with regular frosts, such as the southern states of Australia, ensure plants are established early so they can tolerate the temperature changes better. You can also utilise geo fabrics such as hessian to shield crops overnight or grow in hothouses or polytunnels if needed.
When selecting your crop, keep in mind that some Winter vegetables can tolerate a bit of frost, and even improve the taste as a result. This is because frost can trigger certain plants into producing more sugars resulting in deliciously sweet harvests. Have a go harvesting some of your hardy crops after a frost such as snow pea, parsnip, carrots and brassicas such as broccoli/Cauliflower.
- Timing your planting
It is important to recognise the full growing period of your plants. Consider the weather conditions from planting the seed to the expected harvest. Some leafy vegetables are ready for harvest in as little as six weeks, while some root Winter vegetables such as parsnip can take 18 weeks to mature. Check your seed packet for further details. Some of the longer maturing varieties such as broccoli may benefit from starting indoors if the weather is still too warm in the garden, this will ensure that they mature whilst the weather is still mild outside, reducing the chances of them bolting to seed.
- Pests and diseases
Generally speaking, there are fewer pests and diseases during the cooler months of the year, giving you much-needed relief from constant pest control. If you live in a warmer climate, you will likely experience pests, so keep an eye out for those hungry critters.
Continue to ensure good air circulation through adequate spacing to minimise the growth of fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf spot, and avoid watering the leaves of the plants. Try to water early in the morning to allow any excess water on the leaves to dry off so that they are not left damp overnight as trapped moisture will harbour diseases.
Another advantage of growing vegetables in Winter is that evaporation rates slow down, which means your plants will not dry out as fast. You will still want to ensure a steady supply of moisture for your Winter vegetables to ensure that they continue steadily growing and have the best flavour and texture. Mulch also plays a huge part in keeping your soil weed free and warm in the cooler months.
Feed your plants with organic matter such as manure, fish emulsion and blood & bone regularly for lush growth. You generally want to reapply slow-release feeds such as poultry pellets every 4-6 weeks or as directed for established plants.
Apply homemade compost around your crops to increase biological activity and improve the soil structure. A fortnightly dose of diluted seaweed solution or worm wee is also a great way to provide an additional kick to your plants without overfeeding them.
Once you have harvested your garden, plant a green manure crop to improve the soil structure and replenish some of the nutrient levels before spring sowing. Dig them into the soil before they set seed to provide nitrogen and organic matter as they rot.
What are the best vegetables to grow in Winter in Australia?
If you have been asking yourself what seeds to sow in Autumn and Winter in Australia? In most regions, Autumn and early Winter is the perfect time to sow these vegetables and herbs:
- Kohl Rabi
- Snow pea
Winter is also the season to plant your Summer Produce bulbs such as potatoes, asparagus, berry canes, shallots, strawberries and rhubarb. By planting these in Winter you will be rewarded with your own delicious produce come Summer time - raspberries anyone?
What vegetables grow in Autumn in Australia?
While you might think of leafy garden veg as Summertime produce, plenty of fast-growing green veggies can be planted and grown in Autumn.
Some of our favourites include:
- Broad beans
- Cavolo Nero
- Chinese cabbage
- Asian greens: pak choi, bok choy
When should I plant Autumn and Winter vegetables?
Getting your plants underway early before the cold weather sets in can help increase their robustness to cope with temperature extremes. However, beware of warmer season pests such as caterpillars and snails. You can get your planting underway once the Autumn weather turns crisp but not chilly, generally between March and April.
Should I plant seeds or seedlings?
Whilst seedlings may look like an attractive time-saving option to get your vegetable garden growing, you may be surprised to learn that seeds are usually quicker in the long run. Seedlings, once transplanted can suffer from transplant shock causing them to put all their energy into root repair rather than growing and fruiting. Growing from seeds is a great, affordable option and often results in faster, more productive crops as they are better acclimatised to their growing position. With fast-growing Winter vegetable seeds, you’ll start to see the fruits of your labour in as little as six weeks.
Common mistakes to avoid when planting Autumn and Winter vegetables
- Sowing at the wrong time of year
Many people start thinking about growing vegetables when they see them in the shops, this may not be the best time to start growing that variety though. Many seed varieties require specific conditions to grow successfully, so whilst they may germinate and grow out of season, you may be disappointed when it comes to harvest time as they may 'go to seed' or die due to the weather conditions they are facing. Refer to the back of your seed pack for details on when to sow each seed variety, paying special attention to their growing and harvest time. For example, Broccoli will fruit best when the temperature is still cool, if you grow Broccoli too late in the season it will start fruiting in the Spring and the heat may cause it to 'go to seed' (a fancy name for flowering) ruining your crop as the broccoli head is actually the flower. Broccoli is best started indoors in February so that it can be planted out in the garden when the weather changes and be ready to fruit during the cooler months.
- Growing too much and growing too close
Common practice is to sow a few extra seeds just in case some don't germinate, however, if you end up with a high germination rate, it is important to thin your seedlings to ensure each plant has sufficient room to grow to maturity without being overcrowded. Any seedlings removed can be transplanted or potted up and given away. It is also common for people to sow all their seeds in one go, this can result in too much produce in one go, so consider succession planting around every two weeks to allow for a longer growing season with your vegetables maturing at different times.
- Growing in a low-light area
As mentioned above, Winter means fewer daylight hours and the sun is lower in the sky, this may result in your vegetable garden being deprived of enough light for your plants to grow. So try and seek out the brightest part of your garden to give your plants the best possible chance to grow and fruit.