The Gordon Gnohm

Play along at home, read Future Farmer in The Braidwood Bugle every Wednesday. 

Real Winter Seedlings

Spring is the time most folk get out and about in the garden. After the long cold it makes sense, if you didn’t bother with a winter garden. Growing in summer can be tough at times, and the season can be so short you are left wondering was it worth it. Tomatoes are the king of the summer crop, but what about winter vegetables, what is the prize in the garden?

Everything I grow in winter is the prize in my garden. Cauliflowers, Broccoli, Cabbage, Lettuce Spinach, Snowpeas and root vegetables. All equally awesome. Root vegetables make great use of a tired bed, winter or summer, so they go last in the rotation with Onions and Garlic. 

Local is Best

Where your winter seedlings come from, and how they were nurtured, will play a big part in your winter gardening success. Obviously, we don’t want seedlings from Queensland, as they are started in a climate not at all like our anticipated winter. The ability to survive -10C, snow and frosts is not required up north and therefore not a key breeding feature.

Seeds grown and collected in Qld will obviously thrive when grown in a garden in the sunshine state, or somewhere at sea level. However, if planted in a Highland Garden, absolute opposite growing conditions will be experienced, and therefore your gardening success will likely be reduced.

The same can be said for greenhouse seedlings for winter gardens. The environment inside a greenhouse would be analogous with Qld, hot and humid, the opposite of our winter. Even if seedlings were grown in a greenhouse in the highlands, the effect will be similar to growing in Qld. 

If seedlings have never experienced extreme winter weather conditions, the seed collected from them will have no need to hold onto the genes that allow it to handle the cold, keeping the bulk of the DNA focussed on other traits. 

Hardening Off

Ive have been ‘eductated’ by a local market gardener, in an interesting public display, that expensive greenhouses are the way. He was unable to comprehend the logic, if only my grandmas, grandma was here to explain it. Imitation will only bring success if you are in a similar climate. Skills learnt at sea level don’t often translate well to the Highlands.

Hardening off is the process of taking the seedling from a high humidity, wind free, heated, stable (artificial) environment and exposing the fat juicy seedling to the elements, so it can adjust to life in the outdoors.

The greenhouse seedlings need to be introduced to the real world gently, a little at a time so they don’t go into shock. If they are fully exposed to life outside the greenhouse, without increments, they will surely wither and die. As the seedlings go through the adjustment period they will slow down and focus on holding water during the transition, rather than setting roots or growing vigorously.

The hardening off process takes about 2 weeks, if done correctly. It can be effective but adds extra steps. It is labour intensive; it takes extra real estate and infrastructure to manage the process. In a commercial situation, sometimes this happens faster than desired to keep up with demand, reducing the plants vitality when sent out for sale.

And then you buy it, have mixed results over years, and start to think you are not a good gardener. It’s not you, it’s the seedlings and the seed you are starting with. Bombay Seed Traders avoid the hassle, cost and infrastructure, by growing in the wild with seed collected from our Unpredictable Highland Climate. This means that you will have the best chance of success in your winter garden, because we do.

Timing

Getting the timing right for your winter vegetable garden is another key to your success. Planting before it gets too cold is my number one tip. The late heat has really stunted the growth of our winter seedlings as they are bred to grow in the cold, not 30+C. You can get Cauliflower that is touted to be grown all year round. Great breeding, but in summer, you will have to contend with cabbage moths. 

The cabbage moth is prolific in summer as some farmers improve their paddocks with beneficial brassicas, creating the perfect place for breeding and feeding. The newly hatched moths will cruise for new territory and end up in your garden. They will eat different plants with little evidence, unlike a brassica. They provide benefit to summer gardens as they are one of the many unsung pollinators, so I give them space to be. The frost stops their breeding cycle and winter gardens are better for it. 

Winter is the best time to grow in our Unpredictable Highland Climate, but some of the community are still not sure. I have lost count of the conversations I’ve had with gardeners who don’t bother growing winter crops, with comments like; ‘Its not worth it’, ‘they just don’t grow’, and ‘they don’t seem to survive the cold’.

For me, winter is the best time to grow vegetables. I need to pay less attention than in summer. There is less evaporation, so the Skywater hydrates for longer. There are also less pests resulting in more success. 

First Frost

Summer gardens are fading and the first frost on its way. When it arrives is anyones guess. The heavy dew has created powdery mildew on most of my Pumpkins and Zucchinis and they have withered from lack of light, but the harvest has been bountiful. It feels a little like last year, but the signals from nature suggest winter is coming early. Don’t quote me, just pay attention to the markers in your area.

Tomatoes are still ripening in the late heat, so more passata. Brassicas are a natural progression after a summer feeder crop, utilising different nutrients. I will interplant with snow peas to replace some of the nitrogen removed by the feeder crop. 

This Week

The early morning birdsong has changed a lot in the past few weeks. The grey shrike thrush, the most notable sound, has joined the winter team. Their call has changed, and the travelling group is growing. 

There are always plenty of new visitors at the changing of the seasons, resting on our hill on their way through. Our growing oasis has been a hit with the travellers providing permanent water and food to eat. The summer residents are gathering to depart and some confused juvenile birds are nesting. 

I will be preparing an old, tired bed with my No Weed Veggie Bed Preparation, but I will be using a variation on the theme and will cover that in next weeks article. 

Keep an eye out at your favourite stockist as BST winter seedlings start to arrive.

Remember every day is a school day,

Stay Awesome.

The Gordon Gnohm

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