Growing for the pot this April

Those who have visited Granny Mouse Country House and Spa with its picture perfect gardens all year round will know that our team of garden minders definitely has green fingers!

The passion of our gardening team coupled with the enthusiasm in our kitchens when presented with super fresh ingredients is the reason why we’d like to inspire those of you with gardens to start growing some veggies.

Take it from us – there’s nothing better than watching your own food grow and enjoying the fruits of your labour at the dinner table.

You might think that the colder months aren’t great for growing veggies but, in South Africa, the time between April and the end of May is perfect for growing winter veggies – and, although much of this press produce may end up in a winter soup, there’s a strong chance that you’ll be enjoying home grown salad leaves and even fruit for months to come.

A bonus for winter veggie growers is the fact that snails and other pests are much less of a problem during the cooler months – and you usually don’t have to water as much as you do during the hot summer months when evaporation is high.

If you’re sowing winter growing vegetables from seed, you may want to cover the ground with perforated polythene to encourage the seeds to germinate. Seedlings, on the other hand, should be able to cope without protection.

Here are some great winter veggies to consider this season:

1. Shallots

Although all onions are easy to grow over winter, shallots are probably the best money-saver as they’re more expensive in the veggie shop than ordinary onions. Plant the mini bulbs, called sets, so that the tip just protrudes through the soil. Leave a space of 18cm between each one. A big tip while the shallots are growing is to make sure the soil drains well so they stay quite dry. Harvest in June after the leaves turn yellow. They’re delicious when added to stews.

2. Cauliflower

Did you know that the head of a cauliflower is called the curd? Cauliflower is one of the best vegetables to grow in winter because you don’t have to worry about caterpillars chomping away at your prize veggies when it’s chilly! Seedlings must be planted about 60cm apart. Grow them in richly fertilised soil, taking care not to let the soil dry out. Sow at intervals so that you can have fresh cauliflower throughout the year. Also avoid planting cauliflower in direct sunlight as this causes discolouration. Tie the leaves closed with string to protect the curd.

3. Broad beans

Autumn is the best time to sow delicious broad beans as established themselves in the still-warm soil and can be left over winter for an early taste of spring later in the year. Sow seeds into a rich, moist, well-drained soil at a depth of 5 to 10cm with about 15 to 20cm between plants. Pick to eat from August. Podded beans are best eaten young. You can also snip off the green tops after the first pods appear – they’re delicious when sautéed in a little butter. They grow best in direct sunlight but need to be sheltered from the wind.

4. Thyme

This hardy herb is low-growing so it makes great ground cover in a border or it can be planted in pots together with other evergreen herbs like rosemary. Water seedlings well. If you are cultivating thyme in a pot, plant slightly deeper than the plastic pot it came in and leave room for the plant to fill out as it grows. Thyme is so versatile and can be used to liven up meat, vegetables, soups and stuffings.

5. Garlic

Garlic is one of the easiest vegetables to grow in winter. Start it off in seedling trays so they take root before you transplant them outdoors. Break the bulbs into cloves, push each clove into the compost and put in a warm bright spot. Keep the soil moist until shoots form, then plant outdoors later in May.

Your garlic should be ready to harvest in September, but you can also snip the green garlic shoots and use them in recipes as you would chives. Garlic does best in well-drained, well composted rich soil in a raised bed. 

6. Spring onions

Mini sweet onions are easy and cheap to grow. Choose a variety that’s hardy in winter and sow seeds from early autumn so they’ll be ready to harvest in late winter to early spring. If you have spring onions you have bought from the store, replant these from the root, and within a few weeks snip off the stems to use again. Spring onions thrive in loose soil that’s well-fertilised and drains well. They’re great in salads.

7. Spinach

This popular vegetable doesn’t do so well in summer, preferring cooler autumn weather. The trick to good spinach is a good start. Keep it moist and cool and don’t be shy about fertilising.

Sow spinach seeds thinly, 15mm deep in rows 30cm apart and, as long as the weather isn’t really cold, they’ll germinate in 5 to 9 days. Make successive sowings for a continuous supply. Harvest from July, picking smaller leaves for salads.

8. Fruit trees

Most fruit trees, like apple and pear, should be planted any time from April through winter. You need to buy a small but established tree from your local nursery as this is way easier to grow then directly from seed. Plant now and harvest the fruit from late next summer. If you don’t have much space, mini trees such as dwarf citrus trees thrive in pots.

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