Good companions to winter veggies

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Cape Town – Plant a winter soup garden now while the soil is still warm.

Vegetables can be planted in conventional rows, in blocks, raised beds or in containers. If a variety of vegetables is planted in the same bed they make the garden more interesting and gaps from harvesting won’t be so noticeable.

Whether you grow winter vegetables in pots or in the ground, they need at least five hours of sun a day and excellent drainage. Prepare the soil by forking over the area and removing weeds. Rake the surface as evenly as possible, incorporate compost, and water well on the day before planting.

Sow seed sparingly, cover with a thin layer of soil and press down firmly before watering. To avoid washing away seed, use a watering can with a fine rose. Protect seeds by covering with bird-proof netting and keep the soil moist but not wet.

Root vegetables (carrot, radish, beetroot, turnip) do not like freshly-manured ground and are best planted from seed. Sow seed of broad beans and peas in double rows and support with small branches or tie to stakes to prevent them being blown over by the wind. Grow broccoli, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach from seedlings to shorten the growing time.

Rather than have too many vegetables maturing at the same time, sow at intervals. Plant quick and slow-growing vegetables together and harvest quick-growing vegetables as soon as they are ready. This allows space for the slow-growing crop to develop.

 

Grow Asian greens

Asian greens have introduced western cuisine to a new and exciting world of tastes and textures. They are inclined to bolt in hot weather, so are best grown in autumn. They are nutritious and vitamin rich, add crunch to stir-fries and salads, and flavour to soups and casseroles.

Growing a variety of Asian greens is a gardener’s delight as they are undemanding, quick to germinate and can be harvested extensively over several weeks.

Because they grow rapidly, they need sunshine and generous amounts of organic matter in the form of compost and well-rotted manure incorporated into the soil, which in turn helps retain moisturel.

Sow at intervals and harvest regularly while young and succulent. Fertilise once a fortnight with Nitrosol, Seagro, Margaret Roberts Supercharger or Ludwig’s Vigorosa.

Chinese cabbage (michihili, pe-tsai) has narrow leaves, green on the outside and white-green inside, with a milder flavour than the common green cabbage. It forms dense heads that can be upright and tall or round in shape.

Bok choy, also known as pak choi, has vase-shaped heads of green leaves and a bulbous base.

There are two ways of harvesting, either by cutting back the plant and leaving the centre leaves to re-grow, or by picking the outer leaves as needed.

Tatsoi (spinach mustard) is a cut-and-come-again vegetable with a rosette of spoon-shaped green leaves and pale green stems. It can be used as a salad or as a substitute for spinach.

Mizuna (Japanese mustard) is often used as part of a mesclun, a salad mix of assorted small, young salad green leaves that originated in Provence, France. The stalks are crisp and crunchy and the deeply cut, narrow leaves slightly spicy. Mizuna can be eaten raw in salads, or in stir-fries and soups.

Chinese eggplants are usually long and thin, white, lavender-striped or purple. They have a mild flavour and should be picked while young and tender and grilled or roasted.

 

Companion planting

Companion planting is the term used to describe the association of two or more plant species that grow in close proximity to each other for their mutual benefit of higher yield and natural pest control.

Native Americans were practising companion planting when they planted corn, squash and beans together. The tall-growing corn acted as support for the climbing beans, and the low-growing squash provided a ground cover that helped keep out weeds. The corn and beans also acted as camouflage for the squash, which confused the squash vine borer.

Cottage gardens of old are a perfect example of how well companion planting works. The garden was planted closely with flowers, vegetables and herbs that produced pollen and nectar to supply the cottagers’ beehives, and encouraged other beneficial insects to aid pollination.

Companion plantings that encourage healthy growth and discourage pests include beetroot with lettuce and chives; tansy and garlic with roses; sage, thyme, radish and parsley with carrots; basil with tomato; lettuce with parsley and the cabbage family with lettuce, onions, leeks and peas.

Plant families that share the same pests and diseases are best separated by other plants. Destructive insects often find their food by smell and onions, garlic and chives that produce strong scents are a deterrent.

Independent HOME, Kay Montgomery

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