Looking for the perfect thing to do now that the Christmas frenzy is over and you still have the odd quiet day to potter around the garden? How about a spot of planting? There's nothing quite as relaxing on a warm afternoon than popping in a few seedlings or sowing some seed, and the best thing about doing it now is that the soil's properly warm. This means that if you live in a cool climate like me, even slow germinating plants will be up and moving in a matter of days.
Take carrots. They're notoriously slow to germinate in the colder months, sometimes taking a fortnight or more to appear. It's a totally different story in mid summer. I sowed a batch of carrot seed a week ago, and germination occurred in about five days. Parsnips, which are even slower to germinate than carrots, can also go in now. If you sowed fresh seed (vital for parsnips), then the seedlings should be up in a week. The same goes for beetroot – sown now, the seedlings will be up fast and will grow on strongly. None of this waiting around for nearly a month to see any action.
The other plants that you should consider getting in now, particularly if you're in the cold temperate zone, are brassicas – chiefly broccoli, cabbages, and cauliflower. I know it doesn't seem right planting winter vegies in January, but trust me, if you sow them now, the plants will grow on through autumn and will be strong enough to withstand the first frosts. By the winter solstice in June you'll have harvested a crop. The only thing you need to watch out for when growing brassicas through autumn are the cabbage white butterflies – they're easily controlled by netting or by spraying organically approved Baccillus thuringiensis (Dipel). In warm temperate areas, hold off for another month before sowing, and in the subtropics, wait until early April and grow on through winter.
You can also make a late sowing of beans during the lazy days of January. Bush beans are usually the quickest to crop, but there's still plenty of time for climbing beans to snake their way up a trellis and bear some delicious pods. For a late sowing I like to get in some borlotti plants. The beans can be left to dry in their pods on the vine, and are ideal for storing through winter. Perfect for soups, stews and casseroles.
Last but not least, think greens. In cool climates, we're about to head into the best time of the year for growing leafy green vegetables so get the seed packets out and sow with abandon. Lettuce, Asian greens, rocket, kale, radicchio, silverbeet, and spinach can all go in the ground from now until the end of March.
What was I saying about a relaxing afternoon pottering around the garden? There's actually quite a bit to do, but don't go overboard. Hasten slowly, and make sure there's still time to read the latest issue of Organic Gardener magazine under a shady tree.