August is a tricky month for food growers in temperate Australia. Spring is just around the corner, and enthusiasm is building for the season ahead. But the wise gardener knows that a cautious approach now, will pay dividends later on. After all, the soil is still cold, frost is likely to strike at some point in next few weeks, and blustery winds have a habit of whipping up from the South Ocean in August to tear delicate warm season crops to shreds. That doesn't mean you should spend the next few weeks sitting around on your bum. There's work to be done. Plenty of vegies can go in the ground between now and the start of spring. So tailor the following list to your micro-climate, then get outside in the late winter sunshine and start planting.
Lettuces, English spinach, rocket, silverbeet and mizuna can all go in the ground during August. Growth will be a bit slower than in autumn because of the colder soil, but in little more than a month you'll be reaping the rewards of a late winter sowing. You won't have a home grown tomato to go with your leaves for a while, but not to worry. Try warm salads made with ingredients like toasted nuts, pan fried croutons, and warmed seafood or smallgoods.
Late summer and late winter are the perfect times to start root vegies from seed. Germination will take longer in August, as much as two weeks for some seed, but the cooler temperatures make for ideal growing conditions. You won't go wrong with carrots, parsnips (use the freshest seed possible), turnips, radishes, and beetroot. For the straightest carrots, make sure the soil is loose, and not too fertile. I always plant carrots after a crop of brassicas, who obligingly gobble up any surplus nutrients. Potatoes aren't technically a root, but they can go in now too. If the tops get a bit frosted, don't worry, they'll bounce back within days.
Peas are one of my favourite food producing plants. They're highly ornamental, they take up little space at ground level and crop continuously over a long period. All can go in now – snow peas, shelling peas and sugarsnaps, which are eaten pod and all. Growth will boom as the weather warms. Pick regularly to keep the flowers coming. Broad beans can also go in now. They're easy to grow, but can be prone to flopping in August winds so tie the plants to a trellis or plant in a block and support the lot with a fence of stakes and twine.
There's still time to get in onions, leeks, shallots and spring onions. Plant out seedlings for an earlier harvest, and ensure the soil is slightly alkaline (add lime if yours is acidic) and reasonably fertile. If you're keen to plant garlic, sorry, but that ship's already sailed. Try again in autumn.
By: Justin Russell
First published: August 2018