19 March 2012

Say Goodbye to the Supermarket Fruit and Veg Department

I've really noticed the end of summer this week. The days are getting shorter, or rather the sun is setting earlier and it is dark much later in the mornings. Before too long winter will be here and with it a whole lot of extra expenses: heating, warm clothing, more fuel for the car (less walking in winter weather) and more indoor pursuits which invariably seem to cost something.

I've also noticed it because I've spent the last two glorious days in the veggie garden planting our winter veggies. They should have been in a couple of weeks ago but time was away.  It was a major garden renovation, so I had to wait until there was almost nothing left. We have moved four of our big veggie boxes so they are in line with the rest of the garden.

This came about because we need a new side fence (what a palaver and all over a fence). To get the new fence the old creepers had to come down (yay!). This freed up a whole lot of space - about 54 square feet - in the back garden. It also meant I could move the veggie boxes so they now get sun all day long, instead of just 7 hours.

Unfortunately to move the boxes we had to empty them. That meant digging out the soil, shifting the boxes into their new positions, replacing the soil and re-planting. The boxes were moved one at a time, as Wayne was on call and we never knew just when the phone would ring and he'd have to go to work. It was a huge job and took most of the day, but I can't stop grinning, everything looks so lovely and tidy now.

Mind you I'm paying for it today; my arms and shoulders are a little stiff and achy, obviously not used to all the pushing and lifting of the shovel.

Once the boxes were in place I was itching to get planting. The weatherman says that this is the last of the nice warm days for the year and that a very cold change is on its way for later in the week so I had to get moving.  Wayne turned over the compost for me and we dug in lots and lots of lovely, crumbly compost and watered it down, ready for the seedlings. Then he started a new lot of compost with the lawn clippings and the contents of the bokashi bucket and some fern clippings he mulched up. He'll be able to add apple leaves soon; I noticed this morning they are starting to turn yellow on the tree.

I've planted mini cauliflowers and cabbages. I love these little vegetables, one is just the right size for a meal for my family so there is no waste and they don't get to go black in the fridge. I pick them as I want them so they are really fresh too.

I've also put in some more potatoes (Desiree this time) and re-planted the strawberries into a bigger bed for the winter.  Hannah tells me that our homegrown, organic potatoes are the best tasting ever.  That’s high praise from my girl who doesn’t really like spuds all that much.

I sowed another dozen beetroot too. Have you tried roasted beetroot? Beetroot is a summer salad staple for many Australians but it's even better as a winter veggie roasted in a drizzle of olive oil. Or in a soup or dip.

And of course I've sown some more lettuce and broccoli. We'll also enjoy Rainbow Silverbeet, garlic chives, peas, Chinese cabbage, turnips and parsnips (I love baked parsnip), celery and spring onions. I'm tempted to try a couple of tomato plants and keep them in the greenhouse but I fear Melbourne winters just don't get enough hot sun.

This afternoon I sowed more silverbeet, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and lettuce and celery seeds. By the time these are ready to go into the garden I should be picking their older mates. That's the plan anyway. Succession planting will ensure we have a steady supply of fresh veggies all winter, and save a small fortune too.

For root vegetables, such as beetroot and parsnip, I plant direct. You can buy seedlings of these veggies, but they really do better if they are sown direct and grown from seed. Try beetroot or radishes for salads, turnips and parsnips for soups and casseroles and carrots grown straight from seed and you'll be amazed at how much better they grow for you.

There is still one empty veggie bed. This is for onions. It will rest for the next three months, ready for planting in July. The onions did really well this year so I hope I can replicate the results. The soil has been turned over and had lots and lots of manure dug into it. My Grandfather grew the best onions ever, and he grew them in a mix of 3:1 manure to soil - not what the books suggest at all. His onions were always golden and big and very tasty. My plan is to give Grandad's method a try and hope I have his green thumb, at least when it comes to onions anyway.

When people ask me how I keep the food bill down the first thing I mention is the veggie garden. The few minutes it takes each day to water, pull the odd weed, re-sow seed and pick gorgeous fresh vegetables is fantastic value for effort.  Our fruit and veg bill is so low, around $10 a fortnight, that I once had a journalist accuse me of not feeding my family properly. The look on her face when I invited her out the back to see our garden, and then the smile when she left with a big bag of fresh veggies was priceless.

And I think she understood - you don't need to rely on the supermarkets for your food - you can grow it yourself, in your own backyard, and tell the supermarket fruit and veg department goodbye.

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