It's Springtime! Hallelujah, we're alive again. Not that Winter didn't bring it with a delicious assortment of crops, but the arrival of Spring quickly turned the garden into a haven of flowers and produce, a stark contrast of its slightly more miserable self, that is Winter. After all, Spring is synonymous with rebirth, renewal, rejuvenation and regrowth, and with that, there's been a sudden injection of life into our sweet little spot, with plants and flowers popping up everywhere.
Spring weather in NZ is a mixed bag. You have crisp, sunny days, that can quickly dissolve into a cloudy spring downpour at the drop of a hat. Utterly unreliable when it comes to dressing yourself in the morning - but the plants love the warm sunlight and rain. It's my favourite season in the garden, as everything blooms to life.
Sowing and planting the goods
With winter's departure, it's out with the old and in with the new - plants. Climatic and soil differences can vary significantly across our country New Zealand, especially during the transitional period of Spring. Your own dwelling is the best guide to what's best to be sowing, planting and harvesting. Here's what we've been putting into the ground:
- Sowing - beans, courgettes, cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes, carrots, lettuces, spinach, silverbeet, basil...
- Planting - potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, beans, courgettes, kale, beans, sweetcorn, cucumbers, silverbeet...
There's really nothing better (tastier, fresher, crisper and more nutritious!) then harvesting your own produce and taking it straight into the kitchen, after what may sometimes be months (!) of tending to and watching it grow. Growing your own food is a wonderful vehicle for fostering a deeper appreciation and love for fruits and veggies - at least it has been for me. Here are some of our favourites we've been harvesting:
- Cabbages (red, savoy and green) - great in big colourful slaws, tossed with grated carrot and red onion. For a zingy slaw use vinegar to dress, or for a creamy slaw a high-quality mayonnaise.
- Kale - ahh the trusty kale plant. They handle all-year round weather conditions well, so they're really the gift that keeps on giving. I love snacking on kale either raw, in salads where its been massaged with olive oil until tender, and (arguably the tastiest way to eat it) converted into a few trays of crispy kale chips.
- Broad beans - an uber low maintenance bean variety. I've found the timing of harvest really affects their nutty taste, so do sample as they grow to determine your own preference. The entire bean is nice eaten fresh when young and tender, but otherwise, they should be podded, which is where you remove the inner beans from its pod. They're tasty in salads, soups and dips (try mashed beans, peas, feta, olive oil, lemon and garlic - yum).
- Globe artichokes - wildly fascinating to grow and eat. These striking giants, notable for their ornamental shiny silver leaves that fan in all direction, have been producing a tonne of antioxidant-packed edible flower buds for us. It's best to harvest these when they look like a clenched fist, but if you leave them not all goes to waste - they will blossom into an eye-catching purple flower. I love eating theses boiled or steamed, and a hot tip - to prevent the browning that comes with boiling, add something acidic, like lemon juice or vinegar, to the water.
- Broccoli - such a nutrient-dense, economical, and super easy veggie to grow! Great tossed with olive oil and crushed garlic, and then grilled in a very hot oven until starting to charr. Click here for a recipe.
Mid-spring we welcomed bee hives into the garden. Once we began digging a little deeper into the wonderful world of bees and beekeeping it didn't take us long to be completely sold on the idea. Sure, there was an initial degree of uncertainty at the prospect of minding tens of thousands of flying stinging insects, but they're absolutely remarkable. Keeping honeybees is awesome for many reasons, including:
- Collecting your own honey, aka liquid gold, that bees so tirelessly produce. We've already sampled some straight out of the hive - you'll never try better!
- Environmental sustainability - bees pollinate a ridiculously high percentage of the food we eat, so they're mighty important to the environment.
- Education. They're a valuable thread linking where our food comes from.
- Finally, they're calming - it's so meditative watching them fly in and out of their hive.
Troubleshooting in the garden
- As the weather warms, so does the soil. While this encourages edibles to grow, it also does the same for weeds. Keeping on top of weeding is best - prevention is better than cure.
- To germinate seeds need moist soil, so make sure to regularly check seed trays and keep moist, especially as the weather warms. Keep glasshouses well ventilated, as the little plants inside need plenty of air flow.
- Encourage bees to come to your garden by planting flowering companion crops! Companion crops are plants that help other plants grow - plant BFF's you could say. We've got plenty of nasturtium (these attract caterpillars and aphids, protecting lettuces and cabbages), borage (bee's love it and it's great for the strawberry crop coming into summer!), and bright orange marigolds.
- Keep hydrating - like us, plants need water. As the weather warms up, particularly towards the end of the spring season, it may be best to water earlier or later in the evening, rather the in the heat of the day.
This garden is a part of a food education program I've managed for the last two years at the wonderful Dingwall Trust, in association with Garden to Table who are all about improving food literacy in school-aged children. For more information on the work done by G2T, check out their website here.