As the year draws to a close so too do those crops planted mid-year and mid-winter – garlic and onions. Planted on the shortest day of the year, we harvest around the longest day or thereabouts. So these slender plants have had to be nurtured for six months, protected from the competition of weeds, watered and mulched and finally dug up and stored in the shed.
Red onions stay in the garden bed until the cook wanders past and selects one to slice into salads. Whereas the tops of the Hunter River brown and white onion varieties die off to signify that it is time for harvest the Sweet Red variety maintains green and healthy tops even after the bulb is formed. These tops are also used by the cook as ‘oniony-material’ in soups ands stews.
The garlic has come out of various beds to make way for pumpkins – another long-storing vegetable – and silverbeet for the chicken flock. The tops on the hard-neck garlic varieties stay in place and allow the garlic cloves to be braided before hanging in the shed.
Once these beds are cleared the remnants of the spring seed-table sowings are set out – largely lettuce and carrots.
Now the cycle starts again: the seed table is re-established and I look to the seed collection to begin sowing crops that won’t enter the soil until the break of the autumn rains in late March.
These winter crops include winter-hardy herbs – coriander, sorrell, chia, parsley, lovage, thyme, dill, spring onions and rocket. These will flourish briefly in the cooler yet still sunny days of an Australian autumn. The deep winter crops belong to the cabbage family – broccoli, kale, Chinese and German cabbages and ‘Palla Rossa’ radicchio, a form of bitter red lettuce beloved of the cook.
With the hottest summer weather still to come all these seedlings will be permanently covered by shade cloth and hand-watered daily with the last of the water from the rainwater tanks.