The cool autumn weather provides ideal working conditions for gardening. 

The soil is still warm for planting and the time is right to grow vegies to eat in the coming months. All you need to produce a good crop is a sunny, sheltered position.  

Before planting, it’s important to add manure or compost to your soil. This will keep it in good shape and help your vegetables thrive. 

Fork the manure or compost into the soil and give it a good rake, making sure it’s smooth and crumbly, then water well. 

Mulch around the vegies to reduce evaporation and prevent weeds using lucerne hay, sugar cane or pea straw. 

TIP: You can grow climbing peas and spring onions in containers, using a premium potting mix. 

1. Peas

In addition to tasting terrific, peas are full of nutrients and are high in fibre. 

They contain vitamins B1, B2, C and K and folic acid, plus are rich in magnesium, iron and potassium. 

If your children are reluctant to eat store-bought peas, encourage them to grow their own and eat them raw. The pod and the peas of snow peas and sugar snaps can be eaten. 

You can also grow dwarf or climbing peas, which can be cultivated on a teepee, a paling fence or on a frame made from upright timber posts covered in chicken wire.

SOW peas now and throughout winter. In very cold areas, frost will kill the flowers, so sow in late winter. Dampen the soil with water the day before sowing and keep it damp.

Sow the seeds directly where they are to grow, making a furrow twice as deep as needed and scatter plant food along the base. Cover this with soil so it won’t burn the seeds, then plant the peas on top. 

WATER regularly once the seeds have germinated. 

FEED fortnightly with a soluble plant food when flowers first appear. 

HARVEST every few days to keep the plants flowering for longer.  

In the kitchen 

  • Fresh peas marry well with pumpkin in a risotto. 
  • Toss fresh peas, fresh herbs, red onion, olive oil and goat’s cheese through your favourite pasta for a great taste. 
  • Lightly stir-fry snow peas with garlic and ginger, season with sesame oil and soy sauce and top with sesame seeds. 
  • Make a tasty soup for lunch with fresh peas and mint.

2. Spring onion 

Also called green onions or scallions, spring onions are among the oldest and most widely used ingredients in Chinese cooking. 

Really just immature onions that haven’t yet made bulbs, spring onions are harvested for their green shoots. 

SOW SEEDS in well-drained soil or in pots directly where they are to grow. You can also plant seedlings, making sowings every 4-6 weeks.

WATER regularly for quick growth. 

FEED with a soluble food such as Powerfeed to improve plant health. 

HARVEST about 8-12 weeks after planting. Simply pull up the spring onions as required and use fresh. 

In the kitchen 

  • Stir-fry spring onions, scallops, green beans and ginger in a wok, then season with soy sauce. 
  • Combine spring onions, goat’s cheese and mushrooms to make a delicious quiche or tart.
  • Lightly sauté asparagus and spring onions, place on toast, top with Gruyère or Swiss cheese and pop under the grill. 
  • Thinly slice potatoes in a baking tray, add spring onions, cover with cream and cook slowly in the oven on a medium heat. 

3. Broccoli  

An excellent cool-season vegetable, broccoli contains no fat and is full of fibre. It is also a good source of folic acid and high in vitamin C. 

Researchers have found that the star component in broccoli is the phytochemical called sulforaphane, which plays a major role in helping to prevent cancer. 

You can choose from large-headed varieties or smaller sprouting varieties such as broccolini. 

SOW seeds now or buy seedlings. Plant seedlings in cold areas. 

WATER regularly to encourage quick and healthy growth.

FEED by adding well-rotted compost or manure to the soil before planting. Broccoli prefers a soil with a pH above 6.5, so dig in lime or dolomite as well. 

When the plants have reached a height of about 200mm, give them regular applications of a soluble plant food for vegetables.

HARVEST by cutting the centre head of broccoli first when it is tightly packed and before the individual flower buds have started to open. 

Take about 100mm of the main stem, making the cut on a slant to prevent water accumulating in the stem and causing rot. New shoots will soon grow.

In the kitchen 

  • Make soup using broccoli, spinach and potatoes. 
  • Combine broccoli and blue vein cheese for a tasty quiche. 
  • Stir-fry broccoli with beef and ginger and season with soy sauce.
  • Create a pasta sauce with tomatoes, broccoli and garlic.

4. Broad beans 

One of the oldest crops still under cultivation, broad beans have been grown by humans for many centuries. 

According to Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix in their book Vegetables, evidence of cultivation has been found in Egypt dating from about 1800BC. These primitive varieties of the crop had small black seeds. 

SOW seeds directly where they are to grow. If sown in deep, damp soil, extra water shouldn’t be needed until the seedlings emerge in about 10 14 days. The best method of sowing them in a vegetable garden is in double rows about 250mm apart, with stakes at the end of each row supported by twine. 

WATER regularly once the seeds have started germinating.

FEED as they grow with a soluble plant food for fruit and vegetables. Avoid using any fertilisers high in nitrogen, as the plants will produce lots of leaf growth but few flowers. 

HARVEST the beans when immature and eat whole, as with French beans. Or you can allow them to mature and then remove the bean from the pod. To remove the outer husks, soak the hard grey beans in boiling water for a couple of minutes, then pop the cooked green beans out from inside. Otherwise, you can simply cook and eat the beans, husk and all.

5. Leeks 

The national floral emblem of Wales, leeks make a flavoursome addition to lots of dishes. 

They’re also used as an herbal remedy for respiratory congestion and slow digestion, and as a diuretic. 

If you’re short on space in the vegetable patch, their strap-like leaves look good in flowerbeds. 

SOW seeds now in seed trays, or plant seedlings. The best way to grow leeks is to make a 200mm deep trench and position the seedlings in the base. Cover with a little soil and slowly fill in the trench as the seedlings grow to blanch the stems. 

WATER regularly to encourage growth. 

FEED fortnightly with a fertiliser high in nitrogen to promote rapid growth and produce plump, tender stems. 

HARVEST as baby leeks or wait until the stems are about 20mm thick. If young plants have formed, they can be separated and replanted. 

In the kitchen

  • Steam baby leeks and toss with olive oil and parmesan to serve as a side dish.
  • Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes, thinly sliced potatoes and baby leeks. Add thyme and slow-bake.  
  • Pan-fry prawns with asparagus and baby leeks. 
  • Make leek and potato soup and season with thyme or parsley.

6. Globe artichokes 

A Mediterranean native belonging to the thistle family, the globe artichoke is unusual among vegetables because it’s the immature flowers of the plant that are cooked and eaten. 

The Greeks and Romans tended to consider globe artichokes a delicacy and they were introduced to England sometime around the 16th century. 

They soon became a favourite of Henry VIII, possibly because they were thought to be an aphrodisiac. 

SOW seeds in spring or buy seedlings or suckers from nurseries in autumn and winter. 

WATER regularly especially during spring and summer. 

FEED with compost or well-rotted manure in early spring.

HARVEST the buds when the bracts are tightly closed, and the bud is about 75mm across. Once the flower begins to open, artichokes are inedible. When all the buds have been harvested, cut back the flower stalk.

In the kitchen  

  • Slice about 150mm off the top of the artichoke and steam or boil for about 25-45 minutes or until the outer bracts can easily be pulled off. Serve hot or cold. 
  • Try pasta with artichoke hearts, mushrooms and fresh crabmeat. 
  • Chop artichoke hearts roughly, add your favourite mayonnaise and sour cream, then season with chopped fresh tarragon for a yummy dip. 

7. Eating an artichoke

If you’ve never eaten an artichoke, it can look like a very daunting task. But this bud is delicious, and it is well worth making the effort. 

Hot artichokes are great served with a dip, your favourite mayonnaise or simply melted butter.

REMOVE an outer bract from the cooked artichoke, then dip the base of the bract in the mayonnaise, melted butter or dip of your choice. 

HOLD the other end of the bract, place it in your mouth and pull it through your teeth to remove the edible soft part at the base of the bract.

Continue until all the bracts have been removed and only the base remains.

CUT away the inedible fuzzy part, called the choke, which covers the artichoke heart.  Cut the heart into pieces and eat with your favourite dip.

Written by Cheryl Maddocks. Republished with permission of Handyman Australia.