While Early Winter brings the Winter Solstice, the shortest days of the year, the coldest weather of Winter still lies ahead. This is because the longer our region of the Earth remains in the cold dark wintry shadow of the Earth, the colder things get. This “dead” of Winter is characterised by high pressure systems creating a “high tide” of generally dry weather with cool to cold crisp days and icy nights. In between these mountainous waves of high pressure are deep troughs or ‘low’ depressions. The greater the highs, the deeper the lows as descending cold air from the highs swirls down to the depths of the low troughs and sweeps back upward and outward against the next mountainous wave. This creates a series of Winter storms followed by clearing and colder weather.
The intuitive and wise Gardener soon learns to read these weather signs and use them to good advantage. The fine days may be few, but they are real treasures to be used to good advantage when they occur. Fine weather, even if it is cold, is good weather for cleaning up the garden, removing the leaves, weeds, and winter damaged plants. Remove any diseased plants or infected leaves as quickly as possible. Either burn them or place them in an out-of-the-way compost pile: perhaps underneath shrubbery or some other place where the disease or fungal problem can be isolated.
Disease and fungus often spreads from spores or bacteria which we often unknowingly spread from plant-to-plant as we move through the garden. Become aware of this and work with meticulous care when dealing with fungus. If this becomes much of a problem try to spray regularly with a fungicide like organic Copper Oxychloride or dust with Lime or Flowers of Sulphur to keep everything healthy. When that doesn’t work, it is often best to resort to a stronger and much more effective commercial chemical fungicide. The less one has to use them, the better, but the more effective they will be.
Chemical fungicides and pesticides used on plants are very closely akin to the antibiotics and other medications we Gardeners use to assist in overcoming an infection. The infection usually starts off due to some form of stress we are placed under that weakens our resistance, just like what happens to plants exposed to wintry stress. The chemical ‘remedy’ may be somewhat toxic. Some are down-right poisonous. But taken at the appropriate time and administered in the correct dosage, they can save one’s life. Almost every one alive today can attest to that! And the same is the case when using chemical ‘remedies’ in the garden: use only as directed and attempt for a one-hit wonder with a second knock-out punch if the first one doesn’t do the trick. It is over-use of sprays at inappropriate times that do the damage. With over-use, chemical sprays begin to toxify the garden and plants, producing even more stress rather than less; plus the disease and fungus becomes immune to the spray and soon over-runs the garden! For best success, at the first sign of problems act quickly and effectively eradicate whatever it is before it can spread.
Cultivate all garden beds if possible whenever the weather is dry and especially when it is sunny. Tilling the soil is a most effective way to eliminate young weeds now before they can mature and multiply. It also will open the soil to aeration and sun light. Fresh air and sunlight’s ultraviolet radiation are two of Natures’ most powerful sterilants that will help keep the garden soil fresh and alive.
Remember that the soil itself must be “living earth” in order to grow quality plants. Wintry cold, damp and darkness reduces soil aerobic activity. Thus even the soil goes somewhat dormant during wintry weather. This creates poorer and slower growing conditions. Since growing conditions are at their worst, anything planted now, especially outdoors into open ground from seed will germinate very slowly.
However, there are a few hardy vegetables that will sprout outdoors in open ground even under these cold conditions. Included here are such vegetable favourites as: Broad Bean, Cabbage, Cress, Endive, Lettuce, and Mustard, anything in the Onion Family, Radish, Spinach and Turnips. Even the first Potatoes can be planted in the warmest garden plots. Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbages will respond better in these cold days if transplanted into the garden as seedlings. All of these vegetables grow best when seed is sown direct where the plants are meant to grow. But all are transplantable with care from containers. If it is possible to set up individual cloches, a small tunnel house, or even place frost cloth or a sheet or clear polycarbonate Perspex over the seed row, germination and success will be greatly improved.
Give anything planted now the very best chances of success by insuring that they are planted into a fertile, well draining site with full sun and good air circulation. All members of the Brassicas Family (Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, etc.) thrive on a good general fertiliser that is high in both Nitrogen and Phosphorous. Ample amounts of Lime in the soil are very important as well. Established plantings can be side-dressed by mixing: one cup of Superphosphate or powdered Phosphate; plus one cup of Blood and Bone, Sulphate of Ammonia, Ammonia Nitrate; plus one cup of Dolomite, Dolomag or Garden Lime into one standard bucket of screen compost. Mix well and sprinkle down both sides of each row or around each plant. Little and often is best to avoid over-feeding. Never let such a strong fertilising mixture touch the plant stem. If it does, brush it away immediately before it can cause any chemical burning to sensitive plant tissue. When correctly applied this side dressing keeps your vegetables growing strongly at all times.
A high soil pH will significantly reduce the chance of bacterial / fungal infections that are common at this time of year. This is achieved through regular light dustings with some form of Lime. Lime is also dug into the soil prior to planting; otherwise regularly apply Lime dust around, but not touching each plant, especially Brassicas Family vegetables. While Lime and high soil pH are most beneficial, nothing can overcome the stress of a severe Winter. In times like these, prevention beats cure so spray all Brassicas at least monthly with an organic powdered Copper solution or liquid Lime water. Also remove all old leaves or anything looking at diseased or yellowing. Once any leaf becomes even partially diseased or yellow it is never going to recover. The longer it hangs around on the plant, the more opportunity the problem has to spread.
Anything planted out now as seedlings, especially advanced seedlings carefully transplanted from containers, may just sit there for a while but will soon establish a new root system. These will rocket away with every mild and sunny day. Seedlings planted now will mature mostly for a Mid Spring harvest. Faster growing vegetables like Lettuce, Mustard and Radish may mature faster in mild climates. Those wise Gardeners who planted Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts and Cabbages and Cauliflower in Late Summer are now harvesting a crop that is bound to keep them healthy all Winter.
Here’s a winning way:
2 - 4 cups cooked macaroni elbows (use same number cups macaroni as steamed vegetables);
2 - 4 cups cut-up Broccoli and/or Cauliflower pieces (steamed); 1 400gm can tuna in brine;
3 Tablespoons butter;
3 Tablespoons flour;
2 cups milk (more or less to taste);
1/2 teaspoon salt;
1/2 teaspoon mustard;
1 pinch cayenne pepper;
1 teaspoon dried or fresh chopped garlic;
2 cups grated cheese (1 500gm block Chesdale cheese works nicely);
1/3 cup bread crumbs;
1 small onion finely chopped.
Cook macaroni elbows, steam the veggie; drain well. Mix these together with the tuna and let stand to mix flavours.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the onion, cooking lightly on low heat a few minutes. Blend in the flour.
Gradually add milk.
Add garlic and pepper.
Heat while stirring to near boiling.
Add cheese and simmer until it has melted.
Pour this over the vegetables and tuna and mix well.
Put into a buttered casserole.
For an extra tasty crust,
Top with slices of cheddar cheese and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Eliminate the Butter, Flour (except to 'grease' and flour the casserole dish, Milk and much of the Cheese.
Instead add the cooked Vegetables (and more of these/less Macaroni) into the Macaroni and Tuna with a can of condensed Chicken or Mushroom Soup.
Add the Mustard and seasoning but add less Cheese but make it Tasty Cheddar.
Mix together, adding a small amount of Milk if too thick.
Bake in a preheated oven at 200c for 30-45 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serve hot.
This keeps well for several days in the fridge and it’s flavour will cure and slightly improves with age.
This casserole freezes beautifully. Just cook first, allow to cool, then cover/wrap and freeze.
When ready to use, allow to thaw, then either cover so the top does not scorch and warm on low heat or do the same in a microwave.
What a delightful way to use the bounty of the garden even on the darkest, coldest days of the year!
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