Sunday, August 19, 2018

Kitchen garden in winter?

I had an unintentional blogging break for about a month. We're hanging out for rain, mostly. Then there was the season of sickness, which visited during winter. Thankfully, we've all turned a corner now, and able to get back on the horse for Spring!

Oh, but hasn't Spring been a fickle visitor, this year? It appeared in late July - which for the southern hemisphere, is supposed to be winter. Temps have regularly been 29 degrees Celsius, lately (84F) during the day. Luckily my Kitchen garden isn't struggling. I'm learning more from it, with each change of season.

Kitchen garden, late August

This is the only part of my garden, that gets watered regularly now, so it's economical on our water resources. We're on our last water tank, and if it doesn't rain in the next 2-3 weeks, we'll have to order some water in. It's motivated me to consider more water tanks - specifically for the edible garden, so we don't have to tax our house tanks any more.

In true permaculture fashion, I'm thinking small and slow solutions. So it's going to be a low tech set-up, and much easier to install than our last house tank.

A splash of colour...

I've learned plenty of new things about my kitchen garden, lately. Like, how it's a waste of space to grow ornamental kale. No matter how attractive it looks, it's just not a regular producer. Maybe if I was picking it more, it would be more productive, but then you lose the appeal. It's taken so long, to get any size to the heads anyway. This red ornamental kale, has been the slowest growing plant in my kitchen garden.

So maybe, looks aren't everything...?

Another ornamental kale, going to waste

More than that however, the flavour and texture of ornamental kale, is somewhat lacking. It's leaves are tough, flavourless and take up a lot of space in the pot. Whereas, my curly leaf kale (in my hugelkultur beds, formerly) grew more vertical, and took up less space Especially when picked regularly. Plus the flavour was worth growing it for.

I'll be feeding this kale to the chickens. Which is great news for our feathered friends, but is wasted growing space for our tummies.

New productivity

My plan soon, is to remove ornamental kale from the kitchen garden, and replace with Pink Thai, cherry tomatoes. They're meant to be split resistant too. I germinated seeds on my seedling mat, in the first month of winter. They're now outside, in a large plastic container, so I can close it in, at night. This stops rodents from eating them!

The reason I've selected the cherry tomatoes are, getting more production from the small space it occupies, in a container. Which is what I've learned from my container garden. When growing vegetables, and it's near the back door, make sure the plants are productive ones, you will eat regularly.

Sweet fruits

Strawberries have proven themselves to be very productive in this department too, and act as a living mulch for the container soil. I've yet to learn how long strawberries produce for, in my climate though. In the meantime, new tomato seedlings should do well, planted amongst the strawberries even when they do stop producing.

The strawberries have also proven to be a winner, with the kids - as I hoped they would be! Fortunately, I haven't experienced any problems with birds stealing them. One went missing earlier, but I'm sure it was one of my own little fledglings *wink*.

 Left to right ~ Cos, looseleaf lettuce, & Marvel of Four Seasons

The clear winner though, would have to be the mixed lettuce varieties. Why grow just one? I've enjoyed seeing how they all perform and taste. The looseleaf lettuce, sprawls outwards, while the Cos lettuce grows upwards. The Marvel of Four Seasons variety, is hands down, the tastiest! Although I suspect I will have problems growing that particular variety, during summer. The Cos should be able to continue growing, however.

Lettuce is a living plant, so doesn't lose it's nutritional value the longer I leave it - unlike, the head of lettuce, languishing in the fridge crisper, waiting to be used up! I love that I can leave my lettuce in the pot, and pick it fresh, every time. Best taste and nutritional value! Definitely a keeper in the kitchen garden - weather permitting.

Thyme, basil and oregano

Of course, the herbs are doing exceptionally well - as you would expect them to. In fact, my oregano is threating to overrun the pot, so much so, I'm going to have to prune and dry some soon! The mint (not shown) is also putting out new runners, so really, herbs in pots are clear winners too. I will have to add more parsley though (not enough) and I've germinated some welsh onions (spring onions) seeds, to increase supply as well.

What I can see I will need to address, as the hotter weather moves in, is some kind of shading system. Or these pots will be toast!

To summarise:

  • Remove ornamental kale - poor production & flavour
  • Keep strawberries & lettuce - great production & flavour
  • Add cherry tomatoes - great production & a split-resistant variety
  • Herbs - add more, more & MORE!
  • Overhead shade for summer

Do you have any tips for container gardening, or how to get productive in small spaces, when it comes to growing food?


  1. My main tip would be to plant things which grow up, tomatoes are perfect, this way you get more crops for your space. At home I grow most of my fruit in pots, these are places on our sunny decking, where we wound not normally have plants, so using all the space we can. With my pots, I do not put holes in the bottom of the pots, I have a row of holes about a couple of inches from the bottom all around the pot, so the water does not run away totally and there is always a small amount in the bottom of the pot.

    1. Those sound like some great container growing tips. Nice use of the decking too. I find plants always soften the hard lines of buildings. Glad to hear the tomatoes are a good choice. I figured they would be, but it's nice to have it confirmed. :)

  2. It's great how you've observed your kitchen garden and how you're thinking about how best of use that space so you get the most food you can from it. I don't grow a lot in pots as I always end up with ants in them! I do have a couple of blueberry bushes growing and they always produce a great crop. I have a little bay tree in a pot too. I have also grown cherry tomatoes in pots and that did work really well. I will keep an eye out for that no-split variety. I keep my pots in a position where they get morning sun but are shaded in afternoon. Otherwise they fry in the heat of Spring and Summer. It has been hot and dry and to be honest, I'm hesitating as to what I'll plant because I have a feeling it's going to take a lot of water to keep things growing this coming hot season. Meg:)

    1. Yes, I've had ants in one of my pots with a palm in it. When the winter sun moved to cover it for most of the day though, the ants moved out! I imagine, it was too hot and would cook them alive. Of course, it can cook your plants too, if you're not careful.

      I've totally ditched my regular vegetable patch, because it's just too dry. So I understand your reluctance to get anything started in your garden. I'm so grateful for this small area I can nurture through, because it's really the only thing thriving/growing. If I had to do it on a larger scale, I'd run out of water. I don't think you'll be disappointed with the Pink Thai cherry tomato. Lovely flavour, disease resistant and I've never experienced fruit splitting, in the past when I've grown it.

  3. p.s. Your new blog header looks great!

    1. Thanks Meg. Spring is on the way, so a splash of colour was in order!

  4. Chris, the weather has certainly been up and one day and cold and windy the next. I am freezing today with that wind still blowing. Rain has been forecast for the weekend so let's hope we both get some.

    1. Winter temps have returned for the mornings and late afternoons/evening. Which is somewhat of a relief! Not that I like the cold, but it's nice to have reminders it's still winter, lol. Fingers crossed for the weekend! Would love some rain. :)

  5. Looks like you are getting quite a lot out of the pots Chris. I hope you also get some tasty eggs from your Kale!! I hope your Thai tomatoes go well - I've always had good success with those in pots. I'm a little way off starting tomatoes down here in Canberra but it was such an exciting reminder of spring to see yours growing so well. I'm also jealous of your oregano - mine is looking decidedly sad and I'm nearly out of my giant jar that I dried in Adelaide. Hopefully I can get a good crop over summer to dry and get me through winter next year.
    Look forward to watching your planting plans. Oh, and if you've got the pot space for them I used to use snake beans to provide shade in Adelaide - they are really hardy and productive. Perhaps you could do a row of bean plants behind your other pots and run them up strings to the verandah roof? Sunflowers were my other 'go to' shad plant. Much nicer to look at than shade cloth too.

    1. It's wonderful to hear tomatoes do well in pots, from others. Cherry tomato plants shouldn't get as big as the standard variety either. I'm always concerned their roots will get too bound up in the pots, and reduce their performance. But it's all a learning experience.

      Thanks for the idea of snake beans. I tried them last year, near the chicken coop and they WERE hardy. Survived on natural rainfall. I do have a choko I need to plant out as well, so we'll see. I was thinking about a green wall instead of shade cloth, but wasn't sure - your feedback has inspired me.

  6. Chris, your garden looks great! I don't have much experience with container gardens, but it's exciting to see yours doing so well.

    1. Thanks Leigh, I'm excited by it too! Finally a place where my edibles DON'T die on me, lol. At least, not for now. I've yet to see how the pots perform during summer. That will be the ultimate test!


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