If you want a winter veggie garden you need to get cracking now.

Kohlrabi Image by Pezibear from PixabayKohlrabi Image by Pezibear from PixabayThe usual planting time for planting a winter vegetable garden in the colder regions of South Africa is March, April and May, but in warm frost free areas, most crops can be planted throughout winter.

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If you want to know in advance what to do in your garden every month, take a look at our articles section here.

Onions Image by Diese lizenzfreien Fotos darfst du verwenden from PixabayOnions Image by Diese lizenzfreien Fotos darfst du verwenden from PixabayIn these sub-tropical regions, continue to sow seeds of vegetables that you can plant out into the garden once the weather cools down. March is the last month to plant onions, and April is the last month to plant green peppers. Otherwise, cabbage, spinach, beetroot, tomato, beans, peas, coriander, rocket, chillies, carrot, lettuce, gem squash and butternut can all still be planted.

Although lettuce, spinach, cabbage, mustard greens, kale and turnips grow best in cooler weather, there are varieties of each which are more tolerant of cold, or on the other hand more tolerant of warm temperatures. Heat-tolerant varieties are slower to bolt or produce a seed stalk and are grown in the summer months, and these are more suitable for subtropical regions. For this reason it is very important to purchase seeds or plants from a reputable garden centre which will have the correct vegetable varieties for your region, at the correct time of the year.

For the rest of the country, continue harvesting your summer crops and preserve or freeze what you can’t eat. Winter squash (pumpkins) are grown in summer and harvested in late summer, autumn or early winter, for winter use. They have a wonderful nutty taste and can be stored for many months. When harvesting your mature pumpkins, leave a little stump of stalk on the pumpkin. Many gardeners like to leave their pumpkins on the plant until the plant dies down completely, but in cold regions you will need to mulch the plants and the fruit with straw or dry grass to protect them from early frost.

 It is also time to cut down your asparagus and mulch the roots for winter.

If you have sown seeds of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower, continue watering and feeding the seedlings with a fertiliser that is high in nitrogen.

In frosty regions, if you wish to sow seeds, you need to do so this month at the latest so that the seedlings can be planted out early in autumn, as soon as the soil temperatures drop. They will then be firmly established before it gets really freezing cold in June and July.  You should try to get at least 6 to 8 weeks of good growth on your winter veggies before the first major frosts arrive, anything less and your plants will struggle over the really cold period.

BroccoliBroccoliIf you live in a region which receives early frosts, slower maturing varieties like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are sown as early as January and February, and it is really a bit late to sow seeds now, so it will be worth your while to purchase trays of established seedlings from your garden centre instead.

Winter crops include carrots, beetroot, radishes, parsnips, leeks, late season onions, shallots, kohlrabi, garlic and turnips, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, broad beans, lettuce, peas, Swiss chard, kale, true spinach, mustardendives. Mizuna and Asian greens like pak choi and tatsoi also do best in the colder months. If you did not sow or plant garlic and onions last month (Read my February article).

Most vegetables, and especially winter ones, need plenty of sunshine, good well drained soil, and regular watering in the summer rainfall regions. It is vital to prepare the beds thoroughly about 2 weeks before planting, incorporating lots of compost and a generous dressing of bone meal, plus a balanced organic fertiliser. In acid soils a dressing of agricultural lime can be added. Look out for worm pellets, called vermi-composting, or volcanic rock dust, which also work especially well with vegetables. Once the soil temperatures have dropped significantly you can start planting out your first winter seedlings into the garden. Try to do this early in the morning, and water thoroughly afterwards.

Raised Vegetable Beds Picture courtesy Clayton BrinkRaised Vegetable Beds Picture courtesy Clayton BrinkConsider growing vegetables in raised beds. They work well in both small and large gardens, and because they offer better drainage, are recommended for heavy clay soils. Space can also be used more effectively and a good soil structure is easy to obtain. Because there is no soil compaction from walking over the beds, less digging over is required. Plants in raised beds receive more sun and air circulation, and because they can raise the temperature of the soil inside the bed by quite a few degrees in winter, warm up early in the spring, and stay warm later in autumn, so raised beds allow you to plant earlier and harvest for longer. (Read my February article to find out more about raised beds)

Growing your own vegetables can be most rewarding and a lot of fun, but remember not to bite off more than you can chew, and don’t despair if you have a few failures – this is all part of the learning curve. You will soon learn which varieties do best in your garden and how much to sow for your family’s needs. Once you “get the hang of it”, your veggie garden will be overflowing with delicious home grown, organic produce.

“Growing Vegetables in South Africa” e-book has all the information to “get you growing your own” and includes all the commonly grown veggies as well some more unusual varieties.

To read more or order – click here.