In New Zealand, we are gradually moving into the winter season. Each day is becoming much cooler now, not only in the morning and evening but also during the daytime. The days have become shorter too. The sun has been rising much later and night descends upon us more rapidly. In the garden, growth has slowed considerably. In Auckland, we are fortunate that growth does not come to a grinding halt altogether, as it does in more temperate zones such as parts of Northern America and Europe, which become snowbound in winter. At least it is possible for us to have a productive winter flower and vegetable garden, even if we are limited in terms of what we can grow over the cooler months. For a list of vegetables I am growing in autumn and winter this year, please click here. For a list of flowers I am growing for these seasons, click here.
Due to the cold, I generally find germination rates very low at this time of the year. I therefore try to avoid propagating plants from seed now. In fact, I aim to have sown all flower and vegetable seeds for the winter garden by the end of March. The month of March marks the start of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere, yet the weather is usually still very warm. I think one of the main reasons that seeds fail to germinate from April until about September (when spring arrives and it starts becoming warmer again) is due to a condition known as dampening off. Cooler mornings and nights, combined with warmer periods during the day, make for fluctuations in temperature. This, exacerbated by excess moisture from frequent downpours of rain, essentially causes seeds to rot.
Once the flower and vegetable seeds I sowed in March have germinated and grown a bit, I carefully transplant them from propagating punnets into larger 6-cell punnets or seedling trays. These plants, along with my spring bulbs, form the basis for my winter garden. By the end of the month of April, I aim to plant all of my flower and vegetable seedlings so they have enough time to become established before the winter sets in. With the assistance of two young female wwoofers from Germany, I managed to do just that prior to leaving for our trip to our holiday home in the Bay of Islands at the beginning of May.
I normally plant all my spring bulbs by the end of April too, with the exception of the hyacinth, tulips and anemones. As our winters are relatively mild (even if they may not feel that way to us!), these bulbs require a period of chilling prior to planting in order to flower successfully. My hyacinth, tulips and anemones were refrigerated about eight weeks ago and will be ready to slip into the ground later this week upon our return. Thanks to the wonderful assistance from our lovely Canadian wwoofer Abby, I actually managed to plant all my spring bulbs (except for the hyacinth, tulips and anemones) in early April.
The key to success in the garden at this time of the year is to protect young seedlings from frost, as well as slugs and snails. Plant protection can be simple and inexpensive, yet effective. Cut a plastic milk or soft drink bottle in half, remove the cap and place it over a young seedling. Using this method, I have had great success in helping young plants become established at this time of the year. One of the best things about winter is that cooler temperatures, coupled with frequent showers, means that the garden does not need to be watered or irrigated. Overall, while winter gardening may not seem as grand as summer gardening, less maintenance and care is required and it is still possible to continue to eat fresh produce from the home garden over the coldest months of the year in New Zealand.