Growing winter crops – beetroot and leek

Well here I am, sitting on a bus on my way to NYC, thinking about the storm just passed in the Auckland and North Island areas and what damage it caused to our plants.

It highlights to me the need to have good drains around your gardens and solid protection from the elements.

Drains and channels for water flow are a really important part of design when creating your gardens, for two key reasons.

Firstly, this will stop your garden being flooded in the winter and secondly, to capture water in the hot summer months.

The way I design my garden is to have raised beds, as I am in a high rain fall area, with it falling hard and fast sometimes. I have purposely designed drains around each bed with an outlet at one end – in the summer, this captures the rain, which then soaks in under the bed, keeping the soil moist under the plants. Then in winter, it enables the water to escape to prevent flooding, as crops can rot (especially garlic) from too much water.

To protect from strong winds, I put wind cloth around my garden or drape netting over my plants, securing it with rocks or pinning it into the ground; though not too tight, as the plants won’t be able to grow. I also find that putting a good thick mulch around your plants will help keep the roots and stems protected, remembering to leave a small gap around the stem of each plant.

With full moon just past and the shortest day just over a month away, it is time to think about planting the last of the winter root crops. Not much really happens in June (in the southern hemisphere), and I look at this time of year as a rest period in the garden for the crops.

I find by planting in May, you at least achieve some growth before the shortest day and it gives the plants a good start – though this also depends on what part of the country you are in.

Winter root crops – beetroot

My focus will be on planting beetroot and leeks to enable me to have a good late winter crop for those hearty roast dinners. Roasting beetroot is easy and delicious – I just give mine a scrub, chop in half and place in the roasting pan with the rest of the veggies, yumo!

Beetroot is a hungry plant and loves good compost or rotted manure incorporated in the soil. I grow mine from seed in rows 10cm apart. Beetroot comes in all types of colours, from orange, red, white and yellow, and the beauty of growing from seed is being able to select these varieties, as I find these plants usually aren’t available in your average garden centre.

When buying beetroot seedlings, it is better to buy a punnet with smaller plants as you will find these easier to separate, and the roots will stand a much better chance of not being damaged when pulling apart.

If you are a new gardener, my advice is to make sure the beetroot punnet is sufficiently watered and then pop the seedlings out, tease the plants apart from each other and plant individually. Make sure you plant them in the soil right down to where the leaves have started to form. This will give them a good hold in the ground and help protect the forming root from wind damage over the winter months.

Growers of seedling punnets supplied to garden centres tend to put 3-4 seeds into each cell these days, which makes it much harder to transplant and if you are a new gardener, you might tend to plant the whole clump together, which will result in tiny beetroot.

Did you know that in pre-Roman times, the only part of the beetroot that was eaten was the leaves? These are delicious chopped into a salad or in a stir fry, which add a vibrant colour. Waste not, want not.

Beetroot can take anywhere from 45-65 days until harvest time depending on your variety and growing conditions. Beetroot can be grown in containers, pots, raised beds, as well as gardens. Remember in dry spells to water every week or so, until they take off by themselves.

Winter root crops – Leeks

Leeks like very similar growing conditions to beetroot, so I tend to plant these next to each other in the garden, as they both like rich soil and it also serves as a good rotation for leafy producers after harvest.

I have been experimenting with planting leeks this year; some I have pulled apart and grown individually with a spacing of 5-7 cms and others I have planted in clumps of 4 to 5 to see if they grow in much the same way but take less time to plant….. we will see…..

My advice when planting leeks is to make sure you make the hole nice and deep with your finger or a stick, as the roots are usually long and like to go in straight-ish, rather than all clumped together. I plant my leeks quite deep into the soil up to where the leaves divide into a ‘V’.

Time-saving tip: I usually put my mulch on the soil first and plant through this as it can be quite time consuming putting mulch around individual plants.

The beauty of growing leeks is they can stay in the ground until you need them. You can pull them when they are young and sweet, or wait until they fatten up when they are delicious for soup – the choice is yours. Leeks take anywhere from 70 -120 days to mature, making sure you harvest before they go to flower, as this will take all the energy upwards and leave a very hard centre in the leek.

Mmm it is making my mouth water just writing this thinking about roast beetroot, leek and kumara soup!

Happy gardening


Photo by FOODISM360 on Unsplash

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