Autumn is (shockingly!) already upon us, Mzansi! As we near winter, it’s time to look at which vegetables and other crops should be planted in autumn so they can grow during the colder winter months.
Since our climate varies across the country, one piece of advice would be to start out by planting your vegetables as seedlings in trays kept indoors. You can plant them outside when your particular climate is more suitable to them, and when they have developed and toughened up a bit.
Seeds for Africa provides vegetable planting guides for specific South African regions here.
The main crops to grow in autumn are leafy greens (lettuce, spinach and Swiss chard), root crops (carrots, beetroot and radishes) and the brassica big four – broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
Short-lived herbs such as coriander, rocket, dill, basil, parsley, borage, chives, and garlic chives can also be planted now. But let’s look at the main ten crops to plant in March and April:
April is considered the last month to plant broccoli, so get moving!
The Gardener insists that you make sure the broccoli plants receive full sun during winter and are watered regularly so that they do not wilt.
There are specific winter varieties of cabbage that can be sown from February to May. These include ‘Cape Spitz’, ‘Brunswick’, ‘Drumhead’, ‘Glory of Enkhuizen’, and hybrids ‘Conquistador’ and ‘Hercules’, as well as Chinese cabbage.
Cabbage plants need full sun, and fertile soil that drains well. The Gardener also advises giving cabbage plants enough space to grow. Planting too close together, plants not getting enough sun or enough water will affect the formation of the heads.
Another brassica, cauliflower likes a good supply of nutrients and for its relatively short growing period requires an above average fertiliser application.
According to Gardening South Africa, cauliflower does not like sudden changes in temperature. It doesn’t like extreme hot or cold temperatures either, so early autumn is the best for planting cauliflower.
Our fourth and last brassica on the list is kale. Kale is less troubled by pests than other brassicas, is more disease resistant and tolerates cold. It is also super healthy, so make sure you include it in your winter meals!
Plant kale in full sun or semi-shade, in slightly acidic, fertile soil.
Also read: Vertical farming: 6 tips on how to start up
Moving on to our root crops, carrots also sport some winter varieties. The Gardener lists ‘Cape Market’ and ‘Scarlet Nantes’ as cool-season carrot varieties that are best sown now in autumn. The specific requirement of carrots is deep, loose soil that drains well.
Beetroot is one of my personal favourites and is an intermediate to warm season crop, but can be grown almost throughout the year in South Africa according to Gardening South Arica.
The most common garden beetroot is a deep ruby red, however, there’s a surprising range available: Chioggia, Albino, Cylindra, Golden Globe, and the always reliable Detroit Dark Red.
Spring to autumn is the best time to sow in frosty regions. But don’t sow seeds when once it has gotten too cold during the midwinter months because the roots will mature during the hottest time of summer and will go to seed quickly.
If planting radishes in autumn, GrowVeg suggests keeping them in a sunny spot. They’d prefer more shaded areas during the summer, but their frost tolerance makes them a perfect autumn crop.
Radishes are easy crops to plant in autumn, as you can sow them directly outside to start growing in well-drained soil. No need for seedling trays!
Both loose-leaf and crisp head lettuce varieties can be planted in autumn and winter. Lettuce does not do well in the summer, and really prefers the cold, so you don’t have to rush with this one. For late autumn and winter sowing, you can plant lettuce in full sun.
According to The Gardener, lettuce should be planted in fertile soil that you consistently keep moist. The moist soil can encourage fungal disease, so be sure to space the lettuce heads far enough from each other to get air flow between them.
Spinach is best sown during the cooler months according to GrowVeg. It can be sown in containers during cold weather or sown directly in the ground if it’s not too cold in your area. This is one of those easy crops that will not give you much trouble.
Be sure to plant in shade or partially shaded areas.
10. Swiss chard
Last, but not least, swiss chard is a beautiful and healthy addition to your garden. Life is a garden refers to swiss chard as ‘sexy spinach’ and notes that it prefers rich, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade.
Swiss chard is also an easy leafy green vegetable to grow during autumn, as it grows in most places and soils, and is also relatively unbothered by common crop pests. It is frost tolerant, so you can grow it from spring to autumn with ease.
Need some more info on crops to plant in autumn? Here are some resources:
Also read: Home food garden: What to plant in March