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Sustainable Life: Winter is coming… prepare your garden

Mia Swainson

It’s still warm, but not too hot. T-shirt weather.

The garden is green and everything is growing fast. Is it really time to think about winter gardening? Oh, yes! If your garden is going to be truly productive between June and August it’ll need to be planted now, or April at latest.

Canberra’s winters are cold and it’s tough for vegetables to make tasty food when there are sub-zero temperatures. I had one excruciating year where I transplanted broccoli seedlings in June and watched each day for a sign that the plants might grow and produce broccoli. They looked healthy enough, but through that long winter, they didn’t even sprout a new leaf. Finally, in September they produced new leaves. Eventually, in October… some broccoli!

My favourite winter harvests are sprouting broccoli, cauliflower, kale, carrots and beetroots. You’ll also need to make space now for early spring harvests of broad beans and peas. If you can spare the space, then give yourself the luxury of home grown garlic and plant your cloves in April. They’ll be ready for harvesting in November or December.

Getting ready for winter in the garden.


Broccoli, cauliflower and kale all need rich soil. I’ll be digging through a bag or two of manure, plus adding what I can from my compost and worm farm to create a dark, crumbling and delicious food for my brassica family. Plant out seedlings, so that your plants are ready to produce before it gets frosty. While it’s still warm, you might notice holes in the brassica leaves and white moths flying around your plants. I reduce cabbage moth numbers with an organic, bio-pest control: ‘dipel’.

Carrots and beetroots

These root crops like soil to be easy for their roots to push through. My backyard soil is clay, so I’m always loosening it up with lighter, imported soil. Too much fertiliser can split the carrot roots, so I’ll be putting just the home compost and worm wee on the bed that I’ve prepared for carrots and beetroots. If you’re planting from seed, don’t forget to thin your carrots, to give them space to grow beautifully. I like thinning with the kids in tow, they love crunching on baby carrots just moments after they’ve come out of the ground. I’m also loving carrot tops in my home-made pesto and beetroot leaves in salads – doubling the value from these ‘root’ crops.

Broad beans and peas

Crunch, snap… delicious! I plant snow peas and sugar snaps in our garden because you can eat the shell. They’re also sweeter than ‘normal’ peas. These fabulous legumes add nitrogen to the soil, so they’re a bit like a soil ‘conditioner’. I always grow peas or broad beans as my green manure crop. They give me something to eat, as well as adding nitrogen to the soil.   So, to prepare

They give me something to eat, as well as adding nitrogen to the soil. So, to prepare soil for my broad beans and peas, I’ll be simply digging through some worm wee and worm casings. A bit of fertiliser to compliment the nitrogen that’s produced by each plant, but not too much.


Wow – I just love it. Homegrown garlic. Crisp, strong and hanging elegantly around my home. As an extra bonus, at $35/kg for organic garlic, growing your own is a total money saver. Garlic likes rich soil, so I’ll be mixing through manure as well as compost and worm casings. Garlic bulbs grow from individual cloves, so you simply need to source Australian grown bulbs (these won’t have been bleached) from your grocer, the farmer’s market or a garden centre. Plant individual cloves about 5 cm deep in the soil, with the bottom of the bulb ‘side’ facing down. Garlic grows slowly, so I try to plant the garlic close together, mulch well and weed regularly.

The weather is changing and winter is coming. The pleasure of Canberra’s four seasons creates a rhythm in our gardens.

Planting now will give you green, crispy and frost-sweetened veggies when the rest of the garden is bare.


Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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