Contrary to popular belief, there are many plants and vegetables that thrive at this time of the year. Winter also offers the chance to take a long hard look at your garden and make the necessary changes to improve its structure.
Ghetto gardener, Ludwe Qamata from Site C in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, says that while winter can be a challenging time of year for most food growers, root veggies including carrots, beetroots, and onions are foods that thrive in the winter season. This is especially ideal if you are living on the Cape Flats.
“During this season, we are more likely to encounter cold weather or climatic change, including rain, frost, dew, cold, and wind,” he says.
Qamata says that rain plays a significant part in our winter crops, such as brassicas, which like rainfall. Other veggies you can plant in your garden include, spinach, spring onion, lettuce, cabbage, cauliflower and curly kale.
“These are winter growers that are nutritionally rich,” he says.
“You can grow them all year long, but they do best in the winter and have firm, crisp leaves that reduce or get rid of pests (like aphids) and plant diseases,” he explains.
Plant protection is fundamental
According to Songezo Sam Pikini from Tsolo, a director and field worker of Mzantsi Mixed Farming, winter vegetables such as spinach, onions, and cabbage thrive in winter since they grow underground and are less influenced by wind, particularly in the Eastern Cape.
Qamata encourages farmers to rinse the frost with clean water before the sun rises, otherwise their plants are likely to be scorched by the sun’s heat and their leafy harvests could be destroyed.
“As with humans, your plants will need warmth, healthy soil, mulch, and cover crops such as cloves. Or use your brown mulch to cover your soil (humid soil) and spread wood chips all over your garden soil. Ensure that your plants get at least seven hours of sunshine every day since sunlight is vital for healthy plant growth,” Qamata advises.
He suggests surrounding your vegetable crops with hedges or planting shrubs to decrease the impact of incoming cold, hot, or blowing winds on your crops. You may also use shade cloth nets, which may be useful for reducing heat and sunlight.
Pikini suggests that tents can be used to protect plants from snow or heavy rain, especially in critical weather conditions. He says they can be removed later so the plants can get air and sunshine.
“For instance, without air, plants rot or do not grow properly. Also, excessive watering or too much rain can make it easier for bacteria, fungi, and mould to grow in plants.”
Understand your soil
Qamata says that adding a lot of compost to sandy soil before starting a winter crop is a good idea. He adds that farmers should keep adding compost until their soil gets richer.
“Healthy soil is essential for the development of healthy plants.”
He went on to explain that nutrient-dense soil absorbs the roots of plants effectively and retains water efficiently, preventing plants from drying out.