“O’er the fields we go, laughing all the way”

Just so we are clear, I do not condone celebrating Christmas early. I was in a shop (I’m not naming it for consideration of it’s feelings) that was selling advent calendars with my friends Chris and Nathan the other day, and I nearly screamed and ripped my shirt open like the Incredible Hulk. If you are the kind of person who finds it appropriate to play ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’ in November or (even worse) October, then we will never be friends. I’m sorry. That aside, come the big day I think there is nothing more delightful than a table full of veggies and treats that you have grown yourself, and planning ahead is a great way to avoid those irritating price increases around the big day (berry fruits I’m looking at you). So put down your tinsel and pick up your hoe, we are getting your Christmas essentials sorted now, and then forgetting everything else Christmas related until December. Deal? Deal.

Potatoes: My uncle is a huge advocate for homegrown spuds on Christmas day and so now I am too. Especially baby potatoes. Potatoes are a bit different from what we have been dealing with so all jokes aside I’m going to break it down for you. Buy a bag of seed potatoes from your local garden store. There are heaps of different varieties of potato and not all are going to crop in time for Christmas, I’ve had good experience with Rocket spuds but Swift and Jersey Benne should also serve you well. If you are confused just ask, don’t walk away with a random bag. The more visible signs of sprouting on the seed potatoes the better. While you are at the garden store, pick up some potato fertiliser or a general fertiliser. Lay your seed potatoes out in a dry and sunny spot (similar to where we put our seedling trays) and leave them for 4 weeks or so. We are trying to get those little sprouts on the potatoes to grow to be about 2cm in length. Sometimes you might be able to buy them like this so just use your judgement. Once they all have significant sprouts on them we can prepare the soil. Potatoes need plenty of sun and some shelter from rough weather conditions so factor that in when picking your planting location. For each seed potato we are going to plant we need about 25-30cm distance between, so roughly use that as a guide when figuring out how much soil to prepare. Sprinkle your fertiliser on your soil and fork it through trying to make the soil as loose and soft as you can, whilst mixing the fertiliser through as evenly as you can. Your seed potatoes might have many little sprouts on them by this stage but prior to planting remove all but the three healthiest looking sprouts. Mark your soil into rows with string or just roughly judge it if that is a talent of yours, and dig trenches for your potatoes that are about 1.5cm deep. Place your seed potatoes in the ground with the sprouts facing the sky and with 25-30cm distance from each other. Gently cover with soil and even by patting it down with a flat edge rake or just your hands. Give it a broad water and just keep an eye on them. Once they start shooting up keep giving them a general water and protect them from any late frosts as best you can. When the plants get to be about 5cm tall you can start building up the soil at the base of the plant to protect all our little friends growing underneath. Keep building the soil and watering, especially as it gets hotter, right up until the big day. Some people choose to dig down into the ground and check how their potatoes are doing before its ready, in the biz we call that ‘bandicooting’ and as a rule I’m strictly against it because I liken it to shaking your presents before you open them. But you know, your call.

NB: You can grow potatoes in tubs if you have a limited garden area, this will just require regular additions of more soil to keep the growing potatoes covered. I haven’t done it myself so do Google it. Also I hear that growing yams is the same process as growing potatoes. Again, I haven’t done this myself but give it a Google and a try.

Peas: I wrote about these guys in my post ‘Winter is Coming’ so you may have already experienced the joys of growing your own peas. If not and you want to buy the plants ready to go from the garden shop, then you still have plenty of time to plant, and you can read that entry for the blow by blow. For the rest of you, lets try planting them from seed. Peas are great because they don’t need the sunniest spot in your garden, they can still thrive in cooler conditions so don’t be afraid to plant them in a shadier area. Loosen the soil and feel free to chuck in some fertiliser if you have general fertiliser, but don’t worry if you don’t. When buying seeds make sure not to pick up a winter variety of pea and have a thorough read of the packet, we want something pretty standard and don’t need dwarf ones as we are going to support them. Plant them in a row in the dirt about 5cm apart and about 2.5cm deep. Cover and water. Once the plants start to sprout you will need to think about how you can train the plants up to keep their pods off the ground. If you can get your hands on some old bike wheels these are awesome to dig down into the ground and train them up otherwise just improvise and send me photos. Peas can be real jerks about getting trained up things so you might have to be pretty diligent about it and check on them every day once they start reaching out, but to get really awesome peas you should be watering them every day come summer so just kill two birds with one stone.

Carrots & Parsnips: I’m grouping these guys together because its a similar process to plant, but they have one huge difference- carrots are so easy to grow and parsnips are the most taunting little dweebs ever and are so hard to germinate. Regardless, here goes. Like our potatoes, carrots need loose soil so they can easily push through it to grow deep so loosen the soil as much as you can and clear it from as many stones etc as you can. Make a row that is a shallow trench, like less than 1cm deep and sprinkle your carrot seeds trying to give them a bit of distance from each other but don’t worry too much. For the best crop with carrots you are better off to plant the seeds a bit closer together and thin the weaker looking ones as you go along so as to stop from overcrowding. Once you have good head growth on your carrots, lots of green leafy goodness, then pluck out any that look like they could be obstructing each other and keep the good ones going. You should keep thinning periodically until you’ve got the top crop free of obstruction. Keep watering them regularly, daily when it gets to hot summer. Once you see their little orange tops reaching out of the dirt you’ll know they are ready, the longer you leave them the more likely you are to get a good size but don’t leave them too long as they get woody. If you want to plant more carrots once these ones are all done then do! Just don’t plant them in the same part of your garden. Rotating crops around your space will give your soil a chance to get back what it lost from another plant and ensure a better crop. The same rules apply for parsnips but like I said germination is very difficult. I have never successfully grown them in fact. I have heard that putting a plank of wood over your planted seeds can help bring them up and my granddad used to pour boiling water over them but I can’t offer more advice than that. Good freaken luck. If you have achieve greatness let me know, I won’t even be mad I will just be super impressed.

That’s your main dinner accounted for mates, but remember to keep pumping those herbs, I’ll be putting up some recipes for herb based condiments in the coming months to make your Christmas table even more delicious. Again, plant your strawberries! In anything! They won’t mind. Don’t buy $5 punnets come Christmas day, that is for chumps. Plus, any less attractive strawberries can be put in the freezer and saved to make jam as a present. That I will cover closer to the time too but for now, get planting! On that note, let’s shut up about Christmas and not speak of it again until December. Excellent.

Grinch/E Cus out.

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