Winter is often considered the off season for fair weather gardeners, who enjoy the simple pleasures of sun warmed tomatoes and crisp salads on a hot day and incredibly sweet, sweetcorn straight from the plant. But for some gardeners, once soil gets under their nails something comes over them and the pursuit of home grown veggies almost becomes an obsession. The need to grow food overwhelms them and you can find these keen gardeners out there in all weathers tending their plots. I know this from experience, I’m one of them. 

But as the sunny season with its delightful harvest becomes a distant memory then the gardener is challenged to come up ideas for winter gardening. Early winter can be a hive of activity for preparing the soil for the new season, because as the season advances then the rains come with increasing frequency and consistency and while a rainstorm is no match for a determined gardener with a good quality raincoat, wet soil needs to be treated with care, and is best left alone for fear of damaging the fragile structure of sodden soil with compaction and waterlogging. So before the rains set in cover crops grown through the autumn and are about to burst into flower and have done a grand job of keeping gardeners hands busy, are chopped down and dug in so they can invigorate the soil with added organic matter that will be wonderful for the next seasons crops as their roots seek out what it needs to grow strong.

These gardeners are even willing to manhandle manure without so much as screwing up their nose! What’s good enough for the garden is good enough for the gardener to handle, as it is spread thickly across empty beds with the assurance that the worms will drag it down into the depths of the root zone and improving fertility in time for spring and after a time the smell will dissipate.

But looking for a harvest the gardener is stretched into growing things that may not be so common in the stores, and if they were found there, then they would more than likely be overlooked by the more familiar vegetables due to preparation reservations. Food crops more familiar to generations who lacked the benefits of efficient supply chains – turnips and swedes; ones that can be purchased relatively cheaply but why buy carrots and parsnips when you can grow them, and they are so much tastier – especially when the frost has sweetened them up. Then is there is the unusual, grown for the pure and simple fact that they are unusual and the enthusiastic gardener wants to see what they are like. Why grow plain old silverbeet when you can grow rainbow coloured ones, flower sprouts – just like Brussel sprouts but not in a little mini cabbage shape, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes.

The winter diet for the family of a keen and eager gardener is often a journey into the unknown. What looked enticing on a seed packet or in a catalogue can provide consternation for those who love the obsessive gardener and are faced with the weird and wonderful in the kitchen. Luckily this type of behaviour is a global thing and so a quick search on the great big internet will reveal a dozen or so ways to prepare veggies whose existence not so long ago was completely unknown.

But more often than not the keen gardener is rewarded with not only new found favourite vegetables but a chance to keep their hand in with their favourite hobby, not matter what challenges the weather throws their way.

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Sarah O’Neil lives on a small 3 acre lifestyle block. The family moved from the big city to the country in 2007. Sarah has published 3 books, including The Good Life, four glorious seasons in my country garden. She's also an award-winning blogger, winning a Yates Vegie Growing Challenge and still writes regularly. Visit Sarah’s website at

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