It might seem like a long way away but now is a great time to decide what you want to eat during those lazy hazy days of summer.  

While they don’t seem like it, the winter months are a great time for the garden.  Not to be out there in the cold and the rain, digging and weeding.  There is the perfect excuse for not wanting to be out there in the cold and the rain:  Walking on and digging in sodden soil can actually damage your garden for seasons to come, as the soil structure is compacted and can be destroyed and it takes a long time for it to return to a healthy state.

So leave your gumboots in a dry spot in the shed, hang your raincoat back on its hook, make a big mug of hot chocolate and snuggle in by the fire.  This is the best place to do this kind of gardening – deciding what you want to eat.

Often gardeners are drawn to the allure of the latest exciting must have plant at the garden centre in the spring.  Or sow beans, because a veggie patch should have them, even though no one in the family likes them.  Sometimes the vast array of veggies out there makes it too hard to choose, so the decision is made to have it all – no matter what! And everything is squished in.  But this is a poor decision as plants have their own sense of personal space and really struggle to get along if their neighbours are too close.

Winter is the best time to really look at your space and decide what you really want to grow.  Gather together not only your favourite gardening books and magazines, but your cook books.  Go through the recipes and look at the ones you cook often.  Look at the ones you always linger over, but never cook because you never seem to have the right ingredients.

Get the kids involved.  Ask them what they like to eat, or show them pictures of some of the more weird and wonderful vegetables and get them excited about trying them.  It is much better to have a garden full of amazing veggies that you know will be eaten, than one full of crops that go to waste because you don’t really like them, and neither does anyone else and you can’t give them away.

Once you have exhausted the possibilities in the cook books, turn to your gardening books and find out just how much space you need to grow what you want.  If you don’t have enough, then consider adding a few containers to your backyard and grow the extras there.  Although if this is not a possibility for you then you may have to make some choices.  Go back to your cook books and decide which veggies you will use the most.  Look at the nutritional values of the veggies and decide if one will give greater benefit to your family over another.

Then of course there is cost.  Sometimes you may decide not to grow something because it is cheap enough in the stores.  But then you have to weigh up how much goodness is lost from a carrot between being harvested, getting to the store and then ending up in your trolley and eventually in your meal.  Once you have tasted a home grown carrot, you’ll never want to buy one again.

Giving your family fresh, home grown veggies is a great way to make healthy meals for your family and the best place to start to plan a garden is in the kitchen.

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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 sarahthegardener.co.nz.

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