Our January gardening guide will tell you what you need to do in your garden this time of year, depending on which climate zone you’re in.
January gardening guide: Cool Temperate Garden
What to plant?
There are two main planting focuses for the January gardening guide in the cool temperate garden:
1. Succession and replacement planting of your summer vegies, including:
Carrots, beetroot, radish, turnip, lettuce (chill the seed in the fridge for a few days before planting, and plant on the shady side of sweet corn or climbing beans or sunflowers), Asian greens (eg. rocket, mizuna, mibuna, mustard, cress), silverbeet, spring onions, bush beans, and if you’re in a warm spot, seedlings of late zucchini, cucumber, small pumpkins like golden nugget, sweetcorn and even tomatoes. Yes, tomatoes!
2. Early plantings of long season vegies that will grow into autumn and winter, including:
Leeks, parsnips, celery, celeriac, brussel sprouts. Other brassicas too (like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) can be planted in seed trays to grow on as seedlings to be planted in the coming months.
Brussel sprouts need the longest growing season of this tribe, so it’s a good idea to plant them as seedlings this month. Keeping potatoes like kennebecs can go in now too.
Give your fruit trees (especially citrus) a deep watering and mulch well (if they’re not already) with compost, or mixed layers of animal manure and straw.
As you pick the last of your gooseberries and other summer berries, consider giving them a summer prune to tidy up and trim back over-vigorous shoots.
Nectarines and peaches can also be summer pruned as soon as you’ve finished picking. Any big pruning cuts will heal more quickly in warm weather, and decrease the risk of disease organisms attacking the tree.
As you deal with post-holiday weeds, be happy that you now have lots of good compost fodder. Layer up weeds and spent plants (even chopped up monstrous zucchinis that got away) with animal manure (collect shopping bags on roadsides on the way back from the beach) and water well to create large compost heaps that will break down quickly in the warmer summer weather.
A volume of at least a cubic metre will heat up well, as the heat generated by the compost micro-organisms doesn’t dissipate too quickly.
Cut back artichokes as they finish flowering. You can carefully dig out the young suckers around the base of older plants to get more plants to give away or expand your patch.
Give them all – old and new plants – a good feed and watering to get them going for the next phase of growth.
Pests and disease
Check for scale on your lemons and olives. They can be suffocated with a spray of white oil, or a home-made alternative: Find that bottle of canola oil in the back of the pantry and mix one part oil with 10 parts water in a spray bottle. Add just two drops of liquid detergent. Spray this thoroughly on the underside of leaves and branches of affected trees. Repeat after a week or two.
Don’t spray white oil or the homemade equivalent on a hot day (above 25o or you might fry the plant).
Cherry slug may be creating skeletonised patches on the leaves of your pear, cherry and quince trees. These leech-like creatures are the larvae of the sawfly. You can find and squish on a small tree, or if the “eww” factor is too high, target spray them with pyrethrum.
But be very targeted, because pyrethrum will kill the good fellas as well as the bad fellas. For a larger tree you can throw fine lime or ash from the fireplace on the leaves to dry the little buggers out.
Harvest and preserves
Pick your tomatoes as soon as you see a change in colour at the blossom end. Bring them inside to ripen for best flavour. I put mine on a platter in the kitchen, not in direct sunlight, and then I can eat the little ones like lollies as they ripen! Never store your tomatoes in the fridge – it changes the flavour. For the worse.
Berries and stone fruit are abundant this month. I’m still in the delighted stage of preserving. Bottled and dried apricots, nectarines and peaches, cherry and berry jams, vinegars and cordials, and batches quick frozen for more leisurely processing in the winter months. And we haven’t even started on the tomatoes, plums, apples, pears and quinces yet. That’s when the harassed stage of preserving begins!
Permaculture Principle No 1: Observe and Interact
Spend some time watching the bees as they go about their beautiful business. Notice which flowers they particularly love. My thyme bushes, of several varieties, are utter bee magnets at the moment. I’ll wait until they’ve finished flowering and take some cuttings to propagate more plants to put in nooks and crannies later in the year.
Are “pests” really pests? The nectarine trees had some curly leaf in spring, but are the fruit affected? Not on one of my trees, but yes on the other. Maybe I’ll replace that susceptible tree with something else this winter.
The old compost heap that I half dug out to use has been sitting for awhile, and around it has grown a crop of seedlings from gone-to-seed vegies thrown in there months ago.
There are young lettuce, leeks, sunflowers and something else which I think might be cape gooseberry. These “free” babies can all be carefully transplanted into new places so I can use the rest of the compost around artichokes and rhubarb plants for their summer feed.
What to plant?
Plant seeds for snake beans, wing beans, mung beans, peanuts, Asian greens, Komatsuna mustard, okra and rosella and marigolds, cuttings of cassava, Aibika, sweet leaf, corms for taro, both the purple fleck and the small white sweet upland taro, and cocoyam.
Push cuttings of sweet potatoes into a mound of soil for good drainage, rhizomes for ginger, turmeric, galangal, Temulawak and chines keys in a shady spot and divide up the clumps of day lilies and replant.
Fertilise regularly with weak liquid fertiliser as its washed away by the heavy rain. Mulch any uncovered ground. Plant green manure crops where possible using any leftover or older seeds.
Water during dry spells particularly the soybeans which are currently flowering
Empty the first flush diverter after each rain event. Use the water for foliar feeding.
Weeds, pests and disease
Weed regularly before they get too large and take over.
I do no pest control and I mean none at all. I adopted this policy about 15 years ago. For the first couple of years the pests thought it was seventh heaven. Now I have no problems. I do have many birds which provide the best pest control service imaginable.
It is magic to watch a small bird hover under a leaf while it is picking something off the underside. A birdwatcher did a count and saw 27 different species of birds in one afternoon. Not bad for 810 sqm in an urban environment.
Nothing is planted in straight lines or specific beds. Most plantings are in guilds both perennial and short-term perennial guilds.
I do, however, look at the plant and leaves to check for deficiencies and work to remedy the deficiency. At the moment the older leaves on the okra have yellow areas between green veins. This is a symptom of magnesium deficiency as magnesium is involved in the production of chlorophyll and is mobile within the plant.
I have had this problem before and add magnesium at the rate of 10g dissolved in 10 litres of water and watered into the ground or alternatively sprayed onto the leaves.
Harvest and preserve
Harvest the fruit from the white eggplant, okra and capsicum. These are all perennials in the tropics.
Process mangoes and lychees while they are in season. I freeze mango cheeks removed from the skin for a treat on a hot day and dry trays of mangoes for myself and family. What a way to win friends and influence people!
Permaculture Principle No 1: Observe and Interact
Observing the change in colouration of the okra leaves allowed me to notice that there was a problem and to consider the possible causes and find an effective response.
Observing natural situations also prompted me to plant in guilds and this reduces the impact of negative events by providing diversity so that plants protect each other and the soil, reduce wind and insect damage and provide me with a small amount of lots of different edibles.
Zone 0: We have just passed the summer solstice (longest day of the year), with indoor creativity turning to Christmas gifts of homemade biscuits, jam and crafts, and outdoor play taking the form of backyard camping, tepee picnics and weaving bug hotels from sticks and reeds.
Zone 1: Tomatoes are stretching up while grapevines hang down until there’s almost a wall of green in front of the house.
Both are susceptible to fungal diseases during humid weather so we could be spraying with natural fungicides such as milk spray or potassium bicarbonate… but we still have plenty of tomatoes and grapes so we don’t worry.
In Adelaide, vegetable gardens, zucchini, cucumber, basil, capsicum and chillies are going strong. Some tomatoes and leafy greens are feeling the heat (although much of it is still to come) and benefit from some shading as well as a regular top-up of seaweed brew, worm wee and/or weed tea.
Zone 2: Chooks appreciate some extra shade, damp shady places under trees, regular changes of fresh, cool drinking water and plenty of juicy, cool vegetable and fruit scraps through summer.
They are wonderful for cleaning up spoiled fruit and dealing with the insects that are attracted to it. Look out for heat-affected chooks (panting, holding their wings out from their bodies) and find a cool place for them urgently.
Perhaps the best chook treat in summer is the middle of a chilled rockmelon with all the seeds!
Zone 3: Stone fruit season is in full swing here. Our early apricots have just finished while others are powering on; peaches, nectarines and plums are following close behind.
Those trees which have been overloaded with fruit tend to have smaller fruits, while those that set fewer fruit or were thinned early are reaching a good size now.
Smaller fruits can be used for stewing and chutneys. Firm plums and peaches preserve beautifully for winter breakfasts and desserts – see recipe below for a winter treat.
Zone 4: Passionfruit over the fence on the road verge is flowering beautifully and setting fruit later this year.
Fruit trees that have been settling in on the verge for a few years seem to have found their feet now and are surviving with very infrequent watering.
Zone 5: The sea is my favourite “wild” place this season – healing, reviving water – and the source of seaweed for garden brews.
Check with local councils though – only limited places and collection quantities are allowed.
January gardening guide bonus: Recipe
Preserved plums with port (thanks to Tania Ellison for the recipe!)
- 3.5 kg plums, washed and pricked with a needle.
- Combine three cups sugar, three cups water, three tbsp orange rind and two cinnamon sticks in a large saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Add port and remove cinnamon stick.
- Layer plums in jars. Pour over liquid and seal lids.
- Process in water bath, thermostat 83 degrees, for 1 and 3/4 hrs.