Let's get our gardens ready for spring

SUPER FOOD: Quinoa adds substance, flavour and fluffiness to a winter salad.
SUPER FOOD: Quinoa adds substance, flavour and fluffiness to a winter salad.

It might be a quiet time in the garden, but some much-needed housekeeping is in order to prepare for the next growing season. 

As August arrives, so does the final month of winter and preparation for spring and summer vegetable growing. Currently the little I have planted in my vege patch sleeps under a thick layer of mulch, warm and cosy tucked up in bed. The only action happening is in my seed box.

My seed box is a large cake tin filled with packets of seeds, nearly all torn open, many with scribbles upon them. A few are decanted into envelopes to accommodate more notes, and those collected from former years slosh about in a mish-mash of containers or knotted plastic bags with barely a scrawled name and date.

This shameful mess is in dire need of sorting and purging. My conscientiousness with storing food and spices makes this behaviour all the more strange. One night this month, armed with spice jars and masking tape, I will sort out my seed storage problems.

Growing from seed is usually a small part of my annual tasks as I love a jaunt round the garden centre, loading the car boot with little plants already revealing a meal in the making. This year, though, getting two moody babies into the car and then wrangling them around a garden centre in a wonky trolley is not appealing. Instead I will be growing many of my annual vegetables from seed. This requires shifting the cavolo nero from its sheltered spot by the back steps to create a seed raising bed.

Although it will be an eyesore near the back deck it will be a reliable controlled growing environment. Close enough that I know I will tend to it and small enough to cover and protect.

For tomatoes, a covered outdoor table will be pushed into action with the aid of a large polystyrene bin I secreted away, along with a messy pile of salvaged plastic pots and ice-block sticks.

When growing from seed I have found it vital to use specialty soil. I will be topping my seed beds with a thick layer of organic potting mix and specific seed raising soil. Using one of these soils is a good idea as they have a fine loamy texture that allows for uniform seed sewing and are tested to ensure they are weed free. In my early gardening days, using soil from the garden, I grew two pots of grass because I had failed to use a specialised soil.

Luckily, when it came to seed saving, Andean gardeners were much more organised and a lot less ditzy than me. The much-loved and ancient quinoa seed (keen-wah) has been saved and cultivated for 3000-4000 years. If you have tried it and found it to be bitter and sludgy then it hasn't been rinsed properly; it is vital to remove the last of the natural bitter coating the seed uses to protect itself.

Rinsed well and cooked with care, quinoa is light, fluffy and nutty.

This salad keeps well as the cavolo nero leaf doesn't wilt once dressed, making it perfect for three to four days of no-fuss lunches.

Sunday Star Times