Growing Autumn & Winter Seedlings

Basic Growing Guide for Seedlings

Autumn and early winter are a great time to grow food in Canberra. From March through to June in most years, the weather is cooler and less baking dry than summers can be.

These are some of the plants grow well in Canberra in Autumn and Winter. For more information about what to grow when in Canberra, go to www.cogs.asn.au The plants that are highlighted are available through the Seedlings for Community program. We have focused on producing fast and easy growing plants to share with our community. Leafy greens grow very well in Canberra over winter and provide a continuous harvest of fresh food without needing much room in your garden or very big pots. 

Herbs(harvest continuously)coriander, spring onions, chives and all of the woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano
Leafy Greens(harvest continuously)loose-leaf or oak-leaf lettuce, silverbeet/ rainbow chard, spinach, bok choi/ pak choi, tatsoi, mizuna, kale
Root vegetables(3- 4 weeks from planting to harvest)carrot, parsnip, radish, daikon
Peas and beans(if planted in early Autumn, peas harvested before winter, broad beans harvested in early spring)sugar snap peas, snow peas, broad beans
Other Brassicas (cabbage family)Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower.

Onions and garlic can also be planted in Autumn and harvested in spring or summer. They will grow slowly throughout winter.

All of these plants provide good nutritious food. 

  • Eat the leaves of lettuce, mizuna, tatsoi and spinach fresh. 
  • Steam or pan fry or boil silverbeet, rainbow chard, spinach, tatsoi and bok choi.
  • Eat the whole pod of sugar snap and snow peas. Flowers and leaves are edible too. 
  • Eat the broad beans out of the pods. Can be cooked or fresh. Flowers and leaves are edible too. 
  • Eat roots of carrots, diakon, parsnip, radish – fresh or cooked. 

All of these plants will produce seeds if they are left to grow to full maturity. If you’d like to save some seeds to plant next season, leave a couple of plants of each variety in the ground until they flower and the flowers turn into seeds. This will bring lots of colour and biodiversity to your garden too. Check out our Quick and Dirty Guide to Seed Saving here.

How to growth healthy plants from seedlings

Seedlings need to grow in a pot or garden that has enough space for their growing roots. Plant seedlings in a bigger pot or in a garden bed. All seedlings need water, food and sunlight.

Harvesting from plants

All of these plants are designed to be grown and harvested quickly, or harvested continuously over many weeks. Harvest the outer few leaves from leafy green plants, leaving a few central leaves on the plant so it can continue growing. A rough rule is harvest half the leaves.

Protecting your plants

Leafy greens will need some protection. If you plant leafy greens directly into the ground, surround them with a ‘collar’ made of a toilet roll, dug into the ground to about 5 cm. This will help to protect the plant from cutworm, slugs and snails, and some birds. 

If your seedlings ‘disappear’, it could be possums or snails/slugs. If possums, grow your next lot of seedlings in a different part of the garden, away from overhanging trees. If slugs/snails, go out in the evening when it is raining and squash as many as you can find or place into a bucket full of soapy water.

If you lose some seedlings or they die, don’t worry! Plant losses happen to every gardener, even those who are very experienced, every season. Plant some more and try again!

If you’d like to connect with other growers and learn and share about how to grow in Canberra, get in touch with Canberra Seed Savers (Facebook or www.canberraseedsavers.org.au to find out how to get involved) or Canberra Organic Growers Society (Facebook or www.cogs.asn.au ).

Planting a seedling

Your seedling comes in a small original pot but will need more room to grow into a full sized plant and produce food for harvest. 

  • If planting in a pot, fill a new, bigger pot with good quality potting mix (at least 30cm deep and allowing enough space for a 20-30cm circle for a plant). If you have it, mix in some mature compost (approx 3:1 potting mix to compost). 
  • Dig or poke a hole for the seedling that is the same depth as its original pot and wider than than the plant’s roots. 
  • If planting in the ground, dig hole a bit bigger than the original pot so the plant is surrounded by loosened soil when planted in hole. This will make it easier for roots to grow.
  • Take seedling out of the original pot by squeezing the pot gently and pulling seedling out, or using a pencil or stick to get under roots and push seedling out of the pot. 
  • Hold the seedling by its leaves. Be careful not to damage the stem or roots. Plants can lose leaves and survive but will die if the stem is broken.
  • Place the seedling into the hole to same level as in original pot and gently push potting mix or soil in to fill around roots. Gently and lightly press down surface of soil around stem of plant. Water thoroughly with water or a weak mix of Seasol or worm juice. 
  • Stick plant label in ground or pot next to plant. 

As the plant grows it will need water and food and sun. 

  • Water plants close on the soil around the base of the plant, not on the leaves. Rain is the best water for plants so leave pots out where they can get rained on.
  • Feed the plants with a diluted solution of worm juice or a good commercial liquid fertiliser (look for fish based products). Follow the instructions on the bottle.
  • Keep plants in a spot where they get sunshine most of the day. This gets more important as the weather gets colder. Plants need sunlight to grow. 

Most of these plants are not frost sensitive which means that if the frost falls on them, they will be okay. Peas flowers and fruit are sensitive to frost so cover with a light cloth (an old sheet will do) if a frost is forecast. 

This is a very basic guide to growing. If you’d like to find out more, these are some great local resources and community groups: 

Canberra Organic Growers Society: www.cogs.asn.au 

Canberra City Farm: www.ccfarm.org.au 

Canberra Seed Savers: www.canberraseedsavers.org.au 

Get in touch with Canberra Seed Savers if you’d like to get involved or learn more: canberraseedsavers@gmail.com 

L-R: bok choi, tatsoi, oak leaf lettuce

Produced by Canberra Seed Savers Cooperative for the Seedlings for Community Program 2021 with the support of a grant from ACT Government.
www.canberraseedsavers.org.au / canberraseedsavers@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.

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