January is upon us and that means almost a month of babies at home (if you have them), warm weather, little or no rain, and an abundance of produce ready to harvest.
This is a great opportunity to do both gardening and cooking activities, perhaps on your own or perhaps sharing experiences with others.
There are few things more satisfying than growing your own and then preparing that product at home in your own kitchen. Tomatoes and basil immediately come to mind.
You don’t need a large patch to grow any of these – even in a pot with good sunlight and regular watering, you’ll get a prolific crop.
Some all-time favorite dishes include bruschetta and pesto – an instant reminder of summer.
A great activity to try your hand at (single or with young help) is kokedama.
Japanese for ‘moss ball’, they are a fun and easy to make creation.
We made them in elementary school and planted them with foods, although there are many plants that work well.
The herb is a favorite, especially thyme, as its clustered form and small leaves ensure that it won’t outgrow its ball; And rosemary, because it’s so forgiving if you forget to water!
You can hang your Kokedama near your kitchen for easy access.
Google how to make it and you will find a huge number of easy to follow videos.
What to plant in January?
Beans, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, lettuce in shade, rocket and silverbeet.
This is your last chance to get late ripening varieties of tomatoes.
I also like to add some sweet potato slips because they love the heat, and will grow as much in three warm months as six in cooler conditions.
Beware – their green vines are prolific and will spread far and wide if given room.
They make a great living mulch for beds that can be difficult to cover, and root crops like potatoes also help break down the soil below, giving the soil much needed air and microbial activity.
Its leaves are also edible – being heart-shaped makes it a more delicious variety.
I suggest planting in half a wine barrel because the vine can be kept under control and harvesting is easy – you know where all those little bits of potato are, avoiding unwanted vines all over the place.
What I wasn’t able to mention in last month’s December article was that all the kids who graduated the Kitchen Garden program in 2021—240 of them—received a Mouse Watermelon Seedling Surprise for their departure gift.
Many thanks to the students of TAFE Margaret Rivers’ Certificate II Horticulture who germinated those seeds and produced them all.
These prolific vines love the heat and are now (hopefully) in the backyard of the Margaret River area and producing their own delicious cucumber, 10c piece-sized cucumbers.
Luckily for you, we sprouted far more mouse melons than you need, and those extras will go on sale in January at the MRPS Roadside Honesty Stall on Forest Road.
We have a tip to help some especially young eaters grow your own fruits and vegetables and involve your youngsters in the whole process – from growing to preparation.
My personal experience with the success of this process has been – my younger son won’t eat tomatoes until we grow our own cherry tomatoes in the backyard.
She helped plant the saplings, helped care for them, and then lifted them straight off the vine.
To my delight they went from the vine to the mouth.
Now 18 years old, he has continued that trend for the rest of his life, eating both store-bought and home-grown varieties.
If you tend to be the fussy eater in your life, perhaps planting a rat melon could help.
Tip number six is about the experience of growing and preparing your own food and getting other people involved in that process.
It’s not a stand-alone pursuit (unless you want to!), and the benefits—whether they’re better health or better nutrition—can simply last a lifetime.
Happily growing and grooming everyone.
Terry Sharp is the coordinator and horticulturist of Margaret River Primary School’s Kitchen Garden program and lecturer in horticulture at TAFE Margaret River. Her column focuses on tips for a productive edible garden—what and when to plant, when to harvest, disease and pest management, and general tips on what works (and what doesn’t) here in the Margaret River area.