Autumn Gardening

After 40 years of research, John Jeavons has found that the most efficient  calorie crops to grow if you are seriously looking to feed yourselves from a small area, are potatoes, kumara, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, salsify and leeks. Potatoes can produce 5 times more calories per unit of area and time in the ground than wheat!

Some of these crops can be planted in Autumn (garlic, salsify and leeks), so these could be the mainstay crops to be planting now. It is also the time to be planting carrots, turnips, swede, parsley, cabbage, beetroot, silverbeet, Welsh Bunching onions, daikon, and don’t forget the super nourishing greens: kale, puha, dandelion, and purple broccoli.


Early Autumn is your last chance to plant leek seed, to get them up to an eating size before Winter sets in. I plant leek seed into seed trays from October to February. I look after those seedlings very well, getting them up to 10cm as fast as possible and out into the garden so that you have leeks ready for eating by May, just when we switch into Winter type meals. If you haven’t planted your seed until February then they will probably not be ready until Winter early Spring, but well worth planting if you haven’t already done so.

I plant my leeks out into BioIntensive beds at 10cm diagonal spacings. One metre of bed produces a lot of leeks for soups and stews etc. We have several cultivars of heritage leeks: Lyon is a great leek, but Titan and Mussleburgh are really good as well. If you’re right into leeks perhaps you could plant all 3 cultivars and see which one you like best for what reason! Remember that in order to achieve super high production from leeks planted at 10cm diagonal spacings you will have to deeply preparated beds and feed the soil well.


Garlic is another one of the crops that produces a relatively high amount of calories per area. Once again we plant our garlic bulbs at 10cm spacings, but you must have deeply prepared well fed beds. Having enough garlic to be able to use it as a vegetable, roasted whole in the skin, is a goal I always set myself. I also like to have enough to use for processing meat, sausages etc., and we always use all our small garlic to soak in home made vinegar for an animal  drench.

One of the special things about growing your own garlic is the range of garlics you can choose. You can’t buy any of these heritage cultivars in the garden centres for planting or shops ready for eating, but you can grow them. I always get a lot of pleasure harvesting our Early White Rocombole and our Early Red Rocombole. They were harvested and dried in November and they are ready for eating in early December. This is 6 weeks earlier than you will find well grown and dried fresh season garlic in the shops. This year we harvested 7 kg of garlic per square metre of bed. This was our first season in this garden so I’m sure that yield will only get better. Check out all of our garlics and onions, and discover a whole new range of outstanding high flavour vegetables – a range that was normal for our own ancestors.


Salsify is not a vegetable that I had ever eaten or known as a child. I found my first salsify growing wild on the Kaiwaka roadside, and discovered that the flowers were edible. It is a great plant for beneficial insects, but I found the root to be hairy and forked and of not much consequence. I have since persevered, and discovered that if you get a line that has been selected for large unforked roots they can be very productive and they actually taste great. Salsify are excellent as a vegetable you can grow in late Summer, early Autumn, and harvest all Winter. I guess the earlier you get them in the bigger they will be over Winter.

What is salsify? There are two types of salsify, both in the sunflower family and both relatives to the artichoke. There is true salsify called White salsify, and there is Black salsify, which is called scorzonera. White and black salsify have a flavor of artichokes with a hint of asparagus although black has a firmer texture. Both types of salsify are also known as oyster plant as their flavor is said to resemble that of oysters. Usually grown for its roots, salsify sprouts, leaves and flowers are all edible and make great additions to salads.

Salsify are very starchy – carbohydrates account for over 80 percent of the calories, and they are a great source of vitamins and minerals. Salsify and Scorzonera are extremely deep rooted so this will be one reason why they contain so many minerals and so much nutritional value. Just like comfrey recycles the deep minerals for the fruit trees and the chickens, salsify will also do that for you. We have both salsify and scorzonera as heritage vegetables from this land in the Koanga collection. I clean the roots before cooking but find it far easier to cook before removing the skin, which comes away very easily once they are cooked.

Soup Veges

Carrots, turnips, swede, parsley, cabbage, beetroot, silverbeet, Welsh Bunching onions, and daikon. Now is the time to get your Winter soup vegetables planted. Nutty celery is a must; it will do very very well if you give it the nutrition it needs. We got ours to a brix of 19 this season in very poor soil simply by following instructions on our fertiliser and adding a little sprinkling of Nature’s Garden each month! Our preferred carrots for Winter soups are White Belgium (Koanga Gardens catalogue range) and Oxheart, they have the most flavour. All of our heritage turnips are great for soup and so are their tops! Dalmatian cabbage is also called Collards. This type of cabbage is a tall leaf cabbage, making it very suitable for soup making, just pick what you want when it suits. They are also the most nutritious cabbages.

We often make a miso root soup, with lots of diced beetroot, daikon, onions, and swedes. The best beetroot for this soup are the very dark red cultivars, e.g. Cylindrical, or Bulls Blood. The chioggia are better for salads or for roasting whole to retain their beautiful stripey rings.

Winter Salad Veges

If you plan on having your own salads all Winter you need to get into the planting now and over the next month. We have several lettuces that grow big and sit there all through the cold season – Joe’s, Winter and Mrs Simpson. They can be the base for your salads, but it is the extras that I look forward to – the White Icicle radishes, Giant Chives and/or Welsh Bunching onions can be picked fresh each day to add to salads, and you can also plant rocket, tatsoi and other Asian greens once the season turns a little cool. I love the salad greens of Winter – Miner’s lettuce, Corn salad and Upland Cress are wonderful, they last all through the Winter. We love raw beetroot salads (see Change of Heart for recipes), with Giant Chives, toasted panir and vinaigrette. You can’t beat a Winter salad made from all these heritage tasty greens!!!

Nourishing Greens

Make sure you make space for those Winter greens that are the most nourishing; collards (Dalmatian cabbage), kale, puha, dandelion and broccoli, especially purple broccoli. These can all go in over Autumn. We’ve put these together into our Nourishing Greens seed collection, which has been a great success. Dalmatian cabbage makes specially nutritious sauerkraut.

Vegetables for Winter Ferments

Somehow the ferments we make to last over Winter are quite a different selection to those we choose over Summer. I plant cabbages for sauerkraut, daikon, carrots, beetroot and onions for a root ferment. They are my mainstays and a great condiment for casseroles, soups and stews, and sauerkraut is essential alongside sausages!

Flowers for the Winter Garden

Don’t forget the Winter and early Spring colour. The following flowers love growing with your vegetables – calendula, alyssum, chamomile, heartsease, snap dragon and viola. We have heritage lines of all of these. It is also time to plant many of the early Spring flowers for your cottage garden – poppies, hollyhocks, acquilegia, foxglove, nicotiana, stock, larkspur, etc. Our heritage varieties of these flowers are outstanding old cultivars that will bring you right back to your grandmother’s garden… even if your own grandmother didn’t have one. They speak so strongly to the heart, and create such a special garden atmosphere.

Grains, Carbon Crops and Legumes

Check out our website for information around Autumn grain planting, and also check out the carbon crop section either on the website or in the (July) Koanga Gardens catalogue. We have an exciting range of crops you can plant now to improve your soil over Winter, to make high quality compost with in the Spring, and which are also great to eat.

My favourite Winter grains are hulless barley and konini wheat, but there are many heritage lines to choose from that are all really nutritious.

Our favourite Winter carbon crops are oats and lupins because they are so easy to grow and they unlock both the unavailable calcium and phosphate in the soil.

I also love a combination of broad beans and vetch, or tick bean and vetch, because they produce an edible crop and the vetch in particular leaves the soil like chocolate cake ready for the next crop. Wheat and rye are excellent for improving the soil and producing heaps of carbon for your Spring compost heaps too.

Kay Baxter