4 December 2019

Notes from the Kitchen Garden: Christmas gifts and how to braid garlic

| Joyce Wilkie
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Braided garlic

Braided garlic makes a welcome and useful Christmas gift. Photos: Joyce Wilkie.

December is a tricky month. Christmas, parties, holidays, a summer garden demanding attention and unpredictable weather. Bushfire smoke together with dry, denuded paddocks and parks constantly remind us of the worsening drought and add to high levels of anxiety and concern.

So I’m sure you don’t really want to hear that it is now time to get going on your winter vegetable garden.

Year-round kitchen garden production is possible in this region but you do need to put the effort in now if you want to sit back over winter and enjoy a bountiful, tasty winter harvest.

Fill up empty spaces with parsnips, carrots and beetroot but make sure you leave room for the big green and red cabbages which need to be sown now ready to transplant in January.

There is a bit more leeway with the smaller, faster-growing conical cabbages and the kales but you also need to leave room for some chicories.

The best Australian selection of this large vegetable family comes from a company in Adelaide called The Italian Gardener. You will be amazed at the variety on offer on their website. You are not going to buy these incredible varieties as seedlings from a nursery. My favourites are the variegated radicchios and the broad-leafed endives or Scarola.

If you are going to be spending time online browsing seed catalogues, why not buy a few extra packets of seeds? Together with a small garden tool they make a special and thoughtful Christmas gift for any of your gardening friends. Throw in a packet or two of peas for good measure.

Podding, snow and sugar snaps can be planted now for a late autumn treat. They can also be planted in May together with sweet peas for an early and fragrant start next spring.

Years ago we realised that garlic made a fabulous present and in December we all sit around a table cleaning and braiding. Garlic is harvested in late November and should be outside in some shady draughty place drying by now.

The first thing to do is to pull out all the biggest bulbs. They are NOT for eating, they are for planting next year. Don’t be stingy, save plenty because garlic is one of the most appreciated gifts you will ever give and what’s more it will be eaten this time next year so will be welcomed again.

If you have never grown garlic, now is also time to stock up. This year’s Australian garlic crop is coming on the market now. You are after big, healthy, locally grown bulbs. Don’t wait till planting time in April. It will be hard to find and it’ll be expensive. The remaining bulbs get their dirty outside skin removed and a root trim.

Here’s how you transform garlic into a much-appreciated gift:

Wetting the stems

Wet down the stems and place under a damp towel. This makes them pliable and easy to braid.

Knotting the garlic

Pick out the three largest bulbs and start the braid with a simple overhand knot. The biggest bulb is laid on top of the knot.

Braiding garlic

Start braiding. Every four or so braids lay in another two or three garlic bulbs. If it gets too bulky push some of the shorter stems to the side.

When your braid is long enough, tie it off with some string leaving a loop for hanging it up. Then trim off any untidy leaves with scissors and you are done.

This festive period, take time out for your garden. An hour outside working just after dawn or late in the day is both rejuvenating and joyful – a gift to yourself.

What I’m Picking:

  • Baby beetroot
  • Basil, Beans
  • Berry fruits
  • Chinese greens
  • English Spinach
  • Garlic, Globe artichokes, Radishes
  • Rhubarb
  • Salad greens
  • Spring onions
  • Stone fruit
  • Strawberries
  • First tomatoes
  • Zucchinis

Seeds I’m Planting:

  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage, Red & Savoy
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Coriander
  • Cucumbers
  • Endive & Radicchio
  • Fennel
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce–Cos, Salad Bowl iceberg
  • Mesclun Salad Mix
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Radish
  • Rocket
  • Silverbeet
  • Spring Onions
  • Zucchini & other summer squash
  • Sweetcorn

Joyce Wilkie has farmed vegetables and free-range poultry at Allsun Farm, Gundaroo for decades. Educating people about where their food comes from and teaching them how to grow it is her abiding passion.

Original Article published by Joyce Wilkie on The RiotACT.

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