by Derek Onley
August can feel like spring. The song thrushes are singing away in the mornings and the first of the daffodils are out. Last year temperatures reached 22 degrees in our garden. Two days later it was frosty, and a week or two before there'd been 10cm of snow and the temperature barely reached 5. From a vegetable's point of view it's a risky business. However, broad beans can put up with it; they will germinate at about 6 degrees and survive frosts and snow but the soil is still cold and wet, as you may notice when digging up the parsnips or scrabbling around for the last of the yams.
So sowing broad beans is fine but anything else planted outside in August really needs protection under plastic or glass. You can put a few lettuce plants under there and you can try seeds of carrots, spring onions, radishes and quick greens but don't be disappointed if they don't work; there's time to have another go, or two, or three, in September. You can also try planting potatoes under lots of hay or straw but immediately they stick their heads up you will need to cover them so they don't get frosted. If vigilant you could get new potatoes before Christmas.
Onions need a long growing season so if you haven't done so last autumn, you need to plant the seeds now, either outside under protection or inside in pots -- to make it worthwhile you need a lot of pots on your window sill.
Start thinking about what you want for the season ahead. The best plan is to plant seeds indoors on your window sill. Cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, silverbeet and leafy lettuces will be ready to plant out in 3-5 weeks by late August and early September, so that if the spring weather does arrive, they will be set to get going early. On those warm sunny afternoons with the breeze down from kumara country, don't be tempted to plant zucchinis and pumpkins or other summery stuff. They won't thank you for it and will just sulk.
We are approaching the lean time of the year when the last of the carrots, parsnips and swedes get woody, the yams and potatoes begin to sprout again and you are reduced to harvesting the first of the tender new purple sprouting broccoli and that mass of miner's lettuce that, untended, sprang up by the compost heap.