Grow your own food: what to plant in December

Editor’s note: I’m very excited to have Ballarat gardening legend and much-loved cartoonist John Ditchburn contributing to Eat Local Ballarat this month with advice for local veggie gardeners.  If you’re interested in growing your own food in Ballarat, be sure to check out his excellent website Urban Food Garden.

By now all your main warm season crops should be in the ground so there is actually not that much that needs to be planted in December.  If you haven’t got your tomatoes, zucchinis and capsicums in then do so as soon as possible, leaving them until the end of December will be too late. It is already a little too late for eggplant and pumpkin, they will grow but they won’t get a decent crop.

You can still plant basil, potato and sweet corn but in December most of your plantings are limited to the staggered crops, these are ones that should be planted at regular intervals as their turnover time is short. Lettuce, rocket, radishes, bush beans and spring onions come under this category. For more detail see our planting guide for December, below.

As your summer veggies get going so will the weeds, try to allocate some time each week dedicated to weeding. If a stitch in time saves nine then removing a weed in time saves ninety.

Make sure you stay on top of the removing and training of tomato laterals. Tomato plants put a lot of laterals on in their growth stage in early/mid-summer, keeping up with the laterals might seem tedious but it will ease off as the plants move into their fruiting stage at the end of summer.

Apply liquid fertiliser to all newly planted seedlings as well as capsicum and celery plants.
Monitor the soil for signs it is drying out and begin watering as needed. Some suggested application rates :-

  • Seedlings: Every day that is doesn’t rain.
  • Onions and garlic: Rarely in a normal season, only if conditions get really dry.
  • Corn: Three times a week with a fairly heavily application.
  • Tomatoes: twice a week with a very heavy application.

If you haven’t already begun to mulch your veggie beds do so now. Mulching in summer reduces evaporation, inhibits weeds and provides vital organic matter to build up your soil.

This month’s feature subject: cycle mulching

I practice what I call cycle mulching. This involves leaving the soil bare form late autumn to mid-spring then applying mulch over the warmer months from late spring to early autumn.
There are exceptions.

  • Always apply mulch to a bed that is being fallowed.
  • Plant small vegetable seeds, such as carrots, into bare soil no matter what the season.
  • Don’t mulch onion and garlic beds in a normal summer and only apply a very light mulch in hot dry summers.

diagram of cycle mulching through the seasons

I do not mulch in early/mid spring as vegetables planted then do better when planted into bare soil. This is because mulch acts as a blanket preventing the sun’s rays from warming up the soil. This is fine in summer but you want the soil as warm as possible in spring to aid in the germination of seeds. Mulch also provides good cover for small slugs.
However when the hot summer weather hits you want plenty of mulch on your veggie beds to reduce evaporation and inhibit weed growth.

mulching corn seedlings

Cycle mulching only involves planting into bare soil, it does not mean that the bed remains bare. As soon as the plants are big enough and the warmer weather sets in I apply mulch.
This is a before and after mulching photo of my sweet corn bed. The bed was mulched about two weeks after the seedlings were planted.
The poly sticks are there to sop the blackbirds digging up the seedlings. I will remove them when the plants get a little bigger.

onions don't need mulch

My Creamgold onions in bare soil. I only water onions if the soil gets very dry. I normally do not mulch an onion bed at any stage unless it is a very hot dry summer, and even then I only apply a very light mulch. I have found that the main threat to onions is collar rot which is caused by moist conditions. Wet mulch around the base of onions encourages collar rot.

Next month I will look at the pros and cons of different types of mulch.

Planting guide for December

Plant from seed

  • Basil
  • Beans – runner
  • Beans – bush
  • Beetroot
  • Carrot
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Parsnip
  • Radishes
  • Silverbeet
  • Sunflower
  • Sweet Corn
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini

Plant from bulbs

  • Potatoes

Plant out seedlings

  • Basil
  • Capsicum/Chilli
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Silverbeet
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

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