By Ali Manns

    Standing in the backyard with my hands cupping a steaming coffee for warmth, the balmy days of summer feel a lifetime away. It is one of our many recent 8-degree mornings. Sunny, but brrrr! In the yard, I’m not alone in feeling the chill. The chooks are on their winter break from laying, conserving energy for keeping warm; the bare branches of the currant bushes are like shivering twigs reluctantly poking from the earth; the strawberry plants have retreated into the cocoon of last summer’s dead leaves.

    But among the dormant patches there is still plenty of growth – the chill-lovers are happy. Broccoli is booming, peas are podding, and the flaming calendula flowers are craning to the sky – like little suns bringing colour to the midwinter veggie patch.

    And among those hardy plants – of all things – stand knee-high tomato plants. Self-seeded from last summer’s fallen tomatoes, they rebelliously sprouted in early autumn, boldly dismissing the looming threat of winter’s cold embrace. Curious to see what would become of them, I stepped aside and let them keep their patch. This heat-loving edible doing so well is a sign this winter was not so harsh. It is also a cue to plan for the fast-approaching warmer seasons.

    Grow what you eat

    It can be tempting to look at a spring sowing chart and decide to plant everything. But choosing edibles you are sure to eat is wisest for efficiency and building your gardening confidence. So, think of what you enjoy on your plate in the heat of summer and make a list. Cross-check your list with a Temperate Zone planting chart to see if your selections are suited to our Melbourne growing conditions. As exciting as growing watermelon seems, we do not get the number of hot days it requires, and disappointment is assured. 

    If you have limited space, also strike off slow-growing crops that are inexpensive to buy (carrots, onions, potatoes). They take up valuable garden space for too long.

    Lastly, do not forget to factor yourself into the plan. If you are going away on summer holidays, aim to grow what will be ready to harvest before you leave or can survive through your absence.

    Growing annuals 

    For veggies like tomatoes, lettuces, spring onions, beans, pumpkin and sweetcorn, you will find plenty of seedlings arriving at local nurseries now, and there are plenty of small Australian seed businesses to be found online.

    Yet another option to consider is the growing number of Seed Libraries that are popping up around our generous West. Often hosted by private individuals, community gardens or book libraries, these little collections of locally grown and donated seeds are a wonderful source of free seeds, already adapted to the local growing conditions. 

    Growing perennials 

    Including fruit and nut trees, as well as perennial herbs in the garden, is a wonderful way to ensure harvests for many years to come. While they may take some years to begin fruiting, trees add diversity, resilience and shade to your space.

    As with the annuals, nurseries tend to stock the commercial favourites. If you are keen for more diverse options, the good folk at the Werribee Park Heritage Orchard have dedicated their efforts to preserving a rich catalogue of rare and heritage fruit trees. 

    Back in the garden, my hands now warm and my head filling with ideas for the months to come, the morning doesn’t feel so cold and the space is full of potential. Like the calm before the storm, this lull lies just ahead of spring’s explosion of activity. Time to prepare.

    Ali Manns is a Permaculture Designer and Educator living in Yarraville and can be found at

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