By GEOFF MIERS
Australians are diversifying their eating habits with many turning to Asian food as winter offers the ideal opportunity to grow many vegetables ideal for the stir fry.
They taste best when fresh produce is used and the way to ensure your vegies are fresh is to grow your own.
The cooler days of autumn are ideal for introducing a variety of Asian greens into your garden. They grow so quickly when planted now and they are so easy to grow.
Each week plant a few seeds or a punnet or two of several Asian greens and you can be guaranteed a steady supply of greens right through the cooler months.
Planting seeds is the most economical way although many varieties are increasingly now more available in seedling form. I still like to plant seeds, its cheaper, the seeds do not suffer any transplanting setbacks and I like the suspense in going out into my garden daily to see what next has popped up.
Alternatively with purchasing several punnets you can have an instant garden within an hour or two.
Pak Choy, Wong Bok, Tat Soi, Chinese Broccoli Kailaan and Chinese snow peas are only some of the many varieties available today.
Many will bolt or go to seed if planted in the warmer months. They are essentially cool season vegetables.
There are basically two varieties of Chinese Cabbage that thrive at this time of the year. They are Pak Choy and Wong Bok.
Pak Choy, also known as Bok Choy, has white stems and dark green leaves while Wong Bok has a cylindrical compact head that is similar to, but much sweeter than, the round European cabbage.
Both are great stir fry ingredients when very lightly cooked, while Wong Bok can also be used in salads.
Both Pak Choy and Wong Bok are extremely rapid growers and are hungry for nitrogen. They respond well to being regularly feed with a liquid fertiliser that is high in nitrogen.
Chinese Broccoli Kailaan, also known as Gai Lan, can be direct seeded into the garden or grown in seedling trays or punnets and transplanted out. Seedlings grown in the ground will need to be thinned out as they develop however the few week old seedlings are great when chopped up in a salad.
Chinese broccoli is unlike traditional broccoli in that it doesn’t have a tight head. The buds come in loose clusters that are usually harvested when the first white flowers appear. After the main stem has been cut side shoots will develop and these can be harvested regularly provided their high nitrogen dietary needs are met.
Tat Soi is a versatile vegetable served cooked or in salads. It has excellent flavour. It has deep green spoon-shaped that are produced in abundance. Pick leaves while young, they are much sweeter.
As with most Asian greens they are similar to growing lettuce. They love heaps of water and being feed with regular applications of a nitrogenous soluble fertiliser such as Aquasol or Thrive.
Lastly consider planting Chinese snow peas. They need to grow along a fence, up a trellis or construct a series of tepees and grown them up these frames that can be made from bamboo or wooden stakes.
Snow peas are rapid growers, you will be harvesting in eight to 10 weeks and they will produce for literally months. Snow peas like most Asian greens make for great stir fry ingredients or are equally suited for salads.
Along with Asian greens most leafy greens absolutely thrive planted at this time of the year. These include Rainbow Chard and Fordhook Giant Silverbeet, Baby-leaf and Ironman spinach, endive, Kale and a variety of lettuce varieties.
Along with the Asian vegetables are a diverse range of more traditional winter vegetables that can be grown now.
Broccoli, cabbage varieties, cauliflower (dwarf form is the best now), snow peas and different forms of Kale thrive when planted now, all vegetables that can be included in Asian stir fries.