January is upon us and that means almost a month of kids at home (if you have them), warm weather, little to no rain, and an abundance of produce ready to harvest.
It's a great opportunity to do both gardening and cooking activities, perhaps on your own or perhaps sharing the experience with others.
Few things are more satisfying than growing something yourself and then preparing that produce in your own kitchen at home. Tomatoes and basil come to mind immediately.
You don't need a big patch to grow either of these - even a pot on a patio with good sun and regular watering will see you achieve a prolific crop.
A few all-time favourite dishes include bruschetta and pesto - immediate reminders of summer.
A great activity to try your hand at (solo or with young help) is the kokedama.
Japanese for 'moss ball', they are a fun and easy creation to make.
We've made them at the primary school and planted them up with edibles although there are a range of plants that work well.
Herbs are a favourite, particularly thyme, as its clumping form and small leaves ensure that it won't outgrow its ball; and rosemary, as it's very forgiving if you forget to water!
You can hang your kokedama near your kitchen for easy access.
Google how to make one and you'll find a large number of easy to follow videos.
Beans, broccoli, carrots, cucumber, eggplants, chili, lettuce in the shade, rocket and silverbeet.
It's your last chance to get late fruiting tomato varieties in.
I also like to put in a few sweet potato slips as they love the heat, and will grow as much in three warm months as in six of cooler conditions.
Beware - their green vines are prolific and they will spread far and wide if given the room.
They do make a great living mulch for those beds that can be hard to cover, and root crops like the potato also help to break up the soil below, giving much needed air and microbacterial activity to the soil.
Their leaves are also edible - heart shaped being the more palatable variety.
I suggest planting in a half wine barrel as the vine can be kept under control and harvesting is easy - you know exactly where all those small pieces of potato are, avoiding years of unwanted vines popping up all over the place.
In last month's December article I wasn't able to mention that all children graduating the kitchen garden program in 2021 - 240 of them - received a mouse melon seedling surprise for their departing gift.
Big thanks to Tafe Margaret River's Certificate II Horticulture students who germinated those seeds and potted them all up.
These prolific vines love the heat and are now (hopefully) in backyards across the Margaret River region and producing their delicious cucamelons, a cucumber around the size of a 10c piece.
Luckily for you we germinated far more mouse melons than we needed, and those extras will go up for sale on the MRPS Roadside Honesty Stall on Forrest road in January.
A tip to help some of our more particular young eaters is to grow your own fruit and veg and involve your youngsters in the entire process - from growing to preparing.
I have had personal experience with the success of this process - my young son would not eat tomatoes until we grew our own cherry tomatoes in the backyard.
He helped to plant the seedlings, helped to care for them, and then picked them straight from the vine.
To my delight they went from vine to mouth.
Now 18 years old, he has continued that trend for life, eating both store bought and home grown varieties.
If you've a fussy eater in your life, perhaps planting a mouse melon may help.
Tip number six is all about the experience of growing and preparing your own food and involving other people in that process.
It doesn't have to be a solitary pursuit (unless you want it to be!), and the benefits - whether they be better health or better nutrition - may just last a lifetime.
Happy growing and preparing everyone.
Terri Sharpe is Coordinator and Garden Specialist of the Margaret River Primary School's Kitchen Garden Program and a Lecturer in Horticulture at TAFE Margaret River. Her column focuses on tips for a productive edible garden - what and when to plant, when to harvest, disease and pest management, and general tips on what works (and doesn't) here in the Margaret River region.
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