Toilet paper isn’t the only thing running hot right now – ideas on coping with social isolation and quarantine are too. All of sudden many of us have a lot of extra time on our hands, and contemplating a slow-burn project – such as finally starting that veggie garden – is no longer a pipedream.

Although there’s never a good time for a pandemic, there is a good time to start a veggie patch. That happens to be now. Despite spring attracting the most gardening attention, autumn offers an equally large catalogue of vegetables and herbs to plant – and most at an easy-to-manage pace. Which is something that suits everyone right now.

Setting up a garden

The key will be getting your hands on the infrastructure, and as the days pass this seems like an increasingly difficult proposition. But with home deliveries continuing (for now) you can still find local businesses to deliver all the things you need. Give them a wave through the window when they drop things off.

If securing a custom-built veggie patch is beyond your means right now, try recycling some furniture you already have. Have you always wanted to convert the living room bookshelf into a raised garden bed? Your flatmates are now quarantined in their rooms – this is your chance. Consider unused storage tubs or bins too – just make sure the materials are solid, stable and safe for growing food.

The larger the vessel you use, the easier it will be to maintain the plants – the greater the soil depth, the greater the insulation, water retention and general health of the patch. If you can, buy high-quality organic soil mix. It’ll be more expensive, but it’ll also help yield a greater volume of produce down the track.

Of course, watering is of the utmost importance, but this is perhaps the first time – unless you work in essential services – that we will not be recommending an irrigation system. If you can’t get out and water your garden during isolation, this gardening thing mightn’t be for you. Autumn is still warm and dry in many parts of Australia and daily morning watering is recommended.

Propagate seeds

Lack of time and know-how have always been limiting factors preventing people from growing their own veggies from seed. Not anymore. Firstly, pick up a book and give it a read. I recommend the Little Veggie Patch books I co-authored with Fabian Capomolla. Learning to grow from seed opens up a massive catalogue of varieties that you can’t find from seedlings, and with seedlings becoming more difficult to source, seed will be your growing saviour.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to spare a square right now, when planting directly from seed, try laying a line of toilet paper in the soil, then place your seed of choice at the desired spacing. Lay another piece over the seeds and then water with a fan spray to soak the paper. Dust over with a little soil and wait for germination, which will be accelerated and assisted by the water retained in the pulp.

Netting

Keep any young brassica – broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts – covered with fine insect netting to prevent the white cabbage moth from laying its larvae. They’re certainly not under any quarantine, so a physical barrier is your first and best form of defence. Without netting you’re really gambling on the outcomes – while you may spot a few harmless white butterflies fluttering around the patch, identifying the green, camouflaged caterpillars stripping your plants bare is a tougher proposition. C’mon, you’ve got the time now, pay attention!

Planting for production

There are a lot of things to grow now, but maybe you’re in the mood for productivity, and fast, so look at planting leafy greens – such as spinach, rocket, silverbeet and any type of lettuce – that will establish quickly and produce best when picked leaf-by-leaf. It’s time for root vegetables too, but apart from radish (which will be ready for harvest well before this quarantine is over), other varieties such as carrots, beetroot, turnip and parsnip will need a longer stint in the soil – they’ll be to ready for harvest once early winter sets in. It’s also the right time for the onion family, all the brassicas, and soon the taller legume growers (such as broad beans and peas). Finally, don’t forget garlic. It’s a long-term slow burn, taking upwards of six months … but let’s face it … we have time.

If you like a list, here’s a snapshot of what you can start growing now:

Beetroot; bok choy; broad beans; broccoli; brussels sprouts; cabbage; carrots; cauliflower; celery; coriander; fennel; garlic; herbs (perennials – so not basil now); kale; kohlrabi; leek; lettuce (all varieties); mustard greens; onions; peas; pak choy; radish; rocket; shallots; silverbeet; spinach; spring onions; strawberry; swedes; turnip.

Seeds are available to purchase online at Little Veggie Patch Co. They are also available at The Lost Seed, Eden Seeds and Rare Seeds.