Grow delicious summer veggies
The awareness of the benefits of homegrown food is, excuse the pun, growing and growing. With the move to reducing our carbon footprint and eating chemical-free food, the modern garden is becoming a useful garden. And this trend towards sustainability has seen the vegetable garden take pride of place.
To see the front garden brimming with edible produce rather than flowering petunias is increasingly popular. And it’s not unusual to find small verandahs in apartment blocks proudly display pots of herbs and salad greens.
Growing your own vegetables is one of life’s pleasures and children love getting involved. The best news is it’s easy to do. We show you how.
It’s a good idea to grow your vegetables as organically as possible so that your homegrown produce will be rich in beneficial vitamins and minerals and free from poisonous chemicals.
Organic gardening is also best maintaining the delicate balance of nature. Chemical sprays can alter this balance by killing off beneficial insects like parasitic wasps, hoverflies, lacewings, assassin bugs and ladybirds.
To attract beneficial insects to your garden, grow flowering plants from the daisy (Asteraceae), carrot (Apiaceae) and mint (Lamiaceae) families as they provide excellent sources of pollen and nectar that they love.
Follow a few basic principles and you will be rewarded with a good crop. But before you embark on your new vegetable plot decide on how much time you have to tend it. If in doubt start off small as you can always expand.
Choose the position
Vegetables grow anywhere as long as it is sunny. If you have the space make a conventional vegetable bed, but if space is limited you can grow vegetables among the flowers. You can make the bed directly on the ground or build raised beds.
You can also grow vegetables in large pots, troughs and raised corrugated or wooden beds. Always use a potting mix formulated for herbs and vegetables.
Vegetables need a sunny position that is protected from wind. Sheltered vegetable gardens increase their yield by as much as 50 per cent. If you only have a windy spot, make a cheap and easy windbreak with nylon netting or shade cloth battened to posts.
Vegetables love a moist but free-draining soil. If the position has a drainage problem, raised beds will solve the problem. If the soil is very sandy and free-draining, add lots of compost and poultry or cow manure regularly to help hold moisture in the soil. Alternatively, you can create raised beds, too.
Prepare the bed
Use a hoe to remove weeds from the bed. Or, solarise weeds to kill them: place black plastic over the area, anchor it with rocks and leave for a month. The heat will cook and kill the weeds. Once any weeds have been removed, dig the garden to the depth of your spade, taking care to remove any rocks from the bed.
Next, dig in compost and cow or chicken manure over the entire bed. Organic matter adds structure to the soil, helps to retain water and slowly releases nutrients. It also restores plant residue to the soil and this in turn feeds the bacteria, fungi, insects and earthworms that prepare soil for living plants. The more compost and manure you add, the richer the soil will become and the healthier your vegetables will be.
Check the pH of your soil with a pH testing kit. If it is acidic, add some dolomite or liquid lime. Most vegetables like of pH of around 6.5.
Feed your produce
Even with compost and manure already added to the soil, your vegetables appreciate extra fertiliser as they grow. The quicker the vegetables grow, the more tender and sweet they are. Always water the soil before and after adding fertiliser.
A layer of mulch conserves moisture in the soil, improves soil structure as it breaks down, keeps the soil cool and keeps vegetables growing steadily. Lucerne hay, pea straw or sugar cane are ideal mulches for vegetable beds and pots.
Vegetables need regular watering to keep them succulent and tasty. How often you water depends on the weather, but don’t let the soil dry out. Water in the morning at ground level to prevent fungal diseases. Now read on to find out what to grow.
Plant dwarf beans or grow climbing beans on wire, trellis or on a teepee.
SOW seed into damp soil directly where it is to grow. Do not overwater while seeds are germinating.
FEED when flowers appear and water regularly as the pods begin to swell.
HARVEST fresh for the table. Freeze or pickle any excess.
The roots are full of vitamins and can be harvested from about the size of a golf ball to a tennis ball.
SOW seed directly where it is to grow and thin to 70mm apart.
FEED fortnightly with a soluble plant food for the best roots.
HARVEST alternate roots early and the roots left in the soil will have room to increase in size.
All capsicums are green before they ripen then turn red, yellow or purple as they mature.
SOW seed in punnets and transfer to the garden when plants are about 75mm high, or plant seedlings directly where they are to grow.
FEED with a complete plant food when the first flowers appear.
HARVEST capsicum with part of the stem attached.
For the space they occupy, carrots give a good yield. You can also grow baby carrots in pots.
SOW seed directly where it is to grow in deep, well-draining soil. The soil should be free from stones or lumpy organic matter to prevent the roots becoming misshapen. Seedlings may take two to three weeks to emerge so keep the bed damp.
FEED every three weeks with a liquid plant food for fruit and vegetables.
HARVEST as needed and freeze excess.
Regular watering and mulch are essential for shallow-rooted celery.
SOW seed in punnets and transplant to the garden when plants are 75mm high.
FEED every two weeks to prevent the stems becoming coarse.
HARVEST green celery by picking the outside stalks and leaves when large enough by breaking them off at the base with a downward and sideways action. Prevent a bitter taste by ‘blanching’ it: wrap newspaper around the stems for about three weeks before harvest, and secure lightly with string from ground level to about 30cm high. Paper milk cartons also work well.
Chilli fruits follow star-shaped white flowers and come in many different shapes, sizes and colours.
SOW seed 6mm deep directly where it is to grow. Alternatively sow in punnets and transplant when they are 75mm tall.
FEED when flowers appear with a fertiliser formulated for flowers and fruit.
HARVEST when ripe with part of the stem attached.
To save space, help cucumbers to climb by tying them to a support with a soft cloth.
SOW seed directly where it is to grow.
FEED when the flowers appear with a soluble plant food for flowers and fruit.
HARVEST Lebanese cucumbers when they reach 100mm in length. Pick green salad varieties when they are 150-200mm long and apple cucumbers when they reach the size of a tennis ball.
The attractive large grey-green leaves and pretty mauve flowers of the eggplant look good in containers. Check out Johnsons Seeds who offer purple, striped, green and orange eggplant varieties.
SOW seed in punnets and transplant to the garden when plants reach a height of 75mm, or plant seedlings.
FEED with a complete soluble plant food when the flowers appear.
HARVEST fruit when the skin is taught and smooth by cutting off the stalks with secateurs.
Lettuce is essential for summer salads and you can harvest the pick-and-come-again varieties for many weeks.
SOW seed directly where it is to grow. During summer, sow in a spot that receives shade from the hot afternoon sun.
FEED fortnightly with a soluble plant food.
HARVEST leaves as required.
Many pumpkins grow on large running vines and can take up a lot of space. Butternut is smaller growing and can be trained to grow on a trellis to save space. Golden Nugget is a non-running bush variety that’s suitable for large pots.
SOW seed directly where it is to grow on mounded soil in saucer-shaped troughs so that water is directed to the roots.
FEED monthly with a soluble plant food.
HARVEST e with some of the stalk attached. Whole pumpkins will store for up to two months if kept in a cool, well-ventilated spot.
Keep the soil moist until the seedlings emerge. Pull off a few of the outside leaves regularly to encourage new leaf growth.
SOW seed directly where it is to grow.
FEED fortnightly with a soluble plant food.
HARVEST the outside stalks and leaves when large enough by breaking them off at the base with a downward and sideways action. Blanch or freeze any excess.
Homegrown sweet corn cobs are so much sweeter than the ones you buy. Grow in large tubs if space is limited.
SOW in a block rather than rows to ensure pollination. Sweet corn grows quicker from seed rather than seedlings.
FEED every three weeks with a fertiliser for flowers and fruit.
HARVEST when the silks have turned brown, using a downward and twisting motion. Freeze or pickle any excess.
These crop quickly – you will be picking fruit about 8-10 weeks from sowing seed. Male flowers may be picked and eaten.
SOW seed directly into a slight depression on top of a raised mound. Allow 1m between plants.
FEED every 3 weeks with a soluble fertiliser for flowers and fruit.
HARVEST when they are about 100-150mm long to encourage further crops.
SYMPTOM Seedlings disappear overnight and young leaves look chewed. Shiny streaks on foliage and slime trails.
CAUSE Snails and slugs.
FIX IT Sprinkle used coffee grounds or broken eggshells around the plants. Or make beer traps: place beer in a small container and sink it into the ground. Otherwise, Multicrop Multiguard Snail and Slug Killer pellets are environmentally friendly.
SYMPTOM New growth is distorted and older leaves have a silvery grey appearance.
CAUSE Aphids and thrips.
FIX IT Yates Nature’s Way Vegie & Herb Spray is an organic soap-based spray.
SYMPTOM There are chewed leaves on young and old growth.
CAUSE Caterpillars, especially the larvae of the cabbage white butterfly.
FIX IT Yates Nature’s Way Caterpillar Killer controls most caterpillars as it contains a natural bacteria that kill the larvae once ingested.
SYMPTOM Yellow spots appear on the upper surfaces of the leaves of zucchini, cucumbers and pumpkins with furry growth beneath.
CAUSE Downy mildew.
FIX IT Use Eco Organic Eco-fungicide or make your own spray with 1 part milk to 9 parts water. TIP Spray vulnerable plants with a seaweed solution as a preventative.
SYMPTOM The bottom of tomatoes and capsicum becomes sunken and blackened.
CAUSE Blossom End Rot caused by lack of calcium in the soil and irregular watering.
FIX IT Add liquid lime to the soil and water regularly and deeply.
Sign up here to have Handyman’s favourite stories straight to your inbox.