Growing Vegetables at Home
Everyone can grow their own edibles, whether it’s fresh herbs grown in containers on your balcony or a full blown vegetable garden producing crops 365 days a year. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time growing lettuce or you are a seasoned professional, there are certain things that you will need to get right to get the best out of your crop. All vegetables have certain requirements. They need plenty of sunlight, they need to be fed and they need water. The amount they need will vary depending on plant type, position, and soil or potting mix. To get these elements right in the beginning is essential. A good quality soil or potting mix will produce plants that are healthy, productive and pest and disease resistant. Getting everything right may take a bit of trial and error but the benefits of having tasty, home grown, fresh vegetables on your plate are tremendous.
Asparagus is a crop which you will need to be patient with. It takes a year at least before you will get a harvest from them. However ,once they are established they can last up to twenty years so be sure to plant them in the right spot and they will be well worth the effort! Asparagus require full sun in a well drained soil prepared with plenty of compost and well rotted manures. The plant grows into a fern like bush and once the it starts to produce the spears it is best to prune this fern leaf right back to near ground level. This will make the plant put its energy into producing the spears. Asparagus grow well in a subtropical environment as they thrive on the rain and have no problems with pests and disease. In warm humid conditions single spears can grow very quickly so be sure not to leave them too long between harvesting.
Growing beans are a simple and rewarding crop. They can handle most soil types, and actually put nitrogen back into the soil. This means they are improving your soil while producing a crop! They come in a variety of forms, dwarf varieties are free standing but runner beans need to be trellised.
The sliced tinned variety that goes into your hamburgers is far removed from what you can grow in your own veggie patch which will be full of nutritional value. Although it is sometimes possible to grow this versatile vegetable year round, the summer months, especially if we get a wet season, can cause too many fungal diseases . The best beetroot are the ones that grow quickly so don’t let your soil dry out. They also benefit from an application of Boron at the time of sowing, especially if your soil is a bit alkaline. The leaves of this root crop are also good to eat. When harvesting beetroot twist off the leaves. Jamie Oliver recommends boiling beetroot (with the skin on) for 10 minutes, tossing them in olive oil (of course!), add in a dash of wine vinegar, thyme, rosemary, and garlic and then roast in the oven.
Grubs love broccoli, and it is near impossible to grow them except through the heart of winter. Therefore plant at the start of the cold season. Likes a rich soil, and definitely benefits from some seaweed based fertiliser for optimal harvest. When picking cut just the large central head as smaller heads may develop. Try fresh broccoli raw, or lightly fried with butter, delicious!
Cabbages love a rich soil. The brassica family which includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are all heavy feeders and loved by pests. Therefore it is a good idea to limit your garden to only one of these crops at a time. They will all only grow in this climate during winter so choose your favourite and good luck. Harvest when the heart has firmed.
A small upright shrub, coming in a variety of colours. Capsicums are an easy to grow delicious vegetable that can be used fresh or cooked. Best planted in spring or summer, they prefer a rich soil in full sun. Can be grown from seed, for best tasting fruit, let it ripen on the plant.
Carrots can be grown year round, in a deep friable soil. As it is the tap root of the plant that is eaten it is necessary to be extremely careful if you are transplanting from punnets. It is best to plant from seed, try taking your seed and mixing it with a handful of soil and then spread it over your planting area. This will help to get a nice even spread and ensure they are not too closely clumped together. It can be difficult to know when they are ready for harvest, try just digging around the base to expose the top of the carrot. Do not fertilise with a nitrogen heavy fertiliser as they will be all stalk and very little root.
Celery is a fairly slow growing plant, but one that you can get a long harvest from. It does like the cool climate so plant in Autumn, and when ready just pick a few outside stems as needed. In this way you can continue picking over several months. Remember too, that the leaf is also tasty and edible, not just the stalk! Keep well watered, if the plant drys out the stems will be tough and stringy. Try some fresh celery dipped into peanut butter as a healthy snack for the kids.
A great, cooling vegetable; it’s hard to go past a good cucumber on a summer’s day. Three of the main varieties are the Lebanese, long green and apple. The cucumber grows on a vine spreading to about a metre but can also be trellised to maximise space and production. Plant in a full sun position, and keep moist. They have a large leaf and therefore dry out easily. They are, however, also subject to mould and fungus so be careful not to overwater and try not to water the foliage. Mulching is definitely advisable as it will both increase water holding capacity and give a soft dry bed for the growing cucumber to lie on. Don’t leave them too long between picks once they are fruiting as they will grow big fast and often become bitter if left too long. Cucumbers are best planted in the warmer months. They will struggle to grow and set fruit through winter.
Eggplants are a hot weather lover. They are a hardy, tolerant plant, and can give an excellent yield. For longevity make sure you keep picking the fruit and it will keep on giving. It comes in two varieties, one with a smaller, zucchini shaped fruit and the other a much larger egg shaped fruit.
Lettuce and other greens can be grown year round. They can be picked leaf by leaf as needed or uprooted when they have fully grown and hearted. Easily grown from seed, or seedling, try letting some go to seed and collecting it for the next season.
Rockmelons and watermelons grown on a long spreading vine. Each plant will need about a square metre of space. They like a good rich organic soil, but do not give them a nitrogen rich fertiliser or they will be all leaf. Whilst they are growing and setting fruit they will need plenty of water but ramp it back as they start to ripen. You can tell when they are ripe when they give a hollow sound when you tap them. Also the stalk where they attach to the vine will start to whither. Plant in spring and you will have a delicious, juicy piece of melon for that hot summers day.
Also known as lady’s fingers, Okra is a flowering plant valued for its edible green seed pods that somewhat resemble a pointed finger. Although popular in Africa and parts of Asia, it is still somewhat unknown here. It is among the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable plants in the world, making it of great use for a spring and summer crop. Chopped pieces are usually stir fried or put into curries, soups and stews. Though this bean/seed pod is the main part eaten, the leaves can also be eaten raw in salads and the seeds can be roasted for a coffee substitute. Pods will become woody if left for too long and are best harvested at around 10cm.
Onions come in a lot of varieties, browns, reds, whites as well as the spring onion and schallots. The three coloured varieties should be planted in autumn, but you can try growing schallots and spring onions in warmer times. They take up to 5 months to grow, so are quite slow but can give off a high yield. Try companion planting with carrots.
Potatoes like a slightly acid, deep, organically rich soil. The plant does best in the subtropics over the cooler moths as the soil can be too warm for them over summer. They will not grow well in heavy clay soils. Plant potatoes (tubers) with ‘eyes’ (a couple on each tuber is good). Plant tubers approx. 10cm deep and 30cm apart. For a bumper crop keep heaping loose soil or mulch around the plant as it grows, enabling more of the potatoes to grow in the mounded soil, giving support and protecting the new potatoes from light. Old tyres are sometimes used as you just put another one over the top as the plant grows. Mulch will also help to keep them cool. Regular watering will produce an even potato. When the majority of the leaves have withered the potatoes are ready to be dug up. Usually after about 3 months.
Spinach struggles to grow in our climate, therefore silverbeet is a much better option. A fast growing, big leafed vegetable it can be eaten raw or wilted down and eaten like spinach. Great as a silverbeet and ricotta pie! Because of its rapid growth and big green leaves it is a heavy feeder and should be planted into a good nitrogen rich soil. Can be planted most of the year but will struggle in our hot humid summers.
Snow peas (or mangetout (eat all)) are very easy to grow, and dwarf varieties don’t need to be staked. Make sure you pick the pods when they are still young. Although generally a winter crop you may have success growing them right through into early summer. Plant into damp soil but thereafter avoid overwatering. If your soil is acidic apply dolomite or garden lime.
Nothing beats a strawberry picked straight from the plant! Best planted in autumn and they will fruit from late autumn through to spring. They like a reasonable amount of water, especially once it starts to warm up. You will find your plants may continue to fruit longer through to summer if kept well fed and watered. Remember though that they reproduce by either fruiting or spreading runners, therefore for a bumper crop it is best to pick off the runners.
Corn is usually considered a hot weather crop but can be grown year round in the sub tropics. It is a fairly heavy feeder particularly if grown close together and for good pollination it is recommended that they are grown in a clump. As soon as it is picked corn starts to convert its sugars into starches so you will find a big difference in your freshly picked, home grown cobs to supermarket bought ones. When the silks at the top of the cobs have completely died off they are ready to pick.
In our subtropical climate, tomatoes can be grown year round. They are heavy feeders and like plenty of sun. Try to avoid wetting the foliage too much as they are susceptible to fungus. Plants are unable to support themselves so some sort of trellising will be required, except with some cherry types. Nipping off the all growing stems bar the main one will also help keep the plant tidy and under control. Seedlings can be planted into the ground or pot deeper than their original potted height; this will give them added stability and resilience.
Zucchinis are a warm weather crop, susceptible to the cold and frosts. They like a rich well drained soil in full sun. Sometimes if there are not enough bees in your area they may have to be self pollinated. The fruit of the zucchini grows very quickly and needs to be checked everyday once it starts fruiting. Regular picking before the fruit gets too big ensures a longer harvest period.