I grew up in a New Zealand where practically every home had a garden that supplied a healthy and consistent crop of fruit and vegetables. Gardening was not a hobby but an accepted necessity and now as we find ourselves subject to the financial squeeze brought on by factors beyond our control – we can go back to those days when we would offset our grocery bills by growing our own food – plus, it’s actually a fun and rewarding thing to do as well.
Consumer has a great guide to five of the easiest vegetables to grow based on input from its readers. It’s a fantastic first step for those wanting to experience the satisfaction of utilising their garden space to plant and cultivate food for the table.
‘If I can grow it, anyone can!’
Silverbeet, also called chard, is easy to grow and you can pick what you need at any time of the year. You can add small tender leaves to stir fries or salads, or substitute it for spinach in spanakopita or cannelloni.
Look for the coloured ‘Bright Lights’ variety: the crimson, orange or yellow plants are attractive enough to go in the flower garden.
For a small garden you only need 3 plants, 1 in each colour, so it’s easiest to buy a punnet of 6 from your garden centre. Or you can raise them from seed – start them off in seed-raising mix in a punnet.
Tip: If you have problems with wind, slugs or snails … use soft drink bottles with the neck and base cut off to protect your new seedlings.
‘Convenience and ecology’ were one member’s reasons for growing loose leaf lettuce varieties.
They don’t come wrapped in plastic, they’re always on hand, and you only pick as much as you need. Sow a few seeds, then more at 3-week intervals to ensure a continuous supply.
Keep the soil moist in warmer weather or lettuces may go to seed.
Harvest them with scissors about 2cm above the soil line when leaves are 8 to 10cm tall. The stumps should regrow for second or third cuts.
Tip: Keep an eye out for slugs and snails – they love lettuces.
‘Best fresh from the garden to maintain crispness and taste’ and ‘far cheaper than shop ones’.
You have a choice of dwarf or climbing bean varieties. Climbing beans give bigger crops, maybe too much for a small household. They also need support – with a wire or bamboo ‘tepee’, or against a trellis or fence.
Beans need warm soils to germinate so wait for warm weather to sow them. After you’ve sown the beans, cover the patch with netting so birds and cats won’t disturb the soil, and protect the new shoots from slugs and snails.
Climbing beans crop over 10 to 12 weeks if they’re regularly picked, but you need to sow dwarf beans in short rows at monthly intervals to get a continuous supply. Make sure you water them in dry weather – and water deeply, not just on the surface.
Tip: Pick the beans frequently, while they’re young and tender. If you let the pods get too big (and leathery), the plant produces fewer flowers and fewer new beans.
‘There’s nothing to beat a tomato off the vine, warmed by the sun.’
Cherry tomatoes are easier to grow and more prolific than larger varieties. They also make great lunchbox snacks.
They need lots of sun and regular feeding with a special fertiliser to produce heavy crops with bunches of 15 or more tomatoes. You’ll need to support the plant with two or three stakes.
Labour weekend is the traditional time to plant out tomato seedlings, but in colder areas it’s better to wait a couple of weeks. You can grow them in containers in a porch or on the sunny side of the house.
Tip: It’s usual to keep the plant to a single stem by pinching out side shoots. This means you won’t be faced with a leafy tangle.
‘The taste of a carrot straight from the garden is unbeatable.’
Growing carrots in the ground can be tricky, but it’s easy in containers. Choose a quick-growing variety and sow a few at 3- or 4-week intervals.
You can pull out baby carrots as soon as they’re about 1cm across. Take as many as you need and leave the rest to grow on.
Tip: Keep the soil mounded up around the plants to stop the “shoulders” from turning green.”
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