There’s nothing like fresh, home grown, sun-ripened vegetables picked at the peak of perfection and consumed within hours of harvest.
The mouth-watering taste sensation is enough to entice even the most reluctant gardener to try their hand at growing their own vegies. Getting the kids involved also helps them become more adventurous with eating sometimes unfamiliar vegies. And a warning, once you taste home grown produce, you’ll never be satisfied with the limp offerings at the supermarket ever again!
There’s a lot to like about the idea of eating healthier greens and saving money at the same time. Not to mention the satisfaction and brag factor of growing your own. An often overlooked benefit of growing vegetables is that a seasonal harvest forces you to search out recipes for that particular vegie – and you often come across some beauties that go on to become family favourites. Giving surplus to friends is another benefit, as is cooking up jars of, say, tomato sugo or relishes for use throughout the year or as giveaways. ‘Waste not, want not’ takes on a whole new meaning when you have a productive vegie garden.
When you’re starting out, easy rather than ambitious is the way to go. You want to give yourself the best chance of success and leave the more complex growing challenges till later. And of course, what’s easy to grow in your area may well be the complete opposite for someone else. Climate dictates everything – chilly temperatures, frost, drought, tropical downpours and high humidity – and the areas we live in will determine the success or otherwise of what we grow. Sometimes it is simply a case of switching things around and growing crops in winter instead of summer and vice versa.
Haven’t got a big garden? Try going to pot. You can grow many vegies in pots in your courtyard. Why not compensate for the larger crops that take up more room than you’ve got by growing an assortment of herbs? Fresh herbs are brilliant for the keen chef and make a fuss-free accompaniment to potted vegies – think cherry tomatoes and fresh basil.
Here are some suggestions for easy-starters you may like to experiment with.
They have to be top of the list as one of the easiest vegetables to grow in a range of micro climates. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from. These include Green Beans, Butter Beans, Italian Flat Beans, Borlotti Beans and Snake Beans. They vary in size from dwarf bushes to those requiring a bean tepee to hold them up for ease of growing and harvesting. Freshly-picked baby green beans are yummy to snack on as you harvest them, as are sweet and juicy bean seeds shelled from the pod like peas. Borlotti beans are an example of this.
Ideal for: Soups, salads, vegie dishes or starring on their own sautéed in a herb sauce made from home-grown herbs.
Is this the quintessential Australian vegetable? A true blue hamburger isn’t the same without it and a salad sandwich minus that characteristic red stain seems somehow unpatriotic. Although native to Mediterranean regions, our love of beetroot cannot be denied. Beetroot are biennial plants grown as annuals and harvested for their swollen root tuber. The flesh is generally red with brown/purple skin, although yellow and white fleshed varieties are also available. Beetroot plants are great space savers, occupying a relatively small amount of space for the harvest they provide. Their shallow root system makes them ideal for container planting and the foliage is quite attractive. The added bonus is that the beetroot leaves can be harvested and used as spinach, with many varieties producing particularly tasty greens for salads.
Ideal for: Salads, hamburgers, grated raw in recipes, pickled in vinegar, hot roasted.
Capsicums love warm growing conditions. You can grow them year round in frost-free tropical and subtropical regions. Gardeners in temperate regions will achieve success by planting in spring and early summer. Or choose a warm microclimate by planting up against a north facing brick wall, so that plants can benefit from radiated heat. Capsicum seeds and plants are available in a variety of sizes, from minis upwards. And the colours? Traditional red, green, yellow and purple. What fun the kids will have watching the baby capsicums grow and change colour before picking.
Ideal for: Everything – salads, vegie dishes, omelettes, stir fries, stuffed capsicums.
If you have a bit more room to move, consider carrots. Like most vegies, they need an open, sunny position and can be grown almost all year round in temperate regions, and in all except the wettest, hottest months in the subtropics. Regular watering is critical for a sweet, juicy carrot crop. And be warned, carrots hate competition from weeds so be prepared for ongoing weeding, if you don’t do that already. The good thing about carrots is that they are ready when you are. They can be harvested, or part harvested from baby carrot size upwards, according to your culinary wishes. In very cold regions, carrots can be stored in the ground for a prolonged winter harvest, providing they are protected with frost cloth or a thick layer of straw.
Ideal for: Sandwiches, salads, soups, vegie recipes, roasting, juicing and, of course, carrot cake.
Regarded as the easiest tomatoes to grow, cherry tomatoes typically have a sprawling growth habit, but can be trained on trellises or structures to occupy vertical space. They produce small round to pear-shaped fruit over a long period. They are suitable for a range of climates and are ideal for fruit fly prone regions.
Ideal for: Salads, bruschetta, pasta, anything that requires a tomato. Also delicious eaten as a fruit.
The variety of summer gourmet lettuces available nowadays is wonderful, a far cry from the days when the only choice was the dear old Iceberg lettuce. Summer greens are easy to grow, and even easier to harvest. There’s a wide variety of seeds and seedlings available including Mesculin mixes, Cos or Romaine types with their loose hearts and narrow, upright foliage. There are the soft and buttery red and green Mignonettes and the progressive pickers whose leafy types form loose frilled or crinkled bunches of leaves rather than solid heads.
Ideal for: Salads, sandwiches, garnishes, Asian lettuce wraps.