Many people are beginning to discover the joys of edible gardening. It takes some time and planning but it’s usually easier than most people think. Here are some tips to get the best yield from five favourite crops.
Warm: All year (in frost free zones)
When it comes to tomatoes, the more sun, the better! For most spots in Australia, full sun is what you’re looking for. In really hot spots make a tent from shade cloth to stop the fruit from getting burnt. Around seven hours of sun produces lots of fruit and healthy foliage.
If you’re a bit short on space, tomatoes can be grown in a good-sized pot as well as a garden bed. Ensure to stake all tomatoes that you grow, they have a habit of wanting to be horizontal the majority of the time.
Tomatoes can be a bit particular when it comes to the PH level in the soil, the ideal level is between 6.5 and 6.7 to prevent deficiencies. You can buy an at home testing kit, or take a handful of soil to your local nursery if they offer PH testing. Nutrient rich soil is also important, it’s best to plant them where you haven’t previously grown tomatoes, potatoes or aubergines.
If your plant isn’t bearing fruit just yet, you can check if you’re on the right track by looking at your leaves. If they’re deep green in colour, then things are looking good. Very pale or yellowing leaves might mean your plants lack nutrients, or the watering is off.
Depending on the varietal, tomatoes will bare ripe fruit after 8–12 weeks, and you should be enjoying them by the height of summer.
If you still have green tomatoes left when the weather cools off, harvest them and put them in a brown paper bag with a banana and they should ripen more quickly. Alternatively, you can make a terrific green tomato chutney!
Warm: All year (in frost free zones)
Capsicums are typically quite easy to grow, but their position in the garden does need a little thought. They need a warm, sunny spot that is sheltered from the wind. Remember, they can also be grown in pots and containers.
In cool areas, they tend to die back over winter and re-shoot in spring.
Capsicums thrive in deep, well-draining soil with some compost mixed in. Make sure to leave 50–60cm between each plant when planting, this gives them room to breathe and space for airflow.
Your capsicums need regular, deep soakings of water but how much depends on your soil type. Sandy soils need more water than clay soils but if in doubt stick your finger in the soil to check moisture levels. If it sticks to your finger, the soil is damp and doesn’t need water. If it doesn’t, water well.
Pick capsicums when they are ripe, but the skin is still smooth. Overripe capsicums can become rank and attract pests, so should never be left on the plant for too long. Ensure you cut fruit off the plant rather than pulling them as this can cause damage.
Fruits store well and will keep for around 10 days in the fridge.
Warm: April–September except for arid areas where September is the best.
In cooler areas, sow seeds in small pots indoors or in a greenhouse to give them the best chance, they do not like cold weather. They take around a week to germinate and can be planted when there are several leaves. In warmer areas, seeds can be sown directly.
Zucchini are members of the squash family, so they need lots of warmth and sunshine to thrive. Shelter them from strong winds so bees and other insects can go about pollinating the flowers in peace.
Zucchini plants can get quite large so leave plenty of space between them (around 50 or 60cm).
Since the fruit are very fleshy, zucchini need plenty of water, a thorough deep hand watering once per week is good. It is important to avoid watering the leaves, especially late in the season when mildew and other diseases can be a problem.
You do not want to be letting your zucchini grow too large or they’ll just become watery, tasteless marrows, so check them at least twice a week, picking them when they reach around 15cm.
4. Runner beans
Warm areas: All year
Temperate areas: September–January
Cool to cold areas: September–January
Full sun is the way to go for beans, with a shade cloth cover for very hot, dry, windy weather.
Most beans are climbers so are excellent where space is an issue! They need support as they can get around 2m high so think about the position before planting.
Soil needs to be rich, deep and well-drained. Beans are not a fan of sandy soils so improve your soil with nicely aged compost. Mulching the bed is important but ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the stems.
Overwatering can be an issue with beans, leaves become yellow if drainage is poor and the plants are getting too much water so keep an eye on this.
Like sweet peas, beans benefit from regular harvesting, which will promote further crops. Throughout summer, you should be picking them every other day, if you can, before they grow tough and stringy. The best time to pick them is when the bean snaps cleanly without any string, when it’s around 17–18cm long. Leave them too long and the cropping will also fall off. Pick off every bean to prolong cropping into late summer. Those you can’t eat can be frozen to enjoy later in the year.
Warm areas: All year
Temperate areas: All year
Cool to cold areas: All year
Lettuce is traditionally a cool season vegie, but modern plant breeding has given us lettuce that is suitable for planting all year. There’s a wide range of lettuce available as seedlings and seed. Sprinkle in some seed at any time of year and this quick growing vegetable will be ready in weeks.
Lettuce needs to be planted in partially shaded spots to shelter them from the hot sun.
They need a well-draining soil with organic matter added. Compost, mulch and seaweed feed can help produce the best crop.
Water is vital. Lettuces have shallow roots so need frequent watering, especially in hot and/or windy weather. If soil is left to dry out, lettuce may run to seed creating a wasted plant, taste bitter or die.
To get the best flavour, harvest lettuces in the early morning when the leaves are at their freshest and only take what you need. To store them, dampen them under the tap and put them in a plastic bag in the fridge to keep them moist.
Do you have a vegie garden? What are you growing? Do you have any tips to add?
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