Grow your own veg to beat the cost of living

If the price of fruit and vegetables has you reeling, you are not alone.

Lettuce at $10 a head, capsicums at $15/kg and $10 punnets of blueberries. You want to eat fresh, but the universe is making it hard for us.

Floods have wiped out fresh crops and the frozen supply chain is still struggling with the results of the pandemic, so is it time to take up vegetable gardening? 

It sure is, but if you have been intimidated in the past there are a few easy steps to get your green on.

Start at the beginning and pick your plot. Vegies go gangbusters with plenty of sun, although hours of late afternoon hot summer sun is probably less than ideal. Gentle green leaves will be left to frizzle in a typical Australian summer.

Read: How to alleviate the aches and pains of winter gardening

About six hours of sun a day is ideal. My two garden beds get loads of afternoon sun, but are under two deciduous trees so get shade in the summer and all the light they possibly can in winter. Perfect. 

But if space is at a premium, it doesn’t have to be a full garden bed. Plenty of plants do well in pots, and these days they come in all shapes and sizes and vertical gardens also make good use of space.

Prepare your soil. This doesn’t have to be a load of work. Dig everything over, drop in some blood and bone or manure, some compost, pea straw or straw if it’s a heavy, clay soil and give everything a good water with a liquid fertiliser. Yes, of course it can be more complicated, but for a quick start, this is the boost you need.

Start your new garden with something hard to kill to immediately advance your confidence, and that vegetable is a radish. 

You don’t want to be put off by a first-up failure, and radishes are an idiot-proof veg with a very quick turnaround from seed to feed.

They can be grown easily from seeds, thrive in most soils and come in a variety of types.

Herbs are also hard to kill. My mother says they are just nice smelling weeds. 

I hate paying for herbs, so they are dotted all around the garden, especially since I let many self-seed. A parsley plant pops up underneath a rose? You bet it’s not getting pulled out.

Read: Vegetable gardening the zero-waste way

Rosemary, parsley, sage, mint and thyme are as tough as old boots and the only problem you should have is keeping them under control. Pro tip though, do not let any sort of mint loose in the garden. They send down runners and will take over, so stick strictly to pots only. 

Apart from the usual mint, two others that come in handy are Vietnamese mint for Asian dishes and basil mint that can replace basil during the colder months.

Marjoram is another one that probably needs to be confined to pots. It’s not such an invasive bully boy as mint, but will still try to take over given half a chance.

And it’s good to let at least one parsley plant go to seed so you can harvest the seed for next season.

Coriander is handy, but also hard to grow. It must be kept constantly moist and will go to seed if you turn your head sideways. Plant with no expectation of reaping more than a few leaves each season.

Lettuce is so expensive it’s making the news, but the good news is it’s relatively easy to cultivate.

However, beginners should abandon all ideas of replicating a juicy, supermarket-size iceberg lettuce at home. They are not a beginner’s veg as they require quite a bit of attention and the bugs love them. There is nothing but disappointment ahead if you travel that road.

Which is a pity, because at current prices, we could probably all pay off our housing loans by flogging them at the markets.

Instead, try the punnets of mixed lettuce you can buy at almost every plant nursery.

Read: Seven tips for creating a wellbeing-boosting garden

You can pick a few leaves at a time and they’ll bounce back. There is a variety to choose from and they take almost no effort. Plant a punnet every few weeks for a constant supply.

Go native and plant a patch of Warrigal greens. They are not at their best during winter, but will revive in spring for a bountiful summer harvest. Once again, you can pick the leaves to keep the plant thriving.

Another fail-safe leafy veg is rocket. Plant it, wave it hello, and then apart from a few waterings, wait until it’s ready to pick and you are good to go.

I let mine reseed itself a few years ago and every summer try to cope with a veritable small forest of rocket. Everyone in our family is heartily sick of pear and rocket salad.

Snow peas are also easy to grow. Pop the peas in and watch them grow like topsy. They will need something to climb on, but just bundle some sticks together and they’re off. 

Need more support? There are a lot of gardening books out there, but most are aimed at the more experienced gardener or it’s a glossy coffee-table type of book.

I am not a rabid gardener. I can’t be bothered to nurse plants through, it either lives or it doesn’t, and my personal confidence booster is Yates Garden Guide

It clearly lays out what to do in the garden month by month with planting, harvesting and cultivation tips for plants, flowers, trees and shrubs. It’s a small outlay for great reward and I find myself dipping into it at least once a month. Worth the cash.

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Jan Fisher
Jan Fisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


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