Grow Your Own Food (Early Summer)

Bernadette Brady helps you start growing your own food in just 1-3 weeks

Quick! It's nearly Christmas and you know what that means.

We have all thawed out from winter, spring has come, the ground is warming and the sap has well and truly risen. Time to get out there and grow – something.

Be realistic about the time you will be able to dedicate to this project, we need success. Don't make this too hard – better to have one bumper crop from one pot of tomatoes than a large vegie patch that is brown and crispy by summer's end.

But what to grow? The choices are endless – grow what you like to eat. You really can grow the freshest, tastiest, chemical free produce in your own home with very little outlay. No matter what your limitations are be they time, space, inexperience or even availability of water – there are possibilities!

Seed sprouting — just add water

All of us, particularly those of us who are time poor or don’t have access to a garden or balcony, can have an organic vegie garden inside – by growing sprouts.

Sprouts represent a year round low cost, quick and easy way to grow highly nutritious, living, 'fast food'. By growing indoors with just a jar and some seed we can produce a superfood, by just adding water.

Firstly, select seed that is sold specifically for sprouting to ensure that it is untreated and preferably organic, then choose a selection that offers the flavour or health benefits that you are seeking. For example ...

Radish sprouts are very quick to grow and have a spicy bite. As well as having cholesterol and blood pressure lowering attributes, they are packed full of beneficial antioxidants, particularly if you grow the coloured varieties. Broccoli sprouts are favoured for their high vitamin and mineral content as well as offering immune boosting qualities that are reputed to lower cancer, heart disease and stroke rates.

Another option for those with limited space and time is Mushroom kits, readily available at most nurseries and hardware outlets. The chance to grow your own mushies is really again a matter of opening up the box and ‘just adding water!' Too easy!

Microgreens — just add water (and maybe some soil)

Microgreens are the next possibility to get you growing in limited spaces. These are tiny seedlings of herbs and vegetables that are bigger than sprouts but smaller than baby salad greens. Sprouts germinate in water and microgreens germinate and grow in soil or potting media. They are simple to grow and are ready to harvest from one to three weeks depending on what you sow. Choices range from herbs, salad greens, vegetables and some flowers.

Commonly grown microgreens include parsley, roquette, peas, mustard, cress, fenugreek, leaf lettuce, sunflowers, Asian greens and grass-like greens such as barley, wheat and oat grass; the latter more often grown for juicing. By growing microgreens you can access fresh vital greens for salads and sandwiches in the cold days of winter as well as the heat of summer when greens tend to run to seed and become bitter.

Vegies for patios — just add water and soil (and a pot!)

Balconies, courtyards and even large gardens can have vegetables and fruit grown in all types of containers. Pots of all shapes and sizes, 'found objects' recycled as containers to grow plants are a practical and decorative way to grow food. Essential to the success of container growing is the choice of premium potting mixes, as is your site orientation – most vegetables need at least six hours of sunshine to grow well. Almost all vegies can grow in containers so your plant selections should come down to what you like to eat and have time to grow and maintain. A lot of new gardeners have success with a few pots of herbs, always handy for cooking and easy to grow by seed or seedling.

What to choose?

Seeds vs. seedling annuals

Which way to go? Well, it comes down to time – if you are organised and have factored in the time required to germinate and rear your offspring, then no worries!

That is, in warmer months you need to allow at least a month to get your seed to seedling size. Seeds offer a cheaper option with a wider range of cultivars against the convenience of having a punnet of ‘ready made’ seedlings with limited choice; plus seeds also offer control over plant numbers and the flexibility to sow little and often.

In your selections for your food garden, you will come across the terms ‘heirloom’ (or ‘heritage’ seed) and hybrid seed. Basically heirloom or heritage seeds are open pollinated, meaning these plants will produce seed that will grow like the parent plant. These are plants that have remained unchanged through the generations. Heirlooms allow you to save the seed yourself and are usually affordable and reliable.

Heirlooms or hybrids?

Hybrid seeds are the result of breeding two types of plants, and their seed will not necessarily produce plants like the parent plant. They are used a lot in commercial vegetable growing where particular qualities are sought to make the crops more economically viable to produce and transport. Hybrid seed is typically very expensive, sometimes costing as much as one to two dollars per seed! Hybrids are often seen in seed stands and are recognised by the use of the letter ‘F’ in their description, usually 'F1'. This means that the progeny of that seed will have the best traits of that cross for that first generation. By choosing heirloom seeds, you are growing produce as nature created it.

Potted herbs and perennials

Moving on from seeds, other useful crops that work well in containers are perennial ones such as strawberries, rhubarb, sorrel and artichokes, as well as the longer lived herbs such as rosemary and mint. These crops have the advantage of being longer lived and are a low care option in that once you have them growing they will continue to do so if the basics are attended to.

Give consideration to growing dwarf fruit trees in your space too – ensure that they are self fertile (this means that only one plant is required to produce fruit) or you will need to provide a suitable pollination partner.

Fruit trees broaden your food basket and offer a real treat in your food growing year. For those who are privileged enough to be able to put your feet on the ground in your own outdoor space, it's all about choosing the right location and size for your vegie patch. Good drainage and soil, a sunny spot, reliable water supply and an honest appraisal of time available will best determine the most manageable and successful shape and size of your plot.

Choosing what to grow is now determined by your geography and zones – the Sow What When poster produced by Diggers is a good start for all vegie growers Australia wide. There are websites, books and magazines – even the good old Woman’s Weekly has a helpful growing guide!

There really isn’t a better time to get busy, before the mayhem starts – what you pop in now will quickly reward you in a few weeks and for the next few months – happy munching!

Suggestions to get you growing in early summer

Windowsills

Sprouts – Alfalfa, fenugreek, radish, broccoli, mustard, onion

Microgreens – Mustard, cress, sunflowers, peas, roquette, leaf lettuce, Asian greens, wheat grass

Mushroom kits

Balconies inc. pots, hanging baskets, tubs & boxes

Sprouts/microgreens

Herbs – Parsley, chives, basil, roquette, watercress, rosemary, sage, mint, nasturtium (in hot climates try roquette, basil, chives, coriander, dill, nasturtium)

Vegetables – Bush and climbing beans, Asian greens, capsicum, chilli, eggplant, tomato, lettuce, zucchini, silverbeet, radish (in hot climates try spring onions, mizuna, Asian greens, radish, peanuts)

Perennial vegetables and dwarf fruit trees – Strawberries, rhubarb, sorrel, passionfruit, dwarf citrus

Courtyards/Gardens inc. Raised beds, Vegie patches & Open spaces

All of the above herbs and vegetables plus larger ones such as pumpkins and squash, brassicas, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, sweet corn, celery, leek

Perennial vegetables – Rhubarb, asparagus, globe artichokes, yacon

Fruit trees [inc. dwarf varieties] – Citrus, passionfruit, kiwi fruit

Underlines denote good choices for beginners.

More

A year’s supply of vegetables for two in just 20m2

Ryan Garratt and Sam Hidalgo anticipate the huge yields at Heronswood this summer

Choosing Beautiful, Edible Plants

Bernadette Brady talks about creating art with vegetables at Heronswood

Garden Pyramid

Clive Blazey explains the Diggers guide — our Garden Pyramid

Gardening with Flowers

Choosing the best Diggers selections for the cutting garden

Grow Your Own Berries

Tim Sansom gives his tips on pruning and training for success with your cane fruit crop

Grow Your Own Organically

Bernadette Brady explains how we make 'weed tea', control pests and serve organic food in our restaurants

How to drought proof your garden

How to drought proof your garden

Moon Planting

St Erth's head gardener Julian Blackhirst explains the lunar planting cycle

Plant Ratios for the Backyard

Clive Blazey's thoughts on providing the right balance of plants in your backyard

Q&A - Green Manures

Trials manager Ian Magnus answers questions about using green manures to boost soil fertility and water retention

Q&A - Mulch

Bill Bampton, head gardener at Heronswood, explains our success with making and using mulch

Q&A - Seeds

Seed manager Evette Jungwirth answers your questions about growing from seed successfully

Q&A - Soils

Hugh Hunkin answers your questions about soils and why they are at the root of most gardening problems

Soft green succulents for a lush green garden

Bill Bampton transforms Heronswood’s gravel garden

Spring Gardening

Bernadette Brady recommends getting your hands dirty with some tasks in the spring garden

Subtropical Growing Zone

Tim Sansom explains the heat generated by “Hot Zone” discussions

The “Hauteculture” of Espalier

Bill Bampton talks about turning an untidy orchard into a bountiful border

The best flower selections for ‘This goes with that’ summer borders

Clive Blazey, author of ‘The Complete Guide to the Flower Garden’, discusses the power of intelligent combination

Tomato Growing Problems

Caromy MacDougall explains some common tomato growing problems and how to minimise them

Veganics and plant-based living

Plant-based living launches Veganics The vegan movement is gathering momentum for many reasons from animal welfare to climate change, and this is creating a wave of change across all industries from wine, to clothing and even gardening.

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Bernadette Brady

Bernadette is an experienced gardener with a long term involvement in Community Gardens and a keen interest in growing "all things edible"!

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