10 Most Useful Summer Vegetables to Grow in your own Backyard
When you start searching on line for seed catalogues or receive your favourite one in the mail, it can very easy to be overly-enthused by those gorgeous pictures they use of plump ripe vegetables and promises of heavy yields per plant. Here's my top 10 summer vegetables that prove useful throughout the growing season and beyond.
1. Tomatoes - home grown tomatoes and shop grown tomatoes are not related in the plant world. They taste far too different - home grown tomatoes are full of flavour and vitamins and are delicious picked straight from the bush and popped in your mouth. Tomatoes are also good preservers - you can make traditional tomato sauce, pasta sauces with a variety of herbs, onion and garlic which will keep for months, you can semi-dry them in the sun or in the oven or in a food dehydrator if you have one. They are an all-round useful vegetable - even though, technically, they are a fruit!
2. Lettuce - this is so easy to grow, why wouldn't you? You can choose varieties that will forgive you if you pick a few leaves at a time, rather than the types that you must decapitate all at once. If you plant them at six week intervals you will have salad greens on your plate throughout the season and beyond. If it doesn't snow where you live you can just about have lettuces coming all year round - albeit a little slower in the cooler months than in the height of summer.
3. Zucchinis - or courgettes if you're in the UK. These little wonders grow with great gusto, particularly at the beginning of the season and different varieties will reward you with slightly different appearances, flavours and yields. I've found Gold Rush gives the best yield, but often fruits early and then turns up its toes. If you want a rush of Gold goodness early in the season then go for this one. They can be happily dried for use in curries, casseroles or other cooking later in the year. You can make easy Zucchini soup and freeze the soup for those early autumn days when the weather says "soup"! You can grate them raw into a salad or throw them into a stir fry thinly sliced.
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4. Potatoes - easy to grow, there are so many varieties these day and most seed catalogues will tell you if they are good for mashing or roasting or making into chips. You can leave them in the ground until the plant dies down - this is a really easy way to store them. Then bring them inside and store them in a dark dry place away from the onions and you will have potatoes for plenty of time yet. Again you can make them into a delicious soup or you can add them to casseroles, stews or simply serve with your favourite sausages and gravy when you need some comfort food.
5. Beetroot - another easy to grow vegetable, they grow quite quickly in summer and are fabulous roasted. You can serve them hot with a Sunday roast, or let them cool, dice them and add them to salads for a fresh alternative to canned beetroot. Being a root vegetable they are not as prone to the effects of heat waves and so are easy to manage in your summer garden. Once roasted they can be frozen and thawed for use at a later date.
6. Snow peas - another easy to grow veggie and worth the effort if you've seen the prices in the shops! Throw them in a salad to rev it up a bit, eat them straight from the vine when you're working in the garden, or take them to work as a sugary afternoon snack without the refined or manufactured sugars found in many other snack foods.
7. Pumpkins - just as long as you have plenty of room to let the vines roam free you should get great pumpkins which will see you through to at least late autumn. Roast them, serve them hot. Or add them to salads. Pumpkin soup is a perennial favourite or you could try something a little different in the soup department. Easy to grow, leave them on the vine until the vine dies off and you don't need to worry about storage space!
8. Capsicums - a little more challenging to grow, but worth the effort - from the garden they are fresher and crisper than you will ever buy from anyone anywhere - even a farmers'market. Pest resistant, they can be added to salads as they are, either green or (if you have the patience to wait) red for added vitamin C, thrown in a stir fry. You can use them to add extra flavour to a soup or roast them and, when cool add them to sandwiches, salads and the like.
9. Silverbeet (or spinach in the cooler parts of the world) - either the green Fordhook variety or the 5 coloured chard are great - you can leave them in the ground and just pick what you need. PIcking them like this actually encourages them to put on more growth and give you more food! Blanch it (drop it into boiling water for approximately 60 seconds, remove from the saucepan and douse with cold water to halt the cooking process) and freeze it for storage, add it to your stir fry, curry or pasta sauce straight away or add it to scrambled eggs for a healthy breakfast! Just keep picking it and you will pick it year round - its not just a summer vegetable! If you have chooks, feed it to them to give them lots of green, and you lots of eggs!
10. Basil - while not technically a vegetable, absolutely belongs in the summer collection. Among the tomatoes it makes a great companion plant and gives you plenty of leaves for pesto or adding to pasta sauces, soups, casseroles and curries. Leaves can be dried for future use and pesto can be frozen in small lots for using later on. Try adding pesto to your favourite vegetable soup and you will see the taste lift it gives. If you don't have a back yard, you can grow this in pots on a windowsill or balcony.
So that's my top ten ... my core ingredients for summer cooking which take my kitchen through to winter if I plan, dry, freeze and store some of the excess produce while I have it.