Start planning your summer vegetables early
What do you want for lunch next summer?
Before you rush off to the local plant nursery or Google search for heirloom seeds on line, it is worth spending a bit of time considering what types of food you like to eat during the bountiful season.In gardening terms the most bountiful season for growing your own food is summer in a Mediterranean climate.
Take 10 minutes to list the vegetables you like to eat most. Consider:
- What veggies do you always have on your shopping list?
- Which vegetables do you love the flavour of and just can't get enough of?
- Which plants are part of your 'staple' diet?
- Which vegetables does the rest of the family enjoy?
- What do you tend to use most when you cook?
- What veggies do others around you like?
This will give you some idea as to what types of vegetables it is worth putting in the effort to grow. Can you imagine eating lots of this veggie while it is seaso? Consider whether it might have a good 'swap value' - is it something that is more challenging to grow but other people you know don't grow it? If you can't answer"yes" to either of these, then consider whether it has a place in your veggie patch.
Once you have listed all your favourite summer vegetables, consider how much space you have in which to grow them. Some vegetables take up a lot of room - for example a rhubarb plant can take up one square metre by itself. Or you can grow a lot of lettuces and herbs in the same amount of space. But if you love rhubarb crumble or stewed rhubarb on your breakfast cereal then perhaps you are willing to sacrifice garden fresh herbs and continuous picking lettuce for that delight.
Whether you have a small space or a vast acreage, you also need to think about how much time you want to spend tending your garden and growing your own food. If you have a fast paced life which leaves little time for much gardening but you really want to grow something, consider vegetables which don't need much attention - you could consider root vegetables such as beetroot or carrots or hardy silver beet which will continue to grow despite your lack of attention. Root vegetables will store in the soil for a long time and leafy silver beet will continue to flourish, until you finally get a day off to harvest and enjoy them.
On the other hand, if you have plenty of time and energy to put into your veggie patch you might consider plants which require a bit more attention, perhaps training tomatoes or growing swathes of lettuces for a constant supply of greens over the warmer months is more your idea of a great way to spend a summer evening.
Whatever you decide in terms of what to grow, the preparation for those tasty treats starts long before you are picking your first tomato or pulling up your first parsnip!
It's all in the soil
Getting the soil right so growing conditions are good for those vegetables can begin while the days are still short and the nights are still cold. You won't want to be planting much while conditions are still wintery, but there is plenty you can do to get ready. Before the main preparation event give the bare soil a bit of a dig with your garden fork, aerating it and loosening it will help to awaken the soil.
Then its time to add organic matter to the soil, in part to give back some of the nutrients which have been taken out by previous plantings and in part to ensure the soil will retain moisture effectively through the upcoming dry months.
You can add lots of different things at this stage - again it depends on how much time and energy you have to devote to your garden.
If you're time poor, you can purchase seaweed extracts or fish compounds which you add to water and simply pour over the soil. If you feel the need to plant something, grow a quick crop of broad beans and cut them into the soil just before they begin to flower - the green growth will quickly break down in the soil and the leguminous roots of the beans will lock nitrogen into the soil, enabling what ever follows to access great nutrition from the soil.
If you don't want to grow anything you can purchase a bale or two of straw and spread that over the soil while the weather is still wet - the rain will help break it down and the nutrients will be added to the soil.
If you want a cheap and cheerful solution, you can brew yourself some weed tea by collecting weeds from your garden, or the neighbourhood car park, and soaking them in water for around 4 - 6 weeks. Then simply strain off the weeds, add water at a ratio of around 10 parts water to 1 part weed tea and add that to your soil.
If you are planning to grow lettuces or other leafy greens and you have a couple of chooks, let them loose on the area for a few days or a couple of weeks where you want to grow those greens - their output will add plenty of lively nitrogen to the soil - but do this in plenty of time to let it sit for at least a month before you start planting - other wise the fresh manure will burn your seedlings!
If you're not planning leafy greens, you can still collect the chook manure, add it to your weed tea when you start preparing that and let it brew! Your veggies will love this mixture.
Whichever way you decide to prepare your soil, a little effort during the colder months and the first few weeks of spring will be abundantly rewarded by the veggies you will grow over summer.
Once you have the soil brewing, under broad beans, or straw, with weed tea or chook manure, you can sit back and start looking at seed catalogues which can be found online or ordered from various seed nurseries around the country. Take time to decide which varieties will suit your climate and your personal taste, giving consideration to your skill levels and energy and inputs required for each variety.
It's wise to choose at least two different varieties of each type of vegetable you want to grow, as some will like the conditions you have created in your soil better than others. This may also give you an extended harvest time, more variety in your diet and an opportunity to eat some varieties which may not be available in local food places or markets.
No matter what you choose, the time and effort you have taken to prepare the soil will reap better rewards in taste, bounty and quality of your food.