Staycation Spring 2017 Masthead 2
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Sustainable life: Best vegetables to grow this summer

Mia Swainson

Long days of sunshine. Green shoots. Earthworms dancing in the soil.

Now is the time to start your summer vegetable garden. Plant now, and by Christmas you’ll have a rich variety of flavour and crunch that is yours to share with loved ones.

If you’re new to vegetable gardening, take a moment to get the foundations right. As with Real Estate, think location, location, location. The ideal summer garden is sunny for most of the day as well as having some shelter from those harsh rays of light on a hot afternoon.

Next, make sure you’ve got good quality soil. Vegetables like lots of food, they’ll grow out of a compost. Every season I add a combination of animal manure, compost and worm casings to my vegetable beds. The final foundation is water. Before you plant, know how you’re going to get water to your vegetables. If you’re time poor, try setting up a wicking bed or a drip irrigation system. Vegetables like the soil to be moist. Generally, they won’t grow as well when the soil is too dry or waterlogged.

So, let’s get to those vegetables! Here are my tips on how to grow the six best vegetables in Canberra’s summer season.

Tomatoes

So many varieties, so pick your favourites to grow at home. Experiment with lesser-known varieties for unique flavour and their wow factor, like black Russians or green zebras. Easiest to grow, by far, are the smaller varieties like Tiny Toms, Yellow Grape or Cherry tomatoes. The larger varieties need their limbs tied to stakes, so that their huge tomatoes can be supported.

Tomatoes like rich soil and lots of sun. They’re easy going when it comes to watering, preferring moist soil and coping alright if you forget to water for up to a week. Plant tomato seeds into small pots and transfer them into the garden or a large pot as they grow. If you’d like tomatoes by Christmas, plant medium sized seedlings in the first week of November.

A common mistake with tomatoes is to grow them in the same pot or vegetable bed each year. The first few years are grand, then your tomatoes become diseased. Tomatoes like to be moved around your garden.

Sugar snap and snow peas

Munch, crunch, crunch. They taste so good fresh that you’ll look at their limp cousins in the supermarket in a whole new light. I love sugar snap and snow peas because you eat the pods as well as the peas. My kids also love them. Fabulous in salads and super in a stir fry.

Sugar snap and snow peas like nutritious soil, but don’t feed as heavily as tomatoes. They prefer the sun and don’t mind dappled shade, but they do need regular water. In fact, making sure there’s regular water is the main success factor for sugar snap and snow peas.

Plant seeds directly into the soil in a pot or a garden bed.

Zucchini

Grown at home you can pick zucchinis at any size. Small zucchinis are sweet and tender, perfect to be eaten raw in salads or spiralised as a pasta alternative. Large zucchinis are great for cooking. Think zucchini fritters, chutney or cake. And, if you’re a gourmet cook, fresh zucchini flowers are a big reward for growing your own plants at home.

Zucchini’s like rich soil and full sun. Regular watering is preferable, but they’ll tolerate quite a bit of neglect. Zucchinis can be grown in large pots, but they grow best with the space that comes with a vegetable bed. Plant seeds into small pots and transfer them into the garden or a large pot. Alternatively, plant seedlings anytime from now. Grow a few plants and space them well to prevent mildew attacking their leaves.

Silverbeet and rainbow chard

That mass of green leaves is so, so good for you! Silverbeet or rainbow chard are essential ingredients for Italian cannelloni, Indian palak paneer and the Hipster’s classic green smoothie.

Silverbeet and rainbow chard are very forgiving in the garden. They prefer rich soil, full sun and regular watering. However, they’ll still produce a crop in relatively poor soil, part-shade and with neglectful watering. Plant seeds directly into your garden or pot.

Globe radishes

Crunchy, peppery and juicy. Radishes add something special to salads. Growing your own will mean that you don’t have to throw out unused radishes from a large, supermarket bunch. Just pick what you need – fresh every time!

Like silverbeet and rainbow chard, globe radishes are very forgiving plants. They prefer a rich soil, full sun and regular watering. They also seem to grow just fine, with poorer soil, dappled shade and neglectful watering. However, for a crop of radishes that are sweet and peppery, rather than just peppery, regular water is essential.

Herbs

Rocket, basil and parsley are the best herbs to grow in a summer vegetable garden. Their tender and nutritious leaves are perfect for salads, sauces and marinades. Rocket, basil and parsley all grow beautifully from seed. I like to use half a packet of seeds each season and fill a large pot or a row in the garden. Herbs like rich soil, full sun and regular water. However, they’ll tolerate part-shade and semi-neglectful watering.

It’s the time of year when everything seems to be singing in the garden. There’s a tune that gets the earthworms dancing. Share that summertime buzz by getting your vegetable garden growing with six of the best.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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