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Sustainable Life: Grow your own leafy greens

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Crunchy green goodness grows best in Canberra’s cooler months.

Mild days, with plenty of sunlight, are the perfect canvas for fresh, delicate leaves. There’s nothing better than a salad with leafy greens that have been plucked from your garden just moments before being served.

Here’s how you can grow five of the best leafy greens.

English spinach

Baby spinach is so tasty, so easily ruined in the back of the fridge…and so easy to grow! As a bonus, you can harvest leaves both early and late—to have both baby spinach and regular spinach available throughout autumn and winter.

These gorgeous little plants like soil that has been enriched with well-rotted manure or compost. As a guide, for a patch that’s four meters square you’ll need 20-30 kg of well-rotted manure. Spinach does best with plenty of sunshine and regular water.

You can plant seeds or transplant seedlings, depending on how keen you are to make that harvest. Get seeds into the soil as soon as possible, to give them a head start before Canberra’s cold winter establishes. They’re annuals, so spinach will produce leaves over the winter and then bolt and flower as soon as the weather gets warm in late spring.

Young plants are a delicacy for snails. Consider an organic remedy from the garden store, or crush up eggshells and put them around your plants. The crushed eggshells are difficult for the soft snail bodies to cross.


Looking for something that’s super easy to grow? Here’s your new thing. Silverbeet is very forgiving and will grow in almost all conditions. It likes rich soil, full sun and regular water—sounds like most vegetables. It’s not.

Silverbeet is surprisingly tolerant of a wide range of conditions. It will live and produce lovely leaves in average soil, with part-shade and partly neglectful watering.

Plant seeds or seedlings right now and your plant will produce for a few years. It doesn’t go to seed in a way that stops it from producing leaves over the summer.

Little silverbeet plants are affected by snails. Use the same remedies as for spinach.


Kale, bok choy, wombok, broccoli and rocket are all part of the same family—brassicas. These beautiful plants all like soil that has been enriched with well-rotted manure or compost. The same amount of manure to garden space applies for brassicas as it applies to spinach. Brassicas do best with plenty of sunshine and regular water.

Autumn is the right time to transplant brassica seedlings. You’ll want seedlings for most brassicas to be about 30cm apart, as each plant needs space. Expect your first harvest about 10 weeks after you transplant the seedlings.

Most people who grow brassicas are familiar with small, white moths that like to share in the produce. White moths and holes in your brassica leaves mean that it’s time to take action—you’ve got an infestation of cabbage moth caterpillars. There’s an organic, biological control for these caterpillars called Dipel.

Young brassicas are also affected by snails, which can eat several plants in one night—don’t be fooled into thinking you have a possum problem if you haven’t ruled out snails. Older brassicas can be affected by scale, especially when they’re tightly planted. Try to isolate the scale by removing affected leaves, and use an organic, white oil spray.


Frekles, Australian yellow leaf, cos, little gems… all types of lettuce. The most forgiving for home gardening would have to be Australian yellow leaf. Others can go bitter at just the slightest hint of dry soil. Lettuce likes rich soil, plenty of water and full sun. Most varieties will tolerate part shade.

Scatter a whole row of lettuce seeds, so that you can harvest leaves when they’re young and tender. Most lettuce varieties grow just fine when they’re close together. If things get too tight, thin out your row. Lettuce is an annual, producing flowers (instead of leaves) in late spring.

Snails, slugs and lettuce have a special relationship. There are organic options for snail and slug control, and crushed eggshells are a home-grown option.

However, the most effective pest control for lettuce is actually to pick your own, regularly. That way you can pick off slugs individually by looking between leaves… and feed them to your chickens.

Beetroot leaves

Harvesting beetroot leaves is the perfect way to get double value from this delicious root crop. If you’re growing beetroot for leaves, enhance regular vegetable soil with just a little extra manure. Beetroots like full sun, but can tolerate part-shade. They’ll need plenty of water.

Plant your seeds or seedlings right now, while the soil is still warm. Watch for snails that can devour seedlings overnight.

Harvest leaves when they’re young and tender.

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