Before embarking on vege gardening 5 years ago I have to admit I had quite a rosy tinted view of how it would all pan out. I imagined that everything I sowed would not only grow but would grow abundantly and voraciously. Sometimes that happened but sometimes not. I thought that I’d be able to bypass the vege shop and grow everything I needed (apart from bananas and other exotic fruit) but I didn’t really think about successional sowing until the spinach ran out. I also found myself leaving crops in the ground. Why? Well, I’m not sure but a mixture of not wanting to be without the veg (I didnt have a successional crop following on) and not actually liking that particular veg! Perhaps I am alone here but I suspect not. Vegetable gardening is a very real, and very enlightening learning curve. Now that I’m in the quiet time of the vege calendar I thought I’d reflect on Lessons I’ve Learned (sounds serious but not at all!) which will hopefully be helpful to experienced and new gardeners alike. Also, it’s the start of a challenge for myself to be as self sufficient in my vege garden as I can. How much veg do I need to actually buy to supplement my vege growing?
What vegetables do you really like to eat? This sounds so obvious but I have been lured more than once by the glossy photos of an unusual veg that I Simply Must Try To Grow! Sometimes experiments work like the lovely heirloom spinach strawberry. Not only do I like the quirky little spinach tasting strawberries but I also found the leaves a real bonus for adding to salads. However, borlotti beans (while really very pretty with their red and white stripy coats) were left on the vine as I didn’t know what to do with them…. Only grow what you know you will eat.
Having said that you might also want to consider other factors about the veg you eat including how much space you have. I probably peel and chop an onion every day but my vege garden doesn’t really have the space for this crop because it takes months to mature so would use up one whole bed for a long time. I do however grow garlic which also takes it’s own sweet time to grow and uses up a whole bed. However, I justify this because I really do think that homegrown garlic is superior to bought and hasn’t been fumigated to within an inch of it’s life.
Which leads me onto my next point quite neatly. Some vegetables are seriously treated with pesticides. This is an issue that sways my growing preferences. Lettuce is my number one bug bear. In most supermarkets these days the lettuce on offer is in little plastic bags or the hearting lettuces are wrapped in a plastic coat. There is nothing good about this. We know that the actual lettuce has been sprayed to keep away the pests. I’ve also read that that the bagged lettuce is washed in chlorine to make sure no little beasties are found crawling around your plate. You can understand the need for hygiene but lettuce is my one Must Grow. I can also grow a variety of leaves and mix them up for some really classy salads. I prefer the Cut and come again variety because they are easy to keep on top of and with a little but of successional sowing you can have salad leaves all year round. Some types of Micro green can be harvested 10 days after sowing – talk about Fast Food! Other heavily sprayed veg includes celery, capsicums (peppers), cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach and lettuce. Berries are also highly sprayed but can easily be incorporated in a vege garden plan. Don’t think you have to grow all this from seed. I planted some celery from my local health shop (they sell organic seedlings) and I love the way I can just take a stem or two for cooking and there’s no waste.
To even begin to try and be self sufficient in veges you need to know about successional sowing. It’s not difficult but you need to be disciplined. I’m not even going to try and pretend that I have salad leaves all year round (because I don’t) but this season that is my aim. If I sow various varieties of salad leaves every two weeks from August I should achieve my goal. Successional sowing doesn’t just stop at lettuce though. You can successionally sow a variety of veg including beetroot, carrots, spinach, tomatoes, beans, peas, rocket, radish and herbs. I normally think that I’ll remember. I never do. So this year it’s all going on a spreadsheet with dates and everything……eek!
Do I save money growing my own veg? I think I save money on salad greens, spinach, beans, peas, chillis, garlic as these can be quite pricey at certain times of the year out here. I also save money on all the fruit that I grow; plums, greengages, pears, lemons and limes. However, my ultimate motivation for growing veg is to keep the nutrient content up (lots of comfrey tea and animal manure rather than man made fertilisers) and to keep the pesticides down (non-existent I hope).
Little extras that you might want to know – when thinning out your beetroot and carrot seedlings keep the tiny little babies that you eek out of the soil, wash them and pop them in a salad. Add beetroot leaves to salad. Learn about Autumn sowing. It makes a HUGE difference to the “hungry gaps” in your garden when there’s nothing really ready to harvest. Sowng veg in late autumn to “over winter” means that they will be ready to fire up as the weather warms up so you’ll be enjoying peas, beans, beetroot, carrot, radishes really early in the growing season. Grow comfrey and make comfrey tea for your veges. I can’t emphasise how amazing comfrey tea is and it’s so easy and cheap to make. Use it on all your growing veges. Lay some leaves out on concrete in the sun to wilt them and lay around your fruit trees.
Plant calendular amongst your veges for natural pest protection – they look so cheerful too and flower throughout the winter. Don’t stop at calendular either. Grow sunflowers, dahlias and nasturtians with your veg. They’ll encourage the beneficial insects and make you smile.
Grow herbs. Lots of herbs. I feel very Rich knowing that I can go and gather a huge handful of herbs throughout the year (herbs I pretty much can grow year round apart from the tender ones like basil). No dilly dallying with tiny little pots of herbs from the supermarket but straight in there with a huge bunch – nothing like it. The flavour of home grown herbs is also so superior you may find yourself never going back. You can also grow all kinds of herbs that you can’t buy.
Final words of wisdom. I’ve gardened enough to know that not everything grows to plan. I may have my spreadsheet but I’m sure a whole host of incidents will happen and that seedlings will suffer damping off, fruit will be eaten by unwelcome pests and the weather will add it’s own set of obstacles but in five years I’ve never lost my enthusiasm for growing veg. The miracle of planting a seed and seeing it produce edibles is still a joy for me. I still have a lot to learn but I’m really looking forward to my quest this season as I attempt to be as self sufficient in fruit and veg as possible in my climate!