LIFESTYLE - With the rising costs of basic foods, including veggies like potatoes, butternut and cabbage, experts at Life is a Garden offer these tips to grow some of your own basic foods:
How to grow beans and tomatoes
Summer is a great time to grow your own beans and tomatoes.
In a sunny patch measuring three square metres, you can produce a stream of fresh home-grown vegetables for your family throughout summer.
Anyone who grows their own tomatoes will tell you they taste better and are a summer dream.
How to grow beans
There are two types of beans commonly grown in the home garden, bush beans and runner beans. Beans contain vitamins A, B and C and are a good source of fibre. They are best harvested young when carbohydrates are present in the form of sugar.
Choose a level area where beans will receive at least five hours of sun a day. Prepare the ground by forking over the bed, removing weeds and stones and breaking up any lumps. Add half a bag of compost and a handful of a general fertiliser per square metre, rake the surface as evenly as possible, and water well the day before planting.
* Bush beans
Mark rows for bush beans with stretched string, then make a furrow on this line. Sow seeds 2cm deep and 5-8cm apart, allowing 60cm between rows. Mulch between rows to conserve water - and reduce weeds. On hot days, prevent vegetables from wilting by watering early in the morning, and if necessary again in the late afternoon.
Beans mature quickly and are ready to harvest 8 to 10 weeks after planting. Sow at regular intervals to prolong the harvest. Popular varieties are Star, Contender, Imbali (a South African bred bean, resistant to rust and mosaic virus) and Timbavoti that bears prolifically.
* Runner beans
The advantage of growing runner beans is that they take up less space than bush varieties making them suitable for small gardens, and are easier to harvest. They have a longer productive season than bush beans, producing pods in 65 to 85 days. They can grow 2m tall, so will need support in the form of a fence or wigwam. Pick while young as this also extends the season. Lazy Housewife has medium green slightly flattened pods with good flavour; Witsa has oval to round shaped pods.
How to grow tomatoes
Nothing can equal the taste of a ripened tomato picked fresh from the garden. Just a few plants are all you need to provide for a family’s needs.
Tomatoes need sun and soil rich in organic matter. Grow from seed or plant seedlings 30-45cm apart. Seedlings are best planted deep in the soil with the top four leaves just above the surface. This helps develop a strong root system. A layer of mulch will keep the soil cool, conserve moisture and discourage weeds. Water the root area thoroughly and regularly, avoiding water on leaves. Fertilise with a specially formulated tomato fertiliser according to instructions or a fertiliser granules for vegetable gardens. For the best flavour, allow tomatoes to ripen on the vine.
There are two types of tomato plants – bush varieties and trellis varieties. Bush varieties should be staked or grown in a cage, and as the plant grows, tied to the support with soft string. Bush varieties include Floridade which has been bred to withstand high temperatures, Heinz which has flat and round fruit, Oxheart extra large fruit and Roma with its recognisably oblong fruit.
Tomato varieties better suited to a trellis or wigwam, include the popular Moneymaker, which has medium size flavourful fruit borne on heavy trusses. Brandywine is a popular heirloom variety which dates back to the late 1800s with large reddish-pink fruits, rich in flavour.
Cherry tomatoes produce small fruit, ideal for salads. Seed sown in spring and summer will germinate in seven to 14 days and harvesting begins in 70 to 80 days. Cherry tomatoes can also be grown in large pots and trained on a wigwam or trellis. Nip off the growing point when it has reached the desired height.
Cherry Yellow Pears are small heirloom tomatoes borne in clusters and can be grown in pots, hanging baskets or up a trellis. Bite Size has small round red fruit, and Sweety cherry tomato is ideal for growing in pots.
How to grow potatoes
The humble potato can grow well in a container – they just need love and the correct care.
Surprisingly, potatoes are well-suited to container planting too.
A fairly deep pot planted up with a good soil mix and healthy seed potatoes from a reliable supplier should yield a crop of the tastiest new potatoes within a couple of months.
All they’ll ask for is regular watering and a dose of liquid fertiliser every fortnight or so.
How to grow cabbage
THE one reassuring thing, when standing with a large and heavy cabbage head in one’s hands, is the promise that you will have more than enough leaves to feed a cold and hungry family in the dead of winter.
This is probably the main reason why rookie food gardeners fall for the temptation to sow all the seeds in a seed packet, in late summer, when preparing the veggie garden for a winter harvest – usually in May and June.
The result of this enthusiasm and hope is normally overproduction, and very sulky eaters if you have to use up a large glut of cabbages.
Young cabbage seedlings are best started in seedling trays or a little seedbed, about four to six weeks before they have to be transplanted into the garden, where they like to grow in full sun – in the still hot days, but already cool nights of late autumn. Rather make successive small sowings, or use different varieties of seed, with different maturity rates, to ensure a constant supply. You can also buy punnets of strong seedlings at your local nursery.
Apart from the big old market cabbages like “Drumhead”, which requires about 120 days to mature, one can also go for red cabbage (actually richer in nutritional value) or baby cabbage varieties, which will be ready for harvesting in about 50 to 65 days – the latter two are a better choice for small gardens with limited space.
*More tips from Life is a Garden here