SOARING vegetable costs are encouraging more and more of us to grow our own.
Home growns win on taste by a country mile - think corn on the cob, tomatoes, broad beans - and can be enjoyed at their peak of ripeness.
It's far more rewarding to eat something you've produced yourself rather than bought, at increasingly heinous cost, in a shop.
Raising your own vegetables is a wonderful way of getting into gardening, especially when you include children: you can't help but be happy when you're outdoors and occupied, and gardening helps both bodily and mental health. You sleep better too.
Late winter is the perfect time to lay out a kitchen garden but think a few things through before you start digging. Be realistic about what's involved, especially time.
Vegetables need watering every day, twice in hot weather. Most vegetables are at least 90 per cent water, even the starchy potato is 80pc and carrots can be up to 95pc (humans by comparison are a mere 60pc water).
You need to weed, fertilise, repel predators and harvest your lovely crop, and home growns also need more kitchen preparation time than grocery bought: more rinsing or scrubbing, and more chopping to remove the bits you don't eat, though these make great compost.
Allow half an hour a day and if you haven't grown vegies before, please, keep it simple.
Select a site in full sun all day, that's near a tap, this is vital, and on a slope to help drainage - vegies hate wet feet.
You'll need a trellis for climbing plants - a piece of weld mesh, attached firmly to a couple of star posts should do it.
The better your soil, the better your crops, whatever you're growing.
Dig in as much humus as you can lay your hands on, especially compost and manure - buy a bag of compost if necessary.
Most vegies like alkaline soil, exceptions being potatoes, sweet potatoes, radishes and tomatoes which prefer slightly acid conditions.
You may need to add lime which lasts a year, or dolomite which costs more but lasts three.
When considering what to grow, start with what you most enjoy eating.
Your local climate - coast, highland, inland - comes into this obviously but thanks to the Aussie sunshine, even cold climate gardeners can grow tropical eggplants, tomatoes and capsicums if we plant them out after the last frost.
Don't worry about seeds at this stage, they need a whole extra layer of props and preparation - start with punnets. Your local garden centre will carry what's in season and local markets are another excellent source of supply and advice.
Leafy greens for salads, beetroot - yummy roasted and you can eat the leaves - and snow peas can be planted now and are pretty well fail safe.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic I interviewed three gardeners, two of them new to gardening (see The Land, October 8, 2020), including a teenage schoolboy, a uni student and a retiree. All three remain more committed than ever. Vegie gardening is so much more than saving dollars, it's a way of life.
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