1) Radishes – If you think you don’t like them, that’s probably because you’ve only ever tasted the half-soft ones that have been hanging around the supermarket for a week before you get to them. Freshly harvested, thinly sliced radishes are the making of a salad – peppery, crisp and with great colour. Best of all, they’re practically idiot-proof and grow really quickly (you should have your first crop in about three weeks), making them ideal if you’ve got kids or you’re just impatient. Sow every 10 days or so and you have a continuous supply. Water regularly or they can become woody and too peppery.
2) Rocket, mixed leaves – One tray of mixed-leaf seedlings from your local garden centre, planted out, will keep you in fresh salads for weeks. Rocket will grow like a weed again and again, and you should have your first crop in a month or so.
3) Courgettes/baby marrows – Perfect for growing in pots, these are beautiful plants with lush green leaves and very pretty, edible yellow flowers. They require little care other than watering and grow easily from seed. The more you cut, the more produce you get and three or four plants should keep a family happy for six months or more.
4) Tomatoes – everyone’s favourite grow-your-own, these grow easily in pots or in the ground, so treat yourself to a good few plants, four or more if you have room. If you’re starting out, go with seedling trays from your local nursery – growing from seed can be time-consuming, although you might find you’ve got a better choice in terms of varietals. From Cherry toms to “Moneymaker”, “Heinz” and yellow varieties, they’re perfect for the “something on the plate each day” gardener – and what you can’t eat fresh you’ll have for months afterwards in sauces and soups.
5) Mixed herbs – again, the container-lover’s friend. Try basil, parsely, sage, rosemary and thyme and you’ll never need to buy another pillow pack at the supermarket again. Basil makes a good “companion plant” for tomatoes, both in the ground and on your plate, so consider growing some alongside your tomatoes in the same pot. If you want to try your hand at mint, it grows readily – which is part of the problem; it takes off like wildfire so keep it in pots or you’ll be overrun!
6) Fennel – probably the most under-appreciated herb/vegetable of them all, and it’s really easy to grow. Apart from tasting fantastic (recipes to come), it looks beautiful and offers a natural, organic pest deterrent that attracts the insects that help keep caterpillars and aphids at bay. Go for Florence Fennel – fast growing with regular watering and does just as well in a pot as in the ground. If you have the space, treat yourself to 4-6 of them – they’re worth it. Again, sow yourself or go the seedling tray route.
Try all of the above and you’ll be well-set for the (South African) summer. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post tips specific to each of the vegetables I grow as well as advice on things like compost, container sizes, care and what-not.
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