Imagine a garden filled to bursting with sweet ripe fruits and crisp fresh vegetables. Imagine deciding what to cook for dinner by checking your veggie patch to see what’s in abundance.
While we’re not quite ready to get rid of the supermarkets yet, Australians are embracing home grown produce in greater numbers than ever before. If you want to join them, you’ll need to get busy now before the summer harvest arrives.
You can plant almost every vegetable and herb in spring. So where do you start?
Your choices will depend on the climate in your part of the country and how much space you have. Don’t forget to consult your tastebuds, too. There’s no point growing a lush forest of kale if your kids won’t touch their greens.
Here are some suggestions for how to decide what to plant.
Plant things that are expensive to buy
To get more bang for your gardening buck, choose plants that cost more in the shops. Brown onions are cheap, while shallots or spring onions are pricier. Growing cherry tomatoes instead of larger varieties can bring significant savings. Berries, which are easy to grow but fiddly to harvest, also offer an outsized return.
Plant things that are harder to find
Backyard gardening is ideal for preserving heirloom varieties and exploring new varieties. Supermarkets and green grocers favour varietals that can stand up to transportation and still look good on the shelves. That choice often comes at the cost of flavour and diversity.
Look for heirloom tomatoes, beans, carrots and more. Or get international with mizuna (Japanese mustard greens), Chinese red noodle bean or Thai yellow eggplant.
You can buy these as seedlings or from seed catalogues. Give yourself some time to browse: you might be surprised at just how many options there are that you won’t find in the shops.
Plant things that taste better fresh
Every vegetable tastes better when newly harvested. But some lose flavour or texture faster than others. Root vegetables, like potatoes or pumpkin, can be stored in a cool dry spot for months and still be delicious with a roast. Others, like asparagus or corn, decline in quality faster.
Corn is a particular revelation. As soon as it’s picked, the sugars in the kernels start turning to starch. Eat it within the first hour of picking it and it’s a completely different vegetable: sweeter and juicier by far.
Other produce that shines when newly picked include peas, strawberries and most herbs. Many gardeners swear by homegrown eggplant, which doesn’t have the bitterness of shop-bought, as well as lettuces and other leafy greens.
Whatever you choose, now is the time to get out there and get started. Choose a patch of soil that gets between six and eight hours of sun a day. If you have a very shady garden, you might need to stick to leafy greens that can cope with less sun. Turn it over with rich manures and compost, and ensure good drainage. Seaweed or fish-based solutions are potent additions to give your new seedlings a boost.
If you’re tight on space, try beans, peas, spring onions, rocket and radishes. Climbing crops are ideal, with cherry tomatoes being a long time favourite. Many vegetables are also available in dwarf varieties.
More space means more options. Try pumpkin, potatoes, leeks and full size tomatoes. A herb garden makes a nice accompaniment and adds flavour to meals.
Whatever you plant, you can be sure you’re on track for the tastiest summer yet!