Plant a food garden for summer
Now is the time to grow your own vegetables and herbs, using organic mulches to nourish the soil
SUMMER has arrived, and November is a great time to plant a food garden filled with vegetables and herbs. Growing your own vegetables, salads and herbs will give you the satisfaction of harvesting fresh produce. It also ensures that your family have access to enough fresh, nutritious food to lead active and healthy lives.
There are two routes to success: sow seeds or buy seedlings from your local garden centre.
All the information you need is on the seed packet – including the time to plant, the depth of the seeds and spacing between seeds. Buying seedlings will give your garden a head-start, as the plants are already 5cm high, which means you will be able to harvest vegetables quicker.
Building raised beds filled with potting soil and compost is the ultimate way to create a fabulous vegetable garden. However, a bed of composted soil will still give you a season of fabulous food. In both cases, the key to success is plenty of sun and access to water.
Choose a place where vegetables will receive at least five hours of sun a day. Fence the vegetable garden if you have large dogs – you can also use the fence to grow climbing peas and beans.
A metre width is practical for beds, so there is access from both sides for sowing, weeding and harvesting. Prepare the ground by forking over the area, 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.
Root crops and legumes (beans, peas) grow best when seeds are sown directly into their permanent position. Planting in single or wide rows makes identifying weeds easier.
Mark rows with stretched string, then make a furrow on this line to the correct depth recommended on the seed packet.
Sow seed sparingly, cover with a thin layer of soil, and press down firmly before watering. It helps to sow fine seed more evenly if a teaspoon of the seed is mixed with a cup of sand or meal.
Thin out seedlings to allow those left to develop into strong, healthy plants. To avoid washing away seed, use a watering can with a fine rose. Protect seeds by covering with bird-proof netting, and keep the soil moist but not wet.
It makes sense to sow seed at intervals rather than have too many vegetables maturing at the same time. Save ground space by growing cucumbers, courgettes, tomatoes and runner beans vertically on wigwams and trellises.
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.
The potential of vegetables as temporary fillers in the flower garden is also often overlooked. Lime-green or red frilly-leafed lettuces are ornamental enough to fill any gap in the front of a border. Cabbages can also be used as temporary fillers in a flower border; those with red-purple leaves will accentuate a red border, while bluegreen cabbages will introduce a contrast in form and texture with white flowers.
There are many choices depending on your taste – colourful red and yellow tomatoes, sweet peppers in red, yellow and green, and lettuces with leaves that are frilly or plain, and green, rose or deep red in colour. Swiss chard has a milder flavour than spinach, “Ruby” has red stems and “Bright Lights” has coloured stems of yellow, apricot, pink and red that are so decorative they are often grown in the flower garden.
Herbs add texture and fragrance to a garden, and flavour and interest to food. A practical way of growing herbs is in a formal herb garden with beds dissected by paths, but herbs are also attractive in flower borders where they add textural interest and fragrance.
Thyme is ideal for filling gaps between stepping-stones. Leaves are used for flavouring poultry, vegetables, and cheese and egg dishes. Chives make a dainty edging, especially when the papery mauve flower heads appear.
Balconies and window boxes provide easy access to culinary herbs, as do containers and hanging baskets near the kitchen door.
Herbs are useful in the vegetable garden where they help discourage pests. Find space for pots of basil, thyme, coriander and sage. These decorative and aromatic herbs are ideal for a sunny patio.
A rose garden can look uninteresting between flushes, but retains interest if under-planted with aromatic herbs such as sage, origanum, scented geraniums (pelargoniums) and dianthus. Grow strongly scented garlic chives, thyme and lavender as companions with roses to discourage aphids.
GOING GREEN: A view across lettuce, spinach and cabbage seedlings growing in a food garden composed entirely of raised beds at South African jeweller Christopher Grieg’s home in Beechwood Gardens, Joburg.
HEALTHY OPTION: Sow a few cabbages every few weeks so they mature at different times.
MELLOW YELLOW: Yellow peppers are now the ultimate in designer vegetables.
WATER-WISE: Tomatoes thrive in full sun, but need lots of water.