First, don’t panic. There’s no shortage of food
As alarming as it has been to see bare shelves in the supermarket, food producers and reports confirm there’s plenty of food to go around. Unfortunately, news of the coronavirus has scared us into panic-buying and hoarding. Sometimes we can’t find the basic foods we want, such as pantry staples like flour and rice. Then again, some of us are avoiding going into the stores at all, unsure how to protect ourselves from this invisible enemy.
All this has led to a bump in buying seeds and plants and searching for gardening tips online, so we can grow our own foods at home. The good news is that many fruits and veggies are easy to grow, even for beginners, and they’ll thrive whether you’re gardening in a backyard plot or in containers on your patio, porch or apartment balcony.
Grow beans in a snap
You might be surprised to know you don’t need a big garden to grow green beans. Bush beans are space-savers, but you can also grow beans vertically, by choosing pole varieties and training their vines onto a trellis, fence, or other support.
Full sun, regular waterings and moderately rich soil will pay off in a plentiful harvest, and beans don’t need much fertiliser, although they’ll benefit from a side-dressing of compost in mid-season if you didn’t work a lot of compost into the soil before you planted. Check your seed packet to know approximately when your variety will be ready to harvest, and keep the plants picked so they’ll keep producing. Freeze your green beans to enjoy them all year long.
Plant prolific zucchinis
Zucchinis have a reputation for being so easy to grow, and so prolific, gardeners joke about having to leave their extras on a neighbour’s doorstep, ring the bell, and run away. Just one plant can yield 2.5-4.5kg of zucchinis in a single growing season. Plant their seeds directly in your garden or a large container.
They need full sun and moist, easily-draining soil amended with compost. Give them a couple of centimetres of water each week, if there’s no rain, and harvest when the fruits are small (botanically speaking, zucchinis are fruits) and the skins are tender. You can freeze zucchinis or bake them into breads, slice them into strips for pasta, grate them for fritters or chop them into vegetable chillis. They’re also delicious when you know how to roast vegetables until they’re crispy and caramelised.
Raise crunchy radishes
Many gardeners love fresh radishes for that crunch that you get when you bite into them – but these simple root veggies are good for more than eating. Because the seeds sprout quickly – often within a week – you can use them in the garden to mark the rows of other crops that don’t come up as fast.
Simply sow the seeds outdoors about 1-2cm deep as the temperature cools. Wait ten days and plant again for a continuous crop. They’ll thrive in a sunny spot that has loose soil amended with organic matter. Thin the seedlings to 5cm apart, so their roots won’t be crowded, and keep the plants evenly moist. Some varieties are ready to harvest just three weeks after planting.
Like zucchini, cucumbers are prolific and easy to grow. Just give them a spot with moist, fertile soil and lots of sunshine. Start the seeds a couple of centimetres deep into the ground. They’ll sprout in a few days. Keep them happy with regular waterings and, if you didn’t work a lot of organic matter into the soil before you planted, side-dress them with a balanced, soluble fertiliser when the fruits set. The cucumbers are ready to harvest when they’re still small and the skins are tender.
To keep a steady supply for the table, make successive plantings. If you’re short on space, train vining cucumber varieties onto a support like a fence or trellis, or plant a bush variety in a container or raised bed. Use your cukes in salsas, salads, gazpacho and smoothies or turn them into pickles.
Crack out some capsicum
Capsicums thrive in sunny climes, so make sure they have a warm, sunny spot not prone to wind or frost. They can also be grown in pots. Capsicums like a deep, warm, well draining soil, mulch and room to breathe, so leave about 50–60cm between your capsicums when planting out. Prepare the soil a month before planting by throwing in some fertiliser, then mulch.
Plant tasty tomatoes
The hardest thing about growing tomatoes might be choosing your favourite kind. There are cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, heirlooms with rich flavours, Romas for stews, pasta and sauces, and hearty beefsteaks. Gardeners in cool regions may want to start with transplants to save time over growing tomatoes from seeds.
The plants need full sun and soil that drains easily. For best results, your soil should contain lots of compost and be slightly acidic, with a pH of 6.2 to 6.8. As the plants grow, apply a fertiliser recommended for tomatoes as directed on the label. This raised garden bed with an automatic watering system makes it easy to grow compact or patio-type tomatoes, even in a small space.
Sow lettuce for salads
Lettuces are great for beginning gardeners. They grow fast, take full sun but tolerate some shade, and can be tucked between other fruits and veggies or into containers. They’re also available in lots of tasty, colourful varieties. If you don’t have an ideal garden spot – for example, your soil contains a lot of clay or rocks – use a raised bed instead. Add good quality planting soil, you won’t have to dig.
The loose soil will also make it easy to pluck any weeds that pop up. Sow your lettuce seeds in early autumn or spring and keep the plants watered regularly. Lettuce started in spring will last until the summer heat arrives and autumn-sown lettuce will grow until a killing frost. Harvest the outermost leaves first but don’t pull up the plants, so they can keep producing.
Set out onions
Make a little hole in the ground, tuck in a bare-root onion seedling, and stand back. In two or three weeks, the small plants will be ready to pull and use as green onions, or you can wait until the bulbs are bigger and then harvest them. Mature onions will let you know they’re ready when their tops turn yellow and bend over.
Just brush off the soil and put the onions, with the tops still attached, in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place to cure for a week to 10 days. Then remove the top foliage and roots and store the onions in a cool, airy place until you’re ready to use them. Slice and fry them for onion rings, chop them for salsas and salads, or grill, roast or pickle them. Chopped or sliced onions can be refrigerated in sealed containers for seven to 10 days.
Fill a windowsill with herbs
During a quarantine, a herb garden makes a thoughtful gift for a housebound friend or a fun and easy growing project you can enjoy without leaving home. Although the types of herbs you’ll want to include may vary, good choices include basil to make into pesto, mint to steep for tea or dill to add flavour to homemade pickles. So many herbs are easy to grow, you may not want to stop.
Grow a bagful of potatoes
Humble, nutritious potatoes are a great choice for beginning gardeners, especially when you use good potting soil and compost. Start with seed potatoes that haven’t been treated to resist sprouting. Cut them into chunks with two eyes per chunk and let them dry overnight before planting them. Then give them full sun and regular water.
Add more soil to the bag when the plants are about 8 inches tall, leaving the top set of leaves uncovered. Add more soil when the plants grow another 8 inches tall and repeat this process until the bag is full. When the foliage turns yellow, stop watering and wait about a week before you dig up the potatoes with your gloved hands. Many grow bags are reusable and available in different sizes.
Plant a bushel of peas
There are lots of delightful types of peas. Choose disease-resistant varieties, and you won’t need to do much more than plant them, water regularly and harvest them. Sow the peas in wide rows, covering them with an inch of soil and planting 5cm deep. Peas grow well during the cooler months but the flowers can be damaged by frost so, in very cold areas, wait until spring to sow.
They don’t usually need fertiliser, but they do need a deep, weekly watering if rain is scarce. For best results, grow your peas, including dwarf varieties, on a trellis or other support. Read your seed packet to know when to harvest, and pick often, so the plants will keep producing. Fresh peas have the best taste, but you can freeze or dry them to use later.
Grow chillies for fiery flavour
You’ve heard that variety is the spice of life – well, so are jalapenos, habaneros and other spicy chillies. The seeds can be sown from August to December in temperate areas and from September to mid-November only in cold climates. They are also available as seedlings. Sow seeds 6mm deep in punnets, gently pricking out the seedlings and transferring them to 100mm pots, giving them a sunny position. Plant them in the garden in a sheltered spot in full sun when they are 150mm high. The soil should be free-draining and enriched with either compost, aged cow manure or Yates Dynamic Lifter before planting.
Use scissors to snip off your chillies when they’re the size you want. Chillies don’t just add heat and flavour to your foods. They also contain capsaicin, which is thought to act as an antioxidant to help fight infection and prevent some types of heart disease.