It’s official: winter is over; time to harness nature’s renewed energy (and our own) by starting the spring veggie garden.
Growing vegetables might be a practice that is as old as the hills, but as veggie gardeners we love to try something new. The place to look is RAW seeds which opts for heirloom and non-GMO varieties not usually seen on seed racks.
The varieties have mostly been selected for container gardens or small space growing such as on the balcony, patio or in a sunny corner where you can squeeze in a pot.
- Don’t ignore… the instructions on the back of the seed packet before sowing. It gives depth of sowing, spacing, time to harvest, sun or shade requirements and what time of the year is best for sowing. All you need to know!
- Prepare in advance.. If you are sowing directly into the soil. Dig in compost and rake level, removing sticks and stones and break down clumps of soil. Water well.
- Seed trays are a good idea …for crops like tomatoes as well as lettuce which has very fine seed. Use a germination mix and dampen it with a liquid fertiliser like Margaret Roberts Organic Supercharger. Sow while the soil is still damp.
- Don’t let the soil dry out during germination. Use a spray bottle for seed trays and a watering can with a fine rose head for seed beds, so as not to wash away the seed.
- Thin out veggies according to the recommended spacing. Keep the strongest seedling.
Best for banting
Spaghetti squash is the closest you’ll get to gluten free pasta and with minimal calories. This heirloom squash from China starts off green and turns golden yellow when ripe, about 100 days from planting. It can be harvested when the seeds are mature and the skin has hardened.
Boil the entire squash for 20 minutes, then cut it open, remove the seeds and fluff out the flesh with a fork. The long, translucent strings have a mild squash flavour and a slight crunch. Like pasta it blends with meat, cream or tomato sauces and can be tossed with pesto.
Spaghetti squash needs sun, fertile soil, regular watering and space to grow. Sow seed directly into the soil spacing plants 60cm apart. Plants spread up to 1.5m but can be grown up a trellis or along a fence. It has self-clinging tendrils. Sow a couple of plants for good pollination.
Good to know: Keep the soil consistently moist during the growing season. Avoid wetting the leaves if you want to prevent mildew problems. Water around the base.
‘Tom Thumb’ garden peas are a dwarf bush variety, ideal for container gardening or for small sunny beds. Plants grow 30cm high and 10cm wide, which means that you can plant them 10cm apart along a mini trellis. Pods are best when harvested young, within 50 days from germination. The peas are sweet and crunchy.
Like all garden peas, ‘Tom Thumb’ grows best with four to six hours of sun, and fertile soil that contains well-rotted compost and an organic fertiliser. Water well during their growing season and fertilise once a month.
Intrigue the family with a mix of snackable cherry tomatoes or larger heirloom tomatoes in different colours, with different flavours, all of them deliciously sweet.
The ‘Rainbow Mix’ of cherry tomatoes consists of red, yellow, orange, pink, white, green, brown and bi-colour tomatoes that make snacks, salads and meals a lot more fun.
Plants are indeterminate (vining) and should be spaced 45cm apart as they grow up to 1.2m and need to be staked. The first fruits are pickable within 70 to 90 days. Pick every day or two for a maximum yield.
The heirloom ‘Rainbow Mix’ is a collection of beefsteak tomatoes in a range of colours including the traditional red, purple, green, yellow and orange. The flavours range from mild to sweet and tangy. Space plants 60cm apart and stake. They also grow 1.2m and the first fruit are ready for picking within 80 to 100 days. Because heirloom tomatoes are fragile and bruise easily, they should be used as soon as they ripen.
You are right, basil is not a vegetable but what better companion plant for a veggie garden and especially for tomatoes. In case you haven’t been let into the secret, tomatoes taste better and are healthier when planted next to basil. The two are also delicious when eaten together too.
But why plant only Sweet Basil (Basilicum Ocimum) when you can plant it with a mix of Genovese, Corsican, Lemon and Cinnamon basil. These and other basil varieties are included in the ‘Basil Culinary Blend’.
Genovese is the pesto basil, lemon basil complements fish and chicken while Corsican basil adds a slightly sweet and spicy flavour to dishes. Cinnamon basil is used for baking, in ice cream, as a herb tea and for infused water.
Basil grows in sun or semi-shade. Seed takes 10 to 20 days to germinate and spacing should be 40cm apart. Plants grow up to 60cm. Pinch off the tips to encourage them to bush and pick the leaves once the plants are established.
Gardeners are spoilt for choice when it comes to lettuce varieties. The ‘Gourmet Salad Blend’ makes it easy because it is a mix of five loose leaf varieties, ranging from green to red and from ruffled leaves to oak leaf. Sow this mix every ten days for a constant supply of fresh salad leaves throughout the season. Space plants 15 cm apart, in fertile soil and keep the soil consistently moist. The first leaves can be picked within 60 to 70 days.
Other mixes include ‘Meschlun Mix’ and ‘Spicy Meschlun Mix’ that are blends of lettuce and herbs to provide a mix of flavours from tangy to sweet, for salads and as a side for mains. They are usually used as baby salad leaves and can be picked within 35 to 40 days.
‘Red Sails’ is a heat tolerant lettuce that is especially good for our hot summers. It is a beautiful lettuce with bright red tips, shading into light maroon and deepening into green toward the base. The leaves are soft and have a buttery flavour. It can be picked at baby leaf stage, as larger individual leaves or as a full size lettuce. Space plants 20cm as they have a spread of 35cm.
TEXT: Alice Coetzee