Growing your own food - and making ends meet

Some of the easiest vegetables to grow can greatly reduce your family’s food costs. Courgettes are probably the easiest and most versatile, and the plants are stunning enough to belong in a tropical garden. The plants are deep green, bushy and don’t need much space. They are not prone to insect attack. Three or four plants will be enough to provide a constant supply from late spring to early winter. Of the other squash family, gem squash rather than butternuts will give you a better yield for the space they occupy. They are both sprawlers and gem squash will rampantly climb over anything in its path. I have only one plant with a six meter main stem, that has produced over 30 large fruits and is still budding profusely. If you want to impress, grow some patty pans – they look so pretty you’ll want to put out your first produce on display rather than eat them! Like us, plants need food. Anything planted in a patch of dead sand is going to be a disappointment. Rather start with a small area and dig in lots of ‘food’ for your plants. This can include store bought compost and manure, any old dry leaves you’ve swept up and kitchen scraps you may have attempted to compost, e.g. tea bags, egg shells and peels. Then wet down the whole lot thoroughly, level the area, cover it with newspaper, and wet it down again, very thoroughly. Make holes in the newspaper where you plant your seeds/seedlings. The newspaper will have decomposed by the time your plants are spent, and you will save yourself backbreaking weeding, kept your plants’ roots nice and cool, and provided a “ceiling” for the earthworms and other organisms to work their magic in breaking down the food and making it accessible to your plants. Once you have planted your seeds or seedlings, cover the newspaper with a thin layer of soil or mulch. It is always wise to plant at least twice as many seeds as the number of plants you wish to have. That way you won’t be disappointed when some of your plants get eaten by other hungry creatures. Some plants require protection from snails and other night creatures when they are young, especially green beans. You will come out in the morning to find your precious babies gone. I use upturned glass jars overnight, just until the third and fourth leaves have grown, by which stage the plants have some resistance of their own. Once you have successfully grown some pesticide free vegetables and become hooked on their delicious flavours, you will want to look for more exciting veggies and herbs to grow. Take some seeds out of one of your sexy Woollies baby egg-shaped salad tomatoes and plant them in some sand. Transplant the strongest seedlings into a couple of big pots or buckets filled with a rich compost/potting soil mix and build a tall climbing structure over them. Place a couple of bricks under your pots for drainage and to discourage climbing pests. Place a basil plant or two in each pot if you can. They are good companions in the garden and on the table. Leafy green vegetables are also super easy to grow. Spinach plants will last a couple of years before going to seed. If you spread your picking over, say, six to ten plants, the leaves will be replenished by the next time to go out to pick. This means never having to throw away wilted leaves as you only pick the leaves when you’re ready to use them. Rocket is another leafy green that grows easily and many types of lettuce are available in seeds or seedling trays, and the same principle applies. Whatever you do, don’t give up, as you will constantly be learning new tricks from other growers and from your own mistakes, and will enjoy long term health benefits from the nutrition provided from your own back yard.