Now that we’re well into spring and summer is not too far away, our home and garden tutor Mark Dymiotis has some tips for planting your veggie garden.
Having advocated for and practised vegetable growing for a number of years (for their health, environmental and food budget benefits) it is pleasing to see the current renewed interest in such gardens. The following tips could be helpful to newcomers.
- Planting in the ground is preferable to planting in pots – it saves water and allows for access to more nutrients.
- If you are privileged to have virgin soil, i.e. soil which hasn’t been cultivated for a number of years, use it. The results will be very rewarding.
- Although the weather is warming up, avoid planting You will be looking after your plants for longer without much benefit. An old Melbourne tradition suggests planting on Melbourne Cup day. The warmer weather and longer daylight hours will compensate for later planting. The equivalent time for Greeks is Saint Demetrious day, i.e. 26 October. (With the recent weather warming, it might be advisable to go with the Greeks.)
- Keep the garden area clean to protect against snails, slugs and insects creating nesting cavities.
- Plant seeds to a depth about twice their size. Always plant seeds and seedlings in wet, but not soggy, newly dug soil. Water seedlings well before and after planting – it helps the plants to recover from transplant shock.
- For healthier and easy to manage crops, space them well.
- Make a small recess around each seedling so that the water reaches the roots quickly in the first few days after transplanting.
- Avoid planting on days overs 25°C. If you do so, provide a temporary cover to protect the young plants from the hot sun for the first 3-4 days.
- For early plantings, take advantage of areas next to north facing walls, especially brick walls.
- Practice successive planting of vegetables for lengthier availability.
- Stake tall varieties of tomatoes (called indeterminate), prune them regularly and do not allow the creation of more than two or three leaders. Tie them onto the stakes regularly. Apply a clean mulch around bushy tomatoes (called determinate). As tomatoes are deep rooted, water them less often but give them more water each time you water.
- For quick, efficient and easier watering, plant vegetables in or on the hills of furrows. Tie a sock or a rag at the end of the hose and water by dragging the hose along the bottom of the furrow.
- The addition of compost in the furrow will provide extra nutrients to the plants and act as a mulch.
- On very hot days (over 35°C) protect your plants with shade cloths or sprinkle them briefly but regularly with a fine spray of water every 2 or 3 hours. Avoid doing so on humid days.
- Late in the season harvest shiny green tomatoes and store them in a cool dark place for longer storage and good flavour. Green tomatoes stored in a sunny place will mature quickly on the outside but will remain green and tasteless inside.
Extra growing tips
- Home-grown vegetables, together with plant foods, are the pillars of the healthy and pro-environmental Mediterranean diet. The traditional summer salads using home grown vegetables are exceptionally delicious.
- Spring and summer is a good time to grow your own bread starter and to improve your knowhow for making the historic bread (the staff of life) – called sourdough bread
- There are myths about two key flavouring foods of the Mediterranean diet – olives and olive oil. Learn about the simple and easy ways to preserve olives naturally and how to choose and use olive oil for its superb flavours and nutritional benefits.