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29 Jul 2019

Best vegetables to grow for beginners

You don’t need a green thumb or large space to grow veggies at home or on your balcony. Vegetables are some of the easiest plants to grow – all you need is good soil, containers, drainage, fertilisers and of course sunshine!

Growing your own plants and veggies can be extremely rewarding (especially as an activity to do with your children), will save you money, and most importantly are good for your soul, mind, health and diet.

Our self-pronounced plant geek, Jimmy Turner, says to grow any good plants and vegetables you have to set up for yourself up for success. To get started you will need…
 
  • Good soil: The best soil mix for vegetable gardens is organic that includes compost, manure, rock dust and mulch. Qualities to look for in a good soil is good fertility and texture. When creating the best organic soil mix for a vegetable garden, determination of soil pH is essential before adding any soil amendments. A slightly acid pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is optimal to grow most vegetables. Adding one or more types of organic matter helps create the healthiest soil to support vegetable growth and development.
  • Container or earth: There are many different ways to plant your veggies – garden beds, plots in the ground, planters, pots, vertical gardens and more. Whatever space you have you can grow veggies. Just remember if you are growing in a container you must have holes in bottom of each – up to four holes is good. No plants like soggy bottoms!
  • Food: Plants like us need food. Once your vegetables are established you should keep them well fed with fertiliser. You can buy it, or you can make your own compost at home. The best type of fertiliser to feed them is organic so you know what is growing your food. Jimmy’s favourite is Eco-Aminogro a liquid fertiliser. If you are not fussed and want non-organic you can look at your local nursery recommended for vegetables. Working compost and a little bit of pelletised manure-based fertiliser through the soil, followed by mulch, to a depth of about 5-7 cm about two weeks out from planting. Your plants will thank you.
  • Sunshine: How much sunlight your plants are able to get during the day will determine what you can plant. No plants like shade too much, veggies prefer to be in full sun but there are some varieties that like to grow in partial shade. Remember to read up on your vegetable on choice and take what they like into consideration before planting.
Seeds are a great way to start your vegetable garden
 

Did you know? The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney is the site of Australia’s first European farm. In 1788, ‘9 acres in Corn’ were planted near the Governor’s House. The site overlooked an area distinguished by the name ‘Farm Cove’. The first crops were planted out of season, the soil quality was poor and rats raided the patch.

Easiest vegetables to grow

Whether you are a plant enthusiast or novice beginner here are the top vegetables to plant that require the least amount of time, attention or effort. But with a little TLC will provide you with an abundance of fresh produce that is healthy for you and your hip pocket.

Leafy greens 

Lettuce growing in vegetable garden

Leafy greens are some of the most versatile and healthiest veggies for you. There is a huge range to choose from including lettuce, kale, silver beet, rocket, spinach and more.

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is traditionally a cool season veggie but it can grow all year round. Plan to add to your garden in spring or autumn. Lettuce seedlings can actually handle a little bit of frost too. Loose leaf varieties grow better in warmer weather conditions. Pick and eat varieties are the best to grow at home. Jimmy’s favourite variety is the heritage variety ‘Australian Yellow’, fast growing, attractive and tastes amazing.

Available as seedlings, but also germinates readily from seed. Sprinkle in some seed at any time of year and this quick growing vegetable will be ready in weeks. In full heat of summer it is recommend to plant your seedlings in partially shaded spots in your patch or pot. You could plant beans or sweet corn around them to provide some shade as they grow for the hotter months.

Greens need well-drained soil with loads of organic matter or compost and some mulch. Seedlings will benefit if you prepare your soil about two weeks from planting.

Top tip: Water well and keep moist to prevent bitter flavour. Also, if you grow leaf lettuce – when harvesting pull off the bottom leaves instead of cutting the whole thing and the plant will keep growing for you!

Harvest time

2-3 months (depending on type)

Ideal temperatures

All year round depending on variety

Planting time

Spring and autumn

Spacing

6-18 inches (depending on type)

Germination time

2-15 days

Light preference

Sun or partial shade

Best companion

Root vegetables

Biggest pest

Snails! Spread coffee around your lettuce or set up a beer trap to discourage snails and slugs.


Root vegetables: Radishes, turnips and carrots

Root vegetables

Nothing grows faster than radishes or turnips! Want a quick success and to feel like a master gardener? Then just plop a few radish or turnips seeds in a pot and within weeks you can see the little roots start to swell. Carrots are best planted in late summer to early autumn and grown over winter.

Top tip: Don’t throw the tops away, they are edible too and make a great pesto or cooked greens. Only takes a few minutes to serve them up.

Harvest time

2-3 months (depending on type), best time of day is early morning when they are still cold and dewy

Ideal temperatures

All year round

Planting time

anytime for radishes and turnips, carrots are best in late summer to early autumn

Spacing

6-18 inches (depending on type)

Germination time

2-15 days

Light preference

Full sun

Best companion

Keep the area open around these as they like lots of sun to build up larger roots

Biggest pest

Snails! Spread coffee around your lettuce or set up a beer trap to discourage snails and slugs.


Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Cucumbers love the heat of summer and resent cool wet weather. They like adequate drainage and fertile soil. There are two main types of cucumbers to grow for slicing and pickling. Slicing types are long and usually grow to 15-20 cms while pickling types are shorter 7-10 cm.

Top tip: Cucumbers are especially easy to grow but need a trellis or strings to climb on. Great for adding instant shade to your summer patio while adding some crunch to your salads.

Harvest time

65-80 days (depending on type)

Ideal temperatures

Above 18 degrees

Planting time

Spring to mid-summer

Spacing

6-18 inches (depending on type)

Germination time

3-15 days

Light preference

Full sun

Best companion

No companions for this one as the cucumbers will cover and smother their neighbours

Biggest pest

Snails! Spread coffee around your lettuce or set up a beer trap to discourage snails and slugs.


Broccoli

Broccoli

Broccoli is a great vegetable to cultivate during the cooler months. Only a few generations ago it was considered an exotic Italian vegetable but today is a mainstream vegetable and diet staple for many. Broccoli is best sown in summer or autumn. Seed are best sown in starter pots or trays then transferred when they are about 7 cm. 

Top tip: Broccoli is susceptible to a soil-borne problem called club root, which causes plants to wilt on hot days, so make sure you plant in a different plant or pot each year to reduce this from happening.

Harvest time

16-20 weeks

Ideal temperatures

Best planted in soil temperatures between 7 and 30 degrees

Planting time

October to November and March to April

Spacing

12-18 inches (depending on type)

Germination time

5-15 days

Light preference

Sun

Best companion

Broccoli is  bit of a space taker so best to leave these to a container by themselves.

Biggest pest

Caterpillars! Look for the organic product Dipel powder which can be mixed water. 


Peas/Snow Peas

Peas

Peas are easy to grow and a great first time plant for kids or novice green thumbs. Easy to grow anytime of year except summer. They hate the hot weather. Best planted at the start of spring there are three varieties of peas that will suit your garden and cooking needs - they are sweet peas (inedible pods), snow peas (edible flat pods with small peas inside and snap peas (edible pods with full-size peas inside). They are a great companion plant for other veggies.

Top tip: If your plant looks a bit too big or if you want something new to try snap off some of the new shoots for a salad or stir fry. They are all the rage in the culinary world now and guess what? They taste just like fresh peas. 

Harvest time 65-80 days (depending on type)
Ideal temperatures Cool weather crop so only above 13 degrees and below 21
Planting time April to September
Spacing 6-18 inches (depending on type)
Germination time 2-15 days
Light preference Sun
Best companion A trellis or strings. Great to cover your cool season replacement for where you had cucumbers in summer.

Biggest pest

Mildew. Keep plants evenly moist and don’t let them wilt.


Strawberries

Strawberries

Everyone wants to grow their own strawberries, and nothing is more deliscious than one straight from your patio or backyard. That is if you can beat the possums, cockatoos, slugs and your neighbours to them first.

Top tip: Strawberries are quite attractive plants and actually make great hanging baskets or balcony plants. Make sure when purchasing plants that they are listed as “Everbearing” this way you will get a longer period of production.

Harvest time

Early spring and autumn peaks with a few throughout summer.

Ideal temperatures

Any

Planting time

Anytime of year

Spacing

6

Germination time

Best planted as young plants

Light preference

Sun or partial shade

Best companion

Great in containers with flowering plants

Biggest pest

Snails and slugs! Spread coffee around your lettuce or set up a beer trap to discourage snails and slugs.

 
Other suitable veggies, especially to plant and grow at this time of year in NSW, includes Mustard Greens, Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Rocket, Peas, Silverbeet, Beets, Potatoes, and Spinach.



We hope that you find the above guide and tips useful. Share your gardening successes with us on social by tagging us on Twitter and Instagram with @rbgsydney #rbgsydney

Happy growing!

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