Plant up a food garden

There is nothing more satisfying than harvesting and eating fresh vegetables and herbs from your garden.

Food gardens are in fashion. From schools to private gardens, gardeners are growing their own food across the world. Garden centres report that the sale of vegetable seedlings is up by 150% from previous years. Ornamental plant growers in KwaZulu-Natal have also turned hectares of land over to planting winter cabbages and summer lettuce to meet demand.

Home food gardens are important for providing fresh, healthy vegetables for the family. Vegetables can be as exciting as any flower, offering a variety in texture, form and colour. There is so much from which to choose: from a frilly lettuce, colourful stems of Swiss chard and feathery foliage of fennel, to bold leaves of rhubarb, height from climbing beans, fragrance from lemon-scented thyme and sage, and nasturtium flowers for garnishing salads.

plant_up_a_food_garden_1Vegetables in borders

The potential of vegetables as temporary fillers in the flower garden is often overlooked. Plain or frilly leafed lettuce, in shades of green and red, are ornamental enough to fill any gap in the front of a border. Cabbages can also be used as temporary fillers in a flower border; those with red-purple leaves will accentuate a red border, while blue-green cabbages will introduce a contrast in form and texture with white flowers.

Grow vegetables that the family enjoy eating, plant little and often, and only use organic sprays on edible plants. Vegetables are tastier and tender if grown quickly in a healthy soil that is rich in organic matter. If there is plenty of space for a vegetable garden, choose a level area that gets at least six hours of sunshine a day. Plant vegetables in broad rows to conserve moisture, and mulch with compost or straw between vegetables to help control weeds and retain moisture in soil. Fertilise once a fortnight with an organic fertiliser that helps plants build resistance to disease and encourages strong, healthy growth.

Small spaces

If you only have a small, sunny patio or small garden, you can still have a food garden that will supply you with fresh salad greens, baby cabbages, cherry tomatoes and flavourful herbs. Try some of the baby vegetables that take up less room, such as cherry tomato 'Yellow Pear', carrot 'Darling', eggplant 'Bambino' with thumb-sized clusters of purple fruit and 15-20cm long eggplant 'Little Finger', baby red-leafed cabbage 'Primero' and green-leafed 'Pandion'.

Where space is limited, grow squash, tomatoes, climbing beans and cucumbers up wigwams or trellis, with chives, thyme and basil at the base. Herbs and pots go together. Place them on sunny windowsills, patios, near the kitchen, and alongside braai areas, and fill with parsley, basil, sage, tarragon, chives, oregano, thyme and rosemary, as well as cherry tomatoes and colourful lettuce.

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