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fast veggies

Mini Plants and Fast Food

Technology has spoilt us. Everything happens so much faster these days, with the expectation of faster results too. Nature’s pace can be frustratingly slow, especially for new gardeners who are full of enthusiasm. Relax, there are short cuts and instant gratification to be had with fast veggies. It’s not cheating, just a great place to start while honing your veggie growing skills. With experience, you too may become hooked on growing veggies from seed and discover the ‘miracle’ of watching seeds sprout.

5 Tips for Newbies

  1. Go easy on yourself: You don’t have to feed the family just yet. Start small and with easy-to-grow veggies. Picking a few greens and herbs for a salad is a great way to begin.
  1. Location, location, location: Find the right place, with at least 6 hours of sunshine for garden-grown veggies, and morning sun and afternoon shade for patio veggies.
  1. Fake it till you make it: There’s nothing wrong with buying already established ‘instant’ veggies, or planting seedlings instead of seed. There is a place for everything, and what you use depends on how much time you have.
  1. It is not always your fault when veggies keel over. Too much rain and they rot, too little rain and they crisp. Pests are always quick to move in. Don’t take disasters too personally; learn what you can from them and move on
  1. Pick everyone else’s brains (including Google’s): There is a load of experience and advice out there. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Fast Veggies, Fast Food

Knowing that time is tight, and so is space, the green boffins are beavering away to bring us ideas for quicker and better growing.

Here are some of them:

Instant gratification:

  • Ready-to-harvest salad bowls are a mix of leafy greens available from garden centres and some hardware outlets. Cut individual leaves as needed or cut back everything, leaving enough growth to re-sprout, for successive harvests. Good for the patio, kitchen courtyard or anywhere with morning sun. Keep moist (but not soggy) and feed with a liquid fertiliser once a week. Look out for ‘City Garden Mix’ (red and green lettuce), ‘Global Gourmet Mix’ (lettuce and Asian greens), ‘Kale Storm Mix’, ‘Wonder Wok’ (Asian greens) and ‘Summer Picnic Mix’ (more heat-tolerant lettuce mix).
  • The easiest edibles to grow are potted herbs such as thyme, basil, rosemary, tarragon and parsley. With them there is no need for green fingers, as most thrive on a little neglect. They like morning sun and are perfect for patios in pots, baskets or planters. Water when the soil starts to dry out, and pick often. Look out for columnar basil varieties ‘Everleaf Genovese’ or ‘Everleaf Emerald Tower’, which stay tidy in container and have loads of small, tasty leaves. •
  • How cool is this? Imagine growing hot or sweet peppers on the kitchen counter or windowsill. There is a ‘Pot Pepper’ range of hot and sweet peppers that grow happily indoors and out. Compact plants bear yellow, red, or orange fruit in the pot. They need good indoor light (can take morning sun), moist soil (don’t let water stand in the saucer or container) and liquid fertiliser twice a month.
  • Another windowsill winner: Sprout mung beans, chickpeas, lentils, alfalfa and soya beans on the kitchen windowsill. Use them in salads, sandwiches and stir-fries. Sprouters are available from health food shops or you can make your own using a wide-mouthed glass jar covered with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Soak and rinse daily until the beans sprout and are ready to eat.

Big Ideas for Small Spaces

Micro-managing is good if you’re talking micro- and mini-greens. They germinate quickly and are ready for harvesting within two weeks. Leave them a bit longer for mini leaves. Baby-leaf lettuce, baby-leaf spinach, rocket, microgreens and Meschlun mixes offer year-round greens. All these are grown as ‘cut-and-come-again crops.

Here is the secret: Use three deep seed trays filled with seedling mix. Start with one tray and stagger the sowing of the second and third trays two weeks apart. Doing this means you will always have mini-salad leaves to cut.

Bite-sized babies: Grow normal veggies as baby veggies, especially the fast growers like spinach, lettuce, kale, beetroot and carrots. Treat the leafy veggies like cut-and-come again mini greens. Beetroot can be grown for their leaves or left to form baby beets the size of a golf ball. ‘Little Finger’ is a baby carrot variety. Baby veggies are good for containers, window boxes, vertical gardens or small beds because they can be grown much closer together.

In a Class of their Own

Patio veggies for pots or hanging baskets are one of the best ‘inventions’ of the garden industry, making it so easy to grow veggies that don’t need space, or even a garden. Being dwarf varieties, they are easy to manage, producing plenty of fruit and often with better disease resistance. The ‘Simply Delicious’ patio veggie range features compact determinate tomatoes, fingerling and small-fruit brinjals, cucumbers, mini-peppers, chillies, green and yellow baby marrows, and even mini butternut.

Growing tips:

  • Place pots where they receive morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Water every day because pots dry out quickly.
  • Feed once or twice a month with a liquid fertiliser.
  • Make sure there is enough air circulation between pots – this keeps plants cool and prevents fungal disease.
  • Check for pests, especially aphids and whitefly. Spray with an organic insecticide like Ludwig’s Insect Spray or Margaret Roberts Insect Spray. Because pots are generally close together, pests can multiply quickly and infect all the veggies.