Read on for Advice on growing salad greens, pumpkins, cucumbers and other summer vegetables.
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Lettuce and other leafy salad vegetables come in all shapes, colours and tastes. Different varieties have different flavours, different uses and different growing methods.
Cabbage – raw, thinly sliced, or shredded cabbage can be readily added to a salad. Purple-leaved types can be used to add both colour and taste. Cabbages prefer a loose well cultivated, well drained soil. Ideally temperatures should be above 13 degrees C for optimum growth. They can be grown from seed sown directly in rows in prepared beds, and then thinned out to 50 - 70cm apart, or by planting seedlings at that the same spacing. Cabbages generally take from 8-16 weeks to mature from planting
Calendula – edible flowers, can add bright colour to a salad.
Celery – another vegetable that can be readily eaten raw or cooked. Thin slices of celery are readily added to a salad. Best grown in warmer seasons, but prefers a cool, or partly shaded spot in hot weather (above 30 degrees C). Best grown quickly to produce tender stalks. Plenty of nitrogen is needed. Plenty of well rotted animal manures and compost should ideally be added during bed preparation, and/or a fertiliser rich in nitrogen applied. Grown from seed directly planted or young seedlings. Spaced at 12 - 20cm apart in rows, with rows 40 - 50cm apart. Any side shoots should be removed to ensure a strong main shoot. Stems can be wrapped in paper or black plastic for 1 month prior to harvest to blanch them. Celery takes around 10-16 weeks to mature from planting.
Chicory - Grown for both its roots, which can be oven-dried and then ground to make a coffee substitute, or for its leaves which can be used to create a tart, slightly bitter addition to salads. Chicory prefers a well drained soil, with a moderate amount of organic matter, and a sunny position. It is established from sections of roots dug from mature plants, planted in winter – spring leaving the top of the root section just exposed. Lettuce like heads will be ready for harvest in 18-30 weeks. Leaves which have been blanched have the best flavour. Roots can be left in the ground, and the plant will re-shoot. Commonly grown varieties include: Witloof, Long Green Catalogna, Redheart & Crystal Head.
Dandelions – The younger, softer leaves of this common weed of lawns, can be harvested, washed clean, and added to salads to provide a bitter taste that contrast well with sweeter salad vegetables. Dandelion flowers are also edible, and can be added to provide colour.
Lettuce – We all know about lettuce. There are many different varieties. The taste varies a little but most are relatively bland compared with the strong flavours in some other salad greens; and that makes them useful to to use for the bulk of a salad and in doing so, temper the stronger flavours of the other components.
Nasturtiums –More commonly grown as a colourful ornamental flowering creeper; but the flower petals are actually edible and great to add to salads.
Pak-choi – Also called Chinese celery cabbage. It has a tall upright head rather than the typical rounded cabbage head. Leaves look more like a lettuce than a cabbage, but the taste is more similar to cabbage, perhaps a little more delicate. Pak-choi prefers a fertile, moist, well drained soil. Growth ceases below 10 degrees C. It is sensitive to very hot or cold conditions. Manure is generally preferred to artificial fertilisers. A soil pH of 7 is preferred. It can be established by seed plant direct, or by careful transplant of young seedlings. Plant 5-6 weeks after frosts have finished, or in Autumn at least 80-90 days before frosts are likely. Snails & slugs are the major pest problems. Harvest 70-80 days after planting when heads are firm. Harvest Autumn crops before frosts are likely. Varieties commonly grown in Australia include: Michili, Wong Bok, Nagaoka, & Pak Choi White.
Parsley – Commonly used to flavour salads and meat dishes, or used as a garnish. It prefers a well drained but moist soil with plenty of added organic matter. Plenty of nitrogen is required for optimum growth. Good weed control is important. Parsley is tolerant of cold conditions. It prefers a soil pH of 5.5 – 6.0. Seeds can be slow to germinate. Soak them in water overnight before sowing for best results. Plant in late winter – early spring when the coldest weather has passed. Space at 10-20cm intervals. Can often be grown for two seasons before needing replacing. Harvest 70 – 80 days from planting, or as soon as leaves are a desirable size. Remove the leaves at the base (pull cleanly away from the plant). Re-pick as required. Commonly grown varieties include: Italian Plain-leaf, Triple-curled, & Green Velvet Improved.
PLANTING PUMPKINS & OTHER CUCURBITS
Plant cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini, marrow and their relatives as soon after any chance of winter frosts has gone.
In colder areas, you can start the seeds inside to prevent the tender seedlings being damaged by late frosts. Simply plant the seeds in pots or punnets (6 to 8 seeds per punnet), making sure the potting mix is damp but not wet. The seedlings will emerge in about 6-10 days. When the seedlings are about 7 cm tall, move the pots to a sheltered spot outdoors (eg. a shade house or) for a few week or so to harden them off before planting in the ground.
Cloches are plastic covers that can be used to protect seedlings which are planted directly in the ground in cold areas. It is important to remember to move the covers as soon as the weather warms up.
In warmer areas, plant your cucurbits before the humidity of summer commences. Diseases are more prevalent at this time of year with the humidity. Some cucurbits like pumpkins can be grown almost year round in frost free climates
Ensure you treat the soil with compost in preparation for the upcoming crop.
Plant a few seedlings per mound to permit plants to spread out over the areas between the mounds.
MAKE USE OF THOSE EXTRA PUMPKINS
If you have too many pumpkins, why not make a heap of pumpkin soup and freeze it for winter? Here is one of the best pumpkin soup recipes you are likely to find:
1 small pumpkin or half a large pumpkin (Jap Pumpkin is particularly good)
2 large onions
1 can of Coconut Milk
Remove skin and cut up pumpkin into chunks. Place in a large boiler or Saucepan.
Add 2 diced onions
Add 2-3 teaspoons of curry powder (to taste) and around 1 teaspoon of cracked pepper
Add sufficient water to boil, but do not cover the pumpkin (usually around 3 cups)
Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer until pumpkin is soft.
Puree and add a can of coconut cream
Serve with chopped parsley sprinkled on top.
Save it - Put your pumpkin soup in a plastic (or any freezer) container and put it into the freezer while it is still luke warm. It will keep for months, and makes a simple, fast and nutritious meal whenever you need it.
HAVE YOU GOT A FAVOURITE CHILLI RECIPE?
Plant Jalapeno Chilli seedlings and create hot, spicy, mouth watering dishes from your own garden!
Chilli Jalapeno is a medium sized chilli with a mild to medium heat rating. The green fruit turns purple-black to red upon maturity. They should be planted 40cm apart, in rows 60cm apart and prefer a sunny, warm spot in well drained soil. Harvest in 10-12 weeks and keep picking the fruit to prolong the harvest.
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