Lifestyle

How to grow your own food fast: quick-growing veggies for beginner gardeners

Eating fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables is great for our health. And so is gardening, which keeps us active, engaged and in touch with nature. Sarah Coleman explains how easy it is to grow your own, however small your harvest may be.

By Sarah Coleman

Flex your green thumb and grow your own food regardless of whether you live in a house, an apartment, or a retirement community.

Vegetables can be grown in pots or small plots. Or, if you have a patch of underutilised lawn, nothing is more satisfying than ripping it up to start a veggie garden. You may want to join or start a community garden. What better way to get out of the house, get your hands in the dirt and meet new people with a passion for plants?

Pots to small plots

No space? No problem. There are plenty of options:

Container gardening

If you live in a flat and have only a tiny space, pots and container gardening is the way to go. You can get growing using pots and containers on balconies, patios, windowsills, and even the end of the kitchen sink!

When choosing pots to grow vegetables, aim for at least 40cm in diameter and 30 cm in depth.

Growing up (or down)

When space is an issue, vertical gardening is the way to go. Trellises and supports will help you trail plants upwards. You can also get small supports and cages made for pots. If you have a space for hanging pots, some vegetables can be trailed down over the side rather than up.

Growing against a wall or trellis is a great way to grow your own in a tight space.

Raised beds

Install raised beds in small outdoor plots, courtyards, or concrete slabs and fill them with soil suitable for growing veggies. Contained beds allow easy top-ups with compost, intense planting and make weeding a breeze. Hip-height beds are great if you have reduced mobility.

Community gardens

Community gardens are the perfect solution if you need more room to grow your veggies. Most council areas and retirement complexes will have a community garden you can join. Not only can you learn veggie-growing skills from more seasoned gardeners, but it’s also an opportunity to make new friends and learn new ways to make the most of seasonal veggies.

Verge gardens

Contact your local council to find out if you can transform your roadside verge with productive trees and veggies. Get some neighbours on board to help. Not only will it beautify your street, verge gardens are good for the environment and create more habitat for insects and wildlife.

Tips to get growing

Once you have established where you are going to grow your food, you will also need to consider these factors:

Good soil for good growth

It's essential to begin with compost-enriched soil. This is especially important when gardening in pots, as you will need to regularly nourish the soil to support the healthy growth of your plants. You can further enhance soil health by protecting the surface with mulch.
When sowing seeds, opt for a lightweight soil mixture rather than a dense, clay-based one. Investing in a bag of seed-raising mix can help you get started with seeds and build confidence in identifying various soil types.

Raised beds like these make it easier to plant, weed and pick your vegetable harvest.

Seed rules

Seeds are cost-effective and can be planted directly into prepared soil. When planting seeds, here's a simple rule: put them in the ground at a depth about 1 to 2 times their size. So, for tiny seeds like carrots and basil, just sprinkle a bit of soil on top. But if you're planting beans or peas, bury them a few centimetres deep.

You can also learn to save seeds from the plants you have grown for the future. You can donate the excess to your local seed library or seed-saving network.

Seedlings save time

If you missed the seasonal window for planting seeds, you can make up for lost time by planting seedlings. This will save you at least 4-5 weeks on your growing journey. Look for seedlings that are healthy and robust and have been grown locally.

Tomatoes, strawberries, herbs and other vegetables can be bought as seedlings to kickstart your growing journey - it is more expensive than using seeds, though!

Adjust for your climate

Growth slows down in the colder months. If you live in a cooler climate and are gardening outside, look at investing in a small greenhouse or protective tunnels or cloches. If you live in a warmer, more arid climate, you will need more mulch to help retain moisture in the soil.

Be water-wise

Too little or too much water will impact how your veggies grow. Stick your finger down into the soil. If it feels dry, give it water. Seeds and small seedlings will need daily misting. Then, water deeply a few times a week rather than shallowly daily.

7 speedy veggies to get your growing started

Lettuce

You can grow lettuce all year round. Lettuce generally prefers cooler growing conditions, but you will need to cover them in extreme conditions like frost and snow. Chat with your nursery about what varieties grow best if you are in a very warm region.

Tip: Choose non-hearting varieties so you can pick the leaves over a long period rather than harvesting the entire plant.

First Harvest: 7+ weeks
Spacing: 20 - 30cm apart

Radishes

Plant radishes all year. Small globe varieties are common. More elongated types are easier to slice. They can tolerate light frost; European black-skinned varieties do well in cold winters.

First harvest: 3+ weeks
Spacing: 3 - 5cm apart

Asian greens

Asian greens are generally fast-growing. Try tatsoi, bok choy, and pak choy. Tatsoi is a good choice if you want to pick the leaves over a longer period of time rather than harvesting the whole plant.

Tip: These fast-growing veggies love extra nutrition. Plant them with ample compost, and water new seedlings with a seaweed solution to ensure healthy roots develop.

First harvest: 10+ weeks
Spacing: 20cm apart

Baby carrots

Plant carrots from spring to autumn. Choose small, rounded varieties such as “Easy Grow” and “Paris Market”. These are fast-growing and need less soil depth. Sow seeds in rows and top with only a thin layer of soil, as they need light to germinate. Once seedlings emerge, thin them to 2.5 - 5 cm apart.

Tip: In tropical and subtropical regions, plant during the cooler months and harvest before the rainy season.

First harvest: 10+ weeks
Spacing: 2.5 - 5cm apart

Baby tomatoes

Baby varieties of tomatoes like “sweetbite”, “grape”, and “cherry” grow well in small plots and larger containers. Keep trellising them as they grow for multiple flushes of tomatoes. If you are using pots, a slightly larger one (15 - 20 litres) is required for tomatoes. Sow in early spring for a summer or autumn harvest. Protect seedlings from frost.

You can grow baby tomatoes almost all year round in warmer regions. Sow seeds in the spring for summer and autumn crops in cooler regions.

First harvest: 8+ weeks
Spacing: 50cm (tall varieties) - 75cm (bush varieties) apart

Spring onions

Plant spring onions all year round. Keep in mind they grow very slowly outdoors over winter in cooler regions. It is best to have good crops planted to mature in autumn so you can harvest them over the winter months.

Tip: Harvest just the tops and leave the bottom white part in the ground; you will get multiple shoots.

First harvest: 8+ weeks
Spacing: 10 - 15cm

Are you ready to get growing? Share your tips and tricks.

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