By GEOFF MIERS
Growing leafy greens can be such fun as they grow quickly and you can start harvesting some after only a few of weeks. However, there are a few little tricks of the trade to guarantee success.
Everyone should be fanatically planting out vegetable gardens right now because it’s the right time and the temperature.
Some people are planting out gardens for literally the first time or at least the first time in Alice Springs and others are destined to fail due to planting the wrong vegetables out of season, by not preparing the soil well and not caring adequately for the crops they are hoping to produce.
Let’s not be too adventurous in the first instance: Initially plant easy to care for and fast growing crops.
Leafy greens are generally very fast growing, sometimes producing results in a matter of only a few weeks. Leafy greens can be quite demanding however their demands are generally easily met. They can be quite demanding in terms of their watering and nutrient needs: Get that right and you will succeed.
There are so many leafy greens that can be grown now. Chinese spinach, endive, loose leaf lettuce, imperial lettuce, silver beet, rainbow chard, Bok Choy, Won Bok, black Tuscan kale, Cos lettuce and spinach.
If starting a new vegetable garden take your trailer out to the landscapers and collect a tonne of fresh top soil.
To this top soil add compost that is well broken down, some cheap potting mix to give increased body to the soil, some cow manure to provide organic content and some nutrients and a small quantity of organic fertiliser to feed your plants initially.
GrowBetter is a fantastic organic fertiliser as it is a blend of chicken manure, blood & bone and seaweed extract. Applied every six weeks it will meet you plants’ standard needs.
It is imperative these leafy greens are fed a supplementary diet of nitrogen along with lots of water. The nitrogen is essential for good leaf growth.
It is because of their need for nitrogen that these leafy greens should be grown together. It is also for this fact that you should not have fruiting plants in the same bed.
For example, tomatoes fed nitrogen will grow strong and tall and produce lots of foliage however they will be unlikely to produce much fruit.
If you want sweet leafy greens then you must give them plenty of water as stressing them due to a lack of water will often produce bitter foliage rather unpleasant to eat.
Lettuce are generally the most popular of the fast growing greens, particularly the loose leaf lettuces as you can start taking the outer leafs off two weeks after planting.
Lettuce has always been an easy salad vegetable to grow, which has made them very popular with the home gardener. Being one of the main ingredients to salads, lettuce can be grown and harvested all year round.
There is a huge range to choose from, with different leaf shapes and colours to add to a bit of pizzazz to your vegie plot.
The most used of all lettuce is the Green & Brown Mignonette. They are a small grower, which makes them ideal if space is limited. Their mild flavour makes them great as a sandwich filler.
If you love Caesar Salad then you’ll love Cos Lettuce. They are a loose-leaf variety with heaps of taste. For that old fashion crispy lettuce you can’t go past Imperial. The leaves store well and are great for salads.
Prepare your garden in the full sun with lots of manure, organic fertiliser and compost. Organic food is ideal to dig into your existing soil, as it contains all the nutrients your lettuce needs to grow bigger heads and have a better taste.
Lettuce are surface rooting, so to prevent their roots drying out and to keep them cool, an application of pea-straw is recommended.
It is best to grow lettuce very fast for tender tasty leaves. Generous feeding with a liquid fertiliser, foliage feeder, sulphate of ammonia or slow release nitrogen will help you produce a fantastic crop.
Lettuce leaves are full of water so they love a regular deep thorough watering. Give them a good watering as often as is required. This could be daily or once it has cooled every two to three days.
Some gardeners will plant lettuce at three week intervals to stagger the amount they produce so they have a steady flow over a prolonged period of time.
When plants are at a good size, pick the leaves, as you need them. It is best to pick them while they are young and not tart or sour. When the leaves become old, they will loose their sweetness.
Growing lettuce at home is wonderful and highly successful. They are an easy to grow crop that will produce just about all year round. If you have children that are just starting to learn how to garden, then lettuce is great crop for them to begin on, as they are fast growing and taste great.
The comments about growing lettuce are equally applicable to all the other leafy greens mentioned earlier in this article.
Kale is another leafy vegetable that has gained increased popularity over the past few years. There are several different varieties of kale and all grow well in Central Australia.
And don’t forget the many Asian greens, they grow rapidly and can be often harvested in weeks and can be used in so many different dishes. Some are suitable for salads, others for stir fries, soups and even stews.