A-Z of Summer vegetables

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There is no treat quite as tasty as one picked fresh from the summer garden. The time is right for planting those vegetable crops which revel in warm summer soils. Choose a sunny site, sheltered from wind. Fill containers with growing mix or prepare the soil with compost. Sow seed or get a head start by planting ready grown potted seedlings.

A is for Aubergine
Aubergines (or 'eggplants') need four to five months of summer warmth from seed to maturity. When the first flowers drop to reveal the tiny new fruit, apply fertiliser. Avoid wetting the foliage as this encourages disease problems. Plants may need staking as they become weighted down with fruit and it's a good idea to mulch with straw, to conserve moisture and cushion the fruit from wet ground.

B is for Beans
Sow seed directly into warm soil (no less than 16 degrees Celsius, night and day). For a continuous supply, sow every three weeks for as long as there is two or three months of frost free weather ahead. Dwarf beans need no support and produce high yields in a small space, ready for eating about ten weeks after sowing. Runner beans need something to climb on. Mulch with compost to keep roots cool and moist, but avoid direct contact with the plants. Yields are hampered by very high temperatures or dry conditions, so water regularly. Colourful red flowers signal the best time to apply liquid fertiliser. Beans taste best picked young and tender, and cooked the same day.

C is for Capsicum
Sweet peppers and hot chillies need at least three months of warm summer temperatures to ripen. When fruit appears, feed with a balanced fertiliser. They can be picked at the green stage or left to ripen in the sun.

D is for Drainage
Drainage is essential for vege growing. If drainage is poor, make raised beds at least 15cm above ground level and fill them with the best topsoil or soil mix you can lay your hands on. Vegetables can also be grown in large containers.

E is for Exposure
The best site for your vege garden is one with maximum exposure to sun but shelter from wind.

F is for Fruit
Make the most of wall space for a passionfruit vine, espaliered apple, meyer lemon or fast growing tamarillo. Potted strawberry plants are available for planting in early summer. For those with space, it's also time to plant melons.

G is for Gherkins
Perfect for pickling, they're easy to grow and can also be eaten fresh as cucumbers.

H is for Hot Chilli
Grown in exactly the same way as sweet peppers, the hottest members of the capsicum clan are as decorative as they are useful, and are easy to grow in pots. Frequent picking encourages continuous fruiting, but chillies will not ripen once picked so wait until they're fully ripe. Not all chillies are red when they are ripe, some are green, and others are yellow, orange or purple. Green chillies have a different flavour to red ones.

I is for Irrigation
Dry spells lead to slow growth, smaller, poorer quality fruit and bitter tasting greens. If daily watering is inconvenient, install a trickle irrigation system attached to a timer. Avoid sprinklers if possible, as these lead to wet, disease prone plants.

J is for Jungle
Weeds steal precious moisture, light and fertiliser. They also increase humidity, inviting pests and diseases. Raised beds make weeding easy. In large gardens space plants for easy hoeing between rows. Lay mulch wherever practical.

K is for Kids
Growing food is fun. Kids' favourites include cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, baby carrots, giant pumpkins, strawberries and quick growing radishes.

L is for Lettuces
Growing salad greens is easy, economical and convenient. Fast growth is the secret. Cold, dry or poorly drained conditions mean slow growth and a bitter taste. Feed every fortnight (liquid organic fertiliser is ideal). Lettuces need sunlight, but in hot summer weather they grow best with part shade.

M is for Mulch
A layer of mulch conserves valuable moisture and gives the entire garden an attractive finish, suppressing weeds and improving the soil as it breaks down. Top up every spring with locally available products such as pea straw, seaweed or compost. Fruiting crops such as strawberries benefit from planting through weed mat, which helps warm the soil early in the summer.

N is for NPK
Nitrogen, phosphate and potassium are the three main plant nutrients - needed for successful growth, fruiting and vigour. Balanced fertilisers contain measured proportions of all three, plus important trace elements. Overuse of unbalanced fertilisers, can lead to chemical upsets in the soil. Leafy vegetables, such as lettuces grow quickly with extra nitrogen, but for fruiting crops excess nitrogen can lead to excessive leaf growth, inhibiting fruit development and increasing vulnerability to pests and diseases.

O is for Organic
There's no surer path to organic fruit and veges than growing your own. The central principle is to support strong, vigorous growth with healthy soil. Just like people, plants are most susceptible to attack when stressed. Use ample compost and organic mulch. Water wisely and plant companion plants to repel and confuse pests. Remove diseased plant material but don't put it on the compost heap. Avoiding the need for spraying is also a matter of accepting a few spots and blemishes.

P is for Pumpkin
If you have the space, pumpkins are easy and fun to grow. Plant as soon as soil has warmed and the risk of frost is over, into wel-ldrained, well-composted soil with fertiliser mixed in. In cooler climates look for fast maturing squash varieties. Pumpkins and squash are harvested when the vine has shrivelled and before the first frost.

Q is for Quiche
Make a simple crustless summer Quiche from fresh seasonal vegetables picked from your own garden. For example; Saute eggplant and/or tomatoes with garlic in olive oil until soft. Add zucchini and roast pumpkin and continue to heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add spinach and/ or fresh herbs. Place in a non-stick dish and pour over 4 beaten eggs mixed with 1/4 cup cream and 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle more cheese on top. Bake at 180°C until set and browned.

R is for Radish
Radishes can be grown all year round in mild climates. Adding a spicy crunch to salads, they are quick and easy to grow from direct sown seed.

S is for Sweet Corn
A cob cooked straight from the garden is beyond compare, as sweetness is directly related to the time between picking and eating. Planting in a block rather than a single row allows for better pollination and fully formed cobs. Mulch with compost to keep the soil moist and encourage a useful layer of aerial roots. Corn is ready to pick when the silks turn dark brown.

T is for Tomatoes
Tomatoes need a ready supply of food and water. Planting into rich compost-laden soil reduces the need for constant attention. To avoid soil-borne diseases, don't plant tomatoes in the same spot as last year. If you cannot change the location, dig out the top 30cm of soil and replace it with soil that has not been used for tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, or capsicum (all in the same family). Mulch to conserve moisture. As tomato plants become loaded with fruit the need for feeding and watering increases. Feed fortnightly once the fruit appears.

U is for unusual
Check out the seed stands at your local garden centre to find veges you won't see in the supermarket.

V is for variety
The greater the variety of plants in your garden, the better its defence against pest invasion. Mix flowers and herbs with vegetables and experiment with companion planting.

W is for Worm Farm
Summer's ultimate Christmas gift for a greenie gardener.

X is for Xmas
Plant now in time for the Christmas feast; early potatoes (a quick variety such as Rocket), snow peas, dwarf beans, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, baby squash, radishes, herbs and leafy greens.

Y is for Yield
The plant that never wants for water, nutrients or light is the one with the highest yield.

Z is for Zucchini
The thing with zucchinis (courgettes) is to keep up with their productivity.The smaller you pick them, the nicer they are to eat and the more they will fruit. Zucchini can be grown from seedlings or seed sown directly into warm soil, ready for harvest about eight weeks later. In humid climates, earlier planting helps avoid powdery mildew, a disease that thrives in the heat of late summer. There are a number of varieties, in various colours and shapes, including the delightful flying saucershaped Scallopini (or 'baby squash').


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Hot Chillies
Hot Chillies

Sweet Corn
Sweet Corn

Zucchini and baby squash
Zucchini and baby squash