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Grow Your Own

For those living in a warm climate, sweet corn (corn on the cob) is a good one to try. Once the cane grows up a bit, peas and runner beans can be planted around the base. They won't need stakes or trellis to climb - they'll use the corn which takes far longer to reach maturity. Tomatoes flourish in this restricted environment and are easy to control as long as they are staked and tended regularly. Keep them tied to stakes and cut or pinch out the lower laterals (they are the little shoots that spring from the main stem just above the leaves) early in their growth. These produce fruit, but will crawl everywhere making it hard to control weeds and pests. Once the plants reach the desired height, pinch off the growing tip - that's the one right at the top - to encourage the lower fruit-bearing stems to flourish. A few plants of Summer Basil interspersed in the bed will attract the bees and the aromatic leaves go great with fresh tomato. Capsicums and chillies will like it alongside the toms; and they all require pretty much the same as far as water and fertiliser.

Most edible plants will grow under the climatic conditions to which they are best suited; and time of year dictates when to plant for good results. Depending on shop prices and availability, you may find some not worth the bother. Carrots, for instance, take a long time to mature and need a deep, fine soil. Onions don't like a lot of nitrogen, so they grow well in soil previously used for another crop that has finished, happy to take up the residual nutrients in the soil; but they also take a while to reach a decent size. Squash, zucchini and cucumbers can be grown up small frames or trellis to save on ground space. This also allows better air-passage through the leaves reducing the chance of mildew. Pumpkins and melons suffer from the same problem, but they'll need to stay on the ground; and, like the freight-hopper, they will travel far and wide, so they'll very quickly take over their own bed and any others within snaking distance. One thing to bear in mind with these - only the roots need soil, water and fertilizer; the fruit will grow and swell quite readily on lawn or even concrete and pavers. Strawberries in season can be amazing, huge with a decent soil. Beetroot, turnips, lettuce, celery, you name it. The bonuses are that you can pick your crop fresh, and you know what went into growing it.

As long as you don't plant more than you are likely to need, by following a few simple rules, you can keep yourself in fresh produce for most of the year. Be guided by the growing times of individual types and put in just enough in one planting, then another lot a week or two later. If that's too fiddly, plant all the seedlings you have, and once they're ready, swap your surplus with friends and neighbours. You can even save your own seed for next season from selected crops (always pick the best); and tending them after germination is very satisfying; but, like any kids, they need everything doing for them and won't survive on neglect. We prefer to buy our seedlings from the nursery in punnets; but that's our choice. Yours is yours, and I think you'll agree, it's really nice to have one for a change.

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