It’s universally acknowledged that fruit and vegetables are good for us, in a number of ways.
However, the student lifestyle isn’t always conducive to dropping big bucks at Woolies on food that will go off a lot quicker than, say, two-minute noodles. If you’re finding yourself always choosing canned tomatoes over fresh, why not try your hand at growing your own fresh produce? Most common vegetables are pretty easy to grow, and with a bit of planning you can save yourself a lot of money (and it’ll taste better too!).
These are the absolute easiest edible plants to grow, and they’re ready to eat pretty much straight away! The best herbs for beginners are mint, basil and parsley. You can buy starter plants from any hardware store, and common varieties can even be found at supermarkets. Plant each herb in a pot, and water when the soil is dry. Mint is notorious for its ability to spread quickly, so keep it away from the others. If they do die, try to continue watering them for a few weeks – basil in particular is known to come back from the dead.
Store bought tomatoes have nothing on the taste of a home-grown tomato. They’re easy and quick to grow, and surprisingly hard to kill. For absolutely beginners, it’s probably worthwhile to invest in a few seedlings from somewhere like Bunnings. You simply need to plant these in potting soil, preferably somewhere where you can place a garden stake for the vine to grow up. Keep the plant well-watered, and keep an eye out for any pests making their way through the fruit. Remove any infected or eaten fruit as soon as you see it to try to keep the spread to a minimum. If it’s really bad, there are lots of ways to remove pests in a way that doesn’t involve chemicals – just Google the symptoms you’re seeing on the plant.
For more experienced gardeners, try growing a vine from scratch! Cut an over-ripe tomato into slices (about a half a centimetre thick) and place them into a nearly-full container of potting mix. Cover the slices with a thin layer of soil, and water regularly to keep the soil moist. You should see sprouts in about two weeks – pick the strongest seedlings and replant them, then grow like you would any other seedling.
Green beans are one of the easiest vegetables to go, with generally one of the highest payoffs in terms of crop. You can grow from seeds, or you can grab a starter plant from a nursery or hardware store. Seeds will obviously take longer to grow, but are much cheaper than buying loads of starters.
You’ll need a trellis for the plant to grow along, similar to tomatoes. Depending on the variety of bean, you may need to plant in a bigger garden bed, rather than a pot, so the plant doesn’t tip over. Once planted, water the plant once or twice a week. Within two months, you should be able to harvest a heap of mature beans. You’ll know it’s gone well when you have more beans than you know what to do with!
Carrots are for the slightly more experienced gardener, or for people who like the thrill of not knowing how the plant is growing until it’s time to harvest. As carrots grow underground, it’s impossible to know whether you’re going to end up with a juicy crop or a knobbly throwaway.
Carrots are generally grown from tiny seeds, and in theory if you plant loads of them at least some will survive. Plant pinches of seeds in rows, with about 2cm between each pinch. Don’t plant them too deep, and be careful when watering to ensure seeds don’t get washed away. In about 2 weeks the seeds will sprout, and you’ll begin to see the green leafy tops emerge from the soil. Leave the carrots for as long as possible before harvesting – they’ll taste better! To check if they’re ready to go, see if you can spot the top of the root poking out, or dig a small amount of soil away to see how large the carrot is.
Strawberries are one of the most rewarding plants to grow – if you can beat the pests to your fruit. Snails, birds and even cats will all want a piece of the juicy red fruit. However, strawberries are a plant that pretty much grows by itself once planted, making it perfect for eagle-eyed beginners.
You can buy an established starter plant, or some bare-rooted runners. These are plants that have very few leaves and a small root system. They’re harder to get going, but if they survive they produce just as much fruit as a starter plant. When planting both established plants and runners, it’s important to plant to the depth of the roots. Make sure you can see the base of the stem of the plant resting on the top of the soil, not underneath, to prevent rot.
Within 4 weeks you should see small white flowers begin to bloom on the plant, which will soon turn into tiny strawberries. If you start to have some unwanted guests, cover the plant with a net, or if planted in pots try moving the strawberries inside to a sunny windowsill. Pick the berries when they’re ripe and red!
Once you start growing chillies, you never stop. The plants are surprisingly hardy and bear more peppers than anyone can handle. Try to pay attention to which variety you’re growing to avoid any awkward kitchen situations – my family once grew a plant so spicy none of us could enjoy it.
The best way for beginners to grow chillies is by using a starter plant. You simply plant the baby chilli bush in your desired location, and water regularly (particularly in summer) but don’t soak them. When the bush reaches 20cm, use a stake to ensure it doesn’t lean over. You’ll start to see small flowers within a few weeks, meaning the chillies are on their way! If you’re growing the plant inside you may need to open a window every so often to let insects pollinate the flowers. Once your bountiful crop ripens, there’s endless ways to use them: dry them, freeze them, pickle them, cook with them or even just give them to friends and family.
Did you know you can grow your own avocado plant from the pit of an old avocado? Granted, it probably won’t bear fruit, but it’s a great indoor plant.
When you finish an avo, clean the pit by washing all the goop off and drying it well. Fill a jar or vase with water, close to the top, and place the wide end of the pit into the water about 2cm deep. Put three toothpicks into the pit, which will hang over the edge of the jar, to keep it suspended at this depth. Put the jar on a sunny windowsill, and wait eight weeks or so – by then your pit should sprout roots and begin growing a small stem. Once the roots are thick and the stem has leaves, plant it into the soil (but leave half the seed above the soil!). It’s a slow process, but in a few years’ time you should have a mini ornamental avocado tree.