Keep that summer harvest rolling in with a range of well-known veggie favourites that thrive in the heat and humidity. Claire Bickle rounds up the best veggies for South-East Queensland's summer.
Edible gardening success 101
Step one: soil preparation
Soil preparation is the key to any edible garden success, no matter the season.
Start by adding good quantities of organic matter in the form of well-rotted animal manures such as, cow, chicken, horse, alpaca, sheep. Compost, home-made or bought and or mushroom compost. Worm castings are great too, these can be bought in bags or come straight from your own worm farm.
Before and at planting also add fertiliser, such as pelletised manure with blood and bone and seaweed extract. Water in well.
Step two: mulching
I find it easiest to do this before planting. Why? Because placing mulch in and around a sea of small delicate seedlings quite time consuming. I prefer to just create a space in the mulch at planting time. Easy. If sowing seeds, sow them first into the bare soil and then just sprinkle a light covering of fine mulch. Not too thickly as this will hinder seed germination.
Step three: top with liquid seaweed
After planting it is always advised to water your seedlings and seeds in with a liquid seaweed and/or fish emulsion. This will increase germination rates and reduce transplant shock of newly planted seedlings.
Liquid fertilising and seaweed applications can be done every 2-4 weeks throughout the growing season. Side dressings of organic fertilisers is required during the season to ensure best results. Especially if there has been high rainfall, as this will leach nutrients out of the soil more quickly than if it is a dry summer.
When to water?
Do not water in the heat of the day. This actually puts more stress on your plants.
Either water early in the morning or late in the afternoon. In saying that, I find it better to water early in the morning. This way the plants have all day for moisture on the foliage to dry out before the cool of the night. Damp foliage overnight on cucurbits encourages fungal diseases like powdery mildew to get a foothold and a variety of blights and fungal issues on vegetables in the Solanaceae family.
Mulching reduces moisture evaporation from your soil profile, suppresses weeds, prevents erosion and maintains an even soil temperature, acting like a blanket.
The best mulches to use on edibles gardens are sugarcane, Lucerne and pea straw. These mulches as they break down add nutrients and organic matter to the soil profile. Re-mulch as needed.
Best veggies to plant in summer
Sweet Corn: there are many varieties of sweet corn and maize to grow. Remember they need to be planted in a block for wind pollination to occur and cobs to form. Regular water is key for your cobs to fill out evenly and completely with kernels.
Zucchini: black, yellow, striped, Lebanese, round, are a few of the varieties of zucchini available the home gardener.
Keep an eye out for blossom end rot. This is where the end of the zucchini rots before fully forming. This can be due to issues with calcium uptake because of inconsistent watering, poor pollination, or a calcium deficiency – add garden lime. Remember that zucchini flowers are also edible.
For those zucchinis that you miss and have turned into mammoths, consider stuffing them instead of trying to eat them as is.
Squash: yellow, green and white forms of button squash are my favourite. I find squash picked when they are quite small more flavoursome. They become quite woody when left to get too large.
Cucumbers: varieties: bush pickle, crystal apple, Lebanese, long green, African horned, white, striped, Armenian, the list goes on.
Keep an eye out powdery mildew. Choose a certified organic fungicide like eco-fungicide to keep on top of any outbreaks, and avoid watering the foliage.
The Solanaceae Family
Chilli, Capsicums and Tomatoes: all can be grown in the subtropics throughout the summer. The catch? Qld fruit fly attack. These pests love the thin skins of a huge array of our vegetable and fruiting crops, and summer is when they are most prevalent.
Protect fruit by placing fruit fly exclusion bags over them as they set, straight after flower drop. You can also hang up fruit traps and apply baits like eco-naturalure to nearby shrubs or fencing.
Eggplants: drought-hardy and easy to grow, I reckon that the old aubergine is an underutilised vegetable. Coming in white, purple, pink, yellow, striped, green and red, there’s an eggplant for everyone. Keep an eye out for mites and if they show up use an organic spray such as eco-oil to keep them in check.
The Others in the Mixed Vegetable Bag
Snake beans: most beans are best grown in autumn and early spring in the subtropics, but the snake bean thrives in the summer heat. You can get dwarf and climbing forms, plus red or green bean pods.
Shallots/Spring Onions: these are really year rounders in the subtropics. Apply dolomite or garden lime before to ensure the soil pH is slightly sweet.
Rosellas: it’s not too late to get some rosellas in. These are an annual hibiscus shrub growing to 1-1.5m. The flowers are a lovely lemon colour but it’s the fruit that come afterwards that are the real gems.
It’s these leathery red calyx fruit that are turned into jelly and jam when harvesting occurs from late summer and into autumn.
Okra: for those that like okra soup! Now’s the time to pop these guys in. You can get green and burgundy forms and they generally grow 60-100cm tall. Hailing from Ethiopia they are very easy to grow, and it is the pods that are used in a variety of culinary dishes.