Nutrition Australia recommends putting a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables onto your family’s plates, as it “ensures that children are receiving a great variety of nutrients”, as the nutrients are often what colour the plant. They split it up into red – from lycopene, an antioxidant, purple/blue – from anthocyanin, orange/yellow – from carotenoids, green – from a range of phytochemicals and brown/white – often from allicin.
Whilst we are lucky enough to live in a time where we can purchase seasonal fruit and vegetables all year round, it can be almost just as easy to grow some in your backyard. Whilst there are many reasons why starting a vegetable garden can seem too difficult and daunting, if you break it down and do it right, it can be almost as easy as driving down to your local supermarket (and this way you know it’s fresh too).
One of the easiest food-bearing plants to grow is undoubtedly a tomato. Every year they sprout up randomly in my garden, years after my family actually intentionally planted any tomatoes. If you decide to choose a cherry tomato variety (recommended), they are really low maintenance and look great growing from a hanging pot. This means they don’t take up much space and can be grown within picking distance of the kitchen. Tomatoes are so versatile; they can be used in salads, made into sauces and used in pasta dishes (plus the extras make great gifts for the neighbours)
Beetroot is “dead easy to grow and incredibly good for you”. A root vegetable, they are easy to grow from seed and great fun to go on a ‘beetroot treasure hunt’ with the kids when they are ready to dig up. Also, you can start using the leaves just six weeks after planting for salads (my mum used to sneak a layer of them into lasagne too).
Carrots are a staple item in a backyard vegetable garden, and are very quick and easy to plant. Although they are relatively low maintenance, it is important to make sure the soil isn’t waterlogged and also to thin them out as they grow so each carrot has enough space to grow full size. The use of carrots is so diverse; they can be grated into salads, roasted or steamed for dinner and even used in cakes.
The taste of fresh peas is incomparable to ones in the frozen section of the supermarket. Chris Smith of Sunland Seeds advocates their growth, saying “just one packet of seed will produce enough peas for a family”. The only challenge with growing peas is that you will need to put up a trellis for them to climb, which can be as simple as tying a wire panel to two stakes in the ground. Peas make a great fresh snack as you can pick and eat them straight off the vine, or steam a larger batch for a healthy family dinner.
Potatoes are another root vegetable that are so easy, they can be grown in a bag! A versatile and popular vegetable to use in dishes, you can stagger each bag of potatoes so you have just enough to cook all year round.
Creating a vegetable garden in your backyard can seem like a daunting thing to do, but if you start with a small selection of low maintenance plants, it can become very possible to use your fresh home-grown veggies in your cooking. Remember to try and stagger when you plant your vegetables, otherwise you may end up with way more tomatoes than you can use!
Here at Living Books, we believe that gardening, especially growing fresh fruit and veg, is a great opportunity for you and your children to learn. Often, you’ll find your children’s’ natural curiosity is encouraged when they are involved in gardening, and will begin to ask more questions about how things grow and the process food takes to get onto our plates. Another bonus found by scientific studies is that “growing vegetables can improve the nutrition behaviour of young gardeners”, meaning that your kids are more likely to eat their vegetables.
So to recap; growing a vegetable garden is not as difficult as it is made out to be, especially if you focus on growing a small variety of fruit and vegetables that you will want to use often and are low maintenance. Try and focus on creating a rainbow at the dinner table, as this is an easy way to help ensure your family get the nutrients they need. Share the workload with your children, often they will enjoy getting their hands dirty knowing they are growing food that they can later cook and eat.
If you are still struggling to envisage how you will be able to implement a garden into your backyard, there are some really innovative ideas around on the internet. You could build a raised garden bed, a small space dedicated to keeping your vegetables in suitable conditions and safe from pests. You could also be on trend and upcycle some boxes or containers that suit your sizing needs, making your garden look as good as it will taste. If you’re feeling extra creative you could check out some of these DIY ideas to maximise the space you have without compromising the aesthetic of your backyard.
Good luck with your back yard veggie patch!