Growing Green

Growing leafy greens such as lettuce, rocket, and parsley for salads is one of the easiest and most rewarding gardening jobs. Because you’re harvesting foliage, it’s generally quick for the crop to reach the first picking stage. In addition, leaves tend to be less prone to pests and diseases than most other edible plants, as you can always harvest them as young, tender leaves before they have a chance to get damaged.

The key to growing edible foliage is to plant a variety of types so you’ll always have something on hand to pull together a salad at any time of year. You can readily grow most types from seed, which you can plant directly into the soil in your vegetable-garden bed. Similarly, the growing conditions are essentially the same for all of these plants, with a well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine promoting the best harvest. An ideal way of providing these conditions is to grow your plants in a sunny garden bed or in large pots on a deck or balcony in soil or general-purpose potting mix that is enriched with a complete fertiliser.

Another key to growing leafy greens is to ensure they always have good nutrition, so it’s a good idea to supplement fertiliser with liquid feeding. A general-purpose liquid food or liquid from a worm farm will keep your plants in constant production. It’s also good practice to continually harvest each week, as old foliage can become bitter tasting; constant picking stimulates the production of fresh new leaves.

The best & brightest

You can easily grow a number of lettuce varieties from seed. The most familiar is iceberg, with its tightly packed foliage that results in a ball-shaped plant. Oak-leaf types have a much looser growth pattern, with wavy leaves that come in colourful red, bronze, or green, adding a nice ornamental touch to your garden. Avoid growing lettuce through the hottest months of summer, as it produces flower stems, and the leaves become bitter and unpalatable.

Also, avoid growing it in the frosty conditions in winter.

English spinach is another versatile leafy green that’s at home in a salad or as a boiled vegetable. To keep a good supply coming for your summer salads, sow seed directly into the garden every few weeks from spring to summer. The young developing leaves are the best to harvest for your salad bowl.

Many consider beetroot to be an integral part of the antipodean hamburger. However, the young, tender leaves of beetroot can add a really crunchy texture to your salads throughout the year. Sow seed in any month to produce foliage, and through the warmer months, you can leave the plants to produce the familiar root crop.

More salad starters

Chives are members of the onion and garlic family, but instead of harvesting the bulbs, you use the tangy leaves as a garnish or to add zest to salads that require an onion-like flavour. Plants form masses of tiny bulbs that you can split up by hand to produce new clumps. To harvest, simply snip off the leaves at the base, which stimulates more to regrow.

Parsley is another extremely rewarding leafy green to grow; you can easily raise it from seed, and it continues to produce throughout the year. There are two types of parsley: curly and Italian. Both are useful for salads. The bright green, textured foliage of curly parsley also looks very ornamental in the garden when you mix it in with flowering plants.

You can use every part of the coriander plant in various recipes. A small number of leaves  impart wonderful flavour to salads, and you can use the roots in stir-fries and other recipes. Coriander is a fast-growing plant that you need to replace with fresh seedlings every couple of months. If you wish to have a continuous supply, sow a fresh batch of seed directly into the garden.

It’s best to grow all of the aforementioned herbs in large pots in either full sun or part shade in an all-purpose potting mix. Fertilise them in early spring and again in midsummer with a couple of teaspoons of general-purpose slow-release fertiliser. Harvesting them for the kitchen is a simple matter of pinching out the top few centimetres of the growing tips. This, in turn, causes the plant to branch out so that within a couple of weeks, ever-more-succulent new shoot tips are ready for you!

Branching out

The range of leafy greens available to the home gardener seems to be constantly increasing, as more edible foliage becomes available from seed merchants. If you’re feeling adventurous, look out for other unusual-flavoured foliage, such as mizuna, rocket, chicory, fennel, French sorrel, radicchio, and mustard.

Cooking skills key to healthy weight loss

One of the greatest obstacles to healthy eating and overcoming weight woes for young women is that they are more likely to reach for a telephone or credit card than a pot and pan to conjure up their next meal.

A recent study by peak nutrition body Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA), found that while more than three quarters of women aged 18-24 enjoyed the odd spot of cooking – many still opt for fast food solutions for their daily meals.

With rates of weight gain in this group of young women higher than any others, the health group warns there could be disastrous consequences to their long-term health and fertility.

The study, which surveyed hundreds of young women, revealed that they believed take-away foods were much more readily available and convenient than having to whip up a meal at home.

The findings coincide with the launch of Healthy Weight Week, from the 20th-27th of January – a campaign that aims to inspire young women to cook more at home, in an effort to curb obesity.

“With Australia in the grip of an obesity epidemic, and younger women particularly prone to weight gain, cooking a proper main meal at home could be the answer to improving diet and weight problems in this age group,” Professor Claire Collins, a DAA spokesperson, said in a statement released this week.

Collins also pointed out that research had found those more involved in the preparation of their daily meals were much more likely to meet nutritional guidelines and enjoy a well-balanced diet. Furthermore, she added that people with a dislike of cooking were found to have a substantially lower intake of fruit and vegetables, and an elevated intake of foods high in saturated fats.

“Food cooked at home is typically more nutritious than that prepared away from home. It’s easier to get in lots of variety by cooking at home using fresh ingredients, and it can be fast if you plan ahead” Collins said.

“At home, you can pick and choose your ingredients – so you can add healthy flavours from lean cuts of meat, vegetables, herbs and spices, and go easy on the less healthy ingredients. That way, you’ll get important nutrients like protein, iron and calcium, without overdoing the nasties like saturated fat, added sugar and salt,’ she added.

While we have many good examples and encouragement from the rise of food-related cooking shows and entertainment, that doesn’t always translate into a love of cooking in our own kitchens at home.

“Watching talented amateur cooks and celebrity chefs on TV is one thing, but actually doing the cooking ourselves is what matters,” says practicing dietitian Michelle Ryan.

Ryan believes that this is because the key to becoming a masterchef at home is planning and preparation. Being organised and thinking ahead would make it much easier for women to get cooking in the kitchen, she believes.

“Try to set aside some time each week to work out a menu plan for the week ahead, which includes what you’ll eat for lunch and dinner and factors in any times you know you’ll be out. Then make a detailed shopping list and head to the shops or local markets to stock up on fresh, healthy food,” Ryan says.

Celebrity chef Luke Mangan, agrees, which is why he has also thrown his support behind the cooking crusade. Mangan has prepared a cookbook with a week’s worth of healthy and simple gourmet meals which you can download for free from the healthy weight week website.

While you’re there, you can also self-assess your eating habits and weight to find out if you are at risk as well as learn fitness tips, find out how to decipher food labels, and take the 10 week challenge to healthier eating.

Visit for more information.