There’s no better time than right NOW to grow-your-own

Radishes Image by Couleur from PixabayRadishes Image by Couleur from PixabayHow to boost your immune system and the health benefits of growing these easy winter crops.

Covid-19, market mayhem and lockdowns….how fast our world has changed! And two things this disaster is teaching us are how interdependent we really are and how fragile our current system is.

Some things may be out of our control, but we still have control over how we personally handle this situation.

Besides the need for basic hygienic practices like washing your hands often, good health is of prime importance right now. And, good health not only includes eating correctly, but also reducing your stress levels by getting enough sleep and exercise.

As we go into autumn and winter, South Africans are researching how to boost their immune systems and are more aware of what they consume. We all know why fresh vegetables are good for us and the importance of getting our daily dose of vitamin C from foods like oranges, lemons, papayas, strawberries, red and yellow peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.  And a little research will show you which herbs and spices have the best anti-viral properties like: oregano, garlic, ginger, and thyme. Simply adding these to your dishes will go a long way to keeping your family healthy. If you are searching for supplements of these you may have noticed that certain health supplements and essential oils are already becoming harder to find, so purchase them in whatever form you can find them, even dried herbs used for cooking can be made into a health tea.

Growing Vegetables in South Africa E-bookGrowing Vegetables in South Africa E-bookWe also all know how vital vitamin D is for warding off colds and flu, and the cheapest way to get it is to go outdoors in the sunshine, and now that the schools are closed and families are staying at home as much as possible, keeping the family occupied can be a challenge. Getting them outdoors may even be a greater challenge, but if you have a garden, try luring them outdoors to plant a winter vegetable garden, and make it a daily routine to go outside to water, tend, and harvest the crops. If you put in some effort to make it fun for everyone, it really can be! Younger children will especially enjoy this activity, and hey, even the teenagers may partake, and once this crisis is over you may even have started a new family tradition of growing your own fresh, organic, and healthy produce.

Planting or sowing some easy to cultivate and fast maturing veggies right now will give you a good winter crop, so while you are out stocking-up, grab some vegetable seeds, or pop into your local garden centre to pick up some trays.

"Growing Vegetables in South Africa” is written especially for South African gardeners and includes a sowing guide. All 100 pages of this e-book are jam-packed with good advice and lovely photographs; and the instructions are so easy to follow that even a child could understand.

If you follow the growing instructions in my e-book you will soon be harvesting your very first crops and nothing is more rewarding than that first meal, using your own home grown produce.

Read more or order here

The winter vegetables listed below are easy to grow, and if vegetables do become scarce you will be glad you planted now before it’s too late to plant winter vegetables.

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Spinach Spinach True Spinach

True Spinach has to be on top of the list because it can be used in treating lung inflammation. The untreated seeds can also be used for treating breathing difficulties, as a laxative, and for liver inflammation. Basically, you directly sow the seeds into good quality soil and water, and before you know it, in about 8 to 10 weeks, you’ll have fresh spinach, and each plant will produce leaves for about 4 weeks. For successive crops sow seed every 3 to 4 weeks.

Spinach has a high nutritional value, especially when eaten raw or lightly steamed. It is an excellent source of iron, calcium, potassium, and dietary fibre. It is also a rich source of vitamins A, E, C, K, and the B Vitamins, including Riboflavin (vitamin B2) and folate (folic acid or folate is a B vitamin.) Cooking spinach with parsley helps the body to absorb the iron in spinach.

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Swiss Chard Swiss Chard Swiss Chard

Swiss chard is also a powerhouse of nutrition, and like all dark green vegetables, helps strengthen the bones and generally excellent for health, especially in older people. Swiss chard loves cooler weather, can be sown directly into the ground, and grows just as well in pots as it does in garden beds.

It contains at least 13 polyphenol antioxidants and is an effective blood sugar regulator. It is also very high in vitamins K and A, and contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and C, as well as magnesium, copper, manganese, potassium, iron, choline, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, foliate, selenium and protein, amongst other minerals.

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Kale is filled with so many nutrients, vitamins and minerals that anyone serious about their health would be advised to include it regularly in their diets. It is high in Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Vitamin A is great for your vision and your skin, and Vitamin C is very helpful for your immune system, your metabolism and hydration.

Kale is a cool season crop that loves frost, and if established in late summer to autumn, the plants will continue to grow through winter. It grows so quickly that you can start harvesting from about 8 to 10 weeks after sowing. The outer leaves can be harvested as required or the whole plant harvested at once.

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Baby carrots taste delicious, and also love cooler weather. They also don’t take as long to mature as full-sized carrots, +- 30 days, so if you enjoy carrots and want them quickly, then you’ll definitely want to pick the baby carrot variety. Because they don’t grow large, they can be grown directly in the ground, or in containers.

Carrots are one of the most nutritious vegetables because of their high vitamin A content. They also contain vitamin C and a good supply of dietary fibre. Carrot juice is great to treat oral infections - rinse your mouth 2 to 3 times a day.

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Lettuce Lettuce Lettuce

If you want something healthy, green, and fast, then you should definitely consider planting lettuce. It flourishes in cooler weather and comes in a variety of cultivars, to suit every need. The smaller perpetual lettuce varieties can be harvested over a long period, and grow beautifully in pots.

Lettuce contains high water content, as well as small amounts of energy, protein, fat, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and sugars. The minerals and vitamins found in it include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc along with B-vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, A, E, and vitamin K.

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Radish SparklerRadish SparklerRadishes

Given that radish grows very quickly and has a high vitamin C content which protects you from the common cold and improves your immune system, grab some radish seeds. They also prefer cooler temperatures, can be grown in garden beds or containers, and should be ready to harvest within 3 to 5 weeks, depending on the variety sown.

Radish also provides your body with potassium and is packed with Vitamins E, A, C, B6, and K. Plus it's high on antioxidants, fibre, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, calcium, iron and manganese. And each of these is known to keep our body in good working condition.

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Beetroot Beetroot Beetroot

Beetroot has been used for centuries as a blood builder and detoxifier, with modern research proving many of its health benefits. Both the roots and leaves are eaten and this intermediate to warm season crop can be grown almost throughout the year in South Africa, with spring to autumn being the best time to sow in frosty regions. Beetroot will be ready to harvest 8 to 10 weeks after sowing.

The roots and leaves are rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, folic acid and vitamins A, C, K and B6.

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Turnip Turnip Turnips

Turnips are very easy to grow and do best grown as a cool season crop, but can be sown almost throughout the year in South Africa. They mature quickly and can be harvested about 8 to 10 weeks after sowing.

Turnips are exceptionally high in essential amino acids. They are rich in vitamins A, C, B, B6, E and K and are a powerful eliminator of uric acid.

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Cabbage Cabbage Cabbage

Cabbages are good intermediate to cool season crops. They also vary in size from small to medium and large varieties. The large varieties need lots of space and take longer to mature than the pointed and small round-headed cabbages.

Cabbage leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, B1, B5, B6, B3, E, K and C and are very rich in folic acid and calcium. They are a good source of minerals like potassium and manganese but low in sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol.

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Pak ChoiPak ChoiPak Choi

Pak choi is a dual purpose oriental vegetable which is sown directly into garden beds. It can be harvested young throughout the winter as individual salad leaves, or the heads can be left to fully mature before harvesting.

Pak Choi is quick to mature and packed full of healthy vitamins, A and C as well as Calcium, Iron and Folic Acid.

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Tatsoi grows so rapidly that fully mature plants can be harvested in just 45 to 50 days! It can also be harvested at almost any stage of its growth, with individual leaves being harvested as required, or the whole plant when mature.. Tatsoi is a good intermediate to cool season crop which is very hardy to frost. Seeds are quick, germinating within 4 to 8 days, and can be sown directly into garden beds. For successive crops sow every 2 to 3 weeks during the season.

The dark green leaves are very high in calcium, beta carotene and Vitamins A, C, and K, and also contain potassium, phosphorous, and iron.

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Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family and  essentially a cool season to intermediate crop. It is very adaptable and grows in all the climatic zones of South Africa. It can be sown from August to April, and is harvested after eight to ten weeks after sowing, when the bulb is about the size of a tennis ball.

Kohlrabi is rich in vitamins and minerals.

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For smaller vegetable gardens, and if it is too late to sow seeds, it is often more convenient to purchase trays of broccoli seedling to plant out. If you plan to sow seeds directly in the garden, or into seedling trays, make sure you do so about 85 to 100 days before the average first frost in your region. This will ensure that the seedlings are well established before they are planted out and have grown vigorously before winter seriously sets in. The main head should be ready to harvest about 9 to 10 weeks after transplanting.

Broccoli is extremely nutritious but low in calories and virtually fat free. It is high in calcium and one ounce of broccoli has an equal amount of calcium as one ounce of milk. It’s one of the richest sources of vitamin C and A, and also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and vitamin K. Besides all this, broccoli is a good source of iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, lutein, folic acid, and dietary fibre.

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Broad BeansBroad BeansBroad Beans

Broad Beans remain a popular intermediate to cool season crop. They can reach a height of about 1.5m and need a support to climb up. Harvesting can begin within about 18 weeks. The young pods can be harvested, chopped and cooked as for green beans or they can be left to mature into large, flat pods filled with plump seeds that are shelled and cooked or dried and stored for later use. Broad beans can be sown from February to June, but are best sown in March and April in frost free regions, and in April and May in frosty regions, to ensure that they flower at the right time.

Since they boast plant-based protein levels higher than the average in legumes, fresh broad beans are nutritious, restorative and invigorating. Fresh broad beans have high levels of vitamin C and B group vitamins, as well as potassium, iron and magnesium. They also are replete with polyphenols that have strong antioxidant properties and protect us against free radicals.

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For smaller vegetable gardens and if it is too late to sow seeds, it is often more convenient to purchase trays of cauliflower seedling to plant out.  Because cauliflower plants are sensitive excessive heat as well as sudden changes in temperature, before hybridisation, cauliflower was always sown from mid to late summer to plant out in autumn when temperatures dropped. Today modern hybrids allow us to extend the growing season, and there are early, mid-season and late varieties available, so choose your cultivars carefully. Early cultivars can be harvested about 7 to 10 weeks after transplanting; mid-season types take about 12 to 15 weeks; and late varieties can take up to 20 weeks or more to mature.

Like most fruits and vegetables cauliflower has a long list of nutritional benefits under its belt.  It’s packed with lots of vitamins and minerals, and if you include this vegetable as a regular part of your diet, you can significantly improve your health.

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Leeks are a good intermediate to cool season crop but are not as fussy about climate as onions. Leek cultivars are subdivided in a number of ways, but generally they fall into two distinct categories. The so-called “summer or autumn leeks”, which are sown in spring for harvesting in late summer, autumn, and even early winter; and the hardier overwintering, or “frost-tolerant leeks”. Cold hardy leeks are sown from mid-summer to autumn, for harvesting in even the dead of winter, as long as the winters are fairly mild.

Like garlic and onions, leeks contain many sulphur compounds which play an important role in our body's antioxidant and detox systems as well as in the formation of our connective tissue. The flavonol ‘kaempferol’ is one of leeks' premiere flavonoids, and acts as an antioxidant by reducing oxidative stress. Leeks are also an excellent source of vitamin K; and a very good source of manganese, vitamin B6, copper, iron, folate, and vitamin C.

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Fresh peas are delicious and easy to grow. There are 2 main types, namely the common shelled peas, and the edible-podded and snap peas that are eaten like green beans and have sweet crunchy pods. Peas are a cool season crop which does not grow well during very hot weather. The best time to sow them is from mid-February to May or in August and September. Pea vines can take moderate frost but the flower pods can only withstand light frost, so if you live in a region which experiences light to moderate frost, you should plant peas from mid-February to March, in order to harvest before the worst cold arrives in June and July. In very cold regions, sow late winter to early spring, so that the flowers miss the heavy frosts, but the crop can be harvested by November, before the weather really becomes too hot.

Peas are extremely high in calcium and contain magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, folic acid, vitamins A, C and B vitamins. T

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