Here's a quick and easy tip for you to try something new in your garden and expand the variety of plants that you are growing.

Try visiting grocery stores from different nationalities, Indian, Chinese, Korean etc. You will find many of the vegetables that you eat in restaurants, but are not commonly available in your Woolworths or fruit and vegetable shop can be bought both fresh and in seed form.

Pick something you are familiar with or something that looks different and challenging and then read up on the internet for growing instructions or you can quite often these days find a youtube video.

Below are a variety of seeds that I recently picked up from a local Chinese grocer

Cut-and-come-again is a technique that can be used on a variety of vegetables where you take advantage of a vegetables ability to keep growing or to regrow sections that have been cut, allowing you continue to harvest the plant over the growing season instead of pick once.

I have previously talked about shallots and lettuce, you can also do this with a large variety of plants including brussel sprouts, celery and asian greens.

Here is a youtube video of someone harvesting buk choi, as you can see, you can either harvest individual leaves or with some plants you can harvest the entire plant and it will grow back (as long as you leave the roots).

The picture below is of red amaranth (just sprouted) and water spinach both which can be harvested using cut-and-come-again.

From childrens books to large scale farming you are probably used to seeing rows of the same vegetable per single growing space or area. However, if you are in a suburban environment and have limited space to grow or you want to maximize the amount of food you are producing you can learn how to take advantage of grow times and space requirements to optimise the use of your growing area.

Combine fast growing / early harvest plants in the same beds. Plant alternate rows of fast and slow growing plants. As the fast growing plants are harvested they create growing space for the slower growing ones and vacate in time for the slow growing plants to spread.

While waiting for climibing plants to mature, use the space to plant a low growing rooting vegetable and allow the climbing plant to gradually climb above.

Start to pay attention to your plants grow time, space requirements, sunlight needs and how they occupy space (climbing, rooting,  bunching etc.) and you can make the most of your space.

In the first picture I have some potato plants in between these near mature daikon radishes. The radishes will come out in about 4 weeks in time to make way for the potatoes.

In the second picture you can see three cucumber plants which I will tie to a bamboo trellis which will sit over the top of these red globe radishes.

When thinking about insects in your vegetable garden most people think of pests. Bugs crawling over your precious crop, eating your cabbage leaves and drilling in to your tomatoes. However, not all insects are pests and the best way to keep your garden healthy is not to be bug free, but to create a balance where bad bugs won't get out of control.

Firstly, don't spray chemicals! By spraying chemicals you are creating a barren bug wasteland where no insects can survive. What ends up happening is as soon as you stop spraying the pests come back. If you can make an area where insects can thrive then you will have a large range of insects which will keep control of each other.

Have a large variety of plants including trees and flowers. By planting only one or two types of vegetable in your garden you are only catering for a limited set of insects and it is likely you are leaving your grow area empty or with weeds during part of the year. By planting a large variety of vegetables you are harvesting at different times and not destroying habitat by ripping up the lot. Combine your vegetable garden with flowers to attract polinators and other insects.

By having a wide variety of plants, not using harsh chemicals and providing other habitat such as small ponds or rocks for insects and their predators to come to your garden you will have much smaller infestations and many more beneficial creatures in your garden.

Below is a spider which has set up home amongst my tomatoes, if I were regularly spraying chemicals he wouldn't be there to help me keep flying insects at bay.

In Australia it is Allium fistulosum which is commonly known and sold as shallots. Shallots appears in dishes from different Asian countries and is great to add to your own cooking especially for those people who complain about eating regular onions and kids who like to pick them out of their food. You can dice them up really small and make them unnoticeable even to the fussiest eater.

The other great thing about shallots is, if you hold onto the root by cutting it off and putting it aside when you do your cooking you can actually replant this into the ground and it will continue to grow. It is quite easy, just cut approximately around where the white section turns to green and then just bury it leaving a few centimeters above the soil.

The regrowth is not as strong as the original plant, however you can usually let it regrow and cut back (without removing the base) at least 3 or 4 more times over a period of 6 months. This might not be as economical as seed, but if you have spare space and left over shallots from your meal then you are avoiding waste and the hassle and time to grow from seed.

Another great tip that my mother in law showed me recently, when you come back from the store with your shallots, plant them straight in the ground then rather than putting them in your fridge. This will lock in the taste longer and you can then just take a cutting a few centimeters above the soil and no need to replant, just leave it there to regrow.

Below if a photo of some recently planted shallots brought back from the store alongside some that has been regrowing cut from the root (looks like I also need to do some weeding).

I think it is a great shame that we have nearly three complete generations of people who no longer know how to grow their own food. My grandparents grew their own food so my parents should have all the knowledge they need, but it was never seen as something necessary for them to do. So this lost art is no longer taught or passed down.

When I started to learn gardening about 10 years ago I asked my grandfather, whose tomato plants would grow as tall as an adult how to plant tomatoes that would grow like his. He patiently explained all of the steps that he went through and what he used to make his plants grow. 10 years later I think I have finally grown a tomato plant which would rival the plants he was growing.

So why 10 years? I would say I had at least 5 years of producing almost nothing, a single tomato on one plant, a few head of lettuce, a failed watermelon vine. It has taken 10 years of honing my skill to a point where I am starting to feel comfortable in the garden. This is what we lose by not taking our kids out into the garden, letting them dig, explaining to them each of the steps required and letting them have a go. My oldest is always afraid of failing and I tell him to just go for it. If he doesn't get a chance to kill three plants while learning to make one thrive he will also be 10 years behind or may never embrace the joy of creating food.

The picture below is of my one year old. He now knows not to blast the seedlings with the hose by sticking the nozzle too close or to touch the tomato flowers with his fingers or to dig where plants are already growing. He has already learnt a large amount which will stick with him until he has a garden of his own.

Eating bamboo shoots is a real delicacy and they are rarely available to buy fresh in Sydney produce markets. This could be due to their status as a noxious weed, but it is quite common in many other countries to buy fresh bamboo shoots.

My mother in law recently returned home with two shopping bags full of freshly picked bamboo shoots which she managed to pick by hand with a friend. What better way to get our hands on this tasty dish and reduce the impact of bamboo growth by getting out and picking bamboo shoots.

Between two lots of bamboo growth which were in an area of natural remnant forest near our house we managed to pick close to 30kg of bamboo shoots over two weeks. Freshly cooked bamboo shoots are delicious!

Note: Be careful when picking food in areas that may have soil or water contamination.

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