Cape Town-based non-profit organisation Soil For Life trains home gardeners to produce their own vegetables.

Providing for your family’s financial needs is proving more difficult with each passing day given the current state of the South African economy and the scarcity of jobs. But what about their nutritional needs?

Let’s face it, fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive. For the price of 1kg tomatoes you can buy 3 loaves of bread and a 4kg sack of potatoes stands equal to two 2.5kg maize meal packs. The more nutritious option isn’t always the easy choice.

What if I told you that you can bring the fruit and vegetable aisle into your back yard? Imagine stepping through your door into a floral spring breeze, into the summer sun, through the falling autumn leaves or onto winter frost, and being able to pick your own home-grown fruit and vegetables without making a trip to your local market.

Imagine enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables from your own garden all year round, and by planting specific fruit trees and vegetables you can make this possible. Not only will you be able to give your family fresh produce packed with nutrients, but you will also be able to teach your children how to establish a garden and share the joy in harvesting home-grown produce.

But choosing what to grow can be tricky. You need to know when to plant, when to harvest and what part of the country it flourishes in. Luckily, with the help of Dr Imke Kritzinger, horticulturist and all-round plant-lover, along with our own research we selected six different plants for you to try out.

Avocados

The first fruit tree on our list is an avocado tree. Avos are known for their nutritional value, packed with vitamin C, E, K, B-6, potassium, magnesium, the very important omega-3 fatty acids, and many more.

The Fuerte cultivar is the best avocado to plant in South Africa.

The best avocado to plant in South Africa is the Fuerte cultivar. This is important because it’s the only cultivar that can tolerate temperatures as low as -4°C. Once your tree starts producing fruit you can expect to harvest between March and August in warmer regions and between May and November in cooler regions.

A full grown avo tree produces a lot of fruit – too much for one family to eat, in fact. Excess fruit can be sold to create an extra source of income. The avo tree is the fruit tree that produces fruit for the longest period of the year. When buying an avo tree from a nursery it will take about 3 – 4 years and if you decide to grow it from the avo pit it can take between 10 and 15 years to produce fruit. In ideal conditions you can expect avos on your tree for half a year.

Guava

Guavas are among the fruits that contain the most Vitamin C and you can harvest within the first two years of planting. Guavas flourish in hot areas with little to no frost, but it is still able to grow in areas that experience some frost. In this case, young trees must be covered for protection.

The Fan Retief cultivar is most suited for South Africa and it’s the one that we all are most familiar with. The guava is ideal for the South African climate because it is well adapted to both summer and winter rainfall conditions. It can handle hot summers and cold winters and you can harvest the fruit during March and April.

Tomatoes

According to Dr Kritzinger, tomatoes are always good to plant. Planting different cultivars will help to extend your harvest. Planting basil close to your tomatoes will help them thrive and the Afrikanertjie flower’s scent deters insects. It’s also important to stake your tomato plants to keep them upright.

Tomatoes are always good to plant and can easily be grown from seeds.

Tomatoes are easily grown from seeds. First, plant the seeds in seed trays for four to six weeks. Then transfer the seedlings to a patch of land or a planter with a spacing of 40 – 60 cm. They will be ready for harvesting within 9 – 12 weeks after sowing. Be sure to plant them in a sunny spot and away from potatoes – because they don’t like one another. Plant new seedlings every four weeks, starting in September until the end of December to keep your harvest constant. This will allow you to harvest your tomatoes from November through until March.

Green Beans

Bush beans are easy to grow and ripen within 8 to 10 weeks.

Green beans are one of the easiest things to grow, explains Dr Kritzinger. There are two kinds of beans, runner beans and bush beans. Bush beans ripen quickly, within 8 – 10 weeks. Runner beans take up less space, as it is a creeper. Runner beans also produce beans for longer, so Dr Kritzinger recommends that you choose the bean type that’s best suited for the space in your garden.

Planting beans are fairly hassle free, just plant the seeds straight into the soil. You’ll have to keep a wary eye on your local weather forecast because if the seeds experience too much rain before sprouting they will most likely be unsuccessful. Timing is everything! The planting season is from September to January and you can expect a harvest one month after planting. Plant them 70cm apart to ensure that you can harvest beans from October to February.

Beetroot

Spring and Autumn is the best time to sow beetroot seeds.

Beetroot is a great option to have in your garden because you can literally eat all of it – roots, bulb and leaves. Young leaves are high in vitamin A and can be used in a salad and the older leaves are great in a stir-fry. The roots are high in vitamin C and the bulb contains a lot of natural sugars and anti-oxidants.

The best time to sow beetroot seeds are during spring and autumn. After six to nine weeks they will be ready to harvest. Make sure to regularly water your beetroot, as they prefer moist soil. An interesting trick you can use to promote bigger bulbs are to step on the leaves as soon as they are large and mature. Twisting and bruising the leaves will prevent the plant from using more nutrients to grow larger leaves and will instead pump all the energy into the bulb and roots.

Potatoes

Saving the best for last. The potato is probably South Africa’s favourite vegetable. They give us the beloved fried potato chip, creamy potato mash or the best ingredient in that famous beef stew that greets you every time you visit your gogo’s house.

After planting these spuds it will take up to 15 to 20 weeks for them to be ready to harvest.

The best news is that you can use the potatoes you have in your house currently to grow more! When you leave a potato laying around for long enough it will start producing sprouting stems called “eyes”.  Once this has happened, ready yourself to get your hands and knees dirty because you can start sticking them in the ground.

The only down side to planting potatoes is that they need space, but Dr Kritzinger has given us some creative ways to solve this problem. She recommends planting potatoes in pots or used tires that you can stack and fill with soil as the plant grows. You can even reuse an old or broken laundry basket. Plant potatoes from January to March and September to October. It will take about 15 to 20 weeks for them to be ready to harvest.

Research is key

When you decide to start your own garden, try to buy your fruit trees from a nursery. Fruit trees can be quite fragile when sprouting them from a seed, so to give your trees a better chance, plant them when they already have a head start. Keep in mind that some plants might fare better in your area than others, so for best results consult your local nursery to get alternative advice. If you decide to go with another fruit or vegetable, be sure to choose something that is self-pollinating, otherwise the plant will never be able to produce fruiting bodies if it is dependent on another plant to be fertilised. Remember, research is key to a successful harvest.

May these tips inspire you to grow from a tiny sprout into a successful provider, ensuring a more nutritious future for yourself, your family and your community. Happy harvesting!

Dané Vermeulen
Dané Vermeulen is a food enthusiast with a strong belief in using fresh produce when cooking. She combines her love for food and photography to share her passions with the world. Her thirst for knowledge keeps her on the top of her game and ready to jump into any conversation, no matter the topic. She has a BSc degree in Biodiversity and Ecology from the University of Stellenbosch and she is a freelance writer for Food For Mzansi.