Produce picked at its peak then eaten straight away is one of the healthiest, most cost-effective and satisfying ways to reap the benefits of summer gardening.

Summer is a great time for eating fresh fruit and veg planted during spring, but it’s also the ideal time to get planting for a salad crop and autumn soups. Tomato, zucchini, pumpkin and more are all perfect to pop in right now.

Summer gardening requires a few tricks to help your plants beat the heat, but they just involve a little planning. And there are delicious crops to suit every sized garden.

1. Zucchini

Sometimes called courgettes, zucchinis are sold both by cultivar name and by colour. Most are dark green, but there are also golden yellow types, which are more mould-resistant and even round varieties.

Plant seedlings when the weather warms up and you can be harvesting in six weeks, just make sure to keep the water plentiful.

Pick zucchini young for the most flavour and biggest crop. They’re packed with powerful health benefits, being high in potassium, fibre, vitamin A and antioxidants.

Slice or grate them raw into a salad, fry, grill, bake, steam, boil or stuff them and serve with sauce. Or cook in a slice, frittata, quiche, cake or muffin. You can even eat the flowers.

TIP Zucchinis are low in kilojoules, so you can eat as much as you like.

2. Tomato

Rich in Vitamins A and C and the antioxidant lycopene, tomatoes are staples of both the kitchen and garden. Plant seedlings now and you’ll have crops in February.

There are almost as many varieties of tomato as there are sizes and uses. For cooking, try Grosse Lisse or Reggae Roma, which both need staking in the garden, or San Marzano or Pot Prize, which are ideal for growing in pots.

In sandwiches and salads, use Mama’s Delight or any of the beefsteak varieties, including Black Russian, with its purple-black fruit.

Yellow tomatoes are mellow in flavour, less acidic and sweeter, making them the best pick for sensitive stomachs.

Cherry varieties are tough survivors despite their small size and also highly resistant to disease.

TIP To ripen green tomatoes, put them in a paper bag with a ripe banana.

3. Pumpkin

Although we think of pumpkin as a winter food, summer is the time to get growing. Sow seeds directly into the garden where they are to grow, and you’ll be harvesting by autumn.

When harvesting, leave as much stem as possible attached to each pumpkin as it helps them last longer.

Pumpkins are full of vitamins, including E, A and C. Their high folate and iron content makes them a great food choice for pregnant women and vegetarians.

There are dozens of different pumpkins, but the best eating varieties are the type with thick grey skins that are usually about 4kg each, or butternuts, which are smaller and easier to cut.

Grey-skinned varieties include Kent, which is a medium size with relatively easy to cut skin. It’s great for steaming, stir-fries and baking.

West Australian-bred Jarrahdale is larger, with a thicker skin that makes it a great keeper. It’s a drought-tolerant variety that is excellent in soups and bread. Sweet Grey is similar, with higher yields and sweeter flesh.

Butternut pumpkins are best for warm areas. Their sweet flesh is particularly good for soups, or they can be roasted with the skins on.

While most pumpkins require several square metres of space, Golden Nugget is perfect for small gardens. They’re best stuffed and baked.

TIP Dried pumpkin seeds from any variety also make a tasty snack and contain dietary fatty acids.

4. Cucumber

A sprawling vine in the garden, cucumbers can be grown up a trellis in full sun to save space.

They’re ready for harvest in as little as eight weeks, and the more you pick them, the more they grow. Just use them quickly as they don’t store well.

Cucumbers are mostly water, which makes them a great diet food. They also contain useful amounts of calcium and phosphorus for healthy bones and silica for connective tissues.

For pickles and relishes, try firm varieties like County Air and Pickle Bush. Burpless varieties are less acidic, and live up to their name.

Regal is a high yielding and disease resistant variety so it’s a popular gardener’s choice and the all-purpose Saladin is good for both pickling and salads. Lebanese cucumbers are great all-rounders and fruit prolifically.

TIP Slice cucumber and use it to treat sunburn, tired eyes, swelling or even dermatitis.

5. Eggplant

Grow eggplant in pots as well as the garden. Transplant seedlings into a warm, sunny spot in early summer and you’ll be harvesting in 12 weeks. Just keep an eye out for snails.

They’re rich in fibre, Vitamin K and folate, as well as manganese and nasunin, which assist brain function.

Cook classic purple and Lebanese eggplants in a moussaka or baba ganoush. White eggplants have a creamier texture and tougher skin, use them for stuffing and casseroles.

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