ARTICLE Anja Kussler

For the first-time gardener, growing your own vegetables can be daunting as there is a lot to learn and consider. Here’s a plan to make sure your debut produce-growing mission is a flourishing success rather than a wilting, pest-ridden disappointment.

Laying the foundation

The key to a vege garden ‘that keeps giving’, is in the preparation, and choosing and right soil composition, location and disposition are all paramount to its success.

If you’re creating your vege patch in an existing garden, improve the soil condition by digging in good-quality sheep pellets, compost and a layer of vegetable soil mix before you start planting.

If you’re starting from scratch, you first need to decide on the style of garden and the planting system that you want to use. Popular options include traditional rows (great for larger areas) or raised beds. The latter is ideal if space is an issue, to help provide good drainage and to create a natural barrier against weeds and harmful creepy-crawlies like snails. Square foot planting (in set squares); as well pots and trays are also good ways of cultivating herbs and vegetables in a small area. 

A good size for a raised garden bed is 1.2m wide by ‘as long as you like’, with a path no wider than 60cm (made from woodchips or weed-proof mesh or fabric) between them. The narrow path will make the bed easy to access and plucking out weeds comfortably, without stepping on the soil. 

If you’re building a raised garden bed, opt for untreated timber and fill it with layers of sheep pellets, compost and vegetable mix. If you use pots or trays, all you have to do is fill them with vegetable mix before you start planting.

a close picture of a broccoli plant

Less is more

It’s understandable that you may overflow with enthusiasm and want to plant as many vegetables as possible when you first start off, but be aware that setting up and maintaining your patch does take time and effort, so it can become overwhelming if you do too much too soon. Rather make a list of your favourite produce and then narrow it down to the ones that cost a lot or are heavily treated with chemicals when you buy them at the shops. Then, as you become more au fait with the process, expand your repertoire from season to season.

What shall I grow?

Easy-to-grow veggies that are set to last the distance include spinach, silver beet, lettuce, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, spring onion and radishes. Plant them early or late in the day and leave at 15 to 20cm in between plantings for silver beet, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower as they can easily overcrowd a garden (a mistake many rookie gardeners tend to make). Also make sure you water the plants well before and after you put them in the ground.

Positioning and order do matter

  • Plant delicate, high-maintenance plants like tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant and basil first, and in the sunniest spots in your garden, to ensure optimum growth. Planting them along south-facing walls will help provide the heat they need to prosper.
  • Then plant vegetables that send vines out through the garden (like melon and zucchini) and position them along the edge of your vegetable patch so that their broad leaves don’t cover up your other veggies.
  • Plant veggies that grow upwards like beans, peas and cucumbers away from other vegetables so they don’t hide those from the sun – unless you live in a super hot region where these plants may provide protection from the scorching sun for cool-season crops like lettuce and spinach. 
  • Locate plants that don’t do well in dry conditions (onions, celery…) in slightly lower parts of your garden to retain more moisture and keep them growing strong.

A man planting lettuce to his garden with a tiny spade

Feed me

For your veggies to grow, prosper and produce ample crops, they need to be nourished consistently. To give them the nutrients they need, apply an all-purpose organic fertiliser or plant food once a week and then every four weeks once they’ve had their first growth spurt.

Bug(ger) it and weed free

Two things that can really muck up your proudly growing produce are weeds, or destructive insects or bugs like snails and plant lice. 

A great strategy to use in order to control pests without resorting to toxic chemicals is companion planting. Companion planting is the practice of grouping beneficial herbs (like basil) and flowers (nasturtiums etc) with specific vegetables as they attract insects like hoverflies and ladybirds, which either deter bugs through their volatile oils, or prey on bugs that dare to attack the companion plants of their choice. 

There are a number of ways to control weeds (and also harmful insects) in your garden organically, for example by gently hosing them down, spraying them with a solution of eco-friendly dishwashing liquid and water, or by applying a chemical-free pesticide like Diatomaceous Earth (the latter also acts as a natural fertiliser). For a full rundown on how keep your vege patch bug and weed free, see our article How to keep your garden free from aphids.

Happy gardening… and grazing on your delicious produce!

You might also want to read about How to Plant and Care for ‘Pyramidalis’ hedges. 

 

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.