Where to start…


First Timers

Start Small
If you’re new to growing food, it’s important to start small. The temptation for most novice gardeners is to plant too much. The consequence is an overwhelming glut of vegetables followed by a barren period. To avoid this and produce a more continuous harvest, plant just one or two of each type of plant and make sure you leave enough space to plant a similar amount for your successive crop. With most vines or bushes such as tomatoes, eggplant (aubergine), capsicum (bell peppers), green beans, cucumber and zucchini (courgettes) plant seedlings of the second crop when the first flowers appear on your original crop. With root vegetables and leafy greens, plant new seeds or seedlings every 2 or 3 weeks, depending on your consumption.

Be Selective
Don’t overwhelm yourself with too much variety. Give yourself time to get to know the growing habits and needs of each type of vegetable. I recommend beginning with around 4 different types of vegetables. Even this amount will make a big difference to the quality of your food.

Form a Growing Community and Share the Spoils!
Gather your neighbours and friends to join in the experience of growing food to:

  • Stay motivated
  • Share tips
  • Troubleshoot problems
  • Save money by sharing seedlings and equipment
  • Swap fruit and vegetables for a wider variety of food
  • Develop fulfilling, mutually beneficial relationships

Preparation and Maintenance

Soil pH
Most vegetables grow best in a soil medium that is either slightly acidic or neutral. pH 7 is neutral – neither acidic or alkaline. pH levels that are lower than 7 mean that the soil is on the acidic side while pH levels above 7 means the soil is on the alkaline side. Having a pH reading either below 6 or above 7 could inhibit your plants’ ability to absorb nutrients from the soil.

How To Balance Soil pH

  • If soil pH is below 6.0 you can raise the pH (i.e. make it more alkaline) by adding well rotted compost and animal or green (plant) manures as well as lime or dolomite.
  • If soil pH is above 7.0 you can lower the pH (i.e. make it more acidic) by adding well rotted compost and animal or green (plant) manures. If the pH is really high i.e. really alkaline you may need to also add Elemental Sulphur, which is also known as Flowers of Sulphur and can be purchased in garden centres.

 

Raised Beds
Build raised beds for your vegetable garden to give your crops adequate drainage and enough space to add loads of nourishing organic material to the bed. Without the addition of organic material, soil either hardens like concrete around the roots of the plant, as with clay soils, or allows nutrients to wash away, as with sandy soils. You can make raised beds by building up the sides of the soil into a mound with a flat top. The problem with this is that it requires a lot of maintenance and even then does not give as good a result as proper borders because it leaves the bed open to erosion allowing the soil to dry out much quicker. So my advice is to invest some time and possibly money (depending on how resourceful you are) in good solid borders either made from planks of (untreated) timber, sheets of corrugated iron, or hay bales (these take up more space). Whatever materials you use, give the bed a height of at least 18 inches.Organic Fertiliser Pellets
Once your seedlings have emerged place a good cup or 2 of pelletized fertiliser. It should include any or, better still, all of the following ingredients: composted animal manure, blood & bone, fish meal, seaweed extract and Sulphate of Potash.

Liquid Fertiliser
A weekly application of an organic liquid fertiliser such as compost tea, worm wee or liquid animal or green manures has a dramatic impact on the health of your vegetable plants. Because the nutrients are in soluble form, they are immediately available for the plant to take up and are very easy to make yourself: simply fill ½ of a plastic garbage bin with either pelletized organic fertilizer, fresh manure, compost, weeds or a combination of all of these then fill the rest of the bin with water, put the lid on and let it stew in the sun for 2-3 weeks. Use about four soup ladels of the liquid for a 9 litre (1.7 gallon) watering can.

Watering
Deep, consistent watering is one of the most important requirements for all vegetables. If, like me, you’re not one to stand around with a hose for hours on end watering your plants properly, then opt for a weeping hose and timer. This way your precious time can be used doing things that really interest you. But if (like many gardeners I know) you find watering your garden with a hose therapeutic, then go for it! We’re all different and derive pleasure from gardening in different ways.

Mulching
Mulching your garden is one of the single most important things you can do for your plants, as it:

  • Prevents plants from getting stressed. If plants are stressed too much, like us, they become weaker and prone to disease and pest attacks.
  • Keeps the soil cool around the root zone
  • Prevents plants from drying out, giving them a more continuous supply of moisture.
  • Stops water being lost through evaporation, especially when used in conjunction with a weeping hose that is placed between the soil and mulch
  • Can be dug in afterwards to improve soil structure, nutrient content and microbial activity
The best mulches to use for vegetable gardening are ones that are permeable and easily broken down such as pea straw, lucerne hay and sugar can mulch.