Reap what you sow. Growing the perfect veggie garden.
Growing your own edible garden isn't hard – it just requires a little time, patience, good advice and common sense.
Here are our top tips for getting started…
What to plant?
The very first thing is to decide what you want to grow. This can be as simple as thinking about what herbs and vegetables you like to eat and use often. Plus, it’s also a good idea to research which varieties grow best in your area.
If you want to pull things out of your garden to eat all year round, keep in mind you'll need to follow a schedule of when each herb or veggie will need planting, and what can follow in its place. Start with a seasonal planting calendar to help you work out which vegetables and fruits grow in which months, and when to harvest them depending on where you live.
Succession planting, or staggering the sowing of your seeds, will also ensure a continuous supply of vegetables (instead of them all coming in at once!), as will growing plants that give multiple crops and/or are high yielding. For example, bean seeds will give you many crops over a season, whereas planting a cauliflower will just give you one pick and can take four months to mature.
Crops that grow quickly like radishes, lettuces and spinach mean you can turn over what you're growing very quickly. Alternatively, grow plants with long yields such as green leafy vegetables like perpetual spinach and silver beet or heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables to maximise your harvest.
In drier climates, think about choosing crops that don't need a lot of watering, and ones that are less susceptible to pests, like heirloom varieties.
Cost effective vegetables.
If you choose your plants wisely, growing even just a few of your own vegetables is a great way to offset the relatively high cost of buying them from your grocer or supermarket.
Our picks for the most cost-effective vegetables include:
- Herbs like thyme and mint which last longer on the plant. Having them on hand is a great way to save on buying a fresh bunch every time you need just a small amount.
- Lettuce can be expensive to buy and it doesn't take long for it to go bad. Cut-and-come-again varieties will save you from wasting food, as well as make your salads more nutritious and delicious.
- Cherry heirloom tomatoes can be as much as $7 at the supermarket. So growing your own is a great option. Cherry tomatoes also grow more quickly than larger varieties, which means there is less time for them to be eaten by bugs.
- Climbing beans are great for small spaces and give multiple crops.
Compost & Manure
For the best veggies, it’s really worthwhile adding some compost or manure to your soil. So what’s the difference? While both are termed ‘organic matter’, compost is generally decomposed plant material (made from your recycled garden and kitchen waste), left in a compost bin to break down naturally. The end product is a brown-black substance that looks like soil and is rich in nitrogen, which is perfect for ‘conditioning’ soil: it makes clay soil less dense so it drains better, and adds body to sandy soil, allowing it to retain more nutrients and water. It also stimulates soil microbes into action (that's a good thing).
By contrast manure is decomposed animal waste, typically comprising a mix of faeces, urine, spilt food and bedding (for example, hay from horse stables). Containing more intense nutrient levels than compose, it is a fantastic source of nutrients for plants, being very high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
If you're digging directly into the soil, raise the soil level in your bed by adding both compost and manure. This will not only help provide your veggies with valuable nutrients, but also improve drainage. You can either mound soil up in the bed, or build a frame of timber sleepers and fill that up.
If you're using a free-standing raised bed or containers, then your drainage is already sorted. But just remember that nutrients will leach out over time and will need to be replaced. Topping up with compost as you replant is a great way to keep soil levels high and nutrients restocked in any garden type.
Adding manure is also a good idea when planting ‘hungry’ plants such as brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, kale and their cousins), but don't just spread it everywhere — many root crops (onions and carrots especially) prefer less-fertile soil.
- If your compost bin smells, add more dry material such as newspapers or leaf litter.
- Avoid meat scraps, as they attract rats, mice and other vermin.
- To accelerate the composting process, add air by turning compost over with a fork.
Organic pest control
Last but not least, to give your veggies the best chance of growing strong and healthy, keep on top of snails, slugs and other pests. Companion planting, or growing complementary plants near each other, acts as a natural pest control. For example…
- Planting tomatoes and basil together helps protect the tomatoes as the basil's powerful scent repels aphids.
- Grow climbing beans at the base of a sweet corn stalk. Not only will this support the beans, their roots will transfer nitrogen from the air into the soil where it's needed by the sweet corn.
- Onions and carrots are great for boosting the productivity of the soil beds as the roots of both plants use the nutrients at different soil levels. The pungent smell of onions also confuses pests attracted to carrots.
Persistent garden pests can be controlled with homemade organic pesticides including ground chilli, garlic or coffee mixed with soap water. For snails, sawdust and crushed egg-shells are helpful, but often the best remedy is simply to pull them off yourself!
For a stronger solution, pyrethrum is a natural insecticide obtained from the flower of the pyrethrum plants (related to the chrysanthemum) which is commonly used to kill aphids. Be careful if you're making your own pyrethrum pesticide: it can cause allergic reactions until it breaks down under sunlight. You can also make your own white oil – for getting rid of scale and aphids – by mixing sunflower oil in diluted dishwashing liquid.
It can be hard to keep track of what has been growing where, but it's important because generally the same plants shouldn't go in the same spot year after year. So get a notebook to jot down what you plant and where each year. Over time this will also give you better picture of what does well where and when, and also help break the breeding cycles of pests and soil diseases.
When to harvest!
Finally, when your plants do start producing, make sure you harvest regularly. Your plants are on a mission to reproduce and, as you keep stealing their babies, they'll be triggered into producing more. This especially applies to cucumbers, zucchini and peas.