A little while ago, my Mum (gardener extraordinaire) planted a vegetable garden that, with a little rain and some (utter) green thumb magic, has all but taken over the world. The zucchinis it produces are famed throughout the land – the length and width of a grown man’s head. The pumpkins have, in mum’s words, ‘gone beserk’ and the rockmelons are as sweet as the sunshine.
And so, given it is Green Week, a week in which we get better acquainted with Mother Earth and all she provides, I thought I’d ask Mum to whip up an easy to understand guide to creating your own vegetable patch. Where to start, what you’ll need and what plants to grow, depending on the weather and the size of your garden. Read on to inspire your green thumb and in no time at all you’ll be smugly tossing your own tomatoes in your salads and extolling the virtues of ‘home grown food’.
Why Should I Grow my Own Vegetables?
The incomparable TASTE
The personal SATISFACTION
Some Points to Remember …
* You should be encouraging and supporting biodiversity in your patch/pots. Expect and hope for lizards, moths, butterflies, birds, dragonflies and ladybirds. Plants like borage self seed, are extremely bee attracting and have beautiful blue flowers which look good in ice cubes in a summer drink
* Only grow what you enjoy eating and/or what you enjoy looking at.
* Lots of veggies can be grown in a comparatively small space. If space is very limited, grow them in pots, amongst the flowering plants in the garden – yours or a communal one – or borrow your next door neighbour’s spare bit of dirt or the nature strip!
* Don’t worry if you run out of time to tend your patch and some of the plants go to seed; many plants have beautiful flowers (such as lettuce and cabbage) and seed heads and become completely different in shape as they prepare to reproduce. It wont feed you, which is the purpose of the whole exercise, but it’s visually fascinating and will feed the insect life and by extension the birds.
What You’ll Need …
It is very important that the soil drains well – if it’s sandy, add compost and cow or sheep manure. If it’s too clay-like and lumpy add the same, plus some coarse sand. Tip: potatoes help to break up lumpy soil. Plant them late winter or spring.
It should be premium - the best you can afford, and preferably include water crystals and other goodies as veggies are hungry all the time and drainage is important.
Terracotta, fibreglass box, plastic – it doesn’t matter as long as it’s deep enough for the particular vegetable’s roots and it drains well.
Vegetable gardens need lots of sunshine. Like roses and fruit trees, vegetables need about 6 hours of sun a day. You will need to experiment, especially if your garden is in pots on a balcony where the amount of exposure will probably be shorter.
FOOD + WATER
You can feed your vegetable garden with seaweed extracts, organic fertiliser, long lasting pellets, there are loads to choose from. Keep it mainly organic so it is nourishing the soil as well as feeding the plants. You should water your vegetable garden every three days until established and then your judgment needs to kick in. Frequency of watering will depend on weather and the type of plants, so figure out the best watering schedule for your garden.
Mulch ideally protects and nourishes the garden and can be straw, lucerne hay, grass, leaf clippings, manure. I have sweet peas scrambling through the roses and veggies; they are so pretty and members of the pea family nitrogenise the soil. When they die I use the dead bits as mulch, they self seed and return in time for autumn again!
You can purchase either seeds or seedlings (baby plants already shooting). What you’ll need largely depends on the depth of your pocket, patience and proficiency. Most local nurseries will have packets of seeds and seedlings of various vegetables at various times of the year.
Yates is a great old Australian brand for seeds. If you are interested in biodiversity, Google Seed Savers at Byron Bay, Diggers in Victoria or Green Harvest Organic Garden Supplies in Queensland. They and others like them have saved and maintained many different varieties of fruit and vegetables which were in danger of disappearing as growers began to grow essentially monocultures for the mass markets and “fresh produce” was expected to last up to 2 weeks before being sold. An example of this is seen in tomatoes – only the breed of tomatoes with thick skins were being grown and bred, as the thinner skinned ones could not stand up to the travelling and handling. If you are interested in any of this get your hands on anything written by American journalist Michael Pollan.
Rocket grows like one and Salad burnet is a lovely plant with pretty blue green ferny foliage and peppery taste like rocket. Radicchio lettuce is hardy (remember to pick the leaves often then so they don’t get tough or go to seed) and the three of these make a fabulous bitter salad. Cucumbers (vine) are super easy and great on summer sambos.
I find broccoli, and carrots fairly unforgiving – the latter curl into little knoblets unless the soil is absolutely friable and the former can suddenly become great tough trees. My lack of discipline, I know. Cabbages tend to be a bit proprietal of their soil and kale are much more ornamental amongst the other veggies. Onions are easy but garlic is tricky in warm climates. Pumpkins (vine) are good but they need a fair bit of room. Zucchini (vine) easy – however, unless watched, it can grow to the size of a small canoe – have your Italian/Greek cookbook handy.Sweet potatoes and kumara (vine) are easy, and they reappear every year, so they’ll need some room (approx a square metre). Potatoes easy, but dirty! The plant is boring to look at but they do help break up lumpy soil. Green beans are brilliant – easy, pretty and yummy. Beetroot, Chilli, Eggplant and Capsicum are easy, easy, easy. Tomatoes – only grow the small cherry tomatoes as they are much easier to manage.
Rhubarb is easy, pretty and delicious cooked with orange juice and brown sugar.
Strawberries … frankly, it’s easier to buy these guys in a punnet at the fruit shop!
Rockmelon (vine) easy and for Passionfruit, you’ll need a wire fence or trellis.
Words: Jo Hambrett
Photos: Liv Hambrett