Vege garden tips

Growing your own vegetables can be simultaneously satisfying and terribly frustrating. At any one time you will have some star performers and those that should have stayed at home. However, if you are prepared to follow a few simple rules and spend at least an hour or two a week then you can have a successful vegetable garden.

You must have sun to successfully grow vegetables, (not negotiable unless you use ultra violet lights and foil - in which case you will probably attract the attention of your local law enforcement officer). No sun, no veges, simple as that. You need at least 4 hours of full sun and 6 is ideal - anymore and you might have a few issues (however this can be fixed with some clever companion planting). Less than 4 hours and most of the vegetables you plant are going to struggle - they will grow but they will be a bit pathetic.

The soil that vegetables grow in is a bit like the air we breathe - the worse the quality of our air, the worse generally is our overall health - except soil quality is even more important to the health of the vegetable plant. In fact it is the most important element to consider when growing plants. Whatever you plant your veges in; containers, raised beds or plastic bags you need soil that is relatively free draining and friable - another word for crumbly and not too acidic or alkaline.

Pick up a handful of some damp soil and try to form it into a clump, if it crumbles away and is gritty you have sandy soil. If it is gritty but you can form it into a clump that doesn’t crumble you have loamy soil and that is good. If it is sticky and quite wet as opposed to damp and clumps easily it is tending towards a clay loam. If it is very sticky and you can mould it - it is clay- not good for growing stuff!

Sandy soils lose water and nutrients quickly - so dig in compost or manure regularly. Clay loams are OK but they aren’t as free draining, meaning that the soil retains the moisture longer - OK in summer when it is warm but the soil will stay cold and wet in winter. Adding fertiliser and compost to a wet clay soil will harm your plants. One solution is to add gypsum to clay type soils. Gypsum changes the clay particle so that it drains more easily. This does take some time and quite a bit of gypsum so it is a solution that requires some long term planning. However, you can always buy good quality soil enhancer (Fodda) for your garden from Newton seed if long term planning is not an option. If you want top quality vegetables it is a good idea to add compost and manure a couple of months before you start planting out. This gives the soil time to absorb the nutrients and many vegetables do not thrive if they are planted in soils with fresh compost.

The average plant can survive longer than the average human without water but extreme dehydration normally results in death or severe harm. Different plants call for different watering requirements but when you plant your seeds you must water them daily - they don’t need to be soaked they just need to be kept moist to germinate, however there are some exceptions to this.

Feeding your plants is a good idea but not absolutely vital especially if you have done all the work in ensuring you have top quality soil. So feeding is a good idea if you want good veges but there is a bit of an art to it. Overfeeding is worse than underfeeding and if you can try to use organic matter as much as you can.

Recommended Organic Fertiliser:

  • Rooster booster chicken manure pellets - great stuff for almost all types of veges.
  • Sheep pellets - good but they can also carry weeds.
  • Wormcasts - great if you can get enough of them.
  • Potash - from the fire or woodburner, great for tomatoes and vege crops.
  • Blood and bone - good all round general fertiliser for green veges.
  • Homemade compost - nothing like good DIY compost to help transform a wasteland.

Provide your garden with some shelter from the wind. Windburn is not pretty on humans and worse on plants.

OK so these are the basic rules you need to follow. Below are step by step instructions for planting a vegetable garden.

  1. Choose your site whether it be in the ground or on the ground or in several containers taking into account rules 1, 2 and 5.
  2. Prepare the soil - if you have good loamy soil or are buying in a specialised soil product no need to worry just add some fertiliser a couple of weeks before you plant out your seedlings. If you want to build your own no dig garden on top of your existing garden or concrete just ‘Google’ no dig gardens - most of the sites have step by step instructions and You Tube even has video instructions.
  3. Get some seedling trays and fill them with seed raising mix then sprinkle a small amount of seed on top. The depth that you plant seed should be exactly equal to the length of the seed, any more and you can risk non-germination. Moisten with water, they need enough to drink but don’t drown them. Cover with plastic wrap (or similar) and keep them in a warm place - direct sun is not usually recommended but a couple of hours shouldn’t do them too much harm. A hot water cupboard is ideal but for those without, just keep them somewhere inside and warm with a few hours here and there in the sun. NOTE: there are some seeds that need a certain temperature to germinate, you can find this information on the vegetable varieties available to download from our website.
  4. When your seedling has reached the necessary maturity and the outside temperature is right for the variety of vegetable put them outside. In the early days seedlings are a bit like little kids - they need some protection from the nasty realities of the big bad world.

An upside down plastic milk container with some small holes does the trick or dome shaped plastic takeaway containers - again with a few small holes in the top to ensure the rain gets in but the nasties stay out. you can buy special plastic cloches from any big garden centre if you want to be really fancy.

That’s about it in a nutshell. There is a vast amount of literature on gardening and starting a vege garden and you can read about it until the cows come home but the real learning comes in the doing. So get doing!

Here's some downloadable tips we've put together for growing asparagus, beans, beetroot, peas, potatoes, silverbeet and tomatoes.