Vegie Garden Basics

Creating a vegie garden from scratch with Julie Willis

Location

Ideally you should site your vegie garden in an area of full sun, although cane fruits, brassicas and perennial vegetables will all tolerate some shade where a site is only partially in the sun. It makes good sense to site your vegie garden near the house, the shortest walk possible encourages regular visits, even in bad weather, to harvest crops, check on progress and do a bit of regular maintenance.

You will need to have easy access to a water supply, edible plants need regular watering. Whatever shape or size you make your beds will depend on the amount of room available, but it advisable to have them no more than 1.2m wide, so you can comfortably reach the crops from either side of the bed without having to stand on the soil, causing compaction.

Allow room for compost bins, home made compost really is a fantastic way of recycling your kitchen scraps and garden waste into a highly prized resource.

Soil

Healthy soil is the most important element of a vegie garden if it is to be successful. As food is harvested, we take nutrients from the plants, and from the soil, it is vital that we replace this on a continual cycle.

Soil texture is classified into 5 main groups, clay, sand, silt, chalk and peat. Each has its own merits and disadvantages, but all types will benefit greatly from the addition of organic matter, both incorporated into the soil such as home made compost or well rotted animal manures as well as mulches such as lucerne or sugar cane mulch.

Also essential for soil fertility are the wide range of organisms that live in it, beneficial fungi, bacteria, microscopic insects and visible ones, like earthworms and beetles. All these organisms break down the organic matter to produce humus, a dark coloured, sticky substance that builds good soil structure, helps retain water and stores and releases nutrients.

Nutrients

The three major nutrients required by plants are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). You will see these letters on fertiliser packaging, followed by the percentage of each nutrient. Nitrogen is essential for green, leafy growth. Phosphorus is necessary for the chemical reactions in plants that stimulate cell division, so promotes growth of healthy roots and shoots.

Potassium is essential for plant metabolism, promoting strong, hardy growth, disease resistance and good colour and flavour to fruit and veg. Magnesium, calcium and sulphur have essential roles, but are required in much smaller quantities. There are also essential trace elements, or micronutrients, required in even smaller quantities; the most important of these are iron, manganese, copper, molybdenum, boron, chlorine and zinc.

What to grow

When it comes to deciding what to grow, the world really is your oyster, but there are a few things you should consider when making your choices. If space is limited, growing crops such as potatoes and cabbages, might not be the best use of space as these plants take up a lot of room for a long time and are fairly cheap to buy. It may be more beneficial to grow crops that would be expensive at the shop, such as capsicums, salads (particularly baby leaf gourmet mixes), beans and soft fruits.

Growing hard to find crops too, such as heirloom tomatoes, golden beetroot and multi coloured carrots are also worth considering. Grow what you like to eat! It may sound obvious, but so many people grow things that they don’t love, or they grow so many of one thing that they end up with a glut. Instead of sowing a whole tray of seeds in one go, such as lettuce, only sow 10 seeds, but sow them every week, this way, you’ll have a succession of harvesting, which you'll be able to keep up with in the kitchen.

Freezing and storage capabilities of crops are important, peas, beans, blackberries, raspberries and currants all freeze beautifully, so can be planted in abundance. Potatoes, onions and pumpkins all dry store well, while root vegetables all sit quite happily in the garden until you’re ready to harvest them, but make sure you catch them before the run to seed or they will become woody.

Crop rotation

Crop rotation is vital in the vegie garden to stop the build up of pests and diseases in the soil and to maximise the nutrient uptake needs of your crops. There are many different approaches to crop rotation, whichever you chose, keeping simple records of what you grew in each bed will help you keep track. It’s also very useful to keep notes on varieties, suppliers and harvest yields, this will help you build up an overall picture on how well your vegie garden is working for you and can save time and money in the long run. Probably the simplest crop rotation cycle is the 4-bed system, shown in this table below.

 Bed 1Bed 2Bed 3Bed 4
Season 1 Green manure Root crops Fruiting crops Leafy crops
Season 2 Leafy crops Green manure Root crops Fruiting crops
Season 3 Fruiting crops Leafy crops Green manure Root crops
Season 4 Root crops Fruiting crops Leafy crops Green manure

Each bed follows the same process, each new season the crops all move on one position, so after 4 seasons, all the beds have had all four crops grown in them.

The green manure adds bulky organic matter to the soil, increasing the nitrogen and carbon levels of the soil as it breaks down. Leafy crops follow on in the rotation, as they require high levels of nitrogen to grow lush, leafy growth. Plants in this group include lettuces, watercress, herbs and silver beet.

Next comes the fruiting crops, these include tomatoes, zucchini, beans and peas, these plants need less nitrogen, but lots of potassium, essential for flower and fruit formation. Finally, the root crops finish the cycle, they prefer an impoverished soil, so will happily grow in a bed which has had the majority of nutrients used up by previous crops.

More

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Seed Sowing (Vegetables)

Easy steps for growing from seed with Evette Jungwirth

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Seedling Care

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Julie Willis

Julie is our Horticultural Advisor, bringing her UK qualifications, Australian experience and knowledge of plants for all climates and situations to Diggers, where she presents workshops, develops fact sheets and gives gardening advice to members.
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