With only a few weeks to go before the spring and summer vegetable growing season begins, now is the time to figure out where you want to put your veggie plot, what you want to plant in it, and how you don’t need to sacrifice time and lifestyle to reap the rewards of this immensely satisfying activity.
WATCH: The ultimate veggie garden
Find the space
You may fantasise about a huge vegie plot, with rows and rows of beans, beets and berries, but the reality is you have neither the time nor space to work these rows.
But little plots that make efficient use of space won’t impose on your summer lifestyle or take up excessive time or energy. Most spring and summer vegetables and herbs are shallow rooted annuals and don’t need a lot of space, unless you plan to grow enough to feed the neighbourhood.
The only requisite is that the plants get at least 6 hours – preferably 8 hours – of sunshine a day and are protected from strong winds or coastal breezes.
If you want a plot on your balcony or in a small courtyard, consider growing vegetables in pots and make use of your walls.
In your backyard, consider a rectangular raised bed. It’s easier on your back if you’re a beginner when tending and harvesting. You can also use the edge as a seating area. So start planning now!
Harvest from containers
There are many positives when growing vegies in pots: you can move them to follow the sun, they’re decorative, and you can hang them from a wall or ceiling when space is tight. Herbs can grow in small pots, but most vegies need pots 40-50cm in diameter that can hold 1-2 bags of quality potting mix. Vegies are always hungry and thirsty because they are quick growers. They’ll fill out the pot in no time.
Get the soil right
Raised beds are ideal if your soil is nutrient poor (sandy) or it gets water logged (clay). You don’t need to fill your entire bed with high-quality topsoil as annual plants only need about 30cm of soil. Instead, save on costs and layer the bottom of the bed with gravel, rocks or polystyrene.
Gardens in the ground have the benefit of underground microbial activity – worms, beetles and other creatures and organisms that constantly turn and nourish the soil. So keep your new raised bed healthy with regular feeds of compost and other organic matter. Once you build a healthy underground city, these underground creatures will come.
In smaller containers, use quality organic potting mix. But vegetables are voracious feeders and you need to replace this soil every year. If you’re using a tall pot so your plants can reach the sun over a balcony, fill the bottom with polystyrene (so the pot doesn’t get too heavy and you can’t move it) then top with 30cm of mix.
Seeds or seedlings
Seeds are cheaper to buy than seedlings, but it may be a false economy in terms of the time seeds take to grow and their viability. If you only get 10 seedlings from 100 seeds you’ve put in a lot of effort for a sad result.
Before buying seeds ask yourself: Is germination easy, will germination and growth take too long for the season, and will it transplant well.
If not, then seedlings are for you. They’ve survived the early growth challenges and someone else has done all the hard work for you for very little extra cost! Click here to get Graham Ross’ step-by-step guide to planting seedlings.
There are many styles and sizes of raised beds you can buy, or you can put together a basic frame yourself. Just don’t use treated pin unless it is arsenic-free. Before installation, think about an irrigation system that leads into the soil subsurface so there is no evaporation in summer. Or make a wicking bed that draws water from a reservoir underneath.
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3 projects for your vegie garden
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Jenny Dillon is the garden editor of Better Homes and Gardens. Her passion for gardening began in her mother’s huge vegetable patch and orchard in the country and now extends to the challenge of city plots, where the constraints are countered by the delights.