Starting a Veggie Garden
Every year James Pond Gardening gets inquiries from people who are a little bewildered by the complexity of planning their first vegetable garden and don’t know where to start.
I have to admit most of my customers are prepared to spend time getting it right but find the plethora of possible combinations of plants and layouts confusing. With that in mind, here's James Ponds best advice in the form of three key steps to follow when producing a good plan for a new vegetable garden.
First is this a new garden or updating an exiting
if it is a brand new garden start here
When planning a vegetable garden it’s all too easy to jump in with both feet and try to grow as much as possible in the first year.
Many experienced gardeners will tell you that this is just setting yourself up for disappointment as the amount to learn, maintain and weed can quickly become overwhelming. Far better is to make a list of your favorite vegetables and narrow it down to the ones that taste best fresh or cost a lot to buy in the shops.
Plan to create a few vegetable beds each year, expanding as you become confident and find the timesaving shortcuts that work for you. Defining good paths (using materials such as woodchip and weed suppressant fabric) will pay back many times over in the time saved maintaining them.
If the area you are going to use for your vegetable garden is new then the next decision is what style of garden and planting system you would like to use: raised beds, traditional rows, square foot gardening etc.
In general it’s a good idea to define garden beds 4 feet (1.2m) wide and as long as you want them to be with a 2 foot (60cm) path between them. This is about as wide as you can go before it becomes uncomfortable to lean into the middle of the bed (you’ll appreciate this when weeding) without treading on the soil (best avoided as it compacts the soil structure).
If you have children around then it’s useful to clearly mark the edges and building raised beds is a good way to do this (also good if you have heavy or waterlogged soil as they drain well.)
Ok so now we have our prep done Step 1
What is Companion planting ?
Well basically many different crop layouts can work for a particular garden space and there will be far more variation in the harvest due to factors beyond our control such as weather and pests than in whether leeks should be placed next to carrots. Although some gardeners swear by complex companion planting systems the main principles that have been proved to work are summarised as:
Mix up plants to confuse pests: Large areas of a single crop (or a single crop family) attract pests whereas mixed planting can confuse them. See our article on Common Sense Companion Planting for details. The one exception to this is where plants require special protection, for example, cabbages, broccoli and cauliflowers may be grown together if they are all going to be protected from caterpillars in a tunnel of netting or horticultural fleece.
Grow insectary plants: There are a number of well-known flowers that attract beneficial insects (ladybirds, hoverflies etc) that will naturally control pests. See my article on Flowers for Vegetable Gardens for help in choosing these.
Consider Shade and Support: Tall plants can shade others or can be used to offer support to others e.g. climbing beans can grow up sweet corn
With these general principles in mind here are my recommendations for placing plants in a new vegetable garden:
Tender Plants: Plants such as tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant, basil etc are the most fussy. Unless your climate is extremely warm you’ll want to reserve the best sunny spots in your garden for these high-value crops so add them to your plan first. South facing walls can be particularly good for providing the heat that these plants like in order to produce an abundant harvest.
Roaming Plants: Next place plants that like to send out vines that roam around the garden – melon, squash etc. These need to be situated at the edge of your vegetable beds so the broad leaves attached to the vines don’t cover your other plants. Placing them at the edge lets them spread out across paths or grass.
Vertically Climbing Plants: Anything that grows up supports – peas, beans and some squash such as cucumbers, will need to be located where they won’t shade other vegetables. The one exception is areas with very hot summers where some cool-season crops such as lettuce and spinach can benefit from shade in the heat of the day.
Irrigation: Some plants perform badly in dry conditions – celery, onions, strawberries etc (see our Plant Guides for full details). Areas of your garden that are slightly lower will retain more moisture or you may need to plan to provide irrigation to get consistent growth.
Pollination: Certain plants need to be near others in order to pollinate well and ‘set fruit’ (ie produce the edible portion). The main one you need to consider is sweet corn which should be grown in blocks to ensure that it produces full cobs – see our article on sweetcorn for details.
Accessibility: What plants do you want to be able to regularly harvest? Herbs, salad, tomatoes etc..? These should all be placed as near to your kitchen as possible. Not only will you then be more likely to use them but it will help you to keep on top of the weeds and remove slugs regularly.
Succession Planting: If you are short of space or want a crop throughout the season, consider using succession planting and intercropping – see my article on getting more crops from an area and our video on using the Garden Planner to organise Succession Planting.
Don't Overcrowd: Finally, tempting though it is, be very careful not to overcrowd plants as you add in the remaining ones to your plan. This is the number 1 mistake made by new gardeners and it’s easy to see why – plants look so small as seedlings and we all hate pulling up the result of our hard work to thin them out! Our Garden Planner can help with this and show just how much you can get into your space.
the devil is in the details
what do I mean by that well it’s the little things don’t be afraid to make mistakes gardening is a mix of art and science so go boldly, however it’s the little things that can make a big difference
Composting is a way of recycling your organic waste – such as vegetable scraps and leaves – by mixing them in a compost bin and leaving them to break down naturally. The end product is a brown-black substance that looks like soil and is rich in nitrogen.
It's a great way to improve your soil, as it helps build structure and retain moisture and provides nutrients for all types of soils. Local councils often run free composting workshops, which are good for getting started.
If your compost bin smells, add more dry material such as newspapers or leaf litter.
Avoid meat scraps, as they attract vermin.
To accelerate the composting process, add air by turning it over with a fork.
For those who are space-poor but still want to take advantage of the fertiliser available to you in your food scraps, try a worm farm or bokashi bucket.
Worms decompose organic matter into worm castings which gives soil a nutrient surge. You can make a farm by using polystyrene boxes (instructions are on the internet or check with your local council) or buy one from your local council or hardware store.
Keep the farm in a cool, dry space. You can add everything, from banana peel to eggshells, but not citrus and onions as they're too acidic for the worms, and do not add meat or twigs.
By placing your kitchen scraps into these airtight containers and using a bokashi mix that contains micro-organisms, the food waste ferments. Food waste reduces in volume and bokashi juice, or fertiliser, is produced. The remaining food waste can then be buried in garden beds. Bokashi buckets can be kept indoors.
If you're really keen and have the space, keeping chickens is a way of getting fresh eggs every morning as well as using up food scraps.
If you keep chooks, leave their manure out to dry or put it into a compost bin along with kitchen scraps and leaf litter, so it breaks down into organic, nutrient-rich matter. You'll need to check with your local council if you can keep chooks in your area.
If you're not sure chickens are right for you, try renting them. Renting a chook ? yes apparently is can be done www.bookachook.com in Victoria. You will get the whole package – a coop, two hens, organic feed, a waterer, food and straw – but will be given a deadline to decide if it's right for you. Rent-a-Chook, for example, has a six-week deadline. It costs $430 upfront, which includes a $330 deposit that will be returned if you decide not to keep the chooks.
Organic pest control
Companion planting, or growing complementary plants near each other, acts as a natural pest control.
Planting tomatoes and basil together is said to help protect the tomatoes as the basil's powerful scent repels aphids.
Grow climbing beans at the base of a sweet corn stalk. The corn's stalk will support the climbing beans while the beans' roots will transfer nitrogen from the air into the soil where it's needed by the sweet corn.
Onions and carrots boost the productivity of the soil beds as the roots of both plants use the nutrients at different soil levels. The pungent smell of onions is said to confuse pests drawn to carrots.
Crop rotation, or rotating what you grow in your garden bed, also helps break the breeding cycles of pests and soil diseases.
Persistent garden pests can be controlled with homemade organic pesticides, such as ground chilli, garlic or coffee mixed with soap water. For snails, beer traps, sawdust or crushed egg shells are helpful, but often the best remedy is simply to pull them off yourself.
Pyrethrum is a natural insecticide that comes from the flower of the pyrethrum plants (related to the chrysanthemum) and 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.
Tips for choosing cost-effective fruit and vegetables
Grow plants that give multiple crops and are high yielding. For example, a bean seed 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.
Choose crops that grow quickly such as radishes, lettuces and spinach. It means you can turn over what you're growing very quickly.
Grow plants with long yields such as green leafy vegetables like perpetual spinach and silver beet. Heirloom varieties of fruit and vegetables also tend to have longer yields, maximizing your harvest.
Choose crops that aren't too resource-intensive to grow (for example use a lot of water) and that are less susceptible to pests, such as an heirloom variety.
Choose vegetables that you like to eat, that can be easily stored or preserved, and that are expensive to buy at the shop.
And if your still here reading then you definitely have the patience for a veggie garden hope this helped
And as always if you require any additional assistance call or book online James Pond Gardening
Cheers and healthy eating - Rob