Here’s how to transform even the most barren backyard into a veritable smorgasbord of edible goodies.
Urban horticultural consultant Matt Gerakios advises, “Morning to early afternoon sun is best as most vegies need at least six hours of sun a day to thrive, so areas facing between east and north are ideal. However, if you live in the tropics, you may need to filter the midday sun for best results – a shade cloth or large overhanging trees will help.”
“In-ground garden beds are cost-effective and easy to set up,” says Matt. “However, the soil needs to be suitable (moist, but well-draining) or able to be improved – if it’s heavy clay, this may be quite difficult.” If your soil isn’t quite up to scratch, raised beds can be installed on most outdoor surfaces, making gardening possible virtually anywhere. “Raised beds allow you to work at a height that is kind to your knees and back and, because it’s filled with imported soil, it should drain easily and efficiently,” adds Matt.
With in-ground garden beds, the addition of organic matter such as compost and blood and bone is beneficial, regardless of your soil type. Work these into the soil prior to planting. “All vegie gardens will benefit from the regular addition of organic matter over the long term – it improves soil structure, increasing the water and nutrient-holding capacity,” explains Matt. If planting in raised garden beds, fill them with a good-quality garden mix.
Choose plants you know you will eat and use this as a guide when buying seeds or seedlings. “Seeds are great value for money,” says horticulturist Kylie Last of Mr Fothergill’s. “For the same price as one or two seedlings, you can purchase a pack of seeds, which can sometimes contain hundreds or even thousands of seeds – there may also be a greater range of varieties to choose from.” Seeds can take some time to germinate and grow, so plan to ensure they go in at the right time.
Always read the pack or label to check the sun, space and growing needs of your plants – climbing beans, tomatoes and cucumbers need room and a support to climb, while pumpkins, sweet potatoes and melons need space to spread. Sow successive crops to help extend the harvest window – try spinach, lettuce, bok choy and other Asian leafy greens, and dwarf or climbing beans.
Make sure to rotate your plants so they’re not planted in the same spot, year after year. “Plants in the Solanaceae family – tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and capsicums – in particular, can suffer from soil-borne diseases that can build up quickly when they are grown in the same soil over consecutive seasons,” says Matt. “Ideally, there should be a three- to four-year gap between plants of the same family being planted in the same bed.”
“Companion planting is a method of growing plants together in combinations that promote healthy plants,” explains Kylie. “They may help deter pests, attract beneficial insects, suppress weeds and fix nitrogen.” Try beans and corn; tomato and basil; and dill and cabbage.
Vegies need regular water to thrive. You can use a watering can or hose, but also consider an irrigation scheme. “Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems are easy to set up and do an excellent job of getting water to where it is most needed,” says Matt. Adding a timer or having an automated set-up will ensure watering happens like clockwork. Always comply with local water restrictions and try setting automated drip irrigation systems to water at dusk and help avoid evaporation. Make sure your watering efforts don’t go to waste by mulching beds well. Apply a 6-8cm layer of organic mulch, like pea straw or lucerne, over the soil, leaving space around the plants. Organic mulches are ideal for vegie beds as they add nutrients to the soil as they break down.
Note: When fertilising or spraying your plants, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse well before cooking and eating.
Our easy-to-follow guide will walk you through the process of planting seeds.