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With vegies, there are different schools of thought about what to grow. Some gardeners aim to grow as many of their own vegies as they can, so they go for old-faithful favourites. Other gardeners choose to grow unique vegies that they can’t find in the supermarket, or vegies that are always expensive to buy. Whichever strategy you adopt, the vegies that come out of your own garden are always going to be fresher and tastier than store-bought. You’ll get a sensational reminder every time you munch a tomato straight from the vine, or crunch on a carrot you’ve just pulled. A combination of the vegies you and your family enjoy and eat often, plus the interesting new vegies you’d like to try out works really well.
There are some fundamental things to think about to start a vegie garden. If you consider these things before you begin, you’ll be well on the way to tasty vegies.
Choosing your site is important. The garden needs to be open and sunny because vegies really need sunlight to thrive. Morning sun is best; vegies will need a minimum of 4-5 hours of direct sun a day. Shelter from the prevailing wind is also important – you can create good windbreaks by using trellis to reduce wind velocity. If you have the space, make beds with skinny paths between them, so you can reach right into the bed from each side. If you’re starting out, begin with a manageable area of garden (any more than about 50m2 and it can be a handful to look after. Ease into it).
Switching around your planting locations after every season keeps your garden soil in great condition and reduces disease risk. If you plan ahead, you can set yourself up for the next few years. The old-school way of doing this still works really well; vegies can be classified into 3 groups of plants with roughly similar needs. So, if you divide your vegie garden into 3 sections (or beds), it’s easy to circulate vegies around every season to a new spot. If you grow them in the right order, you can even get the old crop to semi-prepare the soil for the new crop. For example, if you follow ‘brassica’ vegetables with ‘root’ vegetables, the brassica crop will deplete the nitrogen in the soil, which is just the way the root crop likes it! The different groups (in order of succession) are:
Bed 1. Legumes and Friends
The legume ‘friends’ include lettuce, tomatoes, capsicums, spinach, sweetcorn, silverbeet, spring onions, onions, garlic, leeks and celery. Legume friends prefer plenty of nitrogen in their fertiliser, plus generous amounts of compost and organic matter before planting.
Bed 2. Brassicas
This group includes cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, radish, kohl rabi and Brussels sprouts. They’re heavy feeders that like plenty of nitrogen in their fertiliser, plus generous amounts of compost and organic matter before planting.
Bed 3. Root Vegies
This group includes carrots, parsnips, turnips and swedes. These guys don’t like too much nitrogen but benefit from additional phosphorus and potassium fertiliser. In fact, if you’re too generous with nitrogen it can make them grow mis-shaped and forked; you can get away without adding nitrogen at all if you’re following on from a brassica crop.
The root group also includes tubers and rhizomes like potato, kūmara, ginger, yams (oca) and turmeric. Tubers and rhizomes like to be fed with a balanced fertiliser, containing all of the NPK macronutrients (don’t overdo the nitrogen though, they may end up putting all their energy into growing leaves, not juicy tubers). Note that beetroot prefers to be treated like this second group, as it’s slightly more tolerant of nitrogen than the ‘proper’ roots.
Having healthy soil is really important for vegie gardening. Plants need soil microbes to break down their food for them – when you fertilise, the micro-organisms around plant roots process it into a form that the plant can absorb. So, you don’t want sterile soil, you want it teeming with microbes! Happy soil microbes keep your vegies well-nourished and thriving. When you’re sowing or planting in your vegie patch, improve the soil biota with some generous handfuls of Yates Dynamic Lifter fertiliser. Your microbes will love you!
As for what vegies to grow: if you love salads, then growing your own lettuce, baby leaf spinach, basil and rocket will create a crisp and zingy blend. Add in some home-grown tomatoes for juicy sweetness and you have a mind-blowingly good meal. Dwarf cherry tomatoes and salad greens are ideal for growing in either the vegie patch or pots, so you don't need to have backyard space to grow them.
Other spring edible favourites include cucumbers, zucchinis, pumpkin, beans, sweetcorn and capsicum. Cucumber and climbing beans can be grown up a wire trellis, so they take up very little horizontal room and zucchinis really make the most of vegie patch space, producing abundant fruit over many weeks.
When you get to harvesting stage, don’t stop picking! If you let any vegies like beans, peas, zucchini and cucumber ripen on the plant, it will stop producing new fruits. Even if you are harvesting more than you need, keep picking to keep your vegie plants in top gear.