When it comes to planning your summer vegetable garden, it’s not necessarily the early bird that catches the worm. Planting too early or watering too much (or too little) can have an adverse effect on the growth of your vegetable garden. If you are interested in starting your own vegetable garden, read our essential tips to get you started.

1. Avoid planting early.

After a long and frosty winter, it’s tempting to rush out and start planting for your summer vegetable garden. But when it comes to planting, a little bit of patience can go a long way. Planting too early can cause you unnecessary upkeep or even damage your plants, especially during any frosty mornings. After all, plants don’t grow if the soil is too cold.

Traditionally, around Melbourne Cup Day is widely considered the ideal time to start planting. Germination is very dependent on the temperature of the soil, so unless you are a seasoned gardener or planting indoors where the temperature is more controlled, it’s best to stick with tradition and begin planting in the first week of November.

Gardening1_500x5002. Always plant on wet soil

There’s a line between wet and soggy soil, and if you want your plants to grow successfully then it’s important to make sure your soil has just the right amount of water. Excess water is never good, especially if you are planting in clay soil.

Because most summer vegetables, especially warm-season veggies, cannot tolerate dry spells and draughts then keeping them sustained during the any hot spring days is important. To mitigate some of the risk of your soil drying up, you can keep your garden close to a source of water.

3. Nurture your seeds and seedlings before and after planting

Growing your plants from seed can be overwhelming for some, but it has many benefits for your garden and your experience as a gardener. The first step is to water your seeds before and after planting. Be sure to give them enough water so your soil doesn’t dry out, but don’t overwater as saturated soil can cause the seeds to rot.

The second step is to make sure you haven’t compacted the soil too tight or too loose. You want it light and airy enough so the roots can develop. Tamping the soil with a couple of light taps will do.

If you are transferring your seedlings into the garden bed or a bigger pot, it’s important to soften the impact of transplant shock by ensuring your seedlings have water and nutrients around them to develop their roots, especially in the first couple of days. Water as soon as you plant and water them well.

Gardening2_500x5004. Choose tall tomato varieties if limited in space

Tomatoes are essential in a summer vegetable garden due to their versatility. You can use them for salads, sauces, soups, salsas, curries, juice and much more. Choosing the right variety of tomatoes for the type of environment you live in can be an important factor in creating and maintaining a successful vegetable garden.

If you live in an urban or space-limited environment such as the city or the inner-city suburbs, it is best to avoid planting bush-type tomatoes and stick to the tall varieties. Bush-types, as the name suggests, need a lot of space and support to grow, which can be difficult to manage when you are limited in space.

The tall varieties of tomatoes are easier to manage and more forgiving in an environment where garden-space is limited, as long as you make sure to tie them and set down enough stakes to support their growth. For more information on the types of stakes to use, visit your local garden shop who will be able to show you the appropriate types of stakes to suit your tomatoes and garden setup.

Mark Dymiotis was born in rural Cyprus in the 1940s. He studied Engineering in Greece and The Netherlands before migrating to Australia in the mid-1970s. Throughout the years Mark has interacted with dietitians and nutritionists at Deakin, Monash and La Trobe university, where he been honoured with the title of Honorary Research Fellow. He has published several articles and peer-reviewed papers and has been featured in forums ranging from local clubs, schools, universities and international conferences. His garden has been featured on ABC TV and other major TV channels.

Mark has been teaching at the CAE since 1989, covering topics such as gardening and the Mediterranean diet, lifestyle and traditional practices. If you’re interested in learning more, have a look at Mark’s upcoming A Year in the Garden: Vegetable & Herbs, How to Build a Traditional Wood Fired Oven and Olives & Olive Oil: The Natural Way short courses.