Part One: Planting
What are the benefits of growing your own edible garden? Where do we begin! There is the satisfaction of eating produce you have grown yourself, saving money and reducing waste, and transforming any space – even apartment balconies – into an attractive, colourful space. Gardening is a healthy and relaxing way to spend more time outdoors, and you will learn about nutrition in the process. Even those with limited space can enjoy the ‘paddock to platter’ experience, as there are so many growing option available. By following these basic gardening tips and doing a little bit of planning, you can enjoy the benefits of an edible garden all year long.
If you don’t have a big backyard or space for a glorious vegetable patch, you can get creative with container planting or raised garden beds.
- Leafy lettuces, spinach and most herbs will do just fine in a window box.
- When choosing containers and pots to place in a small backyard, consider what you are growing: is it a root vegetable and needs a deep pot to spread out underground? Climbing vegetables like tomatoes and beans will be fine in shallow pots, provided they are supported by a trellis or stake.
- If your plants are top heavy, they will need a sturdy container.
- What material is your pot made from? Is it terracotta, plastic, glazed, fiberglass, wood? Each will hold heat in a different way, so consider what conditions your vegetables may like.
Remember that just like us, vegetables and plants have to eat, and the best way to make sure they have a good feed is to provide them with tasty soil. Healthy, organically rich soil builds strong, productive plants, and will be a haven for soil-beneficiary bacteria and worms.
- If you’re container planting, you can buy potting mix that will do most of the work for you, but regularly test your soil with a soil kit to see if it’s at the optimal pH level for the fruit and veg it’s supporting.
- Don’t neglect your mulching and composting! A good mulch in summer will help plants retain water and stop root-destroying heat getting in, while a winter mulch will help keep frost-prone plants snug and warm. Compost is a real treat for vegetables. Before planting, mix in some organic matter like manure, leaf and grass clippings and your high yield will thank you for it.
- Remember that different vegetables and herbs like different soils – do your research into soil types and document all your findings in a gardening journal.
Watering can be tricky as often unhealthy plants will display similar symptoms when they’ve had either too much water or not enough. These tips will generally help you get your watering regime right:
- Most plants like to be watered in the morning. Watering at night may mean damp plants and soggy roots, which fungal and bacterial diseases love.
- Water the roots, not the greenery, and water slowly, deeply, and thoroughly. In containers, water should run out of the drainage holes.
- Plants should never be left to dry out completely. For containers, do the lift test: if it’s light, it needs water! You can also stick your finger or a spade into the soil to a depth of a few inches. Happy soil is crumbly and sticks lightly to your finger; thirsty soil will be dry and flaky.
- Established plants will need less frequent watering than seedlings or new shoots.
Plant at the Right Time & the Right Conditions
The happier your plants are in their optimal conditions, the more fruitful and resistant they will be to attackers.
- Pick plants that thrive in your state’s specific climate.
- Plant seasonally as most plants prosper in specific seasons. For example, plant cold-loving brassicas, onions, and Asian greens in winter; most herbs, rhubarb and the squash family in spring; sweet potato, tomatoes and chillies in summer; carrots, garlic and leafy greens in autumn.
- Where are your vegetables positioned? Note if they will receive a lot of sun, shade, or wind.
- Space correctly and don’t overcrowd crops. Be aware if a taller crop might overshadow a smaller one.
- Companion planting. Research the plants that love each other’s company. Many dynamic duos will work together to repel pests, boost growth, and improve flavour.
If you’ve been wanting to plant your own edible garden, spring is the perfect time to begin planning for your dream produce. For tips, techniques and ideas, CAE offers a range of Gardening courses, and our Cooking classes will get you excited to begin cooking with your bounty!
Read more in Part Two: Harvesting, where we share tips on how to cook with your freshly grown produce.