Spring is a great time to grow edibles both from seed and seedling, and the warm spring weather makes everything thrive. But, if you’ve never grown vegetables before, where do you start?
The best starting point is the sunniest part of the garden away from competing plants such as trees. Start with a small space say one-metre square to get the hang of vegetable growing.
Dig over the soil removing all weeds and grass along with old roots, stones and any archaeological finds (it is amazing what can turn up in the backyard). Use the spade to break up clods of earth. Dig to at least the depth of the spade as this is where the plants grow. Fine, well-dug soil makes it easier for the plants to establish.
To enrich the soil, dig in compost, bagged manure and some all-purpose fertiliser. Water it well. Then allow the soil to sit for a week or two to see what weeds germinate before digging or hoeing the surface to remove the freshly sprouted weeds. A light covering of mulch over the soil surface deters further weed growth.
If the garden is in an inner city area or may have once been used for light industry, consider growing vegies in a raised garden bed in vegie growing mix bought from the garden centre, instead of disturbing the soil.
Start with seedlings bought in punnets or small pots from the garden centre. Buy a selection of what you and the family like to eat, and plant the seedlings in rows following the spacing recommended on the planting label. Label each row so you remember what’s planted. Tall plants such as tomatoes and beans need stakes as support, so put these in at planting time.
If you are feeling adventurous also buy some seed packets. Lettuce, rocket and carrots are all easy to grow from seed planted directly into the soil.
Buy or sow small amounts over several weeks to stagger your harvest so that not all the plants mature at the same time. If the seed-sown plants are too close to each other when they emerge from the soil, thin them out to the recommended spacing on the seed packet by removing some of the plants in each row when they are big enough to handle.
Keep the soil moist by watering it at least once a day and more often if the weather is hot or windy. Use a gentle spray nozzle on the hose or a watering can.
As the plants grow, keep them clear of weeds by lightly hoeing or hand weeding between the plants. A light layer of organic mulch around each plant protects the roots, keeps the soil cool, reduces water loss and cuts weed growth.
Liquid feed plants with a soluble fertiliser every seven to 10 days as they mature.
Where there are pets, consider fencing the garden to keep them out. Some raised garden beds come with optional mesh lids that deter pests (including possums) and make gardening easier.
Regularly inspect plants looking for aphids, caterpillars, green vegetable bugs, grasshoppers, snails and slugs. Remove any you find and squash them. If you have chooks, feed the larger insects straight to your chooks as a quick snack.
If you need to use a pesticide to control an outbreak of pests, use an organic product that’s registered for use on edible plants (check the information on the label).
Extremely hot weather can decimate vegetables, particularly leafy plants such as lettuce. On very hot days (35C and above) water vegetables well in the morning then cover them with shadecloth to reduce heat stress. Remove the shadecloth at night or when the hot spell abates.
Keep looking after the plants as they begin to form their crops and harvest regularly to enjoy fresh, healthy food straight from your garden.