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If you have got the exciting task of planning out a vegetable garden, rather than inheriting one from the previous occupants, it is worth taking a few moments to really think about the most effective and practical design for the space you have available.
Read on to find out the 5 mistakes commonly made when starting out in gardening for vegetables and how you can turn them into a positive with a bit of creative thinking.
In every yard there is usually that one neglected spot, tucked away in a corner or where you keep the bins. Its hard to care for something that you never see. Instead have your veggie patch in a part of the yard that not only you will see but also visitors to your home, as this will keep you motivated to keep it in top shape. It also creates a great talking point.
There is something pretty special about giving friends a little tour of what you have created and picking some fresh produce for them to take home.
You will feel great for being generous but also in knowing that it was your hands that tilled that soil and nurtured those plants. Gardening is great for your mental wellbeing.
Whilst there are some vegetables that can be grown in more shady conditions, as a general rule, try and position your veggie patch in a spot that gets lots of glorious sunlight. Well at least a few hours each day will do.
If you only have shaded gardens, you can still have a go at growing leafy vegetables like spinach, silverbeet, rocket and lettuce but probably best to avoid the fruiting and root vegetables as they need those UV rays daily.
Sometimes you can get creative with harnessing sunlight by using recycled mirrors in your garden to bounce light onto plants, plus you can check your face for dirt before greeting the neighbour.
One more thing about growing in the sun. Throughout the year the angle of sun changes. In Summer it does a big wide arc reaching high into the sky, whereas in winter the days are shorter so the arc is less and lower down so more easily blocked by tree branches. This can make it tricky to have the perfect location that gets sun all year.
Growing in pots that can be moved is a solution that many gardeners use to ‘chase’ the sun throughout the year.
When you only have a back or front yard to work with, it can be tempting to maximise your vegetable beds and have very narrow paths for access. When it is just bare soil it can look like there is plenty of space, but when the plants start to grow and spread out the branches, often overhanging onto footpaths you will quickly find yourself struggling to make it through the jungle of luscious leaves.
Keep in mind though that a path can be used to tend to 2 sides at once, so, make the beds double arm width and then have a pathway to access the other side. Try and keep your paths at 60-80cm wide and ideally with a paved surface so you can step through the space even in wet weather. In our veggie garden we have cobblestone style pavers that fit in with the rustic style and are very practical for walking on even when it's just been raining.
When you first start with a vegetable garden, you will be excited to get things growing but try and think ahead to when they are going to be ready for harvest. Let's say you have planted some cauliflower. Often, they come in a punnet of 6 plants. With a bit of care, in about 2 months you will have some beautiful cauliflowers to pick, starting with the most developed head and working your way through them. Eating 6 Cauliflowers in the space of a few weeks is manageable, but not so much if you have gone berserk and planted 12 or 18! You will be going cauliflower crazy.
Instead try and mix it up with other vegetables (easy to do if you are growing the seedlings yourself using one of the Aussie Gardener nursery kits) and use a staggered planting approach particularly for things like lettuce so that you sow some now, and then wait 2 weeks before planting some more so they are maturing at different times ready for the dinner plate.
When you first plant out your veggie patch, resist the urge to fill every available space and instead plant half and then plant some more in a few weeks.
Vegetables are generally faster growing plants that need good fertiliser, good soil and frequent watering. In Summer this will often be every day (morning is best). In winter the watering will cut back to every 3-4 days except for newly planted seedlings which will require extra TLC with daily checking of the soil and plants.
When plants get stressed through lack of water, they can get quite bitter to eat and also do a thing called bolting.. Where they go into a panic and think ‘I must produce seeds urgently for the future of vegetables everywhere’ They will shoot up a stem, flower and set seed and skip over all the stages where you normally get to harvest them.
This can often happen with lettuce.
Ensure you have a good reliable hose and spray gun connected so you can enjoy giving your vegetable garden a drink each morning. It's a great way to start the day.
We all do it.. Excited to start and buying some great looking seedlings only to come home and realise you don't yet have a nicely dug bed ready for them to be tucked into.
If you do have a bed location sorted and it's just the digging you need to do, then using a Power Planter is going to make short work of that job. You can get them from the Aussie Gardener store. Made in the USA, these tough little diggers attach to your cordless drill and work amazingly fast at breaking up compacted ground ready to add some manure and compost and your new seedlings.
Even if you've got raised garden beds it's a good idea to mix in your soil improvers and have it all ready for the seedlings to go in before you purchase them.
You may be surprised at the number of little critters that are in the average backyard especially after dark. When you plant some nice new seedlings and they grow into crisp veggies, there is a whole list of guests that won't wait for you to harvest for them to have a good feed. This includes, insects, snails, possums, birds, rats, caterpillars and more.
Thankfully there are some very effective ways to protect your plants without having to resort to poisons. The team at Aussie Gardener even have free classes on this topic so get yourself knowledgeable and you will be able to outsmart your uninvited dinner guests.
Head to www.veggieclasses.com.au to sign up.
Talking about starting a vegetable garden but never actually doing it. Don't be one of these people. You will get far more joy from deciding to take action and then actually doing it than from being a ‘gonna’.