By Toni Salter
Spring 2011 True Natural Health Magazine
This is the second of a series of articles on growing your own veges. It is written by Toni Salter of Narellan, NSW, who presents garden workshops, online workshops, seminars and consultations on home veggie growing.
Starting a Vegetable Garden
Spring is the delight of every gardener. It’s the time of year when fruit trees come out of their dormant stage to grace us with their colourful blossoms, soft green foliage and the promise of abundant fruit later in the year. Birds and bees herald the change of seasons as they appear in search of nectar from the new flowers. But even as we enjoy the beauty of spring, the vegetable gardener gets set for the busiest time of the year as preparations are made for planting out a new veggie patch.
I’m often asked about the best way to set up a new vegetable garden, and everyone seems to have their preferred method and materials. I like the idea of a no-dig garden bed. After all, who wants to break their back trying to dig up hard, compacted clay soil? No-dig garden beds are easy, quick and effective in providing vegetables with all the nutrients they need. So here’s my step-by-step approach to no-dig gardens.
Vegetables are incredibly hungry and thirsty plants. Since they are growing quickly and developing fruit in short periods of time, they need loads of energy to get them to maturity – rather like some of the teenagers in my house! So a no-dig garden bed is just perfect for veggies.
To start with, you’ll need to find a sunny spot to locate your garden bed. A garden in the shade will not be as productive as one that gets adequate sunlight. Look for an area that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day. Some dappled light is okay and can even help provide respite for plants in the middle of our hot summers.
Plants need sunlight to produce a flower, so any vegetable that is grown for its fruit will certainly need this amount of sun. Vegetable plants grown for their leaves or stems will tolerate less sun, and we actually want to discourage these plants from flowering. Lettuces, silverbeet, celery and Asian greens are more particular about the amount of water they receive than about sunlight. So if parts of your proposed vegetable patch receive less than the desired six hours of sun, use them for these leafy crops for better results.
If it’s a brand new area you’ve chosen, you don’t need to dig up any grass, you can simply mow the grass and/or weeds down using the lowest setting to make the area easier to work.
Our first step is to lay out sheets of overlapping newspaper directly on the ground. This kills off any weeds and grass naturally and allows them to decompose into nutrients for the soil later. Just be sure to use about 10 sheets of newspaper in thickness and overlap the sheets by about 10 cm on all sides. I often work with a wheelbarrow full of water and dip in the sheets of paper in as I go. This stops any wind blowing them all over the yard! After you lay the newspaper down, keep it damp with water from the hose.
Step 2 is a nitrogen rich layer of lucerne hay. A large bale will cover a good sized vegetable bed. Take off ‘biscuits’ (or sections) of the lucerne and lay them over the newspaper to cover the whole area. You will need this to be about 5 cm to 10 cm thick.
Step 3 is a compost and manure layer. About two wheelbarrows full should do the job just nicely. Spread this over the lucerne. If you have been making your own compost the way I explained in the last issue, this would be perfect. Mix in a combination of chicken manure and cow manure to give added nutrients. Throw over a couple of handfuls of blood and bone and some agricultural lime. Again, make sure to water this in before proceeding.
Step 4 is a carbon-rich mulching layer. Use straw or sugarcane for this, to a depth of about five cm.
Step 5 is to repeat step 2 to step 4 over again until you reach your desired height. The higher your bed, the better drainage it will have and the less bending you will need to do. Always finish with a layer of mulch and water it in well with a hose.
Leave the garden bed to rest for a couple of weeks before planting. This allows for it to settle before you plant your veggies; it will drop in size to about half the original height. When you plant, just make a hole in the mulch layer and drop in a seedling. Backfill the hole with some potting mix or compost and firm down the seedling to hold it in place. Give it some water and diluted seaweed solution and then sit back and watch it grow.
Try to avoid planting any root crops, like carrots or beetroot or onions, for the first year. Your bed will have too many nutrients and will encourage leaf growth at the expense of root development. Grow a few other crops first to soak up excess nitrogen and then after a year try some root vegetables.
Make sure you plant according to your climate and season for best results.
Materials needed for a no-dig garden bed measuring 1 metre by 2 metres are:
- Newspapers to cover an area of 2 square metres
- 1 large bale of lucerne
- 1 wheelbarrow of compost
- 1 wheelbarrow of manure (chicken/cow combination)
- 1 small bag of blood and bone with potash (you can leave out the blood and bone if you’re vegan)
- 1 small bag of agricultural lime
- 1 bail of straw or sugarcane mulch
- seaweed solution (e.g., Seasol or Eco c-weed)
For more information and videos on preparing a vegetable garden, see Toni’s online organic gardening tutorial at http://theveggielady.com/online-workshops/
Free monthly planting guides are available at www. theveggieclub.com
Spring Gardening Guide
Spring really is a busy time of year for the vegetable gardener. So pull on your gumboots and put on your hat and gloves, because it’s full steam ahead if you want a harvest in time for summer. If you haven’t given everything a good fertilise already, then do it now. Place a good layer of manure and compost as well as a scattering of blood and bone all over the garden and watch for new growth to take off.
Now is your last chance to plant artichokes or to get in some garlic cloves for some great bulbs in about 6 months time. They take a while to mature but if you treat them well, they’ll last for months after harvest. The trick is not to keep them too moist, otherwise they’ll rot away before they get a chance to grow.
Some of you might have had a start on ‘acid lovers’ last month. For colder regions, seeds of tomato, eggplant and capsicum should still be sown indoors or under glass in the garden. They like the soil to be slightly acidic, so make sure that lime hasn’t been added to the bed where they are to grow.
You can also sow a few other things now including: if you have mild conditions, cucumber, marrow, melons, zucchini and leek; cold regions will have to wait another month. Remember that melons like long, hot seasons to do really well, so get them sown indoors and pot them when big enough. You can keep them inside in pots until temperatures reach about 20˚C, then transplant them into the garden. You could grow them along a trellis to save space.
Keep sowing all kinds of herbs now, but replace your peas with beans as they cease producing. The spent greens of your peas are a great addition of nitrogen for the garden, so dig them in or put them into the compost bin.
Potatoes can go in now if you are in cool or temperate areas. Be sure to purchase certified seed potatoes from a nursery or catalogue. Potatoes harbour many soil-borne viruses that, once introduced to your garden, are difficult to control. These also affect tomatoes as well as future potato crops. Certified seed potatoes are guaranteed to be free of diseases, so you can plant them with confidence.
Tropical and sub-tropical regions of Australia have a couple of months of planting left before the wet season. You can plant most things generously except for potatoes, carrots, spinach and Brassicas (the cabbage family).
Keep an eye out for caterpillars still, especially on vulnerable young cabbage family plants. Hand removal is often best, and be sure to check on the undersides of the leaves and rub off any eggs. Regarding organic Dipel (Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt), remember to use it only if you have to. Aphids begin to be on the move now, especially with roses. Hose them off, squash them or wait for predators. If they are still a problem, try diluted vinegar.
Catch thrip and white fly by placing yellow stick traps around the garden. You can make up your own by smearing a piece of yellow cardboard with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). The insects are attracted to the yellow and get stuck on the sticky card and die.
This article is an extract from In the Veggie Patch newsletter. For more details and a full list of what to plant in your area, go to www.theveggieclub.com. This is a free resource to help you grow your own veggies at home.