Grow Your Own – Week 1

GYO - week one

Setting up your Vegie Patch

Notes by Phil Dudman

Welcome to week one of the Grow Your Own Challenge. This week we’re focusing on vegies and how to get your very own patch up and running. Like many things, successful vegie growing begins with a solid foundation – that means finding the right spot, preparing your soil well and choosing a growing method that suits you and your lifestyle. Get these things right and you’re well on your way to enjoying a bounty of fresh, seasonal homegrown produce.

Choosing a site

  • Sunshine is vital to growing good vegies. You need a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun a day. Morning sun is best, with a little protection from late afternoon sun. If you need, you can reduce the impact of hot afternoon sun by setting up a timber frame and shade cloth. It’s easy to do.
  • Protection from wind – wind really knocks vegie plants around and quickly dries out the soil. Find a spot that’s protected by a fence, hedge or building and if you don’t have that, put up a wind barrier using stakes and old corrugated iron and plant a hardy hedge for long-term protection.
  • Good drainage – plants need a little air around their roots to grow well. Avoid compacted and boggy areas in the garden and if your drainage needs improving, follow the steps below for preparing your soil.
  • Avoid competition – stay away from big trees. Their roots will quickly move in and rob your vegies of valuable moisture and nutrients.

Preparing your soil

No matter what type of soil you have, sand, loam or clay, your vegies will always grow better when you add a soil improver such as compost or well-rotted animal manure. You can make your own compost, collect manures from local farmers or buy these as bagged products from garden centres. When you dig them in, they help the soil to hold moisture (important in sand) and open up clay soil so that it drains better. Another way to improve drainage is to mound your growing beds – after digging, simply shape your soil to form mounds at least 20-30cm above the surrounding soil level.

No Dig Gardens

If all that digging sounds like too much hard work, then why don’t you try making a ‘no dig’ garden? This involves laying a variety of organic materials and soil improvers in layers on top of the soil surface. It’s much like making a lasagne and it’s very easy to do. You can even set one up on concrete! click here to download our ‘how to’ instructions.

Garden Edging

Installing a solid garden edge around your patch will help to keep surrounding turf grass out and hold soil and mulch in. This saves you lots of maintenance work and help to give your patch a neat and orderly finish. Use whatever you can get hold of and for the right price – recycled bricks, rocks, hardwood timber (avoid CCA treated) and even unpainted corrugated iron and star pickets. We’ve got some easy step-by-step instructions for building raised timber beds as well as a simple and economical idea for installing edge barriers. If you like the look and convenience of the modern corrugated iron beds, then click here to download our handy installation fact sheet.

Growing in Pots

Tight on space? Container growing allows you to grow your favourite veg anywhere – even on a balcony, deck or patio. Grab our container gardening click here with all the hints you need for producing your very own potted produce.

Need more design ideas? See Katrina’s creative tips below for shaping and laying out your garden beds.

Phils’ Top Tips

1. Take time to choose your site carefully – vegies grow best in a spot where there is plenty of sunshine, protection from wind and good drainage.

2. Prepare your soil well – all soils will benefit from adding soil improvers like compost and well-rotted manure. That’s what makes vegies thrive!

3. Install a solid garden edge around your beds – it looks good and it will save you lots of maintenance by keeping grass out and holding soil and mulch in.

Special Guest Writer – Katrina Shields

Katrina Shields has been a keen gardener since heading for the hills behind Apollo Bay in Victoria for a year of self sufficiency in 1978. Since then she has grown many subtropical gardens on the North Coast of NSW  in rural and suburban settings – where she came to appreciate “small is beautiful” .

Katrina is the Sustainability Education Coordinator for Byron Region Community College and part of the Education group at the Mullumbimby Community Garden and organises many courses on aspects of sustainability particularly for food growers. She is the author of “In the Tiger’s Mouth – An Empowerment Guide for Social Action”,  editor of “ The Blackall Range Landholders Guide” and  wrote the “ Eden at Home – Growing Backyard Food Teachers Resource Kit” – excerpts of which are included on the Sustain Food website.

Finding the best aspect for your garden – by Katrina Shields

  • Observe your garden over a few days before setting up your patch. Take note of the sunny areas, the spots that drain well and the pockets that are protected from wind. Notice patches of deep shade and full sun.
  • Be sure to take into consideration the path of the sun during the day and how it may change over the different seasons.
  • You don’t have to limit your growing area to just one spot. Try setting up small gardens ion different areas if you like, out the back yard, in the front, down the side, up the walls and on the patio.
  • If you have enough room an option could be to have a winter patch with maximum sun (especially early morning sun), and a summer patch with some shade (especially in the late afternoon).
  • Gentle slopes are good for drainage. If you have a steep slope, consider creating terraces that slow the flow of moisture down the hill and make it easier to work around your beds.
  • There is an infinite variety of options for garden edging, you can scrounge and recycle or spend any amount of money to create beautiful and useful results.
  • Do not use CCA treated pine for garden edging as it can contaminate soil.  As can old lead based paint on recycled timber.
  • You can build bed up to waist high for easy gardening – you can even sit on a chair while gardening! If you have beds this high, fill the bottom up with bricks, rubble, gravel etc save your good soil for the top 40cm.
  • Vegie gardens should look great. Get creative with how you shape and layout your growing area. Make it look as good if not better than your ornamental garden.
  • There is also an infinite variety of shapes to choose from: blocks, curves, round, octagonal, keyhole paths in circular beds, spirals … don’t just thing functionally – think about what shape would look great and be enjoyable to work in?
  • It’s important to be able to reach comfortably into your beds maintenance and harvesting. The ideal width for garden beds is around 1200mm. That allows an easy reach into the centre from both sides. If you build something wider, create a stepping-stone or pave path in the centre. This will also reduce compaction to the soil in your growing areas.

Options for garden shapes and edges – by Katrina Shields

  • There is an infinite variety of options for garden edging, you can scrounge and recycle or spend any amount of money to create beautiful and useful results.
  • Do not use CCA treated pine for garden edging as it can contaminate soil.  As can old lead based paint on recycled timber.
  • You can build bed up to waist high for easy gardening – you can even sit on a chair while gardening! If you have beds this high, fill the bottom up with bricks, rubble, gravel etc save your good soil for the top 40cm.
  • Vegie gardens should look great. Get creative with how you shape and layout your growing area. Make it look as good if not better than your ornamental garden.
  • There is also an infinite variety of shapes to choose from: blocks, curves, round, octagonal, keyhole paths in circular beds, spirals … don’t just thing functionally – think about what shape would look great and be enjoyable to work in?
  • It’s important to be able to reach comfortably into your beds maintenance and harvesting. The ideal width for garden beds is around 1200mm. That allows an easy reach into the centre from both sides. If you build something wider, create a stepping-stone or pave path in the centre. This will also reduce compaction to the soil in your growing areas.
  • Not everything needs to be grown in a vegie bed. Lots of herbs and many vegetables can be intermingled with ornamental plants wherever you can find suitable conditions.  Consider using pots and containers placed wherever they can get the right amount of sun.

Fact Sheets

OH & S (pdf 140k)

Edge Barrier Garden (pdf 1.2mb)

Galvanised Tank Garden (pdf 840k)

Pot or Container Garden (pdf 850k)

Sleeper Garden (pdf 1.2mb)

No Dig Garden (pdf 215k)

Get into setting up that patch! Next week we’ll be looking at what to plant now and how to plant it.