If you’re not yet a gardener, it’s never too late to start. A steady supply of nourishing, in-season produce is one reason to start a vegetable garden and another is the bounty of benefits gardening can bring to other areas of your life.
Ron, a resident of Cana Communities housing who spent years working at the charity’s farm in western Sydney, planting, fencing, weeding in the veggie patch, found time in the garden was a great time-out.
"It was good therapy when I was stressed," he said. "I also liked seeing plants grow and I tried vegetables I had never seen before.”
If you want to grow your own vegetables but don’t know where to start, here is a handy beginner’s guide to veggie gardening will set you on your way.
Choose your area
There are a number of different climate zones in Australia, ranging from the hot and humid tropical north to the cooler climes of Tasmania. What you should plant in your garden will depend on your zone, and vary from month to month. A quick check of an online guide will show you which zone you reside in.
Select a spot
Whether you decide to build a raised bed garden or dig directly into the soil, the spot you choose for your veggie garden should have at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight each day.
If you lack a large backyard, use the space you have creatively. Use pots and repurposed old containers to create a balcony garden, or build a vertical garden using a premade kit from a garden centre. If DIY is your thing, make your own vertical garden from a discarded pallet.
Another great option for small space gardeners is to hang your plants from above. As long as your plants have plenty of light and well-drained soil, they should grow well anywhere.
While you don’t need to run out and buy all the tools in the gardening shed, there are a few key pieces that you need to get your garden started. Buy a good pair of secateurs, also known as pruning shears, a trowel, a fork and a leaf rake if you have lawn that needs tidying.
Don’t forget to buy a pair of gloves – you’ll be getting your hands dirty!
Know your soil
There are three basic soil types: sand, clay and silt. Each soil type has different properties, which will impact what you plant and how you manage your garden.
There are a number of tests you can do to determine your soil type, including the water test, the squeeze test and the settle test. If a quick internet search doesn't reveal these tests, ask your local garden centre.
It’s also important to know your soil’s pH, which you can work out by conducting a simple test using a soil pH kit. Acidic soil will have a pH lower than 6, while a pH above 7 indicates alkaline soil. Adjusting the pH will make different nutrients available to your plants.
Enrich soil with aged manure (fresh manure can burn new plants) and compost, which you can buy from garden centres if you don’t have your own. Turn in a fertiliser like blood and bone to really boost the nutrient content of your soil.
Mulch is your ultimate weapon against weeds and water loss. Hay, straw or bark mulch also helps stop erosion and moderate the soil temperature, cooling it in summer and warming in winter. Water new garden beds, cover with mulch, and let them settle for a week.
What to plant? This is a great question to ask, and the choices are endless. There’s a great amount of satisfaction in growing something you can eat.
The humble lettuce is a winner for the learner gardener, and can be grown in pots on windowsills and balconies. Harvest the outer leaves as they mature for a continuous salad crop.
Radishes are a quick-growing crop. You can be munching on fresh crunchy radishes as soon as three weeks after planting. Harvest your radishes as soon as the root is mature.
Herbs are great for small gardens - Spice Things Up: Grow Your Own Herb Garden – check out this link for some easy suggestions.
Cana Farm has been supported by the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation. Click here for more information on grant applications, or check out our Coke in the Community stories.