I have been a gardener for as long as I remember. Growing up in India, we grew an extensive range of vegetables (eggplants, beans, gourds and greens), fruits (guava, banana, mango and lemon) and flowers (gerberas, jasmines, solidago, zinnia and sunflowers). It was basic back in those days but we maintained a compost heap, made our own oil cake and cow dung tonic for the plants.
The beauty of gardening is that with a little effort and some patience you will be rewarded for your handiwork. You need some basic equipment and the rest you can manage with whatever is available at home. You can upcycle if you have the skills or do what I do just repurpose everything. For example, I go to a tyre shop and ask for old tyres – line them up with lots of old newspaper and fill it with potting mix and you have yourself a good space to grow vegetables. Cardboard boxes are also good to grow annuals or herbs. Drill some holes into an unused bucket and you have a pot!
When the weather is conducive, go and get yourself some seed packets or seedling punnets along with some potting mix or compost. I find it is best to invest a bit more in organic because not only do they improve your existing soil but also provide nutrients that last more than one planting. The plants require less watering as the soil has better moisture retaining capability. You will also need a liquid fertilizer like a sea weed tonic.
TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL GROWING
Plant late evening so seedlings shock is reduced
Soak seedlings in seaweed tonic before transplanting – this makes them settle in faster in their new surrounds.
Spacing between plants is important – as a general rule of thumb, leave two hand spaces between plants.
Overcrowding causes plants to rot or they won’t have enough space to grow to full potential.
Prepare, Plant and Nourish!
Here are my top five to start a vegetable garden.
Cut and come again variety is one of my favourites. It is so easy to grow and a shallow pot or in the ground is best. Lettuce sprouts in a week if temperature is around 15 degrees Celsius. They prefer shade so best to plant under the eaves and you need to be committed to watering regularly if you want a crisp leaf! You will have good continuous harvest from about 6th week on so if you want a continuous supply, best to plant in three pots in two week intervals so you will never need to buy bagged supermarket lettuce.
There are several varieties and you can choose seed potatoes that harvest in 90 to 120 days from white or yellow flesh, purple or red skinned.
When you buy seed potatoes, store them in a cool dark place until shoots appear and are about 3 centimetres long. Just prior to planting remove all but the 3 thickest shoots. Select a sunny warm position in the garden and lay them in a trench of about 15cms deep and 25cms apart. If planting in a pot, fill the bottom 8 centimetres with compost and lay them on top with shoots pointing upwards. As the shoots appear, mound the soil up around the plant. Continue to do so until they start to flower. Feed with fertiliser throughout the season.
Onions are the most universally grown vegetable in the world. Spring onions grow well in most soils but I find that the soil must be kept moist meaning you must water daily. Spring onions are grown in the same way as bulbous onions but harvesting is done at an earlier stage of growth and the plants can be placed closer together. Spring onions can be grown all year round.
They are fast to germinate, easy to grow and mature quickly. However to get crisp, non-pithy radishes, regular watering and good nutrition are very important. They can be grown all year round. Sow seeds direct in soil and thin them out so they are 3-5 centimetres apart.
SILVERBEET / SWISS CHARD
One of the more versatile vegetables and if you have a few plants in the garden, you should be able to pick the leaves all through the year, provided the plants are fertilised and watered regularly. Silverbeet requires free draining soil and will tolerate about 3-4 hours of sunshine a day.