Top tips for starting a food garden
The best time to start a food garden is when you are ready to do so. Why not start right now? There’s a good reason in every season: now that it’s cooler, it’s the perfect time to plan the garden design and then prepare the beds so they’re ready for a spring sowing, once the manure you’ve added has had a chance to break down. And there are some heavy feeders, like the brassicas, that will appreciate your newly prepared beds and just love growing in the cooler months!
That’s the advice from all seasoned food gardeners. Rather grow into your garden – as your confidence and ability increases you can tackle more crops, expand the space and aim for sustainability.
Find the right space
Veggies and herbs like at least six hours of sun. In order of preference, a north-facing space is best, followed by west- and then east-facing. South-facing is the least ideal. But even if the available space is not ideal, look for creative ways to make it work.
Keep it simple
The layout of the beds should be designed for ease of working. Whatever the shape of your beds, they should be accessible from all sides – ideally they should be 1m wide or less. An east-west configuration allows for the best sun exposure on all of the beds. Pathways should be 30cm wide, otherwise space is wasted.
Build up the soil
Vegetables like fertile, well-drained soil. The more effort you put into the preparation, the more success you will have. Dig compost, well-rotted kraal manure, bonemeal and 2:3:2 fertiliser (Vita-Grow is organic) into the soil to a depth of 30cm. Other soil preparation methods include the no-till method, trenching and building raised beds.
Start with easy, seasonal vegetables
Choose vegetables the family likes to eat. Start with 3-5 easy-to-grow vegetables according to the season and climate of your area. Easy summer crops are beans, beetroot, Swiss chard, sweetcorn, herbs, sweet peppers, summer squash and tomatoes.
Spread the harvest
Plant a few seeds of each variety every 2-4 weeks to ensure an on-going harvest throughout the season. Sow leafy vegetables at two-weekly intervals, legumes about three weeks apart, root vegetables about four weeks apart and fruiting vegetables 6-12 weeks apart.
Water and feed regularly
Water your vegetables more frequently in hot, dry weather. Fertilise vegetables according to variety. Root and bulb vegetables need phosphates (2:3:2 or Vita Grow), leafy vegetables need nitrogen and potassium (6:3:4 or Vita Veg), and fruiting vegetables need nitrogen (2:3:2 or Vita Grow) when planting and potassium (3:1:5 or Vita Fruit and Flower) before flowering.
Keep a record
Record as much as possible – especially the lessons learnt. This makes next year’s planning easier and prevents you from making the same mistakes.