Want to grow some veggies but don't know how? Try these steps to get started.
- Soil. Plants need decent soil. To turn that dry crusty patch out the back into a pumpin' patch of veg you will need to improve the soil that it's moist and fluffy. Apply generous amounts of compost, chook manure or potting mix, water it and turn it with a fork. You could also try a no-dig garden. Look it up, they're awesome.
- Seedlings v's Seed. Sowing from seed is a cheap way to get your garden growing, but if you are growing veggies for the first time, I'd suggest buying seedlings because they are quick and easy. There is a lady at the Newcastle Farmers markets every Sunday called Lisa, and she sells cheap seasonal veggies and herbs. She has heaps of knowledge and is super fun. Tell her I said hi.
- Veggies like corn or beans can be planted from seed and germinate quickly as the seeds are pretty big. For beginners I would suggest growing veggies like: Silverbeet, kale, lettuce, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, dwarf beans, and herbs like basil, parsley and mint.
- Planting. Some veggies get pretty big and need space. As a general rule, spacing your plants one foot apart will be fine. If your not sure, check the labels or ask someone.
- Gardening sucks without mulch. Mulch is da bomb. It keeps the soil moist and saves water, smothers weeds, slowly decomposes and feeds the soil, and makes everything look neat and pretty. Sugar cane mulch, hay and straw are all good mulches, or like me, you can use whatever organic materials you can find around the house like leaves, grass cuttings, sawdust, wood chip... Use whichever mulch you like best.
- Watering. This is one of my favorite things to do in my garden; listening to the city in the background, enjoying the sun and sea breeze. While your seedlings are young, they need regular watering. Dig down in the soil a bit and see if it's moist. If the soil is already moist then you don't need to water. Once established, most plants only need watering every now and then during dry spells. Two or 3 thorough drinks per week should do it depending on your soil. We are pretty lucky in Newcastle as we get heaps of rain.
- Diversity and habitat. Most pests and disease that effect veggie gardens can be avoided by increasing the diversity in your backyard. There are lots of creatures that eat bad bugs and keep pest populations in check, so encourage them to visit your garden by providing food and habitat. Growing flowers such as lavender, alyssum and cosmos will attract bees, hover flies, and other pollinators, while growing herbs such as basil, dill, parsley, rosemary, marjoram and mint will help deter pests and will provide somewhere for good bugs like praying mantis and lady beetles to live. A permanent water source or pond will attract lizards, birds and dragonflies to your garden.
- Start small! It's easy to over-commit when starting out, so just start with one small patch, and only expand if you know you have the time to look after it. A garden bed with a few herbs should take half an hour a month to keep it looking lush.
- Join a group. There are so many gardening groups in Newcastle where you can learn more about growing veggies. There are community gardens in most suburbs and several community groups such as Permaculture Hunter and the Hunter Organic Growers Society (HOGS).
Cross your fingers and hope that it's a good season and that it's not too dry. Enjoy your fresh veg with your friends, family and share any excess with your neighbors. Happy growing!
Community Garden Advocate / Artist and Photographer.