Starting A Vegetable Garden
The health of a vegetable garden depends on the soil. Vegetables grow best in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Avoid places where water pools, as this may drown the roots.
Invest in high-quality seeds and read the planting instructions on the label carefully. Consider trying both row and intensive cropping methods.
Whilst it’s true you can grow various vegetables all year round, Spring is the perfect time to start a vegetable patch, if you haven’t already got one going.
Not only is the weather pleasant enough to spend time in the garden — and soak up those springtime rays — but the crop you’ll plant now will be overflowing and abundant just in time for summer grazing.
We spoke to gardening guru Connie Cao and our very own home gardening enthusiast Alice Ziebell to get all their tips for creating the most productive vegetable patch this spring!
When is the best time to start planting?
Even though spring officially started on September 1, Connie says the planting season really only begins when there’s no more chance of frost, and the soil is at least 10C. This can differ in each state and region.
‘Look out for a period of time when the minimum daily temperature is at least 10C for seven to ten days,’ Connie advises. ‘There’s no point planting earlier as the plants will die if exposed to frost, and if it’s too cold, they will simply sit there and do nothing!’
Should I do anything with my soil?
One of the most important elements of growing healthy, robust vegetables is making sure the soil you plant them in is just as healthy, says Alice. Afterall, it’s the soil’s job to feed the plants, so it needs to be well nourished with plenty of compost and mulch itself!
‘Soil is the foundation of all vegetable gardens and should be the first thing you consider when starting a patch,’ Alice says. So, make sure you prepare your soil before planting – loosen up any compacted soil, and add compost to the garden beds before you begin.
What do I plant at this time of the year?
Easy vegetables to get started with are summer leafy greens. Think, cos lettuce and basil, both of which are easy to grow in pots. Beans are another easy-to-grow vegetable that manage to thrive in poor soils and ‘pretty much look after themselves’, Connie says. ‘They have this special superpower where they can capture the nitrogen from the air to feed themselves and the soil.’
If you’re stuck on what to plant, Alice recommends thinking of the foods you enjoy most in summertime; tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, corn, chillies, capsicum, cucumbers — and you’ll have your list!
‘Tomatoes are always fabulous to grow as there are so many varieties of tomatoes out there (over 500!). Plus, they’re one of the easier fruiting veggies to grow,’ says Connie. ‘My favourites are Barry’s Crazy Cherry (a yellow cherry tomato that grows so prolifically), and Lucid Gem (a large tomato with the most beautiful colour). Both of them taste delicious too.
If you are in a smaller space, look for dwarf or determinate tomato varieties, like Little Napoli or Tiny Tim, which are easier to manage in pots as they’re smaller in size.’
Zucchinis are easy to grow, but take up a lot of space. You only need one plant to give you a bumper crop, says Connie.
Does it matter where I plant my vegetables?
Despite the name, every vegetable patch should also have flowers.
Not only will they attract pollinating insects to your patch — a vital piece of the puzzle for vegetables like the squash family, who require pollination to fruit — but they also provide a beautiful spread of colour to your garden.
Alice and Connie both recommend, cosmos, marigolds, dahlias, sunflowers, cornflowers and zinnias, to name a few.
Connie’s favourite planting combination is tomatoes and basil, with marigolds underneath, as the two plants really support one another’s growth. ‘French marigolds are poisonous to root knot nematodes (a worn that causes problems with tomato plants), and basil likes to grow in the shade, so will enjoy being shielded by taller tomato plants.’
Do I start from seeds or seedlings, and what’s the difference?
For more experienced gardeners, starting from seed allows you to plant a range of different and interesting varieties that are not often available as seedlings. It’s also more economical to buy a packet of seeds that can last years, however, Connie notes seed raising also takes more time and requires extra equipment.
For beginner gardeners, seedlings are way more convenient. ‘You simply pick them up and pop them in the ground,’ says Connie.
‘When planting seedlings, it can be hard to remember that whilst these little plants are small now, they will turn into much bigger things!’ says Alice. ‘I’m always guilty of never leaving enough space between my plants, so they often end up overcrowded. Make sure to read the planting guide and give each of the plants the space they need to grow to their full potential.’
How important is it to water my vegetable garden?
In short, very important. Especially in the lead up and into summer, when gardens can dry out very quickly.
Connie recommends watering your garden in the morning — and remember, water the soil, not the plants! This will help reduce the risk of fungal diseases developing.
Mulching is also great,’ says Connie. ‘A thick layer of at least 5cm on top of the soil will greatly help reduce water evaporation, protect the soil from the scorching sun, and reduce the need to water so much. A well watered garden does better than a thirsty one!’
How do I make a raised garden bed?
If you have the space, a raised garden bed is the easiest way to get your vegetable patch started.
Simply pick the sunniest spot in your garden for your bed to sit and fill it with layers of manure, compost and straw mulch, then plant your choice of vegetables.
What if I don’t have space for a raised garden bed?
A potted garden can do really well if you don’t have garden space, says Connie. For pots, the secret is to keep them well watered in summer. ‘Smaller pots need much more watering, sometimes twice a day,’ says Connie.
She suggests planting three plants in one big pot, rather than three plants in three separate pots, as the bigger pots can hold more water.
‘A drip tray underneath the pots will act as a self-watering reservoir for super hot days as well,’ she adds.
What should beginner gardeners remember?
Alice says, ‘The most important thing when you’re starting a veggie garden is not to be afraid to make mistakes… even the most experienced gardeners have failures, it’s all part of the fun!’