It is very rewarding to produce your own crisp vegetables, whether it’s a garden-fresh garden salad or a simple corn on the cob direct from the garden to the braai, the tastiest veggies are always those that come from our own gardens.
Not only does a vegetable garden look appealing, it is a great choice because you can grow organic produce, save money and know exactly where your food comes from, and it’s an activity where everyone in the family can contribute – even the very young.
A vegetable garden can be as big or as small as you have space for. If you just have a tiny window area or a small deck, start by planting a few herbs or greens for salads in containers.The best time to start your garden is now, as it is the beginning of the growing season, however because it is an all-year growing undertaking, you can start at any time.
The initial start could be very intimidating as you do not know what to do, when to plant, what to plant and how to care for your newly planted seedlings. The best advice here is to rather start small and grow into your garden as your confidence and ability increases. If you start off too big, it could lead you to feeling intimidated and giving up even before you have really started.
Before attempting to dig, start with a plan. This could again be a fun family activity. Decide which veggies you use most often in the house, in order for you to save money on the short-term, instead of growing what you don’t need and end up with wastage. Start with 3 to 5 easy-to-grow vegetables. Planning on paper before planting will help you visualise your space and use it effectively and efficiently. Easy summer crops are beans, beetroot, Swiss chard, sweet corn, herbs, sweet peppers, summer squash and tomatoes.
As a rough guide, most seeds take between 6 and 12 weeks to germinate, depending on the type of seed, the season, and where you are in our sub-continent. Packages and local organic nurseries can help you more specifically for your particular region.
Planting seedlings is far easier for the busy person, as it can be done in the evening, and also maintained in the early morning and it’s a simple selection of plants, which are the same anywhere in the country for that time of year. Planting seeds can be done at any time of the day, however, planting-out seedlings should be done in the evening, when they can recover from the trauma of the transplanting procedure by not having the heat of the sun draw more water from their leaves than they’re able to take up through their roots. They can recover overnight if you plant in the evening, and become stronger, bearing usable produce sooner.
Veggies and herbs like at least six hours of sun daily. 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. A wide variety of vegetables is available for gardeners to choose from, and there are multiple types of each vegetable to suit different tastes and climates. Be sure to avoid the shade of large trees, shrubs, and buildings when selecting a spot for your garden plot.
This is the method of growing different plants next to each other with mutual benefits to both.
The benefits include:
- making maximum use of a growing area without a single-species/ crop saturating the area with demands for food and nutrient resources;
- good companion plants don’t compete for root space and light, nor for the necessary nutrients;
- pest management is simpler, because pests normally attack only one species of plant, and when others are planted around the target plant, the pests find it harder to wipe out your entire crop. This is important in “organic’ growing, as we try our best to avoid using any artificial chemical substance, even for pest control. Also, sharing our ecosystem with all the natural organisms builds a harmonious balance which is beneficial to us all;
- herbs are very good companion plants that disguise the target plant from pests with aroma, shape, and sometimes a better taste;
- companion plants can be used to “nursemaid”, or protect, more vulnerable plants, especially immature ones;
- some companion plants are beneficial by releasing substances through their root systems that actually increase the well-being of other plants.
Companion plant list
Beetroot > Cabbage, carrot, lettuce, parsley, tomato
Beans > Eggplant, potato
Cabbage > Beetroot, carrot, dill, lettuce, parsley, peppermint, sage, thyme, tomato
Carrot> Beetroot, cabbage, lettuce, onion, onion chives, parsley, rosemary, spring onion, tomato
Chives (Onion) > Apple trees, carrots
Cucumber > Dill
Eggplant > Beans, peas
Garlic > Fruit trees, raspberries, roses
Lettuce > Beetroot, cabbage, carrot, dill, parsley, thyme, tomato
Melon > Maize, sweet corn
Onions > Carrot, camomile
Peas > Eggplant
Potato > Beans, horseradish
Pumpkin > Maize, sweet corn
Salad > Burnet Mint, thyme
Spring Onion > Carrot
Squash > Maize, sweet corn
Sweet Corn > Maize, melon, pumpkin, squash, watermelon
Thyme > Cabbage, lavender, lettuce, salad burnet
Tomato > Basil, beetroot, cabbage, carrot, lettuce, parsley
Watermelon > Maize, sweet corn
Avoid planting together:
Beans > Chives, fennel, garlic, onion, spring onion
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 into the soil to a depth of 30 cm. Other soil preparation methods include the no-till method, trenching and building raised beds. Many plants thrive in neutral (a pH reading of approximately 6.5 to 7.5) but there are some that require more acidic (below 7) or alkaline (above 7). The scale is from 0 (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline).
Doing this simple test will give you an idea whether or not it’s acidic or alkaline. It will not give you a specific reading, but it could serve as a guideline:
Vinegar: Take a sample of dry dirt (about 1/4 cup), mix with distilled water to make a liquid “mud” and then start pouring household vinegar over top. If the mixture fizzes, it’s alkaline.
Baking soda: Mix dry dirt and distilled water as above then start sprinkling baking soda over top. If the mixture bubbles, it’s acidic.
If neither test produces a reaction, you have fairly neutral soil.
For accurate results: Use clean tools and remove any debris from the garden surface then dig down about 10cm to retrieve a sample. For potted plants, a couple of inches below the surface is fine.
Seedlings can be planted into seed trays, or alternatively use an empty egg carton, empty toilet roll holder or any other bio degradable container. This way you can directly plant the entire container without having to remove the seedling, and you are recycling as a bonus.
Fill your tray or container with soil. Your local nursery sells a seedling soil which is the best option as it is specifically blended to enhance the germination process.
Depending on your climate and the plant variety, planting times may vary. Check the seed packet for details. You can now place your seeds into your soil, and then cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and water. Watering seeds are very important. Ensure that your soil always stays moist. The best way to water is by means of a spray bottle as it will ensure soft, even moisture.
Lastly place your seedlings in a window with plenty of sun and wait for them to grow.
Seed Germination Tips
- Soaking large seeds for up to 24 hours in water speeds up the germination process
- Use sanding paper to lightly scratch the surface of a seed to allow it to grow faster
- Seeds can also be germinated in paper towel and then transplanted when it starts to germinate. Simply place them between the sheets and lightly spray with water. Be careful not to over water as they will rot. Place in a sandwich bag and leave in the sun
- Cover your seed trays with plastic wrap / clear plastic bags. This will create a greenhouse effect.
DID YOU KNOW …
• Fennel repels flies and fleas.
• Thyme and dill repel cabbage moth.
• Rosemary repels leafhoppers, aphids and caterpillars.
• Mint is vulnerable to caterpillar attack but repels many other insects.
• Wormwood repels fruit fly.
• Tarragon helps repel snails.
• Garlic repels many insects.