Starting a vegetable patch is both exciting and a little daunting. But if you do it step by step it can be a very educational and empowering green living project. Green thumbs and luck aside, let's talk about the practicalities of your veggie garden, how to choose a site, what to plant and how to lay the garden out.
Step by step makes a garden
A great deal of time and manual labour is needed to create a flourishing and abundantly full vegetable garden, sufficient to feed everyone, and still have enough for bottling and preserving.
The size of your vegetable patch will be solely dependent upon the number of people and animals you would like to feed, and the amount of space available. The principles remain the same for either a small garden patch or a large-scale farming enterprise; the growing, watering, picking, and fertilization methods will, however, differ.
If planting directly into the ground, keep in mind that vegetables need to be rotated in order to preserve and ensure that the soil quality remains good.
Something we battle with daily is the need for excellent fencing, which is paramount in keeping out undesirable guests. Baboons, porcupines, rabbits, tortoises, buck and a few other nocturnal creatures obviously love fresh, organic veggies – and who can blame them for devouring such easy, juicy, living food?
Choose a well-drained area close to your house, where there is good access to water, plenty of sunshine, and crucially - shelter from the wind. Almost any area can be turned into an ideal space by either building windbreaks or adding nutrients to the soil.
Get your soil tested.
An ideal pH for vegetables is around 5,8 to 6,5 - our pH is 6 which is pretty neutral. Some, like tomatoes and strawberries, like acidic soil and pine needles. Please do some research on which products you will need to either lower or up the pH level of your soil. Remember that water also has its pH, so be sure to have it tested too.
Even on today's modern farms where a farmer is producing food for a huge market, most keep a home veggie garden. This feeds the family and immediate staff, and let's not forget the pet rabbit, parrot and homestead chickens.
We chose a sunny spot closest to our house which has access to a high-pressure water supply, is convenient, and is protected on one side by natural bush.
Choosing the layout for your garden is great fun and of course, getting to know who likes who in the veggie world is important. For example, the “Three Sisters” is a traditional planting practice used by Native Peoples. Corn, beans and squash are planted together to ensure soil fertility and provide shelter for one another.
Once you have decided on your design, which may take into account a tree and existing natural rock beds, choose plants that like shade, and remember to include a shady place for the wormeries. A raised bed is always suitable where the ground is too rocky to dig. Prepare all beds with compost and worm castings, and lay irrigation pipes and hoses in strategic places prior to planting.
There are many options to choose from. Drip irrigation is the most popular and effective way to irrigate as it ensures each plant gets its supply of water. We have a mix of drip irrigation and a few raised sprayers to cover a larger area.
Prepare the beds properly
There are many ways of building and making beds in a garden. This year, we chose the traditional way of making ground beds, and a few raised beds. The goal is to eventually have no dig beds and to have raised beds interspersed with grow bags and container planting. There are so many interesting options, so choose what works best for you and your area.
Some vegetables can be pre-grown before planting out and for this, you need to offer them some protection from the harsh elements until they are ready for the outside beds. A simple shade cloth structure with 40 per cent protection can be rigged, or you can build a greenhouse. Certain vegetables, such as carrots, cannot be transplanted at all for fear they may turn into mangled, twisted twins - or become obscenely short and thick.
As you are planting out the seedlings, make sure that the spacing is correct for the type of vegetable to be planted into the bed. As your veggies grow, you can start building frames for the climbers and supports for the tomatoes.
Remove weeds as they appear between the plants and create a mulch pile to be returned to the soil, ensuring that nothing is wasted. Adding these greens back into the soil will keep the patch happy.
Natural insect repellents and food for bees
Marigolds are fantastic for planting in between rows, or anywhere open spaces occur. Besides being vibrant in colour, they attract beneficial insects, such as wasps and ladybugs to take care of harmful insects found around the garden. Other flowers you may like to add are nasturtiums, cosmos, zinnias and sunflowers. Roses also attract bugs and worms, and having a few around the patch helps keep the baddies from your plants. Flowers also provide bees with food and attract beautiful butterflies.
Consider adding the following herbs to your vegetable patch: fennel, dill, basil, rosemary, thyme, comfrey, chives and borage. Of course, there are many more to choose from depending on your taste and area.
Seven tips learned from experience
1. You need to plant a lot of certain vegetables such as potatoes, onions, and garlic which will keep for long periods.
2. You only need to plant a few bushes or trees like tomatoes, as there are just so many generated on one plant, all of which ripen at the same time.
3. Some vegetables just don't do well where we live even though they are supposed to.
4, Don't plant anything that you don't love to eat.
5. Some plants herbs or flowers, such as mint and sunflowers, use too much water for the heat of the Karoo and droop easily.
6. Just as your best fruit or vegetable is ripening, and you can almost taste it, an animal seems to breach the fence and eat or destroy it, all in one fell swoop. Crying at this stage doesn't help!
7. Eating home-grown organic veggies is the very best feeling and well worth the tears, joy, and good healthy exercise it entails. Remember to plan well in advance so that there is always something being planted.
We hope you enjoy homegrown veggies as much as we do.
Have fun and good luck!