Growing your own vegetables is fun and it’s rewarding. All you really need to get started is some decent soil and a few plants, but to be a really successful organic vegetable gardener you’ll need to understand what it takes to keep your plants healthy and vigorous.
“Feed the soil” is a mantra for organic gardeners, but in chemically based agriculture, crop plants are ‘fed’ directly using synthetic fertilizers. When taken to extremes this chemical force-feeding can gradually impoverish the soil. As a result, a rich entity teeming with microorganisms, insects and other life forms can become an inert growing medium that exists mainly to anchor the plants’ roots, with little or no nutrition reaching the roots.
The most useful substance for building and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced soil is organic matter.You can add organic matter by way of compost, shredded leaves, animal manures or cover crops. This improves the fertility, the structure and the tilth of the soils., providing a continuous source of nitrogen and other nutrients that plants need to grow.
Make Efficient Use of Space
The location of your garden (the amount of sunlight it receives, proximity to a source of water, and protection from frost and wind) is important. Yet just as crucial for growing vegetables is making the most of your garden space.
Vegetable gardens that make efficient use of growing space are much easier to care for, whether you’re talking about a few containers on the patio or a 20-by-30 metre plot in the backyard. Raised beds are a good choice for beginners because they make the garden more manageable.
Get Rid of Rows
The first way to maximise space in the garden is to convert from traditional row planting to one-metre-wide raised beds. Switching to raised beds or open beds means you may actually be able to downsize the garden. By freeing up existing space, you can plant green-manure crops on the part of the garden that is not currently raising vegetables and/or rotate growing areas more easily from year to year. Or, you might find that you now have room for planting new crops: rhubarb, asparagus, berries, or flowers for cutting, in the newly available space.
Grow Up, Not Out
Trellising or a wall garden are both great ways to use the limitied space in your garden but you will still need to lend physical support to some of the vegetables, such as climbing varieties of peas and beans. Other vegetables that are commonly trellised include vining crops, such as cucumbers and tomatoes.
The fence surrounding your garden may well do double-duty as a trellis, so long as the crops grown on the fence can be rotated in different years. With some vegetables, such as tomatoes or melons, you may also have to tie the plants gently to the support.
Keep Crops Moving
Crop rotation means planting the same crop in the same place only once every three years.
This policy ensures that the same garden vegetables will not deplete the same nutrients year after year. It can also help foil any insect pests or disease pathogens that might be lurking in the soil after the crop is harvested.
Planting crops in succession is another way to maximise growing area. Plant something new almost every week of the season, from the first cold-hardy greens and peas in late winter or early spring, to heat-loving plants such as tomatoes, and peppers once the weather is settled.
Succession planting means your harvest season lasts longer.
GIve It a Go
Remember, starting a vegetable garden is simple: start with good soil, use plenty of organic matter, and rotate your crops every couple of years.