While much of Australia is moving towards winter, here in Queensland we are beginning a new planting season. The tropical rains are just about over and with them goes the flash flooding, humidity and mouldy conditions that aren’t conducive to growing healthy vegetables.
When it comes to gardening, I’m very much a novice – not a natural green thumb at all. Each year I learn a little more, and our garden gets a little better. I think too, the longer you live in one house, the more familiar you get with your little eco-system and this knowledge helps when growing your own vegetables.
The steps below are those we are taking to prepare and plant our next vegetable crop. They are very much the ideas of a novice gardener.
Start a gardening journal
While you can read a lot of information in books about optimum growing conditions for each vegetable that you plant, your best information will come from experience, especially as every yard’s growing conditions are different. In order to remember what works and what doesn’t year after year in your own yard, start a gardening journal to jot down information about what you grow and how you take care of it; pests and problems that you may have, solutions, crop rotations etc.
One of the first principles of permaculture is to simply observe. A gardening journal is a great place to jot down observations.
Because sun (and lack of it) is an issue in our own yard, one of my current observations is tracking throughout the year what parts of the yard get sun during specific times of the day. I have drawn up a diagram of our yard and colour in the shaded and sunny areas at four times during the day, taking any notes on things I want to remember. I plan to do this exercise once a month for a whole year.
Choosing your vegetables
The next step is to decide what you are going to plant. Two things will influence your choice:
- What your family enjoys eating
- What grows well at each season of the year in your climate
Because I don’t have a lot of background experience, I start by looking at a table of vegetables that shows when each veggie grows best in certain climates. I use this book on organic vegetable growing; I like it because it Australian and the author has experience growing in warmer climates. Alternate resources include the Eden Seeds planting guides, which also give you planting depth and spacing information and Gardenate website, which gives a month by month selection of suggested vegetables to plant in each climactic zone in Australia and New Zealand.
As you go on, experience (and your gardening journal) will become your most valuable guide of what to plant and when – information that is particularly suited to your own microclimate.
Planning your garden
Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to grow, you will want to plan your garden space. I keep measurements of the garden (and a diagram) in my gardening journal and I refer to my trusty gardening book to guide me on how much space each plant needs, as well as their growing needs (soil conditions, fertiliser etc.) and then experiment.
I want to fit as much into our tiny plot as I can, without over-crowding and causing stress to the plants. Our garden is 1.2metres by 2.2metres, one side being the fence with trellis attached. Not only do we want to work out maximum yield for the space, there are only so many climbing plants we can grow at one time.
I also look particularly at any crop rotation and companion planting suggestions and plan those in advance. For example, we are planning a pea crop and it is suggested that peas should not be grown straight after beans (which we grew before Christmas). So I’ve planned to plant those on the other side of the garden where the tomatoes were.
Finally, if you plan to raise seedlings for transplant, or stagger planting for a continuous crop, you can plan these things now too and put them in your calendar as a reminder (I tend to forget to do things if I don’t write them down).
Selecting your seed varieties
There are several great places to buy seeds in Australia; we chose Eden Seeds firstly because they supply traditional open-pollenated seeds (some are organic and bio-dynamically grown) and secondly because they are fairly local, cutting down on transport. You don’t have to order seeds online though, a good local nursery should supply a variety of traditional seeds alongside the commercial ones.
When selecting seeds, look for varieties that are known to grow well in your climate. Some varieties do better in cooler climates, while others will tolerate the hotter conditions up north.
Prepare your garden
As we use the no-dig method of gardening, we actually have very little to do to prepare our garden bed. Despite the fact it had lain fallow for the past three months, the mulch has kept the weeds down to just a small handful, which the little fella enjoyed pulling up for me .
[The only weed we have a real problem with, by the way, is Ipomoea Indica (Blue Morning Glory) which is a very vigorous ground creeper and climber that our local council encourages removal of (and that we really want to get rid of). Because it’s a creeper, it is everywhere. Anyone dealt successfully with this weed? We’ve had limited success with manual removal and mulching.]
As well as removing any weeds, we will also add a little more mulch before adding another layer of compost and then a final layer of mulch, which we will build upon once the seedlings are established.
All up, only half an hour or less of prep work before planting.
Pots are another thing we will be preparing. I plan to plant some parsley for the laundry windowsill (my permaculture zone one – I spend a lot of time in the laundry) as well as grow some garlic in recycled tins attached to the fence, where they will get plenty of sun. In other words, you don’t need to have a garden bed to plant a garden – pots work just as well and the planning and preparation process is the same.
Then all that’s left to do is plant your garden and enjoy it’s harvest.
A little bit of planning and research, especially if you’re a beginner like me, will help improve the success of your vegetable crops. Keeping a record of your observations, what works and what doesn’t, will also help improve your growing success in the future.
[Note: Coincidently, after I had finished writing this article, I stumbled across this post from CityFood Growers on planning your garden. It is more geared towards the seasoned gardener (although it’s a very good resource for anyone planning a garden) and has a list of questions to consider when planning (things like soil fertility and pest problems).]