Starting your own vegetable garden the OwnGrown way!

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We often get asked by budding green-fingered enthusiasts across the country how to start their own veggie garden. So, we thought it would be nice to throw together a piece on what we think are some of the important factors to consider. It doesn’t really matter how big or small your growing space is whether it’s in a box, on the ground or up a wall, the following will provide you with all you need to get growing.

Step 1: Get the right stuff!

7559817It’s a good idea to make sure you have the right tools. This will save you time, money, sanity and effort running back and forth from home to the hardware store.  Rather spend your day in the garden than in the traffic! There are many tools and brands available out there and experience has taught us that buying quality can go a long way and will cost you less in the long run. Better tools are also more efficient, and the more efficient the tool, the less work for you!

We recommend you get the following tools for your starter kit!!

  • Secateurs (gardening scissors): An absolute must have – a gardener’s best friend. The better the quality the longer they last and the sharper they stay.
  • Sun hat:  Better to wear one than to be swearing about your sunburn later!! Sunblock is probably a good idea as well.
  • Garden Gloves:  For those of you worried about your hands, especially if you’re dealing with anything thorny, there are some great choices out there, go for something durable, thin and rubberized.
  • Watering can and/or hosepipe:  Always necessary – and if you’re looking for a spray nozzle, get something that mimics rainfall. Usually, the simpler the better.
  • Trowel/handheld spade and fork: For digging small holes, weeding and planting seedlings and seeds.

…and for the bigger garden…

  • Large spade and fork: For planting trees, turning compost and a whole bunch more
  • Leaf rake and hard rake: For collecting soft materials and for leveling/shaping ground.
  • Shears: For pruning and thinning
  • Lopper’s: Removing unwanted branches from trees, cutting things up to cart away.
  • Wheelbarrow: A wheelbarrow can save you a lot of time and effort moving compost, mulch and other debris.
  • Simple basket or tub: We find these very useful to keep things neat and tidy.  As you move through the garden, throw things in for the compost later.

Step 2: Choosing the right site: zones, sector and aspect…

It’s important to know where the optimal place to have your veggie patch is. Here’s our list of some things to think about:

If you can, have your patch as close to the kitchen as possible. Rather have a space that you can access easily than a space that is tucked out of the way and inconvenient to get to.

Your site must have at least some sun throughout the day. Some direct sunshine for a few hours every day is essential. Rather have too much sun than too little. Too much can be dealt with, not enough can’t. Be aware of your microclimate, if the area is walled in, it’s likely to get hotter than if it’s an open space. If you have windows or glass doors, they could reflect sunlight and burn or damage plants. Find a space you think is right and then monitor this over several weeks and check sun, shade, wind (in CT we have strong southerly summer winds which can really damage plants) and temperature, making sure not to have too much of any of these factors.

Step 3: Choose the right method and bed type

Methods vary greatly but three stand out for us: ‘The cottage garden method’ – where veg, herbs and salad are grown in amongst your existing shrubs and plants; ‘The container garden method’ were containers are used to grow in and ‘The bed method'(our favourite) dedicated veg beds

Flat Bed Garden: Give’s you limitless options of what you can grow using the natural eco-system.  If you have dogs, you may want to fence off though to make sure your veggies don’t get too damaged!

2220307Container/Crate Gardens: Perfect for you if you have poor soil, are living in an appartment or have a very small garden.  We naturally recommend using the OwnGrown Apple Crate containers as these come in a variety of sizes and are made from materials which are treated with products which won’t contaminate your food crop soil and are built to handle the swelling which naturally occurs when you mix soil, water and wood.  There are also many options available to you at nurseries.  You an grow in almost anything from an old bath tup, to your grandads old shoes!  It is a good idea to choose which containers will be used for which plants depending on the depth of their roots

Raised Bed Gardens: Raised beds are great if you have the space in your garden.  They allow you to have better control over the soil, weeds become more manageable and you don’t have to bend over while gardening which is great!  You can use a variety of materials to create raised beds from bricks, untreated wood, rocks or cinder blocks.  You can decide on the height and size of the beds to suit your needs.  Just make sure you keep them a size where you can reach all the plants.  Or, give us a call and we will do it for you!

Step 4: Where the magic happens

There is an old organic farmer’s adage: “We don’t grow vegetables, we grow soil”.  We forget that soil is a living, breathing organism; a matrix loaded with billions of micro-organisms. Keep all these little guys happy, and they’ll keep your plants happy. Upset the balance (adding artificial fertilizers or herbicides or pesticides) and we destroy the microbial life in the soil. They need oxygen, nitrogen and carbon to remain active.

Soil needs to be aerated to allow the air to circulate through it.If the soil is too dense – like in clay – it can be too thick for roots and you may have drainage problems. Bacteria and microbes do better in well-drained soil.  If you are having trouble with drainage, add compost and mulch well. Still having a problem? Add more compost!!6991073

A healthy fertile soil is one which is loamy, high in humus, dark in colour and sweet to smell.  Not too sandy, not too dry. Keep your soil rich in organic matter such as compost or aged manure. This will provide nutrients to your plants.

Don’t know what your soil quality is?  No worries, you can find simple tests at nurseries so you can check the quality of your soil, or we can check for you!

The best bit of advice we can give is never take away from soil but instead always add to it. It’s the role of the plants you grow to strip the soil of its fertility, it’s our role to ensure the plants, bacteria and other microbial life have enough nutrients to keep things growing.

Step 5: The fun part! Deciding what plants to grow

8989621One way to decide what to grow is to think about what you like to eat!  The size of your garden will also determine what you can grow – for example the brassica vegetables need a lot of space so if you only have a small balcony, rather grow herbs, salads and maybe a few tomatoes.

It is also a good idea to think about what you eat often and what is expensive to buy or no longer tastes good from the supermarket. The food from your own garden is sure to taste better!

Step 6: Grow, grow grow!!!

All you need now is some sunshine, water and a little love.

9278070Once your plants are planted, you can keep adding a little compost and mulch to improve water retention, fertility, help with the weeds, and keep the roots cool.  If we’re planting seedlings, we’ll plant through the mulch. Our favourite mulch for food gardens is feed grade Lucerne. This contains no seeds and of course passively adds to the soil. If you can’t find Lucerne, use straw or even some grass clippings or similar. We advise against using bark chip or wood chip for vegetables. These are better used for paths and walkways.