How to start your own veggie garden
By flexing your green thumb and cultivating your own crop of veggies, you’ll get more than fresh produce – a vegetable garden comes with a host of health benefits.
More than half of Australian households grow food, such as having a vegetable garden or planting fruit trees.
Research by The Australia Institute shows people grow their own food because they see it as a healthier, tastier option and because they believe gardening is “good for the mind and the soul”.
“Growing your own vegetables is also convenient and good for the environment – there aren’t any food miles when you pick your own vegetables,” says Marcelle Swanson, horticultural expert at Australia’s largest gardening group, The Diggers Club.
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The health and wellbeing benefits of growing your own food
A Princeton University study this year found gardening can lift our mood.
“Many more people garden than we think and it appears that it associates with higher levels of happiness,” researcher Professor Anu Ramaswami wrote in the findings.
“Gardening could provide the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables, promote physical activity, and support emotional wellbeing.”
What are the basics of growing your own vegetables?
- Plant in a sunny position
Most vegetables need about six hours of daily sunlight.
“Sunlight is key whether you grow vegetables in pots, planters or soil. Choose a spot and watch it during the day to see how many hours of sunlight it gets,” says Marcelle.
- Make the most of the space you have
If you have a balcony, fill pots with a range of your favourite herbs and vegetables.
“Vine vegetables, like pumpkins, can be grown in a pot and you can trail the vine up a support so they don’t use as much ground space,” says Marcelle.
- Enhance the soil in your veggie garden
“Soil needs to be crumbly so seeds or the tender roots of seedlings can penetrate,” says Marcelle.
Dig soil over and add organic matter, like compost. Decomposed compost or manure breaks down and heats the soil. It also enhances soil texture so it holds water.
- Figure out the best time to plant fruit and vegetables
September is perfect planting time for tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini and pumpkin.
When the soil temperature reaches about 21C you can plant capsicum, eggplant and chilli.
There are various planting guides that list the range of vegetables suitable to plant each month.
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- Stagger your vegetable garden seed sewing
“If you want basil or lettuce for the whole of summer, sew a metre of lettuce and as soon as it is a week or two away from being ready to harvest, sew the next lot of lettuce. You’ll have fresh lettuce continually at its freshest,” says Marcelle.
- Watering is key to a healthy vegetable garden
“When seedlings are very young and don’t have much of a root system you may need to water them twice a day, and then once a day depending on the weather,” says Marcelle.
For tomatoes, once they are nearly ripe, water them less to maintain flavour.
- Try to banish pests and disease from your vegetable garden
Fortnightly applications of a seaweed-based solution will keep plants healthy and help them stay resistant to pests and diseases.
You can also make homemade organic repellents using ingredients such as mint, garlic or cayenne.
- Buy the right equipment for planting your vegetable garden
Essential gardening tools include:
- Pair of secateurs
- Good metal rake to level and break up soil
Written by Sarah Marinos.