By Bec Wenzel
September is finally here and many of us are thinking about what we can start to plant in our vegetable gardens. It has been a long, and cold winter and very wet for many areas of the country – so it’s great to see the sun out to get things moving along! Cherry blossoms are starting to make a show, our spring bulbs like hyacinth and freesia have already been blooming and even my houseplants have started sprouting new growth.
While some people may be seasoned gardeners and know many good tips on how to get our gardens producing great crops, others may need a helping hand. When I first started growing vegetables I had many failed crops, but with each year you learn a bit more and things turn out just a little bit better. Any gardener knows that you can learn something new every year, new ideas and better ways to do things are always arising.
Location, location, location!
This is one of the key points of a successful garden. Most garden greens, berries and fruiting plants require a lot of sunshine, at least 6 hours a day. Wind can also add problems, causing damage and drying things out so pick a spot that is protected. Good access to an outdoor tap or hose is a must and its best to position it in a place you want to spend time in, so choose somewhere that isn’t too far away from where you spend time with the family or just somewhere that appeals to you.
Raised gardens or traditional:
I have used both methods of gardening and find them both to be great for different reasons. You generally need a lot of room with a traditional garden where you can plant directly into the soil- so rambling tomatoes, squash and other such crawlers can get a lot of growth. The soil won’t dry out as fast either.
Raised gardens are great if you don’t have somewhere you can grow directly into the soil. They help keep your veggie patch looking neat and tidy and because they are raised off the ground you don’t have to bend as low making it easier to do the jobs like weeding and feeding. They are also good for helping excess water drain away, and if you’re like me it aids by inhibiting my dogs from getting into the veggies so much!
If you don’t have raised gardens or any spare space, don’t let that stop you. The use of tubs, buckets or containers are a cost-effective way to grow produce, just make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom of any container and make sure there is enough room for what you want to grow. Plants like tomatoes and chilies require a bigger space than the likes of lettuce or spinach. I used a 9 litre buckets for my chilies last year with a good success rate. Just be aware that containers dry out a lot faster, so watering will have to be done every day throughout summer.
If you are planning on using raised gardens, using a good quality soil is a must with plenty of compost. Add a layer of sheep pellets to the top and then dig into the top 10cm of the soil. The same applies to traditional gardens, boost that nutrient level by adding lots of compost and digging in sheep pellets. With container gardening use potting mix with a controlled-release fertiliser or a potting mix/compost combination. Good soil preparation leads to good produce!
Planting your seedlings and plants:
A few little tips for planting your seedlings for a good success rate:
- I like to soak the seedlings first in a liquid fertiliser before planting. It is a good habit to get into as it gives the plant a little boost to assist with transplanting and makes sure they have plenty of water holding in their root system. A certified organic liquid fertiliser is best.
- Getting them out of the seedling containers: we have all done it before, but we may have been a little eager and tried pulling them out by the tops only to find they completely break off. The best way to get them out of their containers is to gently squeeze the tube at the bottom, and then push your finger up from the bottom so the seedling comes out in one piece with its roots intact.
- The soil you are planting into should be nice and loose, so it has no trouble letting the root system set in.
- Dig the hole bigger than the seedling tube. I go by the rule of double the size of the container it came in, even if you are planting a fruit tree or blueberry. Simply dig a hole that looks about double the width of the pot so there is enough room for starting growth.
- Plant into your soil so that the top of soil on the seedling is just about level with the soil in your garden. Be careful not to bury the seedling too deep or it can develop rot problems and if you do not bury deep enough it will not be a strong plant.
- Fill in the gaps with soil and gently firm the plant in with your fingers so that it sits securely in the soil. Water lightly with a watering can or light spray.
- When it comes to spacing, it is dependent on what you grow and what variety. Something like lettuce might need 20 – 30 cm spacing, whereas tomatoes might need at least 50cm. Be sure to read the label.
All veges will benefit so much from the beautiful art of mulching, so avoid leaving soil bare. Not only does mulching your garden make it harder for weeds to push through, it also aids in water retention and adds organic matter as it breaks down. There is a lot of good mulch options. I prefer straw, but you can use other options such as pine needles, bark or even grass clippings.
These little critters can ruin all your hard work overnight if you are not prepared, so make sure to sprinkle some snail pellets around each seedling. I recommend Quash slug and snail pellets as it is child and pet safe.
Watering and feeding:
Watering your seedlings lightly every day or two until they get a bit more developed is essential. Once they start maturing they will not need to be monitored quite so heavily but is also weather dependent. If there is a lot of rain you may not need to water as often. The best thing to do is put your finger into the soil and if it is dry underneath give them a drink. If your drainage is good, excess water should drain away.
Plants need a lot of nutrients in spring, their main growing season. Topping up with sheep pellets or Novatec (a controlled release fertiliser) can be very beneficial, especially if you notice the leaves going a bit yellow. A certified organic liquid fertiliser is also a good option, you can use this every few weeks. Nature is great at telling us when something is going wrong! Your Palmers garden experts are always on hand to solve any of your garden questions or jump online and use their excellent Q&A section.