Nothing is more satisfying than picking fresh produce from your own garden. Here are 10 key pointers for starting up your very own veggie patch.
1. Get out the compass
Make your vegetable rows from east to west so that all the plants receive maximum sunshine.
2. Keep everything within easy reach
To make tending beds easier, make them no wider than the spread of your arms — that’s about 1.2 metres.
Design a main path wide enough for a wheelbarrow, at least one metre wide and include footpaths 30 centimetres wide between beds.
To suppress weeds and provide a clean place to walk, keep paths covered with straw, chopped leaves, boards or strips of scrap carpeting.
3. Make the most of limited space
Plant vertical crops, such as peas and pole beans, which take up little ground space.
Or try dwarf varieties, such as ‘Tom Thumb Midget’ lettuce and ‘Tiny Dill’ cucumbers.
Many dwarf varieties can also be grown in roomy containers kept on a deck or patio.
4. Protect vegetables with old tires
If you’re eager to get an early start in spring, plant your tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers or other vegetables inside old tires laid on the ground.
The tires will protect the plants from harsh winds and the dark rubber will absorb heat from the sun and warm the surrounding soil.
5. Leave room for blooms
Flowers in the vegetable garden not only make it a more pleasant place to work, but also have practical uses.
Many flowers attract beneficial insects, such as bees, ladybugs and lacewings. Others may repel pests in search of your vegetables.
Try French marigolds, cosmos and zinnias as well as edible flowers like nasturtiums and violets.
6. Plant beans to boost soil nitrogen
Beans, peas and other legumes are among the few plants that enrich the soil with nitrogen — an element essential for plant growth.
Legumes begin using up the nitrogen they’ve stored when they blossom and set fruit.
If you pull them up early, they will leave nutrients behind in the soil that can be used by other plants.
7. Grow throughout the season
After harvesting a cool-weather crop (spring peas or spinach, for example), replant the space with a warm-weather vegetable (green beans or summer squash).
Inter-plant quick growers (radishes) with slower ones (tomatoes). The short-term crop will be up and out before the slow grower can crowd or shade it.
8. Scare off birds with reflective tape
An innovative way to keep birds away from your vegetables is to hang strips of reflective tape over the plants.
When the tape flutters in the breeze, it casts light across the garden, which spooks wary birds.
9. Repel insects
For centuries, gardeners have used companion planting to repel insect pests.
Aromatic plants, such as basil, tansy, marigolds and sage are all reputed to send a signal to bugs to go elsewhere, so try some near your prized vegetables.
Mint, thyme, dill and sage are old-time favourites near cabbage-family plants (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) for their supposed ability to fend off cabbage moths.
10. Move things around
Crop rotation is essential for preventing a buildup of harmful soil-borne microbes that prefer certain plants.
For this reason, don’t plant a vegetable or a member of its family in the same place year after year.
As a general rule, a plant should be replanted in its original spot only every three or four years.