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  • Starting Your Own Garden

    Gardening is a humbling experience that many generations have enjoyed. With yard sizes getting smaller and garden designs changing we wanted to share what we have learnt so hopefully your new garden is a successful and wonderful venture.

    Below we have outlined the 4 main gardening options that are used regularly. All can be very successful if done right.

    First you will need to choose where you want to put your garden.
    - An area that receives sun 6-8 hours sun with some protection from late afternoon sun during summer is ideal.
    - Look around for any large trees and try to avoid putting your garden near them. The root systems will quickly invade your garden robbing nutrients and water from your precious veggies.
    - Try to position it as close to the kitchen as possible and you will find mid dinner prep it's not to far to quickly go and grab a few things that you need.

    Traditional Garden Beds
    The traditional garden bed at ground level with paths dug to allow access and water drainage is one of the cheapest and most effective options available to any new gardens.
    New garden bed being made
    Above:Traditional garden bed ready to be mulched and planted.

    1. You will need to determine if your soil is lacking in any critical elements for a successful garden and fix these issues prior to planting. These can include nutrients deficiencies, low organic matter, incorrect PH (ideal is 6-7), hard compacted clay etc. Once you are certain of which you need to resolve there are fairly simple solutions which are outlined below.

    Nutrient Deficiency: Hard to determine without soil testing or extensive knowledge spotting deficiency signs on plant leaves. A safe approach is incorporate animal manures such as cow, sheep, chicken into the soil which will provide critical nutrients for good plant growth. Using rock minerals is also highly recommended as these provide trace elements promoting good fruit set.

    Low Organic Matter: Organic matter is key to any successful garden!Low organic matter soils will have a lighter colour, dry out readily and leach nutrients. Two ways of adding organic matter are by growing a green manure crop of legumes and grasses to provide nitrogen and bulk organic matter that can be turned into the soil promoting microbe activity. A green manure has roughly an 8-10 week turnaround from sowing seed to planting your first crop of veggies after it is turned in. A faster option is to incorporate compost from your kitchen scraps or to buy compost from your local landscape yard. Note: Please read our warning on buying in garden products under the heading "Raised Gardens"

    Checking Soil PH:The correct soil PH allows for the best nutrient availability to the plants root systems. Checking PH is easy with simple home testing kits which we sell or your local garden centre will have. An acceptable PH range is from 6-7 for most plants and ideally 6.5 is where to have your veggie garden at. To raise PH the use of Lime or Dolomite are both excellent options or to lower PH using sulfur sparingly as it can burn plant roots.

    Hard Compacted Soils/Clay: Trying to get loose free draining soil can be very tricky if you have very high clay percentage in your soil. The use of gypsum assists in breaking down clay. Use at a rate of 2-3 handfuls per square metre. Increasing organic matter will also reduce the amount of soil compaction. Please read 'Low Organic Matter' for more information.

    2. Once you have resolved any of the above issues you can cultivate the soil using a maddock, fork, walk behind tractor or a rotary hoe tractor depending on what you have available. Shovel your paths allowing for easy access to the garden and for excess water to drain away from the garden. If you have dry free draining soil you can shape your paths to slow the  movement of water allowing it to soak into the ground rather then running away.

    3. Mulch your beds and plant your garden.

    Pros: Low cost, relatively fast to set up, minimal ongoing costs, produces excellent quality soil, uses less water then raised beds.

    Cons: Gardens are at ground level, can be limited by the quality of your properties soil.

    Raised Gardens
    1. Determine the height and size of your raised beds. This can be anywhere from 30cm high to 1m high. Remember the higher you go the more material you will need to buy in.

    Raised garden bed2. Build or buy your raised garden frame. Building your own is the cheapest option. We recommend using hardwood timber or corrugated iron as your walls. Buying your raised harden can be expensive and often treated pine is the only option available.

    Note: Lining the inside walls of your raised bed with plastic or weed mat will help with retaining moisture in the garden. Line the base with weed mat only not plastic.

    3. How much soil do I need?
    Time for some basic maths. Lets say you have a garden 2.5m long 1.2m wide and 60cm deep.
    Just do the following equation:
    length x width x depth = metres cubed of soil

    Therefor the garden size mentioned above:
    2.5m x 1.2m x 0.6m = 1.8m^3

    4. Choosing your 'soil' to fill the raised beds. This is where it can go very wrong fast! Most 'garden soils' that can be purchased from your local landscaping supplier or hardware store are very poor quality and primarily made from wood chip and sand. It is in fact not soil and more along the lines of a potting mix. They are made cheaply using waste organic matter materials and can often have large and small pieces of plastic that are hard to remove. Despite the salesman telling you it is premium quality with added fertiliser they tend to be low in nutrients and PH can be anywhere from 3-10.

    If you only have the pre-made mixes as your option then ask them to do a PH test or do one yourself before getting your trailer loaded! It should be between 6-7ph. Also mix through fertilisers such as chook manure and rock minerals before planting anything.

    Ideally if you can try to find real soil, as in from the earth you will have a much better start to gardening. Maybe you know someone with a pile in their yard or you know a local farmer that may help.. Ask around and you may be surprised with what you can find.

    No Dig Gardens
    1. Allocate an area the size you would like your garden to be. You can use an edging material if you wish to define the bed, however it is not imperative.

    2. Mow grass as low as possible and leave cut material in place. Add any other excess organic matter you have on hand e.g. vegetable scraps, egg shells, lawn clippings, animal manures. Spread these evenly over the area, this will help attract worms and beneficial soil organisms to your growing space.

    3. Sheet Mulch...using cardboard,newspaper, etc. Ensure you generously overlap edges and apply in thick layers (2cm roughly) as this is what is going starve the weeds and existing grass of sunlight.
    Tip: Soak cardboard and newspaper in water overnight (This stops the material blowing away, and aids decomposition)

    4. On top of this add a 10cm (roughly) of cow horse or sheep manure. Compost may also be used if on hand.
    5. Add a layer of brown leafy material. Prunings, leaf litter (Eucalyptus is best not used), straw/hay mulch, aged lawn clippings, ANYTHING ORGANIC.

    6. Repeat from step 3, layering cardboard, manure, and your organic material. It is worth while hosing layers as you go to keep it moist. Try to make the materials you use as diverse as possible. Finish off with applying a thick layer of mulch and allow the area to break down for a period of 4 - 6 weeks.
    TIP: Instead of waiting, plant your seedlings or seeds into a 20cm x 20cm hole of potting mix or pre existing garden soil, and you've got yourself an instant garden.

    It is recommended to apply Lime to your area (One handful per square metre) to avoid creating an environment that is too acidic, as nutrients will become locked in the soil and your plants will suffer.

    • No Till gardening does not damage soil structure.
    • You are creating an in situ compost area and planting directly into it.
    • No back breaking double digging.
    • Using available resources to create healthy and alive soil.
    • Low cost.
    • Time spent waiting for the area to be ready to plant.
    Apart from that, No Dig gardens just get better with age!

    Have a look here for a quick and interesting video on
     No - Dig Gardening.

    Pot/Container Growing
    Please read what we have mentioned in "Raised Gardens" as choosing your soil is one of the most important steps in container growing.

    Pot Sizing
    Selecting a pot or container for the plants requirements is very important.

    As a generalised grouping I will refer to two separate groups 'greens' which are simply producing leaves for harvest and 'fruiting vegetables' which are heavy feeders ranging from Tomatoes to broccoli

    Many greens such as lettuce, spinach, silverbeet, kale, Asian greens, bush beans, celery, parsley, basil and chives can handle being in smaller containers or pots as small as 20cm diameter. They don't feed as heavily as many fruit producing plants.

    Fruiting or heading vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini's, eggplant, capsicum, chilli, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflowers etc are heavier feeders and need to be put into containers no smaller then 30cm diameter as a minimum and will require regular fertilising and watering.

    Nutrient requirements
    Due to the pot or container restricting the plants root system need extra and more regular fertiliser applications will be required. Ensuring you have a good mix of animal manure, compost and trace elements mixed into your soil will give you the best start possible.

    Foliar applications of Fish Emulsion, Liquid Seaweed or bio stimulants can assist in trace element availability and disease resistance.

    Once plants are growing you can provide top dressings of chook manure or blood and bone if the liquid fertilisers are not enough. This will provide a initial boost of NPK and a slow release for up to 4 weeks. Scratching the fertiliser into the top few centimetres of soil will be even more effective.

    Wicking pots/Containers
    These are readily available from your local garden centre now and extend the watering period from daily to almost weekly depending on the style of wicking pot. All your standard containers and pots can easily be turned into wicking pots by simply sitting the pot in shallow (2cm) water. This allows the plant to draw water up through the soil using the process of osmosis.

    Note: Be certain to allow the water in the tray to dry out periodically to reduce the chance of disease build up from constantly being wet.