Edible gardening has become a popular trend that continues to grow. And there are benefits which go beyond being able to grow to eat.
Growing veg is also a great way to introduce children to the hobby of gardening and encourage them to spend more time outdoors. The garden is nature’s classroom and gives kids first-hand insight on how food is produced.
Prepping a new patch
Correct placement is the key to success with vegetables. Find a space that receives about six hours of sun every day. However, if this is a challenge in your garden, there are a number of crops which can grow well in partial shade. A vegetable patch doesn’t have to be huge – 1.5m by 2m is ample. Assess your soil quality.
Sandy soil runs through your fingers and clay soil forms clumps when squeezed. Loamy soil, considered best for gardening, is a crumbly, dark soil that retains water without becoming waterlogged. If you have sandy or clay soil, improve the quality by digging in plenty of organic matter (compost and manure) for better retention, drainage, texture and air flow.
Reworking an old patch
Remove the last of the summer crops and any weeds that might have invaded the patch. You don’t want them completing for nutrients and water with the new crops later on. If you put mulch down earlier in the season, don’t remove it, just dig it into the soil. Add more compost or manure to condition the soil and dig it over to break up clods for better drainage.
Boxes and raised beds
Raised beds not only protect your crops from pests but also make weeding and watering that much easier.
In smaller gardens, wooden crates can be used for vegetables. They don’t take up too much space and can provide a good supply of food for the family table. In larger gardens, consider raised beds that provide the look and feel of the potagers or kitchen gardens of yesteryear. Raised beds also provide a solution in gardens where soil quality is poor. Beds can be constructed out of wooden planks or bricks and a rich top soil and organic matter added before seeds are sown.
Several vegetables can be grown throughout the year in some locations, while others are seasonal. What you grow depends on your climate. You can sow seeds or get a head start with seedlings purchased from your local nursery. Remember to mulch after planting to keep the soil moist.
Tips for vegetables
Onions take four months or longer from seed to harvest, but they have a relatively good shelf life so you can plant a good-sized crop. Sow seeds in trays and transplant seedlings into the garden. Soil needs to drain well. Ask your local nurseryman which onion varieties are best for your region.
Beetroot is easy to grow. Sow seeds in rows, every 3cm to 5cm, with rows about 30cm apart. Keep the soil moist as dry periods can spoil the crop. Cabbages thrive in well-draining, fertile soil. Sow seeds in seed trays or beds, with successive planting every three to four weeks.
Carrots enjoy a loose soil, but don’t add too much compost when working the soil. Loose, friable soil will ensure that your carrots are straight and not misshapen. Sow seeds in furrows (1cm deep), with successive plantings every three to four weeks.
Seeds which you can sow now (Western Cape): dwarf beans; beetroot; broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots – all year; cabbage – all year; celery and lettuce – all year.
From March: leeks; spinach; radishes; Swiss chard and turnips. Plant onions in April and May.
Sow seeds now (Gauteng): broccoli; beetroot; Brussels sprouts, cabbage; carrots – all year; leeks; spinach; lettuce – all year; cauliflower; onions, radishes; Swish chard as well as turnips.
Earthworms are good guests
Earthworms break down organic matter in the soil and release nutrients for plants. They are an important part of a garden’s ecosystem, themselves providing a tasty meal for birds. As earthworms tunnel down, they aerate the soil, providing better water penetration and space for roots to grow. Earthworms feed on decaying plant matter and small micro-organisms in the soil.
Their castings (waste) are a rich fertiliser that supply nutrients to plants. Encourage them to stay by improving your soil quality. Dig in organic matter such as compost, manure or leaf litter and add organic mulch to the soil surface. Earthworms don’t like to be disturbed. Use a fork when you dig. Garden earthworms should not be confused with red wigglers (Eisenia fetida), which are used in vermiculture, to compost waste matter. These earthworms cannot live in garden soil.
By Kay Montgomery. This was originally published on IOL.