By Justine Vincent 1/5/2020
Starting your own garden at first can seem like a daunting task, especially when you’re strapped for time and space, but it’s also one of the most rewarding, therapeutic and sustainable things you can do. Food grown in your own backyard saves you money, tastes better and the environment (not to mention your neighbours) will love you for it. If you’re new to gardening, it is difficult to know where to start, so we’ve created this resource to help you break it down into manageable steps.
The planning phases
1. First of all, think about what you want to grow –Are you interested in planting fragrant florals or a herb heaven? Maybe you’re looking at creating your own vegetable garden that boasts bountiful produce you can share with your family, friends and neighbors for years to come! Make a list of all the flowers, herbs and/or vegetables that appeal to you and will be utilized and devoured in the most sustainable way. Once you have your list, research these plants in more detail. Consider when they bloom or when they should be harvested. Also look for the maintenance levels for each plant, make sure you find plants that are manageable for your own circumstances. Veggie garden newcomers should consider easier crops to grow such as beans, lettuce, capsicum, cucumbers and carrots. Start small.
2. Decide where you want to grow it –More importantly, what space is available to you. If you’re strapped for space, think about starting small with a window sill or a rooftop space. Find somewhere flat. Make sure to consider how much sunlight this space will get. Almost all flower and vegetable plants need around 6-8 hours of full sun each day. If the spot is shaded, you may not be able to grow tomatoes, but ferns will love it! Think about your cities extremes in conditions and what plants are best to grow at this time of the year. This is an important part of the planning stage, as it is essential for plants to thrive in their preferred environments. If you’re still unsure, head down to your local plant Centre to find out about what your chosen plant’s needs.
3. Clear the ground –Now it’s time to get your hands dirty! If you need to clear grass to create your garden bed, the most sustainable way is to kill the grass in your chosen area by smothering it with multiple layers of newspaper or other organic materials (sheet mulching or layering) and then covering it with about 10cm of compost. This method can take 3-4months and there’s also the option of manual removal which is quick and effective (as well as great exercise!). Take a sharp spade to cut the lawn into 1-square-foot sections and dispose the unwanted grass into a compost bin.
4. Improve the soil –This is an important step. The more fertile the soil, the better your plants (vegetables) will grow. Healthy soil has billions of microbes, fungi and bacteria that help to produce nutrient filled vegetables. Your soil may be too wet or have the wrong pH balance which can have a huge effect on your plants. To minimize this, when you start digging, mix compost and natural fertilizers (decayed leaves, manure) into your garden to condition the soil for your plants, or you can buy specially formulated soil in bulk. Maybe the texture or structure needs to change to suit your chosen plants. For example, carrots and beetroot like sandier soils that their roots can easily penetrate, so make sure to check this first.
5. Work the soil –Once you have improved the health of your soil. It’s time to work it! Digging is the most practical method for preparing small beds. Dig only when the soil has the right texture and so that it forms a loose ball in your fist. Use a sharp spade or garden fork gently to turn the soil, mixing all the organic matter in at the same time. Press the soil down or use a board to distribute you weight over a large area. Rake the ground area to prepare it for planting.
6. Pick your plants –Take the plants you have purchased (ones that are suited to this climate and soil) either in seed or young plants for transplanting. Although seeds are more affordable, they are more unpredictable and need more love and care (like a baby!). Plants like sunflowers and lettuce are easy to grow from seed. Young transplants are a lot easier but also need a decent amount of care. Newbies to gardening should start with simple annuals such as sunflowers, geraniums and marigolds or perennials like sage, pansies and phlox.
7. Plant away -If you have bought young plants or seeds, it is easy enough to follow the instructions on their packets or plant tags. It they need to be transplanted, simply dig holes in your prepared beds and remove them from the containers. These plants can sometimes be root-bound (roots in a clump) so just use your hands or a fork to gently untangle them. Place them in the hole, surrounding the roots with more soil and firmly pat the soil down, then soak the soil with water. It may also be useful to create a gardening schedule for yourself, so each plant gets planted according to the directions on the packet. Make sure to follow the spacing and depth recommendations for each plant, so that seedlings and young plants aren’t crowded out.
8. Keep them watered -Spray the plants regularly with water using a spray bottle. If you’ve planted seedlings, ensure they are watered daily to avoid them drying out. Transplants need watering every two days so that their roots become established, then as they grow bigger you can slowly taper off, depending on the soil conditions and rainfall. Aim for once a week to start with.
9. Fight off weeds -Using mulch is the best advice I can give you here. Organic mulch (made up of straw, grass clippings, compost, wood chips etc.) keeps water in and weeds out, as well as discouraging pests and nourishing the soil as it decomposes.
10. Keep the love -As your garden begins to grow, make sure to maintain the love and care by watering the plants regularly, removing any weeds, dying vegetation and insects you find gnawing away at your plants. Support the taller plants (e.g. tomatoes) by tying them to a stake and harvest the vegetables when you can see that they are ready. Depending on the plants, it may need some additional fertilisation which you can buy or make yourself. If you see that your plants aren’t doing well, go and consult your local garden Centre about it. Just remember, your plants will give you as much love as you give them.
So, there you go! You’ve got the perfect beginners guide to starting your own garden and once you know the basics, you can gain confidence and get more creative with planting! After just a few months, you could be picking off some delicious produce than you can eat and share with your local community. I love including my home-grown Zucchini into salads, stir-fries and fritters. Delicious, nutritious, sustainable and rewarding. The only question now is: what are you waiting for?