Setting up your own vegetable garden is a great way to incorporate a healthy outdoor lifestyle into family time. With Spring approaching fast NOW is the time to start your vegetable garden. Spring is the best time of year to be planting and establishing your garden for a bounty of Summer produce such as tomatoes, capsicum, fresh herbs, zucchini and cucumber.
If you have an area of the garden tagged for planting my steps below will help you set up your own backyard vegetable garden. The area I am discussing in this example was a challenge. It was not an easy piece of work that was completed in an hour, or even in a weekend. Not all projects will be this complex. This example will show you that the steps are similar for a simple project, they will also be much faster to complete. If you have a garden area ready to be planted in you can simply review the points below and check them off before planting. If you have a more challenging space to set up I hope that my experience will help you.
We have lived in our current home for the past 4 years and it has slowly evolved as we have worked on improving and changing areas to suit our lifestyle and needs. There were many features that attracted us to this property but one of the big ones was that it is north facing which means it receives sun all day. The other reason was that it had a large backyard that was blank except for a lemon tree and a feijoa tree – perfect!
Your vegetable garden should be designed around your lifestyle. For me, vegetable gardening and sharing the fresh produce with my family is my passion. I love involving the kids with planting and growing our own fresh food. I love spending time outdoors when the weather is fine and watching them play, create and run around. Our lifestyle revolves around the outdoors and for me – also the kitchen. As a result, when we moved here I was keen to use the space in the backyard to grow vegetables.
One of the very first things I did when we arrived was to convince Mr Fresh to build me 3 raised garden beds. I filled those with plants and also dug up the grass between them and planted there as well. Using this space made me want even more space! We were seeing fabulous results from our gardening efforts on our family meal table. The taste of home grown organic food that is freshly picked is incomparable. As a result we began work on the raised garden area off the back of the house. Originally we planned to pave both levels and use them for entertaining but instead I decided to take over one level and plant more vegetables. This new area would double our growing space.
I have outlined the steps I took to create the new garden area below.
You can use each of these steps and apply them to your own set up. Some of the steps may not be appropriate for you so implement those that are suited to your circumstances.
1. Identify the area and complete required pre-work
The area you have chosen to use should be reviewed to determine if any structural work, or pre-work is required prior to planting. Schedule the time to complete the work, the sooner you begin, the sooner you will begin harvesting your own fresh vegetables. If you are simply planting in an existing garden area you can move onto step 2 and breathe a sigh of relief.
The area of garden that I am reviewing here was bordered by two retaining walls that were beginning to fall over. Mr Fresh had to remove, rebuild and reset both walls, incorporating suitable drainage. The upright posts (soldiers) that hold the walls were reset to sit the same depth in ground as they did above the ground for maximum support and stability.
2. Assess the soil
This may be a simple visual assessment. You do not need to do any fancy testing. Determine how suitable the soil is but the look and feel of it. You will see from the image above that the soil I was to use was dreadful. This was evident by the texture of it – it was a dusty, light soil and was filled with rocks and rubbish. It couldn’t be much worse really…. A great test of the soil suitability for growing vegetables is to dig into it to see how loose or dense it feels. If it is lovely and crumbly and you happen to find worms in it you can thank your lucky stars and move onto step 5 because your soil has good structure.
3. Implement a plan to improve the soil
a) Remove any foreign objects from the area such as rock
The area I was working on was divided into quarters to work on. I did this to ensure that I focused on one area at a time without being overwhelmed. In this example I literally dug the soil out and sifted all of the rocks for removal. The large rocks were broken up by Mr Fresh and the kids and used to fill the supporting wall space as drainage. This activity was hard work and it took weeks! Once it was done and the soil was rock free the structure of the soil needed to be improved.
b) Add organic matter to the soil
I added a total of 18 bags of manure to the area. I raked and spread it over the area and dug it in each time to incorporate it with the current soil. I also added all of the available compost from our pile plus 4 bales of pea straw, blood and bone, egg shells and coffee grinds. These additions were added over a period of a few weeks, not all at once. I did a little at a time until the soil began to look and feel like it could sustain plant life.
The manures I used were: horse manure, sheep and cow manure as well as chook manure
c) Allow the manure and compost items to break down and work their way into the soil. After adding the manures, compost and straw I let the area sit for a month to settle before planting in it.
In this instance, because the original soil was so poor I planted crops to begin with that were not deep rooted or heavy feeders. I began by adding lettuce and herbs.
4. Research and decide what to plant
a) When selecting what to plant take into consideration the time of year and your climate as most vegetables have an ideal time of year they should be planted.
You can find my easy seasonal planting guide here (or access it from the side bar on the right once you have read through the rest of the steps.)
b) Decide how many of each item to plant.
You can read this post I wrote that outlines how many of each vegetable is a good quantity to plant for a family.
c) Think about the vegetables and herbs that your family likes to eat when you are selecting what to plant. There is no point planting broad beans if no one likes to eat them.
d) Map out your garden layout – make a plan, draw it on paper. This will help you work out the plants you need. I wanted my new garden area to look more neat and structured than the overflowing raised beds in the garden as this area can be seen from the deck of the house and also bordering the outdoor entertaining area. I mapped my planting out on paper and then also used string to divide the sections prior to planting.
Creating a plan of your garden area will serve as a record for the following years, allowing you to easily rotate plant families and also to note what worked well and what did not. If you would like to access a garden journal that is already set up for you grab my e-book Grow Your Own . There is a seasonal journal included in that, along with loads of growing information and tips.
5. Plan access and water to the area
We used some old pavers to act as a path and to also divide the planting quarters clearly. This is necessary as it allows you access to harvest the vegetables you grow. In the instance of this garden area it is also one of the walkways from the house to the rest of the garden and backyard. A fabulous automated watering system is on my wish list but for now I have a house reel set up at the edge of the area that also reaches the rest of the garden beds. Mr Fresh found me a wheel system that is easy to tidy up once finished an it is secured to the garden bed edge so that I can pull and drag the house around the rest of the backyard without the wheel toppling over the edge of the garden bed.
6. Manage obstructions and maximise non-planting zones
If you take a look at the image above you will see that there is a definite edge area around the garden area just before the wall edge. This edge is filled with the rocks that I removed from the soil. It creates a boundary as it is not suitable for planting. There is also is a drop from the wall edge to the grass below. I maximized the planting space by adding a border of old grape dip tins around the edge. I use these for planting seasonal herbs and also some bee friendly flowers.
7. Reassess the soil and continue to feed
Once your garden is set up it is important to continue to feed the soil. As a general rule add new compost and manure (not 18 bags, just one or two depending on the size!) at the end of each growing season. The health and growth of your plants will indicate if they are being well nourished by the soil. If you wish you can take a soil sample and send it to be analysed, or you can do a simple pH test to indicate how well balanced it is. pH test kits are available from your local nursery.
This garden area we set up was a little more complicated than simply starting to grow some vegetables in a garden area that exists already at your home. It was hard work to set up but realistically the time it took to work on was short and the result has been an abundance of fresh produce. We completed the project together as a family, all of us working towards the end goal of being able to plant more vegetables that we could add to our family meals. The results have been worth it. We now eat almost exclusively from our home grown produce over the Summer months and can collect items daily across the rest of the year, even if it is just salad and herbs, they make a positive addition to our family meal table. This garden space is a family gathering point on the weekends to see hat is growing and ready to collect. Over the Summer months when the blueberries are producing it is monitored daily by the kids on the look out for an after school snack.
Once your garden area is created the ongoing work required to maintain it can be as little as minutes per week.
Do you have an area of the garden that you would love to plant in? What is stopping you? Now is a great time to get started.
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