Growing Veggies - The Basics

Growing veggies successfully requires TLC initially but the rewards are definitely worth the time and effort put in. Here are some major factors to consider when starting your veggie patch:

The vast majority of vegetables require a full sun position. This means they will need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day for optimum growth. In hotter climates like the tropics where sunlight is more intense, many full sun plants will also happily live in part shade. Some leafy greens like lettuce or silverbeet will grow quite well in part shade in most climates. Always remember to water well in hot and dry weather.

This is very important for vegetables because they grow so quickly and will therefore need plenty of nutrients to thrive. Its important to make sure you are feeding the right nutrients and also that you don't over fertilise.

The three main nutrients required are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K), referred to as N:P:K on fertiliser breakdowns found on the back of commercial fertiliser packaging. There are many other important trace elements also required by the plants, although they are often in abundant supply in most soils already.

An all purpose fertiliser is a safe starter option, however richer products like chook manure or blood and bone are great additional fertilisers to speed up growth. Make sure you don't over fertilise with any one product and if using commercial products, make sure you only dose as often and as much as is recommended - doubling up the amount won't necessarily mean double the growth.
Too much nitrogen may lead to big beautiful leaves but no fruits.
Too much potassium may reduce availability and uptake of nitrogen from the soil etc.

Green manure is a great option for a natural fertiliser - this simply means growing a plant for a period of time and then ploughing them back into the soil. Broad beans, lupins, comfrey, mung bean, soy bean, chickpea, fenugreek and buckwheat are all good options.

Unfortunately pests and diseases are a gardeners bane but keeping a close eye on your plants and controlling any outbreaks quickly is the key to success.
Leaf eating insects are probably the most common pests - these include caterpillars, beetles and grasshoppers and can be noticed by holes appearing in leaves or leaves slowly disappearing.
Aphids and mites are also common pests which harm plants by sucking nutrients from the leaves and stem.
Chemical controls are effective but not the most biologically friendly option. Try using a soap based home-made spray with soapy water, chilli and garlic or home-made oil sprays. Numerous recipes can be found online. Pyrethrum spray is another safer alternative, either store bought or using home grown pyrethrum daisies (seeds available in store from time to time)

Companion planting can also reduce pests by using plants that naturally repel insects and planting them next to vulnerable plants. Try Clicking here for a comprehensive list of companion plants
Encouraging beneficial insects like ladybeetles (which eat aphids) will also reduce pests. Try our beneficial bug mix or plants like marigolds and borage to attract them.

These can be common particularly in warm humid environments but are often harder to control than pests.

Common diseases:

Powdery mildew - a white fungus on the leaves of pumpkins, zucchini and squash plants. Treat as soon as it appears, try to remove affected leaves and spray the remainder with a 20:80 milk to water spray. Prevent by avoiding growing during humid times of the year and try to avoid getting leaves wet when watering plants or only water in mornings so leaves dry quickly in the sun.

Leaf blight - common in veg like tomato, again occurs in hot humid weather. Reduce risk by avoid humid times of the year, increasing air flow around plants either by pruning or planting further apart, weeding etc., remove effected leaves or whole plants if badly affected as disease will spread easily.

Blossom end rot - tomato, eggplant and capsicum plants have rotten / spoiled bottom end of fruit - this is caused by infrequent watering and/or calcium deficiency. If plants are allowed to 'dry out' or wilt at any point, this will occur or if the soil is lacking calcium it will also occur thought this is less often the cause. Prevent by ensuring plants are well watered and mulched and fertiliser with an all purpose fertiliser containing trace elements.

Remember to plant different types of plants in different areas of the garden each season to reduce risk of root diseases such as nematodes. Leave at least 3 years before planting the same family of plants in the same place. E.g If you plant broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage in one section of the garden this year, plant them in another section the following year and in another section again the year after that.

The soil isn't too important, just so long as it has plenty of organic matter either naturally or worked in -use animal manure or compost - and can hold water but allow enough oxygen to the roots also. Work through the soil to loosen it, add organic matter, fork through some blood and bone and finish with a layer of mulch. A soil pH of 6.5 is preferred by most plants but 6-7.5 is fine. Adding lime to increase pH or gypsum / organic matter/ pine needles to reduce pH may be necessary but be cautious -messing too much with soil chemistry can lead to more problems than benefits.

Plants need to be well watered at all times to ensure maximum growth. A good soil that has plenty of organic matter such as cow manure will improve the soils water holding capacity. Watering every day in spring and summer is usually necessary. If the plants wilt from water stress at any stage this may cause stunting and reduced growth or diseases like blossom end rot. Mulch is highly recommended to keep the soil moist, it reduces the amount of watering you need to do and keeps the garden bed moist, cool and happy.

*PLEASE NOTE: this information is intended as a general guide only and may or may not apply to your particular garden /climate / situation
  • Georgina McFarlane


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