No matter where you live, whether you rent or own, or how big your outdoor area is — maybe you only have indoor window sills! — you can grow your own food. And with inflation soaring at 5.1 per cent and the cost of living too darn high, now’s the perfect time to learn how to grow a veggie patch.
Petrol is too expensive for me to drive to the shops every day, my power bill is on fire and iceberg is the new luxury vegetable. While shelves are bare in part due to extreme weather and floods in NSW and Queensland, I feel like a baroness because this winter I have a veggie patch bursting with lettuces.
I started my vegetable patch in 2020’s big lockdown after being inspired by a former horticulturalist housemate. When I moved into a new sharehouse with a backyard, I decided to give it a crack — on a very tight budget.
Yes there have been many failures, unexpected hurdles and traumatic snail and slug moments. But there has also been triumph. The biggest of which was a new source of bliss and calm for my anxiety-riddled mind. Growing up in the inner-city I’d always thought gardening wasn’t for me, but it’s taught me to slow down and relish the journey. And less time spent grocery shopping — and more time in the vegetable garden — is a HUGE bonus.
So, what do you need to start a veggie patch? From one novice gardener to another, here are seven tips and answers on how to grow vegetables at home.
1. Find the sun
Do veggie patches need full sun? Short answer, yes.
Herbs, fruits and vegetables aren’t like your indoor devil’s ivy; pretty much anything you want to grow fast needs at least a few hours of direct sunlight a day.
Every plant is different and some can handle dappled light or shade for half the day, but generally speaking: the more sun the better. The plants will grow faster, stronger and be less susceptible to common diseases like powdery mildew.
The sunniest parts of your property is where your vegetable garden should be. In the southern hemisphere the sun tracks north so look for areas or windowsills that have an unobstructed northern aspect. If you don’t have that, opt for east or west. South-facing usually won’t cut it.
2. Suss your space
I appreciate a lot of properties don’t have much of it but vegetables need space above and below the soil and between other plants. Don’t try to packet 10 zucchini seedlings in one pot thinking it’ll be fine, it won’t. I learnt the hard way.
Big, deep pots and garden beds are best. At least 30cm of depth is the rule of thumb for veggies, but some can be grow in pots as shallow as 20 or even 15cm. If this is what you have at home, you can try growing basically any herb, spring onions, salad greens including lettuce and rocket, radishes or even garlic.
If you’re setting up garden beds outside you can either buy some readymade or DIY. Please don’t just dig a hole in your lawn, your veggie patch will get fkd by grass and weeds. You need to raise these things up.
All you need are some bricks or cinderblocks or some thick, sturdy planks of wood. Have a look around Google at the various types of garden beds you can build and see what materials you can pick up for free. Hard rubbish time is the new Christmas.
Or you can simply use some old buckets with holes punctured in the bottom or big cheap plastic pots.
If you only have a balcony try to get some rectangular beds to make the best use of the small space.
3. Best soil for vegetable garden
For your big pots and garden beds it can get pretty expensive if you’re thinking of filling them with just soil. So good news! Don’t!
Start with a layer of twigs, branches, wood chips or small logs as the foundation of your veggie patch. You could also use gravel or scoria if you see some going for free on Facebook Marketplace.
Next, chuck in some crappy old or dry soil, or any other organic matter. Autumn leaves, grass clippings, big palm fronds or other tree cuttings, hay and straw are all fabulous. Don’t let any green waste actually go to waste, it can all be used to enrich your soil.
Then put in a decent layer of potting mix or good quality soil and top it all off with compost. Homemade is best or you can buy a bag. Get your hands on some mulch for summer, too.
Your vegetable gardens don’t need it now, but when the rain slows and the weather warms up a layer of mulch on top of your soil will help keep it moist and keep weeds out. Either buy a bag of sugarcane mulch from a garden supply shop or simply scoop up and save some dried autumn leaves from, like, anywhere, crush them up in your hands a little if they’re big and save them for summer.
4. Basic veggie patch equipment checklist
You will also need:
- Either a watering can or hose with a shower nozzle. Veggie patches need daily watering in warmer months.
- Seed trays. If you live somewhere frosty, buying one with a lid is great for getting your summer veg seeds started while it’s still too cold to put them in the ground.
- Gardening gloves (optional if you don’t care about dirty fingernails).
- A little spade or trowel (optional if you don’t care about dirty fingernails).
- Secateurs or scissors.
5. Picking the right vegetables to grow
Once you’ve figured out where and how you’ll grow you need to decide on the what. The first thing to learn is what’s in season when you plan to get started. Once you tap into the seasons you’ll quickly learn what ought to be sown, planted and harvested when. A quick Google of, for example: “what to grow in July in Sydney” will give you answers and inspiration. This interactive Gardening Australia guide is also very handy.
However, some wonderful things are perennial, meaning the plant will grow and thrive year-round. If this is more your speed get your hands on some rosemary, thyme, sorrel, rhubarb or any type of onion.
Yes you can buy seedlings from nurseries, but packets of seeds are *much* cheaper. Seeds also open up a whole new and exciting world of variety — beautiful, colourful, delicious, heirloom things you’d never find at Bunnings let alone a supermarket. Plus you can buy seeds online and have them posted straight to your door.
6. What can I grow in an indoor veggie patch?
It can be done! As previously mentioned vegetables need *a lot* of light so you’ll need a window that gets direct sun as well as well-draining pots. The best things to grow indoors are those that thrive in warm conditions. Chillies are perennial in tropical areas so if you can recreate their natural preferred climate inside with plenty of sun and water, you can have chillies year-round. You can also grow onions, celery, carrots, radishes, herbs and even tomatoes indoors under the right conditions.
7. What are the easiest vegetables to grow?
The easiest seasonal vegetables to grow are dark leafy greens like silverbeet and spinach, potatoes, root vegetables like beetroots, radishes and turnips, beans and peas, strawberries (which you can literally grow from store-bought strawbs) and of course LETTUCE. Most of these veggies don’t need much space or attention — only some water and a top up of compost or liquid fertiliser every now and then — so I implore you to give it a go.
As you move up from beginner to intermediate you may be required to manage pests, prune, stake, trellis or even hand-pollinate. When in doubt or starting out with new produce, Google it. There’s also *so much* veggie patch content on YouTube. And join a gardening group on Facebook specific to your city, I’ve learnt so much from these communities.
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