Starting a Veggie Patch

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Veggie Patch 101

So Winter is officially here, with the whole world looking brown and grey, not much is growing. If you are lucky enough to have an existing veggie patch, all your planting is now done. You are slowly enjoying the harvests of winter veggies. However, in just 3 months time Spring will be on it’s way. If you are thinking of planting a veggie patch, now is the time to plan one. You might have one or more of many reasons for starting a veggie patch.

You may be looking to save some money on your monthly expenses. You may want to eat healthier foods, where you know what’s gone into the ground and on the plants. You might be looking at upping the local content of your diet and cutting out food miles in your diet. Or you just like the idea of growing your own food. Whether you are in a flat, complex or your own house, or if you are really lucky you might even live on a smallholding or farm. Growing your own vegetables is entirely possible.

I’m going to concentrate on starting a conventional vegetable garden, as that is where I have the most experience. If there is anyone out there that can give advice on small scale gardening please feel free to email me and I’ll be glad to post your input. (or Questions for that matter)

So where do you start? Logically, first you would choose the site for your veggie patch. The best place would be a north facing piece of ground that gets at least 6 or more hours of full sunlight per day. In order of preference, the garden aspects are as follows. North, West, East and finally South. Every property will have differing circumstances, which you need to capitalize to your best advantage. For example, a bit of lateral thinking can greatly improve the productivity of a garden that is tucked away behind a south facing double story. Firstly paint the southern wall of the house stark white, and then do the same for the opposite wall (north facing). This will introduce a lot of light to your garden that would otherwise be a very poor gardening area, and turn a mediocre at best garden into worthwhile endeavor.

Now getting onto planning your garden. First you would remove any grass or other surface covering (paving, gravel etc) that may be in the way of your plans. (One friend of mine in the Cape, Wendy Young has turned her entire garden into a veggie patch) Lay out your beds preferably in an east-west configuration to allow for the best sun exposure on all of the beds. Plan your beds with the ideal spacing for yourself. I personally use minimal spacing of about 30cm between beds, but I know of a lot of gardeners that use a wider spacing to allow for easy kneeling or equipment traffic. The best person to decide this is yourself. As for the width of the individual beds, I find that about 1 meter or slightly less is ideal, this will allow you to step over the beds without damaging any of the plants in the bed.

Now, we come to the idea of how to fertilize your beds. I’ll explain how I improve my vegetable gardens, and I’ll leave any other options open for your own investigation. Personally I do not use any synthetic fertilizers on my property. If it’s a new bed, then it gets formed and planted with seed almost immediately. We do not dig the vegetable garden over, we just form the edges of the bed. Then seed gets planted almost immediately. Once the seeds have germinated a layer of compost is added onto the surface, we keep adding compost throughout the growing season as the surface compost is broken down or taken in by earthworms. What you will find with this method is that over a period of years the humus content of your soil will dramatically increase. This in-turn improves the moisture holding content of your soil, gives the plants a much higher level of health and reduces and even eliminates the need to use pesticides in your garden. I recently visited a friends extensive operation where he has used No-Till for a number of years and you can clearly see the difference in the no till beds and the soil that surrounds his garden. The beds have a deep friable rich black soil, that you can plunge your hand into and lift a big handful of sweet smelling soil. Next to the beds you find the typical red soil found in Gauteng, hard and difficult to penetrate.

My best advice, and advice that I have seen work in my garden and in others is never to dig your beds over. (have a look at No Till farming for more information) Always add your compost, mulch or organic matter to the top of your beds, and let God’s amazing creatures go to work improving your soil the natural way.

If you are looking for a great book to help you plan and grow your first successful vegetable garden have a look at this book. Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series) Although this book provides full coverage on every aspect of gardening that many well established gardeners will find useful. It also provides extensive information on starting a veggie patch for newcomers to the art of vegetable gardening. It is a very worthwhile addition for your library on self-sustainability.

Once you have started your veggie patch your will need to decide on what you are going to plant. This all depends on the amount of space you have available and what you families requirements are. There are many vegetable varieties available, have a look through our catalogue and order a few heirloom seeds for your garden, you will not regret tasting real vegetables that were growing and sustaining families before your grandparents were born.

Whats in my Garden?

This evening as a write this my kids are in the lounge shelling peas. We have just come in from picking peas, a job that will get done every 3 or 4 days from now on. We will get about 4 kgs of peas every week for the next 4-6 weeks. I must admit that I’m very happy with the pea plants. They are lush and dark green. One thing that I have noticed is that the pods are looking a bit frost damaged, but the plants are not showing any ill effects. Once shelled, the peas are perfect. Yum those will go straight into the freezer and will be used later in the winter as a sweet side to one of my wife’s dishes.

The Cauliflower is also looking good, we have been eating 2 or 3 heads a week for the last month and now only have about 12 plants left. I should have planted more!!! The Broccoli is basically done, we are pulling up the remaining plants for the pigs on a daily basis. We are also keeping a few plants aside that are for seed. The cabbages are also doing great, we pick a head every other day and my kids love to eat it raw, so it never lasts longer than a day. My only perpetual irritation are Brussel Sprouts, I planted about 60 plants out this year and I’m hoping for a respectable harvest, I’ve never had a good harvest so I’m waiting in anticipation. I’ll let you know.

The Edible Quote

This is a quote that scares me. Try to imagine the ramifications of the thinking behind this statement?

“Food is power. We use it to change behavior. Some may call that bribery. We do not apologize.”

Catherine Bertini, UN World Food Program Executive Director. 1997

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