How to start your own veggie patch

Living Well | Sarah Marinos | Posted on 25 October 2019

Discover the green fingers you never knew you had by using a corner of your garden to grow your own vegetables.

A study by The Australia Institute a few years ago found 52 per cent of Australian homes like to grow some of their own food. For most people, the motivation is to eat more healthily. For around 60 per cent of people, it’s about saving money and producing tastier food. Sheer enjoyment and seeing gardening as being ‘good for the mind and the soul’ also motivate gardeners.

If you’ve never had a vegie patch but like the idea of building one, how do you get started?

Planting lettuce

How to start a veggie patch or balcony garden

Where to grow

“The best vegie patches have good sun exposure – so have a northerly or westerly aspect,” says Richard Rowe, training and learning coordinator at Sustainable Gardening Australia.

“Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers and summer crops need at least eight hours of sunlight a day. If you have a smaller courtyard and not as much sun you can still have a vegie garden, but you’ll do better with root vegetables and leafy vegetables like lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, peas, carrots, parsnips and radishes. They won’t grow as quickly but you will have a reasonable crop.”

Doing the groundwork

Whether your soil is clay, sandy or loamy, add animal manure or compost before planting.

“It’s the key to start bringing your vegie garden to life – it feeds the life within the soil,” says Richard. Organic matter releases nutrients into the soil to help vegetables grow and helps soil retain moisture. If your soil contains clay, Richard recommends adding some gypsum to break down the heavy clay structure.

Mix organic matter through the soil but don’t dig it in too much because that disrupts the soil life and exposes it to UV radiation. So just gently mix your compost or manure through your soil.

What to plant and when 

In Victoria, November is a good time of year to plant herbs like dill, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage. You can also plant capsicum, chilli, beetroots, carrots, cucumber, eggplants, lettuce, potatoes, pumpkins, leeks, silverbeet, squash, sweet corn and zucchini. In December you can add some French beans. In January in Victoria it’s time to plant spring onions.

Go to sgaonline.org.au for a month-by-month guide to what to plant according to where you live.

Planting tomatoes
The start of a veggie patch


Managing the weather…

Most vegies love sun, advises Richard, but you’ll need to take extra care of your vegetable garden during harsh periods of prolonged heat. On days of 40 degrees-plus you need to shade your vegetables and plants from the sun.

“Use a shade cloth or buy a couple of white cotton sheets from an op shop and use those to shield your vegies from the sun,” says Richard. Remove the cloth or sheets when the intensely hot days pass. Keep lettuce and herbs out of the sun as they don’t take the heat well – they prefer to be planted in a cooler, shaded spot.

In colder months, put a cloth over potato plants if the weather is likely to drop to zero degrees or below at night. Frost burns the leaves of potato plants and will ruin your crop. If you are growing plants up a trellis, secure the trellis firmly against winds. 

…and the pests

Try to use natural rather than chemical methods to control pests because chemicals don’t only kill bugs, they affect life in the soil, too. Firstly, have barriers in place like netting and snail traps and remove any bugs and snails you see by hand. 

“Get a magnifying glass because kids love to look at bugs. Give them five cents for every snail they find to help with pest management,” suggests Richard.

“Don’t leave rubbish around the garden bed, like piles of wood, because rubbish becomes a hotel for pests to live in. And bring good bugs into the garden to fight off the bad bugs.” 

Companion planting grows plants together, so they help each other survive, by deterring pests, attracting the bugs and insects you do want in your garden and boosting growth. 

If these strategies don’t work, try making your own pest sprays with chilli and garlic or milk. If that fails, you may need to step up to chemical controls but find a spray with a lower environmental impact. 
 

The most common mistakes

  • Short bursts of enthusiasm. You might be enthusiastic when you build and plant your veggie patch, but that dedication has to be maintained for results. “It requires regular attention. If you plant and then don’t look at your vegie garden for a week or two the snails and pests will have wiped out your seedlings,” says Richard. 
  • Water thoroughly and regularly. A drip irrigation system is the best option as it applies water directly to the soil. There is less water around the leaves so your plants are less likely to get fungal diseases. 
  • Only pick when vegetables are ripe. “At the supermarket, vegies are picked early and ripen as they travel to stores so don’t have as much flavour,” says Richard.