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Fashions come and go, and the vegetable garden is no exception. Growing your own vegetables has become hugely popular and the trend now includes small fruit, herbs and even edible flowers. But before you fill your wheelbarrow with bags of compost, shovel, spade, trowel and planter, a healthy dose of preparation and planning will go a long way to ensuring success with your home vegetable garden

Choose the location

Location is one of the most important factors that go into the success of a garden project. So before you start dreaming of the succulent, fresh fruit and vegetables you’re going to harvest, take a moment to thoroughly examine your property. Choose a location that:

  • receives a minimum of 6 hours direct sunlight per day;
  • is open, but protected from prevailing winds;
  • is far from the roots of large trees and the shade they cast;
  • is close to a source of water (rain barrel and garden hose).

Soil composition

Soil quality will impact directly on the quality of the fruits and vegetables you harvest from your garden. You want balanced, well-drained, and nutrient-rich soil. Have a soil analysis done at your local BOTANIX garden centre for detailed information about the soil you want to work with. This analysis will provide you with the following information:

Type of soil

Sandy soil = lacks organic matter

Clay soil = heavy and compact

Soil type dictates the choice of plants and amendments to be applied

The application of compost and fertilizer loosens the soil and provides necessary elements.

Acidity/Alkalinity

pH 4 = very acid

pH 8 = very alkaline

Add lime

Add sulfur

A pH level between 6 and 6.5 is ideal for a vegetable garden.

Phosphorus (P)

 

Phosphorus is vital to root development, plant growth, fruit production and ripening.

The three numbers on fertilizer bags refer to Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) levels.

Potassium (K)

 

Potassium increases plants’ resistance to insects and disease. It also enhances flowering, fruit colour and taste.

The three numbers on fertilizer bags refer to Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) levels

Planting

The long awaited moment has finally arrived! When all risk of frost has passed, you can sow seeds directly in the garden or replant young plants you have either bought or started indoors as seedlings a few months earlier.

Planting from seed

Before you put your seeds into your carefully prepared soil, read the instructions on the seed packet carefully. You should understand the:

  • Sunlight requirements
  • Depth required
  • Correct spacing between plants
  • Maturation period
  • Planting period

Staggered planting of certain fast-growing vegetables over a number of weeks means that you’ll be able to harvest and enjoy those vegetables throughout the season. For example: sow one third of your row of radishes; wait two weeks and then sow another third; wait two weeks and then sow the final third. Now do the same for your spinach and lettuce and you’ll be able to eat fresh radishes, spinach, and lettuce all summer long!

Prick out seedlings and young plants

When you’re getting ready to plant out young plants, acclimatize them gradually by setting them outside for a little longer each day over a period of approximately ten days. To avoid drying out young roots, choose a cloudy day to prick out your seedlings.

  • Water the roots;
  • Dig a hole twice the width and two and a half times the depth of the roots to make sure the roots are not compromised in any way;
  • Insert the roots;
  • Fill in the hole;
  • Water thoroughly.

Maintenance and fertilizing

Maintenance of an in-ground bed is a little more demanding than maintaining flowerbeds.

Weeding on a weekly basis is a main feature, as is hoeing and cultivating to ensure adequate water penetration. Observe your garden carefully while you perform these tasks. Be on the lookout for signs of insect pests, rodents or disease. Your vigilance will pay off if you can stop a problem before it becomes too difficult to contain.

To keep weeding to a minimum and conserve soil moisture, spread mulch or straw mulch between the rows or mulch the garden with a black plastic or geotextile sheet.

Ideally, watering should be done early in the morning. Watering between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun is at its strongest can result in plant burns. It also wastes water since a good deal of it simply evaporates. If you water in late evening, plant leaves will remain damp longer, making them susceptible to fungal diseases. It’s much better to water for a longer period and less frequently than often at the wrong times. Roots will grow deeper, making plants stronger and more drought-resistant.

To maintain good yields, fertilize two or three times during the summer. Long-term planning will include crop rotation, which means you won’t plant the same vegetables in the same area of your garden more than two years in a row. Since different vegetables have different nutrient requirements, crop rotation averts soil depletion.