26 Sep 2013
Producing your own crisp vegetables is a rewarding experience, which offers a number of benefits.
According to Engel & Völkers Southern Africa, not only does a vegetable garden look appealing, it’s a great way of growing organic produce, saving money and keeping track of where your food comes from.
It is also offers everyone in the family, young and old, the opportunity to contribute.
A vegetable garden can be as big or as small as you have space for. If you have a tiny window area or a small deck, start by planting a few herbs or greens for salads in containers. The best time to start your garden is now, as it is the beginning of the growing season, however, because this is an all-year round undertaking, you can start a vegetable garden at any time.
Starting such a project could be intimidating as you don’t know what to do, when to plant, what to plant and how to care for your newly planted seedlings. The best advice is to start small and grow into your garden as your confidence and ability increases.
Engel & Völkers Southern Africa has the following advice...
What to plant
Before attempting to dig, start with a plan. Again, this could be a fun family activity.
Make a list of the veggies you use most often instead of growing what you don’t need and ending up with wastage.
Planning on paper before planting will help you visualise your space and use it effectively and efficiently. Homeowners can start with three to five easy-to-grow vegetables.
Easy summer crops include beans, beetroot, Swiss chard, sweet corn, herbs, sweet peppers, summer squash and tomatoes.
Most seeds take between six and 12 weeks to germinate, depending on the type of seed, the season and where you are in our sub-continent. Packages and local organic nurseries can help you more specifically for your particular region.
Planting seedlings is far easier for the busy person, as it can be done in the evening, and also maintained in the early morning.
Planting seeds can be done at any time of the day, however, planting-out seedlings should be done in the evening, when they can recover from the trauma of the transplanting procedure by not having the heat of the sun draw more water from their leaves.
Where to plant
Veggies and herbs do better with at least six hours of sun daily. In order of preference, a north-facing space is best, followed by west- and then east-facing. South-facing is the least ideal but even if the available space is not the best, look for creative ways to make it work.
A wide variety of vegetables is available for gardeners to choose from, and there are multiple types of each vegetable to suit different tastes and climates. Be sure to avoid the shade of large trees, shrubs, and buildings when selecting a spot for your garden plot.
This method of vegetable planting involves growing different plants, which are mutually beneficial, next to each other.
This includes making maximum use of a growing area without a single-species or crop saturating the area with demands for food and nutrient resources.
Good companion plants don't compete for root space and light, nor do they compete for the necessary nutrients.
In such instances, pest management is simpler, because pests normally attack only one species of plant, and when others are planted around the target plant, the pests find it harder to wipe out your entire crop.
This is important in organic gardens because such gardens don’t make use of artificial chemical substances, even for pest control.
Herbs make good companion plants because their aroma, shape and sometimes bitter taste helps disguise the target plant.
Companion plants can also be used to ‘nursemaid’, or protect more vulnerable plants, especially immature ones.
Some companion plants release substances through their root systems that actually increase the well-being of other plants.
Companion plant list
Beetroot can be planted alongside cabbage, carrots, lettuce, parsley and tomatoes, while beans thrive next to eggplant and potatoes.
Carrots do well when surrounded by beetroot, cabbage, lettuce, onion chives, parsley, rosemary, spring onion and tomatoes.
Onion chives flourish when planted next to apple trees and carrots and cucumber does well next to dill.
Homeowners looking to successfully grow garlic can plant it in between fruit trees, raspberries and roses, while melon, maize and sweetcorn will thrive when planted together.
Beans, chives, fennel, garlic, onion and spring onion do not grow well together.
Vegetables like fertile, well-drained soil so the more effort you put into the preparation, the more success you will achieve.
To prepare the soil you’ll have to mix compost, kraal manure and bone meal in a 2:3:2 ratio into the soil to a depth of 30 cm.
Other soil preparation methods include the no-till method, trenching and building raised beds.
Many plants thrive in neutral soil (a pH reading of approximately 6.5 to 7.5) but some require more acidic (below seven) or alkaline (above seven).
Homeowners can test the soil themselves to see whether it is acidic or not. This will not give you a specific reading, but it could serve as a guideline.
Collect a sample of dry dirt (about 1/4 cup), and mix it with distilled water to make liquid ‘mud’ and then pour household vinegar into the mud. If the mixture fizzes, then your soil is alkaline.
Alternatively you could mix dry dirt with distilled water then start sprinkling baking soda over the mixture. If the mud starts to bubble then the soil is acidic.
If neither test produces a reaction, you have fairly neutral soil.
For accurate results, use clean tools to remove any debris from the garden surface then dig down about 10 cm to retrieve a sample. For potted plants, a couple of inches below the surface is fine.
Seedlings can be planted into seed trays, empty egg cartons, toilet roll holders or any other bio degradable container. This way you can directly plant the entire container without having to remove the seedling.
Fill your tray or container with soil.
Depending on your climate and the plant variety, planting times may vary. Check the seed packet for details. You can now place your seeds into your soil, and then cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and water.
Watering seeds is important. Ensure that your soil always stays moist. The best way to water is by means of a spray bottle as it will ensure soft, even moisture.
Lastly, place your seedlings in a window with plenty of sun and wait for them to grow.
Seed Germination Tips
1. Soaking large seeds for up to 24 hours in water speeds up the germination process.
2. Use sanding paper to lightly scratch the surface of a seed to allow it to grow faster.
3. Seeds can also be germinated in paper towel and then transplanted when they start to germinate. Simply place them between the sheets and lightly spray them with water. Be careful not to over water as they will rot. From there, you can place them in a sandwich bag and leave them in the sun.
4. Cover your seed trays with plastic wrap or clear plastic bags. This will create a greenhouse effect.
Did you know?
• Fennel repels flies and fleas.
• Thyme and dill repel cabbage moth.
• Rosemary repels leafhoppers, aphids and caterpillars.
• Mint is vulnerable to caterpillar attacks but repels many other insects.
• Wormwood repels fruit fly.
• Tarragon helps repel snails.
• Garlic repels many insects.
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