Inspired to set up a flourishing veggie patch at your place? These tips from local gardening expert and All The Dirt podcast host Deryn Thorpe will get you on your way.
Few activities in the garden are as satisfying as growing your food.
Creating and maintaining a vegetable patch is an activity that feeds the body and the soul, while picking garden-fresh vegetables and eating them soon after maximises their nutrients – plus you’ll get a kick out of sharing excess produce.
Usually, vegetable gardens are created in a position where it gets five or more hours of sunlight each day, though in hotter parts of WA some afternoon shade is fine.
That said, many gardeners choose to add a retractable shade structure so crops can be given some protection from the sun in summer.
Thought should also be given to protecting the crop from drying winds that can retard development and make vegetables dry and bitter. Screen windy sites with shrubs and, while they grow, build a shade cloth fence.
The size of the patch usually depends on the space available and your enthusiasm as a gardener. A ten square metre patch will feed a family of four, but expect to spend two to four hours a week keeping it in top condition depending on the season.
One of the simplest ways to start a patch is to buy a raised corrugated iron planter, though you’ll need at least four if you have space and you’re serious about growing vegetables for your family.
Fill them with vegetable soil mix bought in bulk from a soil retailer.
An increasingly popular alternative in our dry climate is a wicking bed: a garden made in containers with water reservoirs at the base.
Moisture is drawn through the soil via a process called capillary action, or wicking. This allows moisture to be more evenly distributed through the soil, creating better growing conditions for the plants.
Traditional gardens are usually laid in a grid pattern so the gardener has space to walk around the edge of a small patch, with paths arranged beside each bed or intersecting the middle vegetable garden in bigger plots.
Good soil’s a must
Good soil is critical to garden success and when rains arrive, soils with a high clay content (which bakes hard over summer) will become soft enough to work.
You should improve clay soils and sandy soils with organic matter: add legume hay (lucerne or pea straw) well-rotted animal manures, blood and bone and lots of home-made or bought compost – and dig in well.
Organic matter provides nutrients for plants as it’s broken down by soil microorganisms and fungi, eventually forming part of the humus layer in the soil. Just remember, soil needs to be improved before every crop is sown.
If you have heavy clay soil, consider raising the beds to aid drainage – while sandy soils need improving with either kaolin or bentonite clay to help the soil retain water and fertiliser.
Aim to add 3kg of clay per square metre, working it into the top 20cm of soil, lifting clay content to between 5% and 10%.
By comparison, most unimproved topsoils in Perth only contain around 2% clay.
Get the water in (and keep it there)
Regular watering is also essential for successful fruit and vegetable crops, so install an irrigation system to ensure your plants don’t go thirsty.
Help the moisture stay where it’s needed with a layer of pea straw or lucerne hay mulch, which will also protect plant roots from the sun, return organic matter to the soil and discourage weeds.
Round things off with a complete fertiliser containing the full range of trace elements, and feed seedlings weekly with seaweed tonic and liquid fertiliser.
Remember, don’t let your crops dry out; they need a short-but-indulged life!
Controlling those insects
One of the benefits of growing your own food is keeping it free from insecticides.
Many insects can just be picked off the crop or blasted off with a jet of water from your garden hose, but also remember a few caterpillar holes won’t stop the crop from being edible.
If you have more significant problems with caterpillars, go down the organic path and treat vegetables with insecticides containing dipel or spinosad (naturally occurring soil bacterias).
Choose horticultural soap sprays for mites, aphids, thrips, mealy bug and whitefly, and garlic and chilli sprays for aphids.
Rotating your crop
Some gardeners divide their patch into four or more areas so crops can be rotated to reduce pests and diseases and nutrient depletion of the soil.
Groups of similar vegetables are planted together in a different part of the garden each year. The most common method is a four-year system. No vegetable group is planted in the same place twice over the four years.
Crop one: Roots and onions – carrots, parsnips, beetroot, onions, garlic, leeks. (Plant in autumn.)
Crop two: Corn and cucurbits – sweet corn, pumpkins, squash, cucumber, and zucchini. After harvest, plant a green manure crop and dig it in before planting crop three. (Sow in spring.)
Crop three: Solanum family – tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants. (Plant in spring.)
Crop four: Legumes and brassicas – peas and beans, cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower. (Sow in autumn.)
You can plant leafy salad greens and Asian leaf vegetables at any time of the year in free spaces.
About All The Dirt
Deryn Thorpe and Steve Wood present the popular gardening podcast, All The Dirt, sharing their local experience and trade tips.
Deryn’s an award-winning garden journalist passionate about creating beautiful and healthy home gardens, while Steve is a local horticulturalist with over 40 years’ experience in wholesale nursery production.
Bringing your homegrown goodness into the kitchen
There’s so much satisfaction growing fruit and vegetables at home, when putting them to good use in the kitchen.
Use your new-found knowledge about starting a home veggie patch to inspire new ways to incorporate them into home recipes from the Kleenheat Kitchen.
Need more tips for setting up some homegrown goodness in your backyard? Read up on handy tips for setting up your veggie patch for success.
Green thumbs, rejoice! The Perth Garden & Outdoor Living Festival is back.
Join us at the Perth Garden & Outdoor Living Festival for local garden, landscape and outdoor living inspiration at Langley Park from Thursday 6 May through to Sunday 9 May.
Step into the Kleenheat Kitchen for free gardening advice and handy cooking tips for turning quality homegrown produce into amazing recipes the whole family will love.
The best bit? Kleenheat customers can experience it all for less with 50% off tickets, plus you could win a home and garden pack worth over $3,000. Find out more.
Choose homegrown, choose Kleenheat
Kleenheat knows the value of homegrown goodness – after all, we’ve been supporting the needs of local households and businesses for more than 60 years.
We believe there’s value in choosing local, so if you’re not a Kleenheat customer choose local today and let life flow.