Baby steps to vegie growing

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Herb and vegetable seedlings at the Castle Hill Farmers Market

The wonderful season of 'sprinter' is upon us and many people's thoughts must be turning towards their vegie patches, judging by the crowds descending on the herb and vegie stall on Saturday at our local farmers' market. It was a 'big' outing for me to go to the market (as I still can't drive after the operation, any outing is big for me at the moment)! I was enchanted by the stall: all the plants were bursting with health and it was a joy to see so many people lining up to choose from the huge range of varieties available. This particular stall allows shoppers to fill sectioned punnets with whatever seedlings are desired, so you can buy as many or as few seedlings of a particular type that you want. It seems so simple and yet planting a trough of lettuces can be a significant step to living a more sustainable life.

Lemon tree in our Sydney garden

A few months ago, I attended a weekend course in introductory permaculture. It was an interesting experience and opened my eyes to a very different way of seeing the world. I don't feel I really have got my head around the whole philosophy and stategy of permaculture as yet, but the course reinforced my desire to grow more of our own food. In the past few years, I have been trying to add a few more edibles to our garden: nearby to our old yet productive inherited lemon tree, I have added a Tahitian lime and a blood orange tree, which are now establishing well. A recent taste of a delicious lemonade fruit brought by a visiting friend has made me want to plant one of these as well!

Seedlings from the market ready for planting

I have planted everything else in troughs and we have had success for some time with fancy-leaved lettuces, parsley, rocket, chives, basil, kale and a terrific perennial baby spinach. It is a delight to be able to wander outside and pick enough leaves for a salad or a sandwich: leaves that you know are totally fresh and haven't been sprayed with some horrible chemical. There is no waste as there used to be with mouldering half-eaten lettuces or blackening bunches of herbs sitting in glasses of water in the frig. And there is a genuine feeling of satisfaction knowing you have actually produced your own food!

The next hurdle for me is to plant some herbs and vegetables in my actual garden. Obsessed as I have been over the years with ornamental plants and planting combinations, I've had a mental block about finding space for fruit and vegetables in my garden beds up till this point. At the permaculture weekend, I met people who had tiny city courtyards yet still managed to grow vegetables; a humbling experience for me. And I have realised that some vegies can be quite ornamental as well as practical, and I have recently planted some rhubarb crowns nearby a beetroot-red Iresine herbstii - thinking that the rhubarb stems could fit in nicely here! At the market this weekend, I bought some silver beet as I think their architectural leaves can be added into a flowerbed. Will I be able to harvest my produce, thus ruining the display? It remains to be seen!

Thinnings from seed-raised plants can be used as microgreen salads

For those who enjoy growing herbs and vegetables from seed, now is a great time to sow them. There is a huge range available at nurseries and for beginner gardeners, Mr Fothergill's seed tapes make it easy to sow straight rows of vegies! A great idea I read of recently was to use the baby plants you remove when first thinning out your crops for nutritious microgreen salads. The remaining seedlings are allowed to go on to develop to maturity. Suitable plants for such a strategy include beetroot, lettuce, carrots, kale and silver beet or even herbs. It is now possible to buy trays solely to grow microgreens, and mixed packets of seed for this purpose are also available.

Alas, pests lurk everywhere to attack your crops, and one has to think laterally to avoid reaching for pesticides to deter them. In our permaculture course, we learned that mixed plantings of flowers and vegetables can be useful by attracting beneficial insect predators to devour the pests, as well as confusing destructive insects with strong aromas from fragrant leaves, for example. Crop rotation in garden beds is also important to prevent a build-up of pests fond of a particular type of vegetable. In my own garden, white cabbage moths are a particular problem with vegetables from the Brassicaceae family, such as kale and rocket. Some inventive gardeners catch them in butterfly nets, and I have in my mind an idea of covering these plants with some sort of portable frame covered with mosquito netting so that the moths can't get to them. Using good soil (or high-quality potting mix if growing in containers) and incorporating sieved compost so that the plants grow strongly are also helpful. I am going to resurrect my worm farm so that I can have a source of natural fertiliser for my vegetables in future ... When I have learned more about vegetable growing, I plan to add entries about particular vegetables to my plant reference.

I'd love to hear from readers who have had success with growing food at home. I am also hoping more readers will tell us about their gardens on our new Garden Ramble feature!

Reader Comments

  • By Sue T. 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 August 2013

    Finding room for vegies is always difficult. I have two raised vegie gardens but i can"t resist using them for spring flowering annuals. This year i want to put sunflowers where the corn should go. Sue Yes, I am so much the same as that as there always seem to be flowers I want to try! Deirdre

  • By Lois 2612 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 August 2013

    I"ll be in Sydney next weekend, Deirdre, and would love to visit the farmers" market you mention above. Which particular market is it? Also meant to thank you for the salvia book - it"s a great reference! Lois Thanks, Lois. The Castle Hill Farmers Market is at the Castle Hill Showground on the second and fourth Saturday mornings of each month. Deirdre

  • By Ann 2076 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 August 2013

    Our "vege patch" is quite small but sunny, so I grow rhubarb, silver beet, broccoli, lettuce, herbs, and have just planted two tomatoes. The lime tree, now in the garden after being potted at our former home, is very prolific - all more than enough for two, so we can share too. Your vegie patch has always inspired me, Ann, and I am really impressed with how successful it is. Deirdre

  • By Marlene 5052 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 26 August 2013

    I ventured into vegie gardening, and planted some mini cauliflowers. Didn"t get one! The plants were continually decimated by possums. Or rats. Guess I need to think about a cage for the vegies. I had a similar problem with tomatoes. I would love to have a huge, walk-in cage for my crops! Deirdre

  • By Florence 4068 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Monday, 26 August 2013

    Hi Deirdre, Despite several setbacks, bush turkeys ransacks, and possum attacks, I persist with my veggie trials: Arrived 4 years ago from France, I want to grow a French version of cottage garden (literally translated in a village priest garden in French) , a messy mix of veggies, herbs and flowers. I use your blog for suitable perennials and shrubs, and fill the gaps with basil, rockets, flat parsley, broccolis, lemon grass and beetroots. Their leaves are decorative and blend well with echinaceas, cleomes, gauras, salvias, heliotropes and scaevolas. In the lightly shady parts I grow sorrel, alpine strawberries and some spinach around justicia, cat wiskers and plectranthus. Unfortunately, there is not enough space to have zucchini creeping around with their broad leaves and lovely flowers, but foraging for fresh fragrant herbs is a lot of fun, and they taste so much better when they are picked up just before eating. It sounds fantastic, Florence. Would love to see you put a profile of your garden on the Garden Ramble page! Deirdre

  • By maree 2118 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 August 2013

    Hi Deirdre, I grow vegies in pots at home and in raised beds at work, and they work well. Potting mix works well for carrots, with its fine tilth, and is great for tomatoes!I use fine netting and have no problems with pests, at first using old lace curtains years ago.It is fun , but I get as mauch enjoyment from my harbs which just add so much more flavour to my mediochre cooking!.Maree Great idea to use the netting. I agree herbs make such a difference to cooking! Great to have the vegies growing at the kindy so that the kids can join in. Deirdre

  • By erica 2094 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 27 August 2013

    Hi Deirdre, I am very interested in the introductory course on permaculture. How did you find out about it? Can you recommend a particular course? My daughter and I did the Milkwood course - you can find details online. It was held at Alexandria. They have courses quite regularly there. They also have a specific vegetable-growing course which I think sounds good if that is your main interest.. Check their website for information. Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Tuesday, 27 August 2013

    A cottage,perennial gardener for years. Now a founding member of the Turramurra community garden on the Pacific Highway. A whole new world of veggies is exciting. Did a permaculture course with others to begin and can recommend a community garden for sharing produce, learning and socialising. So many lovely veggies look great mixed in a flower garden as was the original cottager. The pests are a challenge, but gardeners are hopeful and original in thought:-) Look forward to your posts. I think community gardens are such a great idea. And yes, I think vegies can look great mixed in with flowers so that is what I am going to try to do! Love to see that community garden some day. Deirdre

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