Vegie patches

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Potatoes growing in my garden

Last summer holidays I read a book called Just Vegetating by the influential British author Joy Larkcom. In 1976, Joy and her family set off in a caravan and travelled through Europe to discover how vegetables were being grown and to collect seeds of rare varieties. When she returned to England, she spent four decades writing about what she had observed, and introduced gardeners to new methods of growing vegetables (particularly salad vegies) and new varieties. Her idea of growing small patches of salad vegetables here and there in the garden, which could be harvested and then will regrow for later cuttings, was the one concept that stayed with me after I had finished the book.

Lettuces grow in tubs and can be harvested leaf by leaf

In recent years, I have been trying to grow more vegetables but haven't yet taken the step of dedicating a whole area as a proper vegetable garden, as I am still too fond of my ornamental plants. Initially, I grew all my vegies in large tubs: lettuces, perennial spinach (actually a dwarf variety of silver beet but a great plant to grow for a constant supply of spinach-like leaves), basil, kale, coriander and parsley. As long as you can find a sunny spot, growing in containers is successful. The plants do need regular watering and fertilising. It is wonderful to be able to wander outside and grab enough salad greens for a meal, and to have fresh herbs on hand to add flavour to meals.

Rocket, mizuna and coriander in one of my garden borders

But I have now taken to growing patches of short-lived crops, such as rocket, mizuna and coriander, directly in my garden beds where there are spaces. In spring, my borders are very bare, as most plants are cut back very hard. They take a month or so to really fill in and the sight of all that bare earth is rather discomforting. My temporary crops have filled the gap rapidly and we have never had such robust coriander in our lives! I'll be rather sorry when they have to be pulled out as the perennials and shrubs start to take over!

Parsley growing amongst flowers in my garden

I have tucked perennial herbs such as chives, parsley and rosemary into borders as more permanent residents, and I like the contrast of their foliage with nearby ornamental plants. I am also planning to grow beans on a teepee in one of my borders this year, hoping this will be a 'feature' (?) as well as a source of food! I've also added rhubarb to one of the beds, where its ruby stems echo the nearby planting of Iresine herbstii 'Brilliantissima'. It's almost a shame to harvest the rhubarb!

Red-stemmed silver beet in the garden of Pam and Harry Fowell in Sydney

I have raised from seed some of the colourful 'rainbow' silver beet that I so admired in the public parks in Paris earlier this year, with their brilliant red, yellow or pink stems, and I am planning to tuck these into borders nearby like-coloured flowers.

One important key is to prepare the soil before planting, with plenty of organic matter, such as compost and well-decayed animal manure. Use of a seaweed extract helps the young vegies establish. This is now available in a powdered form. Regular watering is a must for vegetables and many herbs, and mulching helps to conserve moisture. Fertilising is also necessary to keep the vegies growing well. Recently, I have been using a 'tea' made of soaking sheep manure in water for a while.

As I do not like using chemical sprays in the garden, growing vegetables brings challenges. It is heartening that there are organic alternatives to the toxic chemicals that were once sprayed on crops to control pests and diseases. Eco-oil deters most pests (and is also said to attract beneficial predator insects) and Eco-fungicide is now available to tackle fungal problems such as powdery mildew and rust. Vigilance is also essential - checking crops regularly will allow you to pick off and squash caterpillars and nasty little flea beetles before too much damage is done, and is quite satisfying! Hunting for snails is something I did as a child and it really is effective if done regularly. There are non-toxic snail baits around these days too, and beer baits are also worth considering if you don't want to actually squash the snails yourself.

I doubt I will ever be self-sufficient in vegetables, but I have found it really rewarding to gradually introduce more edibles into my garden!

October is Australian Organic Awareness Month and the organisers are aiming to make consumers aware of the wide variety of organic products that are available, including food , gardening aids, skincare items, cosmetics and beverages. Visit the website to learn more.

Upcoming events: the Galston Open Gardens will run from 17 to 19 October. Out of town, there are many gardens open over the next few month in the NSW Southern Highlands, and on 18 and 19 October on the NSW South Coast, two lovely adjoining gardens will be open as a fundraiser for The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children: 1067 Kings Highway, Nelligen, NSW. Hours: 10 am till 4 pm.

Reader Comments

  • By Pam 2159 Monday, 13 October 2014

    One of the gardens in the Galston Open Gardens has veges growing in raised self watering wicking beds. The lower half of the beds has sand and gravel filled with water. Each bed has a small worm farm. The garden is in Marrakesh Place Arcadia. Friday 17 - Sunday 19th October. www.GalstonGardenClub.com.au Hope all goes well for the open gardens, Pam. Deirdre

  • By Lynne 2479 Monday, 13 October 2014

    I really must try the coloured silver beets - how lovely they look (and taste no doubt). We have found that making our own compost in a tumble bin and adding it to the veggie patch when it is "cooked" helps increase the viability of the soil too. Ground covering herbs such as golden marjoram and thyme always look nice in borders and smell great. Rosemary makes a terrific hedge around a veggie patch when kept trimmed. Golden marjoram is a great groundcover (quite vigorous!) and I recently found a creamy-coloured variegated one to try. It is good to find edibles that are also decorative! Deirdre

  • By Jan 2582 Monday, 13 October 2014

    I love flowering herbs and have just started to buy some more specialist varieties. A year ago I planted a new thyme (Thymus longicaulis subs. chaubardii) to cover a bit of gravelled ground (too hard to pull the gravel out for change of mind!) and it is spreading really well. Then a flash of colour caught my eye this week and I saw it had come out in an amazing pale pink/purple flower - what a wonderful plant! I"ll try to refresh my "garden ramble" with a pic :-) That thyme sounds wonderful, Jan, and must really thrive in your country garden! Thanks for adding the photo to your Garden Ramble profile. Deirdre

  • By Pam 3216 Monday, 13 October 2014

    Great blog thanks Deirdre.I am also trying to incorporate some veges.After years of thinking it isn"t worth the trouble (gluts; pests; serious watering, etc.)I have been seduced because I am trying to eat more leafy greens. I don"t think I will be planting carrots and potatoes but I am enjoying the success I am having with lettuces, kale and spinach and some herbs. Also Jan, if you read this, I would love to see a picture of your thyme.I am looking for a groundcover that will grow in gravel. It is great that you are having success with those edibles. I too wanted to eat more leafy greens so I started with lettuce, rocket and kale. I am trying something new each season - this year it is the potatoes, growing in straw and compost, secured by a circle of chicken wire. Jan has now added a photo of her thyme to her Garden Ramble profile - looks fab! Deirdre

  • By maree 2118 Monday, 13 October 2014

    I also mix herbs in my garden, mainly Rosemary, Thyme and the odd tomato that comes up from the compost.I also have a Wicking bed with worm farms in it and the vegetables are leaping out of the ground and the tomatoes are flowering after 4 weeks.I am inspired by your blog Deirdre to try planting more vegetables throughout the garden. I am totally intrigued about these wicking beds and want to find out all about them! Deirdre

  • By DAVID 2068 Monday, 13 October 2014

    I grew some red silver beet two years ago as an edging along a path. It looked beautiful, but the taste alas was just like regular silver beet. At least the insects don"t seem to eat it! IMO perpetual spinach is much nicer to eat, prolific and easy to grow; but doesn"t look all that interesting. I"ve recently started Vietnamese mint in a pot (it"s a bit rampant if you let it into your garden beds) - tasty and attractive. And now I"m waiting for my Thai basil to grow up; quite a pretty one. Thanks, David. I did not know if the red silver beet would taste different to the normal one - good that the insects do not eat it! True that the perpetual spinach is not very ornamental but we find it an excellent plant for an ongoing source of leafy greens. It is fun to look for ornamental edibles. Deirdre

  • By Sue 2074 Wednesday, 15 October 2014

    Have just read the same book. It was fascinating and full of info. She makes her potagers look lovely mixing flowers & coloured leaf veg in her book Organic Salad Garden. I think growing veggies becomes addictive and I have noticed that more and more bits of my garden are being filled with veggies. To wander down and pick some stuff for dinner is the driver for me. Cabbage Red Express makes a lovely plant(and is delicious)as are the purple podded peas and beans and chives make a nice border. I enjoy all her books. She is a great writer and so enthusiastic. I agree it is wonderful to be able to pick things for dinner, knowing they are chemical-free and totally fresh! Deirdre

  • By Liz 6064 Sunday, 19 October 2014

    I am new to this site and after reading some blogs find it so interesting. As I live in W.A it is hard to get quite a few of the plants that I would like mainly because of the weather.. At the moment we are getting quite a variance in conditions, last Wed it was 35* yesterday (sat) it was thunderstorms with hail, cold and raining. It does not stop my love of gardening. I am after a cutting, or plant if I could only find one, of Rondeletia. So far no luck in Perth. Can anyone help please? You have been having some changeable weather by the sound of it! You could try our Plant Share to try to get a cutting of the plant. Maybe someone will know where to buy one in WA. Often your local nursery will get a plant in for you if you ask them. Good luck. Deirdre

  • By Liz 6064 Monday, 20 October 2014

    Thanks for the response Deidre, no luck with nurseries at this stage .. Would love to swap for a cutting if anyone out there has a Rondeletia. Thank you LIz

  • By Elyson 4069 Monday, 10 November 2014

    I have several dedicated vegetable beds and lately have been striking all my cuttings in them with great success. I have left a few salvias to grow on in the veggie bed and thrown in marigold and calendula seeds too. This has helped my vegetables greatly bringing in bees and other beneficial insects. No wonder the french grow vegetables and flowers together!

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