Plan your plot

Plan your plot

Plan your plot (12)

Whether you have a generous plot or a tiny postage stamp in which to grow, it is important to plan how you use the space, both to maximize productivity and to facilitate maintenance.

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Using space

Using space (5)

Whether you have a generous plot or a tiny postage stamp in which to grow, it is important to plan how you use the space, both to maximize productivity and to facilitate maintenance.

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Companion planting is all about plant diversity - putting together crops that enjoy each other's company which require the same light, soil and water conditions. There are a few ways of doing this.

  • Choose plants that balance each others' needs. For example, try planting nitrogen-gobblers like leafy greens with legumes, which fix nitrogen. Group together plants that have the same water requirements - like corn and celery. Or the same soil pH requirements.
  • Plant decoys to distract insects from your crops. Eg Calendula will attract slugs and snails, instead of eating your vegies.
  • Plant to attract beneficial insects with smell, texture and colour. Eg beneficial insects love bergamot and borage.
  • Plant others to repel pests. Some produce volatile oils that disguise the plants that pests are looking for eg thyme, lavender and scented geranium. Others produce a scent or taste that is so unpleasant it drives insects away eg tansy and wormwood. Some contain natural toxins that can be used to make sprays or washes - like fennel, chamomile or pyrethrum.

This will make your vegie garden both beautiful and balanced.

Edible plants generally need more food, water and sunshine than non-edibles. Here are the basics for most plant crops:

Using flower beds to grow crops is a more attractive idea than it might sound. Many vegetables have appealing foliage and flowers, while fruit bushes and trees bear blossoms and bright berries that merit a place in any garden. Just be aware that crop plants are more demanding than flowering plants; dig in plenty of manure or compost before planting, and give them ample light and space. Perennial herbs and edible flowers are particularly suitable as border plants, but colorful salads, kales, and Swiss chard can be highly effective, too, especially if you use every scrap of space by intercropping them between ornamentals (see pages 124–125). Train climbing beans or squashes up decorative supports with spectacular results.

Edible plants prefer full sun.

Crops need soil with a high content of organic matter - not too sandy, not too heavy. See the Soil Health section for more information.
Food plants need regular watering. A watering gauge can be helpful, but poking your index finger into the soil up to the first knuckle will let you know if it's time to water again. If it's dry, time to water!
Some crops are hungrier than others, but all will benefit from a seasonal dose of a complete organic fertiliser and monthly liquid feeds. See the Soil Health and Plant Health sections for further information.
The planting zones outlined in this App are a general guide only and don't take into account your own microclimates. They also allow for gardeners who want to extend their planting times with hothouses, greenhouses and such like. Likewise, the planting dates, likewise, are a guide to what you can plant and when in your zone, but will still vary from garden to garden.

Whether you have a generous plot or a tiny postage stamp in which to grow, it is important to plan how you use the space, both to maximize productivity and to facilitate maintenance.

First consider the location of permanent structures—work out if the greenhouse will get enough sunlight, the paths are wide enough, and the compost bins sited in a convenient place.

Once you have decided a layout, think about where you will plant trees, fruit bushes, and perennial vegetables like rhubarb. It’s important to put these in the right place first time because they take a few years to establish and start producing, and will be set back if you have to move them. The great thing about the rest of your vegetable crops is that you grow them fresh each year. You can be bold, because any errors won’t be with you for long.

Alternative spaces

Community gardens offer welcome growing spaces; and are a great way to meet like-minded people to share advice and produce. If your own yard doesn’t have enough space to fulfill your ambitions, consider renting a plot in a local community garden, or ask a neighbor if you can share garden space. These can be great places to learn, with more experienced gardeners who are usually generous with their time and advice. They may even organize practical workshops for novice growers. 

With the increased popularity of growing your own, there is often considerable demand for a patch to cultivate, so be patient, and be prepared to join a waiting list if necessary.

Where outdoor garden space is limited, don’t overlook growing indoors on windowsills, and in glassed-in porches and sunrooms. The light and warmth found here is ideal for raising seedlings and for growing heat-loving plants, such as tomatoes, sweet peppers,
chillies, and eggplant, which may struggle outside in a cooler regions. Choose smaller varieties though, so the mature plants don’t block out too much daylight when fully grown.

Many herbs thrive on windowsills, where they are convenient for picking. Seeds can also be sprouted on the kitchen countertop at any time of year.

Containers are an obvious way to make the best use of space; and can instantly imbue your plot with its own style. Sleek metal, rustic terracotta, or quirky reclaimed containers, such as old sinks, and tin buckets and baths, can all look great. However, plants will be just
as happy in functional plastic pots or growing bags, as long as they have good drainage.

Fill your containers with good-quality potting mix, with water-retaining granules to help prevent them from drying out. Since containers make plants mobile, you can move smaller planters into the sun, away from the wind, and under cover during winter, when necessary.

You can grow vegies in more spots than you think! Consider any potential site's temperature, sunlight and air circulation.

  • As a general rule, plants grown for their fruit require full sun so the fruit can ripen, but plants that are harvested for their leaves, stems or roots will all do well in part shade. That means a site that only gets around three hours of direct sunlight a day can still be used to grow things like leafy greens and root vegetables like beetroot and potatoes.
  • You can also use shaded vertical areas like fences - choose plants that will grow up towards the sunlight - like climbing peas. Don't over water your plants in a shaded bed - they're less likely to dry out and too much water can promote fungal problems.
  • Suntraps, such as pots or areas near concrete, can also be used. Mulch surfaces heavily to preserve water and prevent the soil baking. Ensure adequate water with a drip system, water spikes or water-filled plant guards. Arrange shade cloth or plants that will shade your vegies.

Most importantly, select plants that will cope with 'challenging' sites.

Constructing raised beds (see picture) is one of the best ways of creating growing space where there was none before. As long as the beds themselves are well drained, they can be built on very poor or badly drained soil, or on a patio, then filled with plenty of good topsoil and compost to give good results.

Raised beds create instant growing space on any surface; filled with good-quality soil and compost they can be very productive. Keep them small for easy access and maintenance.

If you have, or are planning, a dedicated kitchen garden, you can make the most of your space by using a bed system, setting up a series of narrow beds separated by access paths (see picture). With this system you don’t need to allow room for walking on the soil between rows, so you can pack your plants more closely in the growing area for a higher yield.

To make a raised bed 2.5 meter long and 1.25 meter wide, you'll need:

  • Four timber posts, 70cm high - not CCA (Copper, Chrome Arsenate, which contains arsenic)
  • Two timber planks, 20cm x 5cm x 1.25m (not CCA)
  • Two timber planks, 20cm x 5cm x 2.5m (not CCA)
  • Drill
  • Wood screws
  • Geotextile fabric, optional - 3mx2m
  • Tacks, if using geotextile
  • Manure, two barrowloads
  • Rock mineral fertiliser, a cupful
  • Compost, a barrowload

You're essentially building a box, with the bottom open to allow water to drain.

  1. Sink the posts into the ground just 10cm deep - the weight of the soil will hold them in place.
  2. Drill pilot holes in the planks first before driving in the screws to fix the planks to the posts.
  3. Half-fill the box with backyard soil. Then line the sides and base with a large piece of geotextile fabric, if wanted. Tack into place. The fabric acts as a root barrier and allows water and nutrients to run through.
  4. Add bulky, aged manure - sheep, cattle or horse - compost, more manure and, finally, a rock mineral fertiliser.
  5. You can make your raised bed any size - this is just a guide.

This is a bed built on top of an existing bed, lawn area or even hard surfaces like concrete.

Just like compost, you need a good amount of dry materials - like straw, lucerne and dried leaves - along with thinner layers of high nutrient green, leafy weeds and manure to build up the soil.

  • Sprinkle rock dust straight on top of the area you've chosen - unless it's a hard surface. This helps retain any nutrients already available.
  • Cover with layers of newspaper, at least 10 pages thick to smother weeds, then water until wet through.
  • Cover with a layer of grass clippings - this is full of nitrogen.
  • Top that with a thick layer of dry leaves about 200mm deep or whatever you can rake up. Water in with 1 tbsp of molasses dissolved into a 9L watering can. The molasses feeds the microbes that will help to break all of the materials down.
  • Add 150mm-200mm layer of lucerne.
  • Sprinkle with a layer of chicken manure and water in with diluted molasses.
  • Continue to add layers of Lucerne and Manure (cow or chicken) 3-4 times to reach desired height (The pile will sink by about 20% as it breaks down).
  • Add a loose layer of mulching straw to 150mm.
  • Top with 100mm of home-made compost.
  • Mulch the bed with straw.

You can put anything organic in the layers, to break down into beautiful, productive soil but the more you mix it up, the more nutrients are available to the plants!

Planting instructions for seeds or seedlings often suggest spacing plants about 30 to 40 centimetres apart, so in small areas there may only be enough space for 3 or 4 rows. Grid planting increases the number of plants you can fit into a finite area.

  • As with any vegetable garden, prepare the soil with compost and manure. Because the plants will be spaced tightly it's important they have access to plenty of nutrients to support their growth.
  • After the soil preparation, lay a piece of steel mesh grid on top of the soil. Off-cuts from concreting works are ideal. The grids come in different sizes, but 10cm squares give a good reference for spacing the plants much closer together.
  • Plant one seedling into the centre of each square on the grid. If you want to grow larger vegetables like cauliflower, silverbeet or Brussels sprouts, give them a bigger grid reference, maybe three or four squares to give them space to grow.
  • When finished planting, gently lift the metal away and water the seedlings in.

You'll be amazed at how much you can grow in a small space with this method.

Hopes are invariably high when sowing starts in spring but, sadly, disappointment sometimes follows. To keep your enthusiasm going for years to come, it is vital to be realistic about what you are likely to achieve in the space and time you have available.

Don’t make the mistake of initially clearing a huge plot if you have only limited time to spend on it. Nothing is more disheartening than watching the weeds regain the upper hand after you have recently spent hours digging them out. It is better to start out small, and then expand as your knowledge and experience increase. Success will soon build up confidence.

There is no escaping the fact that whichever methods you use to grow fruit and vegetables, time and effort invested at every stage of the process are what bring good returns. Think carefully about how much you can plant without giving yourself an impossible amount of work later on.

Succession planting.

If you want a great harvest, but you don't want it all at once, then think about planting successive crops weekly. Radishes are great for this, as they take about 3 to 4 days to germinate and you can harvest in about 5 weeks. You can also do the same with lettuce, corn, herbs and coriander.

Apart from succession planting, another way to stagger your harvest is to plant different varieties that fruit at different times. For example, a range of tomato varieties in one bed - anywhere from small cherry tomatoes that will ripen up as soon as the weather gets warm and keep producing all the way through to the end of autumn, to larger varieties like oxheart types that start producing in late summer all the way through till late autumn.

It's a great way to ensure there's no waste from your harvest - you plant smaller numbers of vegetables through the growing season, so you harvest smaller, useable quantities.

If you have never grown your own before, keep it simple. Start with crops that are easy to cultivate and almost guaranteed to harvest. Buy transplants, so not everything has to be raised from seed.

Radishes, salads, potatoes, and beans are all reliable, and tomatoes fruit all summer, paying back your investment in purchasing transplants. Leave challenging melons, cauliflowers, and grapes until you’re confident with other crops.