Using space

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.