Put fresh produce on your table just as nature intended by growing your own vegetables organically
For flavour you can’t beat, raise your own vegies in the backyard. Image: Thinkstock
Nothing tastes better than homegrown ingredients picked fresh from the vegie patch.
And if you garden as organically as possible, your crops will be rich in vitamins and minerals, and free from poisonous chemicals.
The summer holidays are a great time to start a new vegetable garden, so you can get the children involved.
This means they can feel connected with their food and have fun planting seeds and tending the garden. After all, kids are the gardeners of the future.
Before you begin
It’s important to decide on how much free time you have to tend your new organic vegetable patch before you get going. If in doubt, start off small because you can always expand.
If your chosen plot is covered with weeds, they must be completely removed using a hoe. Another chemical-free method of killing weeds is to solarise the soil.
Simply position black plastic over the entire area, anchor it with rocks, then leave it for a month. The heat will cook and destroy the weeds.
Once they’ve been removed, dig the garden bed to the depth of your spade, taking care to remove any rocks.
Dig in compost and cow or chicken manure over the whole garden bed. The more you add, the richer the soil will become, and the healthier your vegetables will be.
Check the level of acidity in the soil with a pH kit, and add dolomite or liquid lime if it is acidic. Vegetables like a pH of about 6.5.
To garden organically means you have to become more aware of the environment and also respect the balance of nature.
Using sprays that contain chemicals can alter this balance by killing off beneficial insects, such as ladybirds, parasitic wasps, and hoverflies.
The organic gardener observes the laws of nature and puts plant residues back into the soil through mulching and composting.
This in turn feeds the bacteria, fungi, insects and earthworms that prepare the soil for living plants.
Take your pick from an abundance of easy-to-grow vegetables.
These can be grown on wire attached to a sunny fence or wall, on a frame made from upright timber posts and covered in chicken wire, or on a teepee in a large pot. Use the same frame for growing peas in the cooler months.
CARE Sow the seeds directly where the plants are to grow. Fertilise when the flowers appear and water regularly as the pods begin to swell.
TIP Make a cubbyhouse by creating a three-sided teepee. Get the kids to plant seeds at the base and after a few weeks it will be covered in foliage.
Create a living cubbyhouse for the kids with climbing beans
An adaptable crop, carrots need deep, well-drained soil so the roots expand and grow quickly. It should be free from stones or lumpy organic matter to prevent the roots becoming misshapen. Baby carrots can be grown in pots.
CARE Sow the seeds directly where the plants are to grow. The seedlings may take 2-3 weeks to emerge and need thinning to 50mm apart.
TIP Carrot seeds are also available in seed tape and the spaced seeds don’t need to be thinned out.
Also known as peppers, capsiums start out green, then turn red, yellow or purple as they mature. At this time of the year, they’re best planted from seedlings so the fruit can mature before the cold weather arrives.
CARE Fertilise with a complete plant food when the flowers appear. Water regularly to prevent blossom end rot.
Also known as peppers, capsiums start out green, then turn red, yellow or purple as they mature
This vegetable can be grown in garden beds or containers. The roots are full of vitamins and the young leaves are delicious in salads. Beetroot is ready to harvest about 10 weeks from sowing. Pull alternate roots early and the roots left in the soil will increase in size.
CARE Sow the seeds directly where the plants are to grow and thin them to 70mm apart. Feed fortnightly with a soluble plant food for quality roots.
An easy-to-grow vegetable, celery can provide a continuous harvest for 2-3 months if the outside stems are picked like silverbeet. Sow the seeds
in punnets and transplant them to the garden when they’re 75mm high.
CARE Regular watering is essential as celery is shallow-rooted. Feed every two weeks so the stems don’t turn coarse.
This vegetable comes in different shapes and sizes. Pick telegraph cucumbers when they’re 300mm long, apple cucumbers when they’re the size of a tennis ball and Lebanese cucumbers at about 100mm in length.
CARE Sow the seeds where the plants are to grow. To save space, tie them to a support so they can climb.
At this time of the year, it’s best to plant this vegetable from a seedling to allow the fruit to mature before the cold weather arrives. Their silvery leaves look good in large pots.
CARE Feed with a complete soluble plant food when the flowers first appear. Regular watering is essential.
In the warmer months it is best to plant eggplant from a seedling to allow the fruit to mature before the cold weather arrives
Also known as courgettes, zucchinis are immature marrows. Pick them when they’re about 100-150mm long to encourage further crops. They crop quickly, so you’ll be harvesting fruit about 8-10 weeks after sowing.
CARE Sow the seeds directly into a slight depression on top of a raised mound, allowing 1m between the plants. In cool areas, plant as seedlings.
Pick zucchinis them when they’re about 100-150mm long to encourage further crops
Growing on large running vines, this plant takes up lots of space.
The ‘Butternut’ variety is smaller and can be trained up a trellis. ‘Golden Nugget’ is a non-running bush variety that will grow in a garden bed or large container.
CARE Sow the seeds where they are to grow on mounded soil in saucer-shaped troughs to direct water to the roots.
One of the quickest and easiest crops to grow, the crispy roots and young leaves of radishes are delicious in salads. The seeds germinate in about 5-8 days and the roots are ready to harvest in 6-8 weeks.
CARE Sow the seeds directly where the plants are to grow. Pick radishes while they are small to prevent them becoming tough and stringy.
There are hundreds of varieties of this popular fruit. Sow the seeds or plant seedlings in December for an autumn crop, and for top-quality fruit, pick them when they are red-ripe. Tomatoes can also be grown in large pots.
CARE Sow the seeds in punnets and transplant them to the garden bed when the seedlings are 75mm high.
To get a bumper crop, water and fertilise tomatoes regularly.
While sweetcorn takes up a fair amount of space, it’s well worth it as homegrown cobs are sweet and tasty.
The cobs are ready to harvest when the silk has turned brown. Pick them with a downward and twisting motion. If you are limited with space, sweetcorn can be grown in large containers.
CARE It grows better from seed than a seedling. Plant in a block rather than rows to ensure pollination.
Deliciously sweet, homegrown corn is a must-have vegetable
Rotate your crops
A helpful practice to control pests and diseases and maximise your yield when growing vegetables is to rotate your crops annually.
Put simply, when you plant tomatoes in one spot in your garden one year, follow it with a crop from a different family the next year.
When you rotate your crops, it means that all the nutrients available in the soil can be used logically, if plants that have different feeding requirements are planted after one another.
A good example is to follow your leaf crops, which require plenty of nitrogen, by root crops, which don’t need it.
Crop rotation is also an effective way to avoid a build-up of soil-dwelling pests and pathogens such as pest nematodes and potato scab.
When different plants grow on the same site each year, pest and disease populations are unable to build up to damaging levels.
With small vegetable gardens, it’s not difficult to remember what was planted where each year.
But if you have a large vegetable patch, it can be harder to keep track, so make a written rotation plan.
Plant root vegies one year and leafy crops the next in the same site. Image: Thinkstock
What to rotate
CABBAGE FAMILY Members of the cabbage family are susceptible to club root, which can live in the soil for a couple of years. The family includes cabbage, broccoli, rocket, radish, mustard, Brussels sprouts, turnip, kale and kohlrabi.
POTATO FAMILY Eggplant, capsicum, tomato and chilli.
ONION FAMILY Leek, garlic and shallot.
BEET FAMILY Beetroot, silverbeet and spinach.
SQUASH FAMILY Cucumber, pumpkin and zucchini.
Raising vegetables in pots
If you have a small balcony rather than a garden, you don’t have to go without homegrown vegetables, as they can also be grown in pots.
Troughs are ideal for growing salad greens, baby carrots, spring onions, perpetual spinach, radishes, basil and other herbs.
But tomatoes, capsicums, chilli, zucchinis and eggplants need large pots that are at least 250mm wide to produce a good harvest.
Vegetables that are grown in pots also need to be watered more often, sometimes daily during the summer. Feed them fortnightly with an organic soluble complete fertiliser.
And apart from growing vegetables in large pots and troughs, there are containers known as modular vegetable beds that are designed specifically for growing vegetables.
These modular vegie beds work well in small spaces. They are made from Colorbond steel or timber and are available in lots of different shapes and sizes.
They’re ideal if you’re renting, as you can just pick up the bed and take it with you when you move.
You can also buy small vertical gardens for growing salad greens and herbs, which look great on walls and also save on space.
Freestanding vertical gardens can be easily moved to catch the sun throughout the different seasons.
Containers should be filled with a good-quality potting mix that has the Australian Standards label. Yates Potting Mix With Dynamic Lifter is perfect for vegetables.