What a journey! It started with an idea and then you took the plunge and set about creating your very own food garden. You’ve surveyed and planned, turned and improved the soil, planted, watered, fertilised and mulched, learned about composting and pest control and nurtured your crops to the point of harvest. Success is so sweet! So what's the next step in keep your garden not only beautiful but bountiful for the foreseeable future?
Phil Dudman

5 Jul 2017 - 4:25 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2017 - 12:10 PM


Seasonal changes – be ready

A change in season can often cause a temporary lull in backyard garden food production. Many crops simply pass their peak, while others stop producing altogether, because the conditions are no longer suitable. With a little forward planning and preparation you can easily overcome this break. Try to look ahead to what you need to be planting for the next season by visiting Gardenate. Sow a few seed in punnets in advance so that when the conditions are right, your next season’s crops will be ready to go. If you find that you’re short on space in the patch, plant your seedlings on into individual pots, so that when space does become available, your new season’s crops will be well developed.


Raising your plants from seed

Raising your own vegies from seed is incredibly satisfying and saves you money. It’s also a great way to discover a wider selection of interesting crops such as heritage varieties that are not normally available as seedlings.

If you’ve never planted seed before, start with easy-to-grow vegies like bean, capsicum, tomato,cucumber, pumpkin, zucchini, radish and cabbage, then as you get better at growing, try other seeds that require closer attention.

The best place to sow seed is directly into your garden bed. The plants will establish much quicker that way, because they won’t be affected by transplant shock. There are advantages in raising seedlings in pots or punnets too, because you have greater control over their growing conditions, which is especially important when the weather gets nasty. For example, when it is too hot or too wet you can move your pots or seedling trays to a more protected position.

Key tips for raising seeds

Always check the packet for the best planting times in your area and be sure to take note of the use-by-date. Buy the freshest seed possible.

Be sure to plant your seed at the ideal depth. If it’s too deep or too shallow, your seed may not germinate. As a general rule, sow seeds at a depth roughly twice the diameter of the seed. The seed packets should have more specific information.

When raising seeds in pots or seedling trays, clean the container thoroughly first with 1% solution of household bleach to kill any nasty soil borne pathogens. Don’t use garden soil or regular potting mix. You’ll get better results with a specially blended seed raising mixture available from your garden centre.

Once planted, keep your soil or seedling mix constantly moist until the seeds germinate. This general rule applies to most seeds except for some of the larger seeds like peas, beans and corn which rot easily when over-watered. These prefer a good soak at planting and left to be fairly dry until they germinate – only rewet these seeds in extremely dry conditions.


Crop rotation

Crop rotation is the practice of rotating vegetable crops so that no growing bed sees the same plant or related plants in successive seasons. This helps to reduce a build-up of pest and diseases that affect certain crops, while maintaining a balance of fertility in the soil.

With the typical rotation system, plants are grouped according to their families or shared growing needs. For example, cucumber, zucchini, squash, pumpkin and melon are related, so they are grouped together. Peas, beans and other edible legumes form another group of relatives.

Below is a typical 6 bed rotational system. To rotate your crops, just follow the arrows in the guide. At the end of the season, bed 1 moves to bed 2, bed 6 to bed 1 and so on. A six-bed rotational system like this one, but not always possible in a small garden. If you have fewer beds, try combining two groups in one. Your rotational system doesn’t need to be perfect like this. The most important thing is that you always replace a crop with something of a different group so that no bed sees the same type crop in successive seasons.

Bed 1 Peas, beans and other legumes
Bed 2 Cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli and other brassicas, such as lettuce, silverbeet and pak choy
Bed 3 Green manure (see below)
Bed 4 Tomato, potato, eggplant, capsicum and chilli
Bed 5 Zucchini, squash, cucumber, pumpkin and other cucurbits with sweet corn
Bed 6 Onions, leeks, shallots and other alliums with root crops like carrots, beetroot and parsnips


Green manure

A green manure is a crop that is grown purely to help enrich the soil. Typical green manure crops include grains like oats and barley and nitrogen fixing legumes like soybean or cowpea. These are grown then dug into the soil while still soft and lush so that they break down quickly. As they decompose, they provide organic matter and nitrogen, which help to improve soil fertility. The type of green manure crops to plant will depend on your specific climate and the time of year. Check with your local produce store for the best crops to grow. It’s also the most economical place to purchase seed.


Spread the word!

Eating something you’ve grown yourself is one of life’s greatest joys. It guarantees you the freshest and tastiest food available, that is high in nutrients and free of harmful chemical residues. Growing some of your own food also reduces your reliance on mass produced food that requires high inputs of fossil fuels. On top of all of this, gardening and growing food is just a great way to unwind and escape the madness of modern life.

If you’ve caught the bug for growing your own, why not encourage others to have a go too. One of the best ways to inspire is to invite friends around for a feast from your garden. It gets them in every time! Once people sample the flavour and texture of freshly harvested food, there’s no turning back. Most people can’t wait to get home and start a garden themselves.

The more growers we have in our community, the more opportunities we will have to share produce, ideas and experiences. This gives us all greater access to the highest quality food, which means our communities will be stronger and we can all live happier and healthier lives.