How to start your very own veggie patch (from scratch!)
For much of the day, I think with my stomach. In the mornings, I start the day imagining what I’m going to have for breakfast.
An example of my inner dialogue goes something like this: “Maybe today I’ll have a plate of freshly picked, home-grown tomatoes, drizzled with good-quality olive oil, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of a backyard lemon juice, served on hard, crusty bread.”
Just before lunch, I’m thinking: “Rapini greens fried with fresh chilli, garlic and chickpeas to go with some homemade pasta.”
And by the late afternoon, while watering my garden, I’m thinking: “A tray of small, diced roasted veggies tossed with some finely chopped fresh basil to go with chargrilled fennel sausages.” It’s no coincidence I’m known as the Hungry Gardener.
Now, I could begin by explaining why you should be growing food at home. I could list all the benefits for the environment; how it’s good for your health, overall wellbeing and mindfulness; how it teaches seasonality, and in turn what to buy from the supermarket.
The most convincing answer is that, with your own veggie patch, you can grow your own food. And who doesn’t like food? I suspect I’m not the only one to spend a fair slice of the day thinking about what will end up on my plate.
So, if you love food, and want to grow some of your own, here are a few tips on how to go about setting up a veggie patch at home.
1. Start small
Growing up, my Italian nonno would shout, “piano, piano!” when pottering around in his veggie patch, which translates as “slowly, slowly.”
This is the approach I suggest to anyone wanting to set up a veggie patch. The most economical way to grow your own food is to start digging up your backyard. However, this can be time consuming and backbreaking work.
The truth is that you don’t need a big backyard to get started. Even if you have concrete you can start by growing in a planter box and some pots.
Often, I recommend planters such as the VegTrug to get my clients growing food themselves. These units are easy to set up, and within a couple hours you’re up and running growing your own food. This also makes it a great project to do with children.
So, start small and as you gain confidence you can continue to add pots to your garden. This approach also makes it ideal for renters.
2. Chase the sun
Sunlight is the essence of all life on the planet. It plays a key role in the process of photosynthesis, whereby a plant converts sunlight into energy for growing. Access to sunlight is therefore the biggest factor when choosing where to grow your own food.
A textbook response is that the majority of veggies like six to eight hours of direct sunlight. While not everyone has a northerly aspect at home, it’s best to position your veggie patch where it’s going to receive the maximum possible sunlight.
Remember: It’s always much easier to create shade than to generate more light. If you have a garden space with limited light, a couple of ideas to increase the amount of light include painting fences or walls white or installing mirrors to help bounce light back into the space.
3. Water it!
Another big factor to consider is how you’re going to water your garden.
All vegetables require water, and the watering schedule will determine the success of your crop. Too little water and your veggies will wither and die; too much water, and you may end up killing your crop with kindness.
So, how do you know when to water? The best approach is by hand. Feel the top soil and gauge the moisture level. It really is that simple. If the soil is damp, hold off on the watering.
I like to recommend hand watering with a watering can or hose. You could install expensive irrigation systems; however, time spent watering is one of the great pleasures of growing your own food.
Good gardening is all about observation. The activity of watering is one that will allow you to start noticing what’s happening in your veggie patch.
4. Grow soil first
One of my gardening philosophies is: “You’re growing soil first, plants second”. Like the foundations of a house, plants need good soil or they’ll eventually fall over.
So, build up a good growing base to give your crop the best chances of success. You can do this by investing in good-quality potting mix if you’re growing in pots. And if you’re planting straight in the ground, be sure to feed the soil with an organic fertiliser.
5. You get out what you put in
This is not only a metaphor for the soil in your veggie patch, but for the amount of time and effort that’s required.
To begin with, establishing a veggie patch is about setting up the right infrastructure to enable you to grow food. This will take both time and money.
That said, you don’t have to spend a fortune to grow good food. You can obtain plastic pots, seeds and seedlings cheaply and that’s a great place to start.
6. Grow what you love
There’s no point growing food that you don’t like. When starting small, grow things that give you great ROI.
Plant crops that don’t take up much space, and give you fresh produce for much of the year.
For example, I often recommend ‘cut-and-come-again’ growers like lettuce and herbs. If anything, herbs are some of the best plants to grow when getting started. They’re hardy and will consistently provide you with ingredients for delicious meals.
7. Grow it for who you love
No two days will be the same in the garden, and even more so in the veggie patch. With the seasons brings success and failure.
Remember to learn from your mistakes; a good gardener is one that observes and takes action. More importantly, celebrate the successes and share your harvest with family and friends. Have fun and experiment!