Planning a New Autumn Vegie Garden

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By Linda Mitchener

Are you interested in growing your own vegetables and herbs, but not sure what do?

If you are nervous, start small! A garden just 1m x 1m is big enough to plant out half a dozen lettuces or a mixture of salad greens (eg. Mizuna, Mibuna, Mustard Greens, Tatsoi, Endive, Rocket) some spring onions, chives, coriander and a silverbeet or two! The advantages of starting small (besides cost) are that you can enjoy the growing process with minimal effort, have the satisfaction of eating your own produce, are testing out the environment (site suitability/prevailing conditions, etc) and learning.


Another option worth considering is to start off with a few herbs and vegies in containers. Generally, you are better off planting several plants in a larger pot than using individual, smaller pots for each plant. Larger pots hold moisture longer, and the plants protect each other as they grow. The advantage of using containers is they can be moved around to take advantage of shade, access to a working area, etc.

If you are growing in pots or containers, use a good quality potting mix; the best you can afford.

Poor soils

Perth has some of the worst agricultural soils in the world – our ancient sandy soils are devoid of nutrients and organic matter, making them water repellent and lifeless. If you choose to grow in the soil, you need to prepare it well. Use a premium quality soil conditioner. It should contain a range of nutrients and organic matter, and minerals to aid water retention. Quite frankly, digging in a cheap bag of dirt or sheep poo won’t cut the mustard. It is worth doing the ground work (pardon the pun) to achieve good results. Dig in the soil improver to a depth of 30cm, and work it in with a spade or fork. If it still looks like what you started with, you haven’t used enough. Once you are happy you have something decent to plant into, wet it thoroughly. Plant out your seedlings and water each thoroughly again. Mulch is essential in the warmer months, but perhaps not so vital over winter. Mulching conserves moisture and ultimately breaks down and further improves soil structure.

All young seedlings need daily hand watering over summer. Plants will bolt to seed and taste bitter if they are not getting enough moisture.

Raised beds

If you are have heavy or rocky soils that are hard to dig, have you considered growing in a raised garden bed?

Raised beds can be made from almost anything; timber, bricks, limestone blocks, corrugated sheeting – even hay bales! The planting depth should be a minimum of 30cms of good quality soil. This is the root zone where plants access nutrients and moisture.

Another popular option is corrugated iron planters. These come ready assembled, are available in a range of sizes, heights, shapes, and colours. Higher beds are great for those with back or mobility problems, as bending over is not required. Just be aware that high beds tend to drain quickly – so you will need to keep an eye on soil moisture levels.

These planters can be used on top of soil, lawn, even concrete or paving. They look great, are long lasting and can be moved around your yard or taken with you if you move house.

You need to carefully plan where to position your garden bed, taking into account things like:

  • Sun. The angle of the sun changes with the seasons. Photos can be helpful reminders of where shade falls at various times of the year. Vegies enjoy lots of sun in winter, but over summer they need shade and protection. You can grow in different areas for the seasons, or use shadecloth over the hotter months.
  • Wind. If your yard is susceptible to strong winds, windbreaks may be necessary to prevent burning, stress and erosion. Shadecloth attached to stakes works well.
  • Frost. If you live in areas where frosts are a problem you need to ensure your plantings are frost tolerant, or you must provide shelter with taller plants or structures. Plants next to ponds and water features (not too tiny!) are protected by the heat retained by water.
  • Root Competition. Don’t underestimate the impact of root competition from surrounding trees and shrubs. Trees quickly find soil with good nutrition and moisture and can travel many, many metres underground and under buildings. Consider some root barrier material used at the bottom of your garden bed and coming up the sides ideally. It will allow water to permeate but make it harder for roots to access your garden bed.
  • Fences, walls & paved surfaces. Reflected heat needs to be considered. Growing against a north facing surface in winter provides extra warmth and light, but in summer plants will burn to a crisp.
  • Water. Can you retic the bed or are you prepared to regularly hand water? How far away is your closest tap?

Once you have chosen the best site, remember to prepare the beds with good quality soil which contains a mixture of nutrients, organic matter and added minerals for water retention. Nutritious vegies require nutritious soil, and the health and vigour of your plantings depends on it!