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Starting a home vegetable garden

Choosing a suitable site

Vegetables need a lot of sun. Choose a sunny spot. If your garden does not get sun all day, make sure that you put the garden where there is morning sun. Trees, hedges and buildings may cast shadows on your garden and so your plants will get less sunlight

The vegetable garden should be close to your house so that it is easy to look after it. Out of sight, out of mind. It should be close to a source of water.

Choose a place with the best possible soil (even if you have poor soil, it is easy to improve it by working in plenty of organic matter.)

Once you have chosen the site, remove all grass, bushes, trees and their roots. Keep all this plant material for composting, mulching and filling trench beds.

Laying out the garden

Four points to bear in mind when laying out your garden plot:

1. If your plot is on a slope the length (long axis) of the beds should always be across the slope to prevent the soil from being washed away by rain
2. The long axis of the beds should run from east to west
3. The width of beds should never be more than one meter. All garden work should be done from the pathways so that the soil in the beds is never trampled and compacted
4. Paths between the beds should be about half a meter wide
Mark out the beds using a measuring stick and garden lines. The best size for each bed is one meter wide by two or three meters long. Once your garden is marked out, start preparing the soil in the beds for planting.

Soil preparation – the most important job

Soil must have sufficient air, water and nutrients for the germination of seeds and the healthy growth and development of the small plants. Most soils have been compacted by feet and other traffic and this makes it difficult for the roots to grow down towards the nutrients.

There are many different methods for preparing the soil for planting: However most soils are poor and compacted, and in South Africa, there is a shortage of water. Trenching is the method we suggest for best results, although other methods will be discussed briefly in future articles. It is good where soils are sandy or hard and compacted, for clay soils, and in very dry areas. It is hard work at first, but you will reap rich rewards for your efforts.

Digging your first trench

Before you start, collect about twelve black bags of assorted “rubbish” (organic waste) which will provide food for the soil. (Fruit and vegetable waste from home and the supermarket, pot scrapings, egg shells, bones, feathers, cardboard, paper, lawn cuttings, dry leaves, all garden waste, manure (not dog or cat faeces), seaweed. In fact, anything that will rot).