Grow Your Own Food at Home – Getting Started
Written by Helen Holman
Growing your own food at home is one of the most satisfying things you can do. It’s a project that captures and celebrates the complete cycle of sustainability and it’s a serious feel-good to harvest your own home-grown food!
There are lots of different ways that you can create a vegetable garden, there’s no right or wrong, simply what works for you. Vegetable gardens can be created in all shapes and sizes, from containers right through to paddock planting, in an existing garden surrounding ornamental plants, or in a designated raised garden bed.
One of the biggest misconceptions about starting a vegetable garden is that you need lots of space. This is simply untrue! As long as your potential garden space has access to direct sunlight for part of the day, you already have the first basic principal sorted for getting growing. Here is a quick guide on the basics of where to start.
Look at your space
If you’ve made the decision to grow your own food, the best place to start is to look at your space. How big is your backyard or outdoor space? Work out how much area you want to use to create your vegetable garden and step it out. A rough idea of the dimensions of this area will help you to work out what size and type of garden bed you want to build or buy.
Observe the sunlight
Identify the areas that get direct sunlight and work out what aspect these areas face. The ideal position is an area that receives a minimum of 5 hours of direct sunlight throughout the day. The best aspect to plant is facing northerly, where the largest window of direct sunlight can be achieved. The sun rises and sets East to West, so you can work out where North is based by observing the sun!
TIP: Plant the taller plants on the southern side of your garden beds so they don’t shade out the smaller plants.
Design your garden suit your space! If you have an outdoor area such as a balcony or courtyard then containers or planters are a great solution for maximising productivity in a small space. If you have a small yard, then doing border planting in existing or new beds could be a good way to grow food without compromising lawn areas. If you have a large yard then raised garden beds are a great solution!
Three key things for good garden design are colour, shape, and size – consider planting vegetables of different heights for greater visual impact. Remember, you’re not restricted by your area footprint, you can get creative and grow vertically! This can be achieved by growing climbing vegetables up a fence, or over a garden arbour.
One of the most important things to remember is practicality – while you want it to look great, your garden needs to be easily accessible for planting, watering, weeding and harvesting. It’s a great idea to position your beds close to the house, this way it will be easy to harvest fresh produce and herbs to take straight into the kitchen. Try doing a few sketches of some different ideas for layout, shapes and sizes of the gardens that you want to build.
Choosing your garden bed
As a guide, the ideal minimum depth you should aim for in a vegetable bed is 250mm. This will allow for your plants to build strong root structures for accessibility of nutrients in the soil – which will be converted into healthy, lush and high yielding crops. This depth can be achieved in the majority of planters and large pots, raised garden beds, or simply by planting directly into the existing soil of your backyard.
There are an enormous variety of garden bed options on the market, in a wide range of configurations, materials, and styles to suit your garden design and preference. These often come as flat-packs that are easy to transport home that you assemble in your designated space. You can also build your own garden beds.
TIP: if using timber to construct your garden edges then make sure to avoid treated pine as this can contain chemicals that can leech into the soil. Hardwood is normally the best type of wood to use.
Source your soil
Start by calculating the amount of soil that you will need to fill your garden beds – this can easily be done using a volume calculator online and entering the height, width and length of each bed. For small garden beds - bagged soil is the easiest option. For larger garden beds, get your soil delivered from your local garden centre, nursery or landscape centre. The ideal soil to get started is a vegetable mix that contains added compost.
TIP: With each season as you harvest and get ready for replanting, this is a great time to boost your soils with compost, castings and manure!
Choosing your plants
Plant things that are in season and that you will eat! While it’s nice to have a garden that’s pleasing to look at, the ideal vegetable garden is one that’s productive and will flourish. Seasonal planting is important – not all vegetables will grow all year round – so always read the labels of your seeds or seedlings to determine if it’s the right time of year to plant. Seasonal planting is defined by Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter – and there is a huge selection of vegetables that you can grow in each of these seasons. Companion planting is another important consideration, by selecting plants that grow well together, you can naturally reduce the pests in your garden.
All vegetables need regular watering to become established and thrive, whether growing from seeds or seedlings. Consider your access to water when positioning your beds – you want to have line of sight access to a watering point to make watering easy. Alternatively, a watering system can be installed to allow for automatic watering on a schedule – or you could even consider a self watering garden bed that will water itself!
Once you’ve spent some time planning and considering the steps above, you will now have a better understanding of your sunlight, space, planned position and the size of garden that can be achieved. These steps will enable you to be more prepared to create a vegetable garden that will be successful and productive.
What are you waiting for – get growing!