Before you can commit your seed or seedlings to the soil in your vegetable garden, it is essential that you ensure that the nutritional base of the soil is of such a nature so as to provide optimum results for the vegetable growth. You can accomplish this by preparing and feeding the soil before you plant the vegetable garden. If your soil is clayey, sandy or loamy you will need to make certain preparations. Do make the required soil amendments to ameliorate the garden soil.
First you need to remove the grass, bushes and trees and their roots from the ground you have chosen to use as your vegetable garden area. If necessary you could fence in the area if you have pets that also love to do 'gardening'. Now you can start with the preparations of the vegetable bed:
- A standard vegetable bed is usually about 4m long by 50cm wide (160 inches long by 20 inches wide). The length of your vegetable bed can vary according to your specific requirements. (TIP: Do not make the beds too wide because then you will have to stand in the beds to do maintenance work in your vegetable bed.)
- Leave a pathway of approximately 30 cm (12 inches) between the beds to accommodate working between the beds.
- It is preferable to have the vegetable beds running north – south to ensure that the plants will get more sun to grow well.
- Work some fertilizer or compost and superphosphate, or phosphate in the form of bone meal or blood meal, into the soil. Use approximately 4 to 8 spades of compost per square meter and about a handful of superphosphate per square meter if you use the chemical fertilizer.
There is also the matter of deciding on whether to grow your own vegetables from seed or seedlings. The cheapest would be to buy seed as there are so many varieties available from supermarkets, nurseries and garden centers. You are then free to choose the variety that will suit your area and soil type. However there is always the small hassle of seed that might have stood too long on the shop shelf and may thus not germinate or develop stunted growth. The best way to handle this type of situation is then to buy seedlings from a reputable nursery to start off your vegetable home garden.
After the first season of planting and harvesting there is nothing that should prevent you from harvesting your own seed. It is far more rewarding to harvest your own seed by the end of the growth season. Always choose the strongest plant which rendered the best harvest for seeding purposes. Store the seed in an airtight dark, container to stay fresh for the next planting season. Seed can be kept for up to 2 years. After the two year period it is best to harvest fresh seed or to buy new seed.
When sowing vegetable seed make sure to follow the instructions on the seed packet closely as it will provide you with tips on how deep to plant the seed, when the vegetable seed will germinate and when to harvest the vegetables.
Nurturing the seedlings
Growing seedlings is not a hassle. There are many commercially available seedling trays, but these can be quite expensive. To save money you can also make use of egg trays, or shallow disposable ice-cream containers or yoghurt cups, or whatever suitable containers you can find as part of the kitchen waste. Just punch a few holes in the bottom of these containers and you have a gratis seed-tray. Make use of seeding soil which is also available from nurseries and garden centers, or to keep costs ultra low, use two parts normal garden soil, one part compost and a couple of handfuls of river sand to aid in drainage. For best results sift the soil to get rid of loose stones and loosen the clumps of soil that may be left. Take care to sow the seed as evenly and as thinly so as to prevent overcrowding in your seed tray. (TIP: Shake a few seeds into the palm of your one hand and use your thumb and forefinger of your other hand to dribble the seeds in a row.) Keep the soil moist and warm and sheltered. When watering take care not to flood the seed or seedlings. Push the seeds down slightly with your finger and then smooth and firm down the soil. After planting the vegetable seeds water carefully with a watering can that has a fine nozzle. Water every second day (in hot areas every day) until the vegetable seeds germinate.
Once the seed have germinated reduce watering to three times a week. For good growth water the little seedlings with liquid fertilizer for two weeks after germination and then one a month after that. Once the seedlings have grown to the appropriate size then a kitchen spoon is sufficient to take out the little seedlings together with a little clump of soil to facilitate transplanting the seedlings into its rightful vegetable beds. Then all that is required is to grow and nurture the plants as is necessary for the specific type of vegetable, and soon you will be able to harvest fresh vegetables.
General tips for beginner vegetable gardening
- Select a sunny spot – morning and afternoon shade is best. Make sure that the patch is reasonable level.
- Start small – do not be over ambitious in the beginning. The space the size of a large door will yield an amazing amount of fresh vegetables. If you have no space at all make use of containers on your patio or balcony.
- Feed the soil – be generous with compost when you prepare the beds for the vegetables. Composting will improve drainage in clayey soil and increase water retention if you soil is too sandy.
- Seed or seedlings – sowing from seed is cheaper and you can pick particular varieties. If you want to kick start your home vegetable garden when buy vegetable seedlings from a garden center or reputable nursery. Just check that the seedlings are healthy and disease free before purchasing them.
- Start with one or two varieties – it will be easier to manage than planting too many as you might find yourself running out of time and enthusiasm.
- When choosing vegetables to grow in your vegetable garden make sure that they can be sown directly into the vegetable bed. This will not only save time, but for the beginner vegetable gardener this can be of great help as it will save you the effort of transplanting and possibly hurting your little seedlings.
- Do not sow all the seeds at once – rather leave space so you can plant a new batch every two to three weeks. Then you will extend you harvest.
- Store your seeds in your kitchen drawer – it has sufficient darkness to keep your seeds fresh. Seal the seeds in an airtight container in the drawer.
- Alternate root and leaf vegetable crops in the same bed as it will help to restore nutrients to the soil.
- Vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, radishes and sweet peppers and hot chili peppers will grow in containers – be sure to make use of a good potting soil mixture and feed often with liquid fertilizer for best results.