Like anything we attempt we all start with no knowledge of where to start. Here is the first in a series of blogs written for those just starting out. Read on for an overview of what it takes to grow your own plants, from location to equipment to watering and feeding your plants.
Gardening can be a relaxing and healthy pastime. Learning how to care for and nurture living things is a skill that can be rewarding for both mind and body. All you need to start reaping the benefits of gardening at home is to find a place to start a garden.
Gardens can be as small as a single small plant on a windowsill, or large enough to supply fresh vegetables for several families. The first step in starting a garden is deciding where it is going to be. All plants need sunlight, water and protection from pests. When you decided where your garden is going to be remember it needs sunlight for a good portion of the day.
Microgreens are a great way to start if you have limited space. Any windowsill can be turned into a grow space. Simple microgreens like radish are ready in as few as 5 days and can be a healthy addition to any salad or dish.
If you have limited space, growing in pots is a great option. They are clean and tidy and can be made into a feature of any patio or courtyard. The AutoPot range of self watering pots are ideal for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. With AutoPots you take the guesswork out of watering ensuring a consistent supply of water as and when the plant needs it.
Growing outdoors requires a little more initial effort preparing the ground but the variety of plants you can grow is then limited by the season and your imagination.
There are various methods to prepare the ground to plant. My personal favourite is a raised bed. Choose your area, use untreated wood as a frame, cover the bottom with a thick layer of newspaper to suppress the grass and weeds, then fill with soil. You're ready to plant.
If you don't want raised gardens then choose your area and dig the soil up loosening the soil until it's soft and most of the lumps are gone. Ensure you get all the weeds and grass out, roots and all otherwise they will continue to grow, An easy way to achieve this is to use a "Trenching" method. In a line or trench, take the top layer of plant and soil and put to one side. Dig a spade depth of the soil and also put to one side or in a wheelbarrow. With the next line put the top layer in the first trench with the vegetation side down then dig the spade depth of soil from the second trench and put that on top of the first trench, effectively filling this up and leaving you with a second trench. Do this until you have the garden the size you want. To fill the last trench use the layers from the first trench you dug to finish.
I always add compost to my garden before planting. There are lots of good quality commercially available compost. I make my own compost but if I have to buy any I will always use a certified organic compost. Some plants like tomatoes and beans are very sensitive to any chemical residue so why take the risk?
What do I use in my pots?
When growing in pots there are an infinite variety of soil or "media" you can use in the pots. Traditionally we have used potting mix and always ensure you have a good quality mix that has the ability to drain well, hold moisture and also to hold air. Plants also uptake oxygen and carbon dioxide from the roots so it is important that that the potting mix contains something to hold the pockets of air. The most common additive to potting mix for this is a substance called Perlite. That is the little white pumice looking bits in the potting mix that also aid drainage and stop the potting mix from compacting. The other commonly used substrate to capture pockets of air are expanded clay balls. The advantage of these over the perlite is that they are able to be reused. They can be washed, sterilized in bleach, rinsed and then reused.
When growing with AutoPots you can use nearly anything. I have grown in potting mix, peat, coco fibre, clay balls and mixes of some of these. My personal favorite is a peat and perlite blend that gives the plant extra nitrogen for a good start. Check out some of the articles on the website about growing organically or using Hydroponics
Is my soil good enough?
Soil provides the food and structure for a plant to grow but not all soils are equal. Ideally you want a dark soil that's crumbly and free draining. Usually you start with a base that you then need to improve. The best way to improve your soil is to add compost. Even the best of soils need you to add something back each time you harvest. Makes sense that if you're taking something from the soil you will need to replace that to keep producing.
What do I plant?
When we had the retail shop I was often asked this by first time gardeners. My answer was always "What do you like to eat?" There's no point growing cabbage if you don't like cabbage! Think of what vegetables you like to eat and have a look at them. When you first start I recommend buying seedlings from the store. This saves a few weeks over growing from seeds and your garden becomes productive quicker.
When you go to the store you will find a limited variety but they are generally the types of plants that grow in that season. eg Cauliflower and Peas in autumn, Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant in spring. Some awesome plants grow year round. I always have Lettuce, Pok Choi, Radish, Spring onions and Beetroot in the garden all year around. Cabbage and Broccoli grow year round and always have a spot in the garden but in the warmer months need to be protected from the white butterfly or the caterpillars will have a feast before you do.