An aim and desire of mine for years has been to have a garden with something edible in it all year round that supplied as much of our home vegetable needs as possible. This time last year we bought our own home which meant that I could finally have a crack at it.
Though Iíve had vegetable gardens at rental properties Iíve lived in you can never be absolutely sure how long youíll be there and my gardens have always been based around short term spring and summer growing, and building raised beds and viewing the soils health as a long term project has never been viable.
Prior to buying our house Iíd spent many hours pouring over seed catalogues focusing on organic, heirloom and winter growing, or long keeping vegetables as well as varieties you donít find in the supermarket, some Iíd never heard of before. Problem was I was a bit like a kid in a candy store and in the end had to be pretty strict with myself to stay within budget and be realistic about how many different vegetables I could actually sow and grow factoring in my then three-month-old son.
We moved in January. The existing vegetable garden consisted mainly of weeds including a lot of convovulus, a heap of strawberry plants and a few flowers. The soil was to my mind dead (I never saw one earthworm) itís colour was dull and texture lifeless. There was also a humungous pear tree and very old apple tree. We spent the winter clearing everything from the vegetable garden, replanting flowers in other parts of the garden, keeping a few young strawberry plants and discarding the rest.
We then marked out our proposed vegetable plots with string. We had spotted an overgrown glasshouse in our neighbours back yard and my partner (whose a bit braver then I am) asked if they still wanted it. A couple of dozen beers, three bits of new glass and a lot of scrubbing later we were the proud owners of a new 2 x 3 meter glasshouse. This along with three 3 x 4 meter garden plots, a long narrow bed running down the fence and a small one against the fence were our new vegetable garden.
We worked away over the winter and put in raised beds a wood-width high for the three plots with the idea that we would increase the height as the soil built up and funds allowed. The glasshouse also has a built in raised bed around three sides. Along the fence a long narrow bed was raised about 750 mm for perennials such as rhubarb, herbs and anything else that ended up there. A small bed against the shed was done the same for shade loving plants or those that bolt in the heat and to improve the look of the shed.
Building up the soil
To build up the soil we used leaf and fruit drop from under the pear and apple trees, horse manure, garden and kitchen waste, peastraw and whatever else I could find. Towards the end of the winter I added a layer of compost on top. We got the compost from over the back fence (with the neighbourís blessing) where plant waste had obviously been left for a number of years, built a sieve and I spent hours sieving the compost to remove bits of convovulus root - but the end product was worth it.
We also changed the area under the pear from lawn to a shrubbery and added manure, green waste and pea straw and created a small garden around the apple with the idea of planting lavender and possibly comfrey to help with tree health as both treesí fruit has black spot, among other things. We also planted two grape vines, a white and a purple.
Seed sowing chart
Over the winter I made a seed sowing chart to give myself an idea of when I could sow what and as a guide for successive sowing. Though I havenít followed it to the letter and tend to do no seed sowing every second month itís been invaluable as a quick reference.
I began sowing seed in August inside in a sunny spare bedroom and when the weather warmed up in September planted out peas, beans, lettuces, celeriac, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbages, mizuna and cauli among other things. In the glasshouse I planted tomatoes, peppers, a couple of eggplants, a tamarillo, squash, lemon cucumber and zucchini along with a few calendula, nasturtium and later basil. I sowed carrot, onion, salsify, beetroot and parsnip direct. Then a cold spell hit and I lost all the beans, outside tomatoes and peppers (well my Dad did warn me!).
Once it warmed up again I planted more beans a few yams and all the cucurbits - pumpkin, cucumber, squash and luffa. Because we only had three main beds I had to find other spaces for potatoes so used tyres stacked on top of each other in a weedy space between the shed and fence that got a reasonable amount of sun. I planted two main crop varieties that the neighbour gave me. In another spot that was a real weed problem, I weeded and placed early potatoes (and a few yams as an experiment) directly on the soil then covered with pea straw and well rotted horse manure.
By December, the garden was absolutely chocka. I have a habit of planting close together which sometimes works in my favour for amount of vegetables, weed control and moisture retention but sometimes plants struggle as stronger neighbours overtake them and air circulation is decreased.
In late December I also did further plantings of carrots, beet, salsify and beans as for some reason the tall climbing variety Iíd sown hadnít done so well, most didnít germinate and the few that did didnít thrive. Whether this was due to the seed or something I did or didnít do I donít know.
At this time, I peastrawed between vegetables as we were beginning to get some hot weather (though still plenty of rain) which made a huge difference to moisture retention and cut down my watering to about every three or more days even in reasonably hot weather. I water by hand to try to give good deep watering (rather then a little water more frequently) to encourage deep roots and use water more efficiently. I also find watering this way the leaves donít get as wet to keep down mildew.
My garden is all about trial and error, what varieties grow well, what I can/canít get away with in the local climate, how late/early I can plant and what vegetables taste good and keep well. I guess my motto is you never know until you tryÖ.