Every year, starting a garden seems to end up on the New Year's resolution list. It's up there with exercising more, remembering to smile and not getting caught in the latest doughnut/cronut/wonut craze. Alas, like those other pipe dreams, by this time of year it has usually failed – shrivelled like so much dying parsley in a forgotten pot.
But unlike mustering the self control to avoid the latest great pastry, starting your own garden is genuinely easy, regardless of the space you have to work with.
First things first: pick the right spot
Laurel Coad, nursery manager at CERES, explains that no matter where you're growing – be it a sprawling backyard or a tiny window planter box – all plants need sunlight. “Full sun” means at least five hours a day. For really sun-loving plants, such as tomatoes, cucumber and basil, you’re aiming for more like six-to-eight hours.
Growing veggies inside can be tough, particularly if they don't get direct sunlight. If you have absolutely no outdoor space, consider joining one of the hundreds of community gardens across Melbourne.
Sort your plot
Once you've positioned your patch, it's important to set the right foundations for your garden. Coad suggests growing in a raised bed, which needs to be at least 30 centimetres deep. If you have limited space, Little Veggie Patch Co.’s Mat Pember is a fan of lining milk crates with hessian coffee sacks. Little Veggie Patch Co. also has a range of veggie crates, from a basic starter kit right through to a completely stocked planter box.
The right soil
Pember says using cheap potting mix is one of the biggest mistakes new gardeners make. “It's so difficult to grow things in crap, and that's essentially what it is,” he explains. “If the pH balance is out of whack, you’ll plant your seedlings and think that you’re doing everything right, but then the seedlings can start to turn yellow.”
The other common mistake, both Coad and Pember agree, is trying to grow too much too soon. “Tomatoes, which everyone wants to grow, are actually really hard to maintain,” Pember says. “Salads grow really quickly and they regenerate quickly, so are really good value.”
Now is the perfect time of year to start with herbs and greens, before graduating to zucchinis, cucumbers and beans. CERES also stocks a wide selection of Australian natives – such as lemon myrtle, mountain pepper and deliciously tangy midyim berrie – which Coad says are a great addition to any veggie patch.
So you've got your garden planted, now it's all about maintenance. “People don’t realise plants need water every day,” Pember says. “Especially when you’re using potting mix, because it's designed to drain all of the excess water from the soil.” A fine layer of mulch or straw can help keep moisture in, just make sure to leave some space around your plants.
If you want to grow organically, Coad’s top tip is to drape netting over your garden, which will keep bugs and possums away. Little Veggie Patch Co. also has a helpful guide to companion planting. Simple ideas, such as planting basil next to those tricky tomatoes, can repel bugs and increase the amount of nutrients in the soil without any chemicals.
Ben Bush, co-host of Tuesday night’s Triple R radio show Greening the Apocalypse and Broadsheet’s guide to making compost easy, has another great tip: if you can, plant your veggies in your front yard. Not because the light might be better, but simply because unlike your back yard, you’re guaranteed to walk through your front yard every time you leave the house, so you’re much more likely to keep an eye on your patch.
Think about what you like to eat, plant accordingly, make sure you keep the bugs away and give them enough to drink and you’ll be reaping the rewards in no time.
This article is presented by Momentum Energy.