Aug 152009
 

Photo © Bulleen Art & Garden

Few things can be quite as satisfying as growing your own herbs, fruit and vegetables. The quality and freshness of home grown produce combined with the peace of mind of knowing which fertilisers and chemicals have been applied has become an important issue to many people.

You may wish to develop a purely functional layout using formal beds and planting rows, or alternatively formulate a more integrated planting design, which combines vegetables, herbs, fruit and ornamental plants. Many techniques or philosophies ranging from organic gardening to biodynamics, permaculture, and companion planting have become increasingly relevant and popular with today’s home gardener.

Herb, Fruit & Vegie gardens don’t have to be large, even a few pots on a balcony are enough to grow herbs and vegies. With many dwarf varieties available, even the smallest space can be used to grow tasty vegies, herbs and even fruit.

Style & Choice

It is important consider the type or style of garden you want before construction of begins in earnest. Examples of styles may include:

  • The Kitchen Garden, a traditional walled or courtyard garden;

  • The Potager Garden, a romantic, decorative garden;

  • A Permaculture garden, providing organic fruit and veg for you and your family.

Factors that will have a bearing on the long-term success of your garden will include:

  • The amount of time available to devote to its upkeep and maintenance;

  • The amount of useable space at your disposal;

  • The suitability of the available space

Most garden vegetables are planted on an annual basis (either for cool or warm season growth) however, several plants including rhubarb, globe artichokes, strawberries and asparagus survive for many seasons, and along with fruit trees should be considered as permanent plantings. These considerations may also influence the style layout and design of a produce garden.

Traditional culinary herbs can also add colour and fragrance to a produce garden. Their uses include flavouring or garnishes for cooking, as infusions in drinks, as insect and pest repellents, as companion plants or for medicinal remedies. Also remember Oriental and Asian herbs and vegetables as authentic oriental cooking is now much in vogue and the demand for these oriental vegetables and herbs has increased. Generally speaking oriental greens enjoy the cold but may bolt in the heat. They are quick growers and high in Vitamin C. Take particular care with Vietnamese Mint that is very invasive if it escapes into the natural environment.

Tomatoes pic taken at a market in Italy by Maria Ciavarella

What you need for a healthy and productive Herb, Fruit or Vegie Garden

Soil

The soil forms the basis of the produce garden. It provides oxygen, water and nutrients to the plant roots,
necessary for their growth. A productive soil should have good structure, be well drained, and be rich in compost and manure, known as humus.

The addition of organic manures and compost is fundamental to the success of vegetable gardens. Organic matter provides nutrients for plants as it is broken down by soil micro-organisms eventually forming part of the humus layer in the soil. This greatly improves soil structure leading to better drainage, oxygen availability, water retention and nutrient holding capacity.

A well composted soil is ideal for growing healthy vegetables. It will encourage a large worm population, supply ample nutrients, good soil structure and drainage. Composting is also excellent as it recycles all green waste from the kitchen.

Sun

It is important that fruit and vegetables receive sufficient sunlight for their growth requirements. Vegetables grow quickly and need sunlight for photosynthesis to produce the energy needed for this growth. Northern aspects are ideal for a produce garden with beds running roughly in a north – south direction. At least 4 to 5 hours exposure to sunlight a day is recommended for most fruit and vegetables.

Water

Regular watering is also essential for successful fruit and vegetable crops. Water is a precious resource and it may be worth considering the installation of a rainwater tank or a grey water system which re-uses laundry water.

Rainwater may be limited by the season (i.e. summer) but grey water is available every time the washing machine is used! Water flow can be regulated to the garden by the use of soaker hoses or the installation of irrigation systems.

Mulch

Mulches play an important role in the Herb, Fruit & Vegie garden. A layer of Pea Straw or Lucerne Hay mulch will retain soil moisture, protect plant roots from summer heat, return organic matter to the soil, keep fruits off the soil surface and reduce the incidence of weed competition.

Maintenance And Care

Planting times will vary for different vegetables, herbs or fruits depending on their growing seasons. Generally speaking warm season vegetables are planted out in spring and cool season vegetables planted in autumn. Fruit trees, vines and shrubs, and some root crops are planted in winter. It is essential to plan ahead and ensure space is available throughout the year for different annual vegetables.

The presence of weeds in produce gardens is undesirable. Weeds compete for valuable resources and may attract or harbour pests and diseases. Proper mulching of the garden will significantly reduce the weed load after which gardeners must be prepared to spend some time removing those that continue to grow.

Pests and diseases are a natural part of the plant kingdom and it is not possible or desirable to totally eliminate them. Gardeners should aim to achieve a balance of pests and predators, in which pest numbers do not jeopardise crops, but still provide a food source for the predators such as birds, spiders and predatory insects. Healthy soils and sensible planting and watering also help reduce the incidence of pest and disease.

It is important to remember if chemical sprays are still required to control pests, many insects are beneficial, and most sprays will kill indiscriminately. Therefore, it is wise to use these produces with care. Only use sprays that are appropriate to the problem and if unsure ask for advice. Always use the least toxic spray to control the problem.

This is to protect both you and your family, as you are eating the produce you have sprayed. Read all information carefully provided on the packaging of the chemical you are using, especially the withholding period. Never store any chemicals or sprays, (even home made brews), in food containers, without a clear label and date, in the fridge or kitchen cupboard.

Crop rotation helps to maintain a healthy soil profile and minimises the transfer of disease from one crop to another. In general, root crops follow legumes and leaf crops, which are followed by the cucurbits, capsicums, eggplant and tomato. It is a good idea to periodically leave some areas fallow (nothing planted) or plant a green manure crop that is dug into the soil.

Fruit trees, shrubs and vines will need periodic pruning. Most fruit trees will require summer and winter pruning to produce a good crop of fruit each year. The structural pruning is carried out in winter. This forms the framework of the tree. In summer, water shoots and upright branches are trained down horizontally, to encourage fruiting over stem growth. It is also necessary to check if each crop needs thinning. This is best done at the flowering stage.

Regular harvesting of vegetables, herbs and fruit, allows you to check the health of the plants as they grow and contributes to crop hygiene. Do not leave old fruit, vegetables and pruning material underneath the plants as these can harbour disease. Compost this material, unless the plant has a disease.

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