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How to plan a vegetable garden

Before you rush to the nursery to buy every seedling, The Weekly lists the tasks you must complete to keep your garden growing.

This is the time of year to create a veggie garden. Not in spring, when the air is balmy, and the planting urge strikes, and you race off and buy 20 punnets of tomato corn and celery seedlings, then wonder what to do with them.
If you just bung the those poor little seedlings in the garden they’ll be strangled by weeds by Christmas. But if you plan your veggie garden now, and dig it over a couple of times in the next month or so, it’ll be weed free and ready to plant when you need it. Just add seedlings, water, and mulch…then lots of picking and eating.
The Great Veggie Garden Secret:
Start small. Don't dig great tracts of land and plant enough tomatoes to feed the suburb. The weeds will choke the seedlings and your back will be aching.
Once the first bed is established, weed free and mulched, you can start another one. A well established garden takes little time to look after - but a bodged job needs weeding and cosseting for years.
A Classic Dug Veggie Garden:
Find a spot that has at least three hours of sunlight every day. Most garden beds are rectangular because they're easy to water and mow around, but curved edges look better, and are just as easy. But do keep the shape simple. Too many bays, capes and promontories will drive you mad when you come to mow around them, and are impossible to water efficiently.
The best guide to use when planning the shape of a garden bed is the hose. Lay it out and use it to determine the shape of curves - stand back to inspect, tweak and adjust it until it feels right - all before putting the spade in the soil.
Dig at least a spade depth down, then remove all weeds and grass. Don’t just dig them under the soil and hope they’ll die- grass is very good at surviving underground, to spring out all over the place.
Leave the bed empty for three weeks for weed seeds to germinate. Alternatively, cover the bed with clear plastic, which will make the weed and grass seeds germinate faster in the heat and moisture. You’ll need to rake over the bed to dislodge weed seedlings every two or three weeks.
Now edge your garden. This is important. If you don't the grass will sneak in and choke your veg.
The easiest and cheapest way is to use the spade to dig a small V shaped trench between your garden bed and the lawn, deep enough so that grass can’t easily reach over to invade the veggies.
You can also buy plastic, concrete or fibreglass garden edges at the garden centre, or use old sleepers, bricks, stones (but not loose stones - the grass will grow through them and you'll never get it out) or just have paths running next to your beds.
As soon as you’re pretty sure there won’t be any more frosts i.e. nights when them temperature goes down to minus, or when you can comfortably sit on the ground, plant your seeds or seedlings. Just mooch along to the garden centre and see what's in season. Wait two weeks for your seedlings to get established, then MULCH. Mulch keeps down weeds, keeps in moisture and feeds your plants as it breaks down. Renew when it starts to look thin.
An Above Ground Garden:
These are easier than digging, and are less likely to get infested by weeds, too. they are heat up fast, so you get earlier veg after cold winters. The downside is that they can get VERY hot in mid summer, and dry out faster, too. If you have water restrictions you may be better off with a garden that goes down into the ground, not up into the air.
You can make your own above ground gardens out of bricks, railway sleepers or other timber, but there are several kits on the market now too. They need somewhere reasonably level, plus enough compost or potting mix to fill them.
This is the easiest option of all, and the one that I use here. It’s basically just bunging mulch onto the ground, deep enough to kill grass and weeds underneath.
Choose your site - sunny if possible. DON'T PUT DOWN NEWSPAPER. It isn't necessary – if the mulch is deep enough it will kill the grass - and newspaper can create an impermeable barrier between the mulch and the soil, depriving the bed above of soil organisms like worms and nitrogen-fixing bacteria and stopping harmful nitrates from draining away.
Lay down old dry lawn clippings (mixed with dried comfrey leaves if you have them), loosened pea straw or lucerne hay, autumn leaves or even a pile of weeds well chopped up by running the mower over them a few times, then left to dry in the sun. (If you use green weeds or grass clippings they may heat up and even catch fire.)
This layer of mulch needs to be AT LEAST as high as the tops of your ankles, preferably half as much again or even twice as high. As a rough guide the hotter the climate the higher your mulch needs to be, as it will break down faster - and you are more likely to have rampant weeds or grasses like kikuyu underneath, that need more 'suffocating' before they die.
If you're lazy or have left plenty of time for the weeds underneath to die, you can wait till the hay, leaves etc start to break down in a few months, and then part the mulch and plant in the now bare dirt below. But if you're an eager gardener place a layer of soil, compost (best) or potting mix on top - about as deep as the length of your index finger. Now plant your seedlings or seeds - even carrot seeds (don't worry, they'll do beautifully as the mulch breaks down). Water and feed. Above ground beds should also be 'edged'. The edging doesn't have to be as high as the mulch and soil - as the mulch breaks down over the next few months the bed will get lower and lower.
You’re now ready for whatever spring throws at you…hopefully baskets of veg, a minimum of snails, luscious meals, and a grand time planting and picking for the whole family.
Your Say: What are your tips for growing a great veggie garden? Tell us at openline@bauer-media.com.au
PHOTO: bauersyndication.com.au.

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