Our vegetable garden: a learning journey

Since my first post about wanting a garden of my very own (here), a jolly long time has passed, and two rounds of spring plantings and spring-summer harvests.  We have achieved modest results, but I have savoured every home-grown mouthful! Let me take you through it.  (At the very least, our less than spectacular efforts are sure to make you feel better about your own veggie garden, or if you don’t have one yet, give you confidence that if our half-hearted attempts can produce a bounty of delicious, fresh produce, imagine what you can achieve if you actually put some effort in!)

We started with a garden overgrown with Vinca major (aka periwinkle, an environmental weed here in Australia, see here). We decided to start small, with just two small plots.  My girlfriend marked out two plots with some scavenged edging:

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She then managed to pull out most of the periwinkle inside the plots (kudos, hard job!), lay down some cardboard, and spread out a bit of our first lot of home-made compost for the beginnings of a ‘no-dig’ garden:

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Once the compost was down, our Labrador decided the garden was very interesting, so we had to build a fence to stop him getting in and hoovering all the organic matter.  After a few preliminary rounds of break-ins followed by tweaking/strengthening, the fence was deemed adequately dog-proofed (or so we thought-  later, when we had planted things and placed delicious smelling beer and oil traps for the earwigs and snails, Clifford improved significantly in his breaking and entering skills, and lapped up all the beer and oil.  Multiple times.  Our fence strengthening skills have come a long way thanks to Clifford).

Now where was I… right, the cardboard and compost was down, we built a fence from hand-me-down chicken wire and wooden stakes from the neighbours, and I kinda ruined the pristine white rubber paving mallet that my friend leant me hammering all the splintery stakes in.   Then my girlfriend started building the no-dig garden with layers of cow manure and lucerne.  She got a few layers down, then covered it all in sugar cane straw, which you can see in these photos, as well as one of the earlier fence attempts:

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By this time, spring was well upon us, and it was too late to start planting from seeds, so we went to Bunnings and bought a bunch of seedlings- mainly tomatoes, lettuces, capsicums and herbs I think.  We potted the seedlings into bigger pots just til they got a little bigger, and we fully intended to plant them out in the garden, but I think at that point other life things took over.  The garden lay half done, with seedlings in pots plonked onto our nicely prepared garden beds, pots and all.

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I’m sure there were more pots than that, they must have still been sitting on the potting table.  I did manage to mock up a bit of a watering system for them so they wouldn’t die, out of polypipe I had found strewn about in our yard, and the relevant connectors etc from Bunnings (you can see a bit of it here):

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Megan managed to plant out the lettuces and a few beer/oil traps, and meanwhile a self-seeded pumpkin plant had started to grow and thrive:

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That’s as far as we got the first year.  The tomatoes and capsicums never got planted out, the lettuces kind of drowned and never yielded much useful salad leaves, but we got a HUGE continuous crop of tomatoes of various varieties, a few cute little capsicums and some jolly splendid pumpkins!  Here is one of our beefsteak tomatoes, and the pumpkins may be from our garden, or may be the delicious home grown pumpkins that one of our other friends gave us (I can’t remember, but we did grow quite a few just as big):

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The next year was a BIG improvement.  Learning from the last year, we got our act together a bit earlier, Megan added more layers of cow manure, lucerne and sugar cane straw to the no-dig beds, planted out seedlings of tomatoes, corn, squash, eggplant, cucumber, beans and lettuces, I rigged up a new watering system feeding every plant, watered every day over the hot summer (abiding by water restrictions) and fed the growing crops with Seasol liquid fertilizer periodically (the seaweed-based one, not the fish-based one, so I believe it is vegan), and our garden grew into a highly productive jungle!

Tomato jungle, plum tree in the background

Tomato jungle, lettuces underneath, plum tree in the background

corn

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squash and beans at the base of the corn

squash and beans at the base of the corn

a bean climbing up the corn

a bean climbing up the corn

We had a rather large water bill from such regular deep waterings, but the results were fabulous, and we were collecting daily harvests like this one below for weeks over the growing season:

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Unfortunately I can’t find any photos of the eggplant harvests, but we got numerous beautiful little purple finger eggplants 😀  Our lettuces were once again a bit disappointing. I think we might need to rethink our strategy with lettuces.  I also can’t find the photos I took of my beautiful weeper hose watering system that I constructed for the second year- I had a mishap with my phone being dropped in the toilet, so perhaps that’s where they were…

It is coming to the end of winter now, and so if we want another garden this year, we should get cracking!  I was thinking of making raised beds with edging that is a bit more solid out of second hand wooden sleepers and stakes from The Green Shed, but I won’t know what they’ve been treated with, so I’m not sure if that is a good idea. I was also thinking of pulling second hand pallets apart and building raised bed edges from them, but again, unsure what they have been treated with.  Hmmm. Do any local Canberra readers know if the plain unpainted pallets used here would be safe?  Perhaps I should save my pocket money and buy some sleepers from Bunnings…

So that’s the story of our veggie garden so far.  It is such a good feeling to bring in fresh, flavoursome produce that we have grown ourselves, it definitely tasted better than the supermarket stuff, and along with the delicious nectarines, plums and cherries that grew all by themselves, we have had some pretty smashing feasts!

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