In light of recent challenges in our world as we know it, there has never been a better time to grow your own food! Anyone can grow some vegetables, herbs and leafy greens, no matter the space or experience you have.
Start small and keep it simple. Visit local garden centres to see what’s in season and ask resident experts about preparation and reliable performers for starting out.
In pots: Pots should be filled with premium standard potting mix. Around 10% quality organic matter can be added when growing productive crops. Avoid using garden soils as they become compacted and are poorly drained.
In ground: Before getting started, assess your soil by carrying out:
Soil pH testing. Soil pH indicates the relative acidity and alkalinity of a soil and affects the availability of nutrients to plants. A Manutec soil pH kit is a simple, accurate and economical way to gauge soil pH.
Soil drainage test. Dig several straight-edged holes 30cm wide and deep in the area to be assessed. Fill with water and leave to drain overnight. Re-fill the holes the following day, measuring the depth with a tape measure and straight edge for accuracy. Continue measuring the level hourly until the hole is empty. To calculate the drainage rate, divide the volume of water drained by the number of hours taken. The optimum rate is 50mm per hour. Improvements can be made through measures such as incorporating organic matter and/or raising bed heights.
Soil texture analysis using jar method. Collect a sample of soil from minimum 10cm depth. Place on a sheet of paper, remove organic matter and crush any lumps. 1/4 fill a straight-sided jar with the soil sample before 3/4 filling it with water. Add a squirt of detergent, screw the lid on tightly and shake thoroughly. Observe over 1-2 days. To calculate the percentages and identify your soil type using soil textural triangle, divide the depth of each layer by the total soil depth in the jar, and multiply by 100. (nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/soils/survey/?cid=nrcs142p2_054167). Once assessed and any improvements made, judiciously cultivate soil. Don’t ‘turn’ soils; only ‘loosen’ them to preserve structure. Avoid digging into subsoil as you will compromise drainage. Raise the existing soil height if needed. Incorporate 1/3 organic matter into the soil surface, such as homemade compost. Add a 3cm layer of organic mulch, such as lucerne hay, straw or chopped deciduous leaves. Finally, water in well and you are ready to plant.
Watering needs of plants can vary depending on factors such as soil type, time of year and whether a plant is established or not. A simple gauge is to water if the soil feels dry more than a couple of centimetres down.
Organic fertilisers are ideal as they encourage beneficial soil life, optimum and resilient plant growth, and superior nutrition in food crops. A combination of liquid and slow release fertilisers meets both the immediate and long-term needs of plants. Liquid fertilisers can be added fortnightly when plants are actively growing, and slow release fertilisers, seasonally.
To help your garden grow, check out local organisations and online resources such as:
Canberra Organic Growers Society – cogs.asn.au
Canberra Environment Centre – canberraenvironment.org
Canberra City Farm – ccfarm.org.au
Canberra Seed Savers – canberraseedsavers.org.au
Green Harvest – greenharvest.com.au
The Diggers Club – diggers.com.au
Yates – yates.com.au
Tracey Bool Garden Writer – traceyboolgardenwriter.com