If you are full of enthusiasm for growing and harvesting your own vegetables, don’t hold back. Get out and get planting – but here are tips and advice to ensure success as you start your new gardening adventure.
Spring is the time when the vegie patch is prepared for planting warm-season vegetables. Flowers form and fruit develops allowing harvest from spring plantings in mid to late summer, and even through to autumn when the growing cycle starts all over again with the planting of crops for autumn and winter.
Spring and summer are planting time for warm-season vegies including tomato, zucchini, eggplant, cucumber, sweet corn, pumpkin, capsicum and chilli as well as leafy greens and herbs. The timing of the planting of these plants that love sunshine and warmth is to do with how cold your area is in late winter and spring. Where conditions are warm and frost free, start planting in early spring. In areas with frost, and particularly late frost, hold off planting out tender vegies such as tomato, zucchini, pumpkin and cucumber until the soil is warm and all threat of frost has passed.
Follow this easy, seven-step guide to get you started so you can confidently grow your own tasty edible produce.
Step 1 – When to plant.
- Plant what you like to eat: there Is nothing more rewarding than preparing your favourite dish with edible produce from your patch. Freshly harvested, they’ll taste better too.
- Plant what you have space for: different vegies require different amounts of space. Read the back of seed packets or plant tags on seedlings to ensure your garden bed has the space for them to develop to their full size.
- Plan first: draw a quick design of how your vegie patch will look when plants are in fully grow so you know you will have enough space to fit in the amount you want to grow.
- Container size: if planting into pots, ensure the pot is large enough for the plant variety. When planting more than one plant in a pot, ensure they have space to grow happily together.
Step 2 – Location – in the garden.
- If you have a garden area, plant into soil or create raised garden beds filled with vegetable growing mix. Raised beds work well in areas where soil is poor, hard to dig, doesn’t drain well or for easy access.
- In the garden, look for an area that has at least six hours of sun a day preferably from the morning onwards. If part of the patch is covered by light shade from a tree this can help protect young seedlings or vegies that like a little bit of shade but heavy shade and root competition will make it harder to grow vegetables successfully.
Step 2 – Location – in pots.
- If space is an issue or home is an apartment, plant into pots on a verandah or balcony. Some vegies and fruit including tomatoes and strawberries can be grown in hanging baskets.
- In pots, select an area that receives sun throughout the day. It may be on the back steps, against the fence, on the edge of a balcony, or on a pathway. A positive point for growing in pots is that they can be moved around to capture the sunniest location at different times of the year.
Step 3 – Prepare the soil.
- Different vegies have different soil requirements so check plant tags or seed packets before planting or sowing to see if they have special requirements.
- Generally, vegies like a fertile, free-draining soil, so if drainage is a problem consider raising the soil level slightly, planting into mounds or installing raised garden beds.
- Soil pH for vegetables is generally best in the slightly acid or neutral range (6-7) but most vegetables can cope with acid to slightly alkaline (5.5-7.5).
- Remove all weeds and debris from the site such as rocks and sticks and lightly dig over the soil.
- Dig in compost or well-rotted manure before planting or apply Seasol Liquid Compost.
- A soil rich in nutrients helps build strong plants so add Seasol Plant + Soil Booster (100g per square metre) and a fertiliser such as PowerFeed Controlled Release Tomatoes & Vegetables.
- Water in well and let the soil rest for a week or two then dig in any weeds that have germinated.
- When planting into pots, use a Premium quality potting mix (one with the red tick on the bag) or select one especially formulated for vegies.
Step 4 – Planting out – planning
- Decide what you want to grow and consider each vegetable’s requirements such as sun, support, space, water and fertiliser needs. If you haven’t done a quick design, draw up a plan of your vegie plot so you know your choices can grow successfully together.
- Plant vegetables with the same growing requirements together for example, leafy greens in one area, root vegetables in another and those that require stalking or trellis in another.
- Plant taller vegies at the back of the bed to allow smaller vegies at the front to get the sun as well. If taller plants are at the front, smaller vegies at the back will not get the sun they require to grow.
Step 4 – Planting out – plants
- Don’t just plant vegetables. Including companion plants that may draw in beneficial insects and bees or may hinder a few common pests. Marigolds can deter nematodes and may keep them away from crops. Also beneficial are chives, nasturtiums and borage.
- Before planting, soak the seedling punnet or tray in a bucket of Seasol (30mL concentrate per 9 litres of water) for at least 10 minutes or longer. This process assures the seedling is well hydrated and helps reduce transplant shock and aid plant establishment.
- When sowing seed or planting seedlings, follow the directions on the seed packet or plant tag for recommendations on plant spacing, depth of planting, size of plants.
Step 5 – Mulch and water – mulch
- Once vegies are in the ground or a pot, water them in well to help them get established. At this stage, don’t apply any fertiliser as they are still getting over being moved.
- Mulch the vegie plot or pot with organic mulch such as pea straw, chopped lucerne or sugar cane mulch. These types of mulches eventually break down and improve the soil but also help to reduce weed growth, and keep the soil moist and cool over hot summer days.
Step 5 – Mulch and water – water
- Water in the cool of the day. As a general guide, watering early morning is better than late at night, as plants will use the water during the day when the sun is out. Moist overnight conditions can also encourage fungal disease such as powdery mildew. However, if the plants are dry and especially if they are wilting, water them whatever the time of day.
- Check soil moisture daily during late spring, summer and early autumn and water if it feels dry. Do not let the soil dry out for too long as this can affect plant growth and fruiting. However, overwatering can be detrimental too if water saturates the soil and root zone and washes away nutrients. During hot periods, check plants in the early morning and in the evening and water as needed.
- Continue to apply Seasol every 1 to 2 weeks to promote strong root development, healthy growth and increased tolerance to heat, drought, pests and diseases.
Step 6 – Feeding plants
- Think of vegie plants as hungry teenage boys: they like to be feed often and a lot. A productive liquid feeding is a good fertiliser option for hungry plants, as it gets nutrients to the plants straightaway.
- When plants are young, start with a smaller dose and increase it, as plants get larger they start producing flowers and fruits. PowerFeed PRO SERIES for Tomatoes & Vegetables or PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives are perfect for vegie plants. Not only do these products feed the plants, they feed the soil as well, replacing much-needed nutrients. A good approach is to start with a rate of 20mL of concentrate of water (standard watering can) and as the plant grows increase the dose to 50mL of concentrate per 9 litres of water applied every 2 to 4 weeks.
- Different plants require different nutrients to produce their crop, which is why there are vegetable fertilisers with different formulations and recommended uses. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce and spinach require a fertiliser that has a higher percentage of nitrogen to stimulate leaf growth but less potassium as leafy vegies are not being grown to produce flowers or fruit. Zucchini, capsicum and cucumber however, require a formula with lower rates of nitrogen as excess leaf growth isn’t the desired outcome. Instead they need a higher percentage of potassium to encourage flowering and fruiting such as is found in PowerFeed PRO SERIES for Roses & Flowers.
- To keep the vegie patch in top condition also apply PowerFeed Controlled Release Plant Food for Tomatoes & Vegetables. This granular plant food contains a desirable balance of nutrients plus seaweed and beneficial microbes to revitalise soils, improving its structure. Apply PowerFeed Controlled Release for Tomatoes and Vegetables every season or ideally every 6 to 8 weeks during the growing period. Water in thoroughly after application.
Step 7 – Plant care and harvest – pests.
- As plants grow, check them daily to ensure they are growing well. Look for signs of pests and diseases and take swift action if any are found. Telltale signs are chewed leaves or damaged fruit. These are the main pests and diseases to watch for.
- Snails and slugs are the most commonly encountered garden pests. They are particularly damaging to seedlings and leafy greens such as lettuce. For an organic preventative treatment, spread coffee grounds, broken eggshells or wood savings around vulnerable or new plants or set up snail traps using saucers of beer, which is highly attractive to these pests. If these methods don’t control the pests, use organic snail bait based on iron that is pet and wildlife safe. Snails and slugs are generally active at night, especially after rain, which are good times to search for and removed them from plants. Either squash them underfoot or drown them in soapy water.
Step 7 – Plant care and harvest – pests.
- Aphids can quickly weaken many crops, as they suck all the water and nutrients out of the leaves and may spread viruses. Squash, wash them off the plants with a jet of water, use a soap spray. Alternatively spray with an appropriate insecticide such as Sharp Shooter Pyrethrum Insect Concentrate. Before using any insecticide carefully check for predators such as ladybird larvae or wasps.
- If it’s too warm or the plant dries out, it may bolt (move from a leafy to flowering stage) and go to seed. Bolting affects leafy plants such as coriander and lettuce as well as root vegetables such as radish. At this point, leaves often become bitter and inedible or the root becomes woody. As leafy and root vegetables reach the end of their life cycle they will also begin to flower.
Step 7 – Plant care and harvest – diseases.
- Caterpillars love to chomp on plant leaves and shoots, but also attack flower heads. Keep a close eye on plants to discover these little critters and pick them off by hand and squash them.
- Powdery mildew, a fungal disease, can be a problem for many vegies especially cucurbits such as zucchini, pumpkin and squash. Other fungal disease may cause brown holes in the leaves such as may be seen on silverbeet or beetroot. Remove any damaged leaves as they appear and avoid wetting the leaves while watering. While there are fungicides for these diseases most are not registered for use on edible plants.
For specific vegie pests, diseases and problems check out our individual “How to grow Vegetable” fact sheets at https://www.seasol.com.au/home-garden/handy-hints/vegetables/
Step 7 – Plant care and harvest – harvest
- Anual picking or waiting until the whole plant is ready to harveWhen harvest time comes around, harvest vegies when they are at their peak. For leafy vegies this may start by harvesting the older or outer leaves for a contist. For fast-growing vegetables such as cucumber and zucchini pick while the fruit is small. Do not leave vegies on the plant beyond their peak as most become unpalatable and can also signal to the plant to stop the production of future edible produce and finish its life cycle by flowering and setting seed.
- As plants get older and the vegie harvest is almost over, remove dead and diseased foliage as this may harbour infection that can spread. Once production has finished, remove the plant (it can be composted or if edible fed to chickens) and improve the soil with organic compost and manure ready for a new crop. Also remove stakes and ties.