These days, we have little ability to feel truly connected to nature and our community. Our time is spent stuck indoors, glued to our laptops and extracted from food production, the natural world and our neighbourhood. Gardening can be a meaningful way to restore your connection with nature, providing a chance for you to get some fresh air, stick your toes in the soil and be inspired by the natural processes involved in growing your own food. While this is by no means a definitive guide, we have a few tips on starting your own veggie patch.
Step 1: Which plants suit you?
The first thing you need to consider is where your plants will go. Most herbs and veggies require a lot of sunlight (6–8 hours a day) in order to thrive, so take stock of where in your house or garden is well-lit throughout the day.
If you do have an outdoor space that gets a lot of regular sunshine, then you’ll be able to plant pretty much anything. But beware of vining vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers—they require either a lot of room to grow or a lot of attention to prune so your garden isn’t overrun.
If you only have a windowsill to work with, then herbs are definitely the way to go. They don’t require much room to grow, and will be in a perfect spot for you to snip some lovely flavours for cooking.
If you only have limited light, you may want to try leafy produce like lettuce and kale or root vegetables like beetroot and carrots; they can survive in lower light but more patience is required!
If you do have a lot of room and a lot of sun, native Australian edible plants are a great option. In NSW, plants such as the Fraser Island Apple, Midgem Berry, and Burdekin Plum all produce beautiful fruits and help attract native pollinators to your area. However, plants like these generally grow quite large and require a fair amount of sunlight, so take that into consideration before you get started.
Step 2: Get growing!
You can often find seeds or small plants at your local nursery or Bunnings store—check if you can order online, or even ask a friend or family member if they have some they are willing to donate. Make sure you check which season is best for planting when you do!
Have a think about what plants grow well together and what combinations to avoid. Companion planting is a great way to help a garden flourish, as it can mimic the way that plants grow naturally by creating a microclimate in whichever patch of garden you have chosen.
If you want to grow tomatoes, make it an Italian section and grow basil and rosemary as well. If you’re growing cabbages, root vegetables like carrots and parsnips can really help them flourish. Mint, rosemary, and onions also help to repel different insects and pests, with onions being particularly great at repelling aphids. Don’t be afraid to layer plants too—growing herbs and leafy greens beneath vines or tall-stemmed plants will mean you can get more from less space, and the density will help to keep pests away.
Alternatively, get resourceful and try growing vegetables from scraps you might have thrown away! For most fruits, you simply want to pick out a couple of seeds and either plant them in a seed starter kit, or you could use an old egg carton filled with soil and placed inside a tupperware container. These will act as mini greenhouses—just remember to put it someplace with a lot of light and to add some water to it so that you see condensation.
For onions, lettuce, and celery, cut away the base and place it in a bowl of water (or a baking tray) and wait for the roots to grow. Roots may take a few weeks to develop, so be patient and remember to change the water when you can. Once the roots are an inch or longer you can plant them in soil.
Growing from cuttings is another way to go if you have the space in a garden, and it’s a great opportunity to talk to friends or neighbours and see if you can share shoots, roots, or produce.
When the seedlings are ready to plant properly, make sure you’ve prepared a garden bed or the right-sized pot with a good amount of fresh soil. Potting mix is best for herbs and smaller vegetables, while bigger plants, vines, and root vegetables do well in layered garden beds. You can build these layers up by starting with shredded newspaper, then alternating layers of fresh soil and compost or manure mix, and finishing with a layer of mulch if necessary. Mulch will keep weeds away and help to maintain the moisture and temperature of the soil.
Step 3: Problem solving
In order for veggie patches to thrive, they do require some maintenance. Besides watering and sunlight, your plants need nutrients! So make sure that every so often (each fortnight or so) you fertilise your plants either with some plant food, manure, or compost.
Watch your plants for pests and try to remove them as soon as you see them appear, as they do work frustratingly fast. There is the pesticide route, however there are a lot of milder forms of pest control: wiping leaves and stems with a bit of soapy water, or even placing copper tape down can deter slugs, mites, and caterpillars. Aphids are often deterred by a squirt from a spray bottle, and if mixed with a dash of mint oil this spray will keep most other insects away too.
If you lose any plants, don’t give up! Growing great veggies takes time and a lot of patience. Even the most experienced gardeners are always learning new things, so don’t expect to get it right the first time. Do your research and keep trying—we promise that your hard work will pay off!
We hope that by igniting your green thumb you are reminded of the healing and regenerative aspects of nature. It would be a great idea to use your new skills to connect with your neighbours and community. You could exchange seeds, let them know what works in your local soil conditions or give them herbs for dinner. Your garden is an opportunity to feel a sense of normalcy and connection with others.