A pioneer, an independent operator, off the grid and proud of it – well, that is a distant dream for most of us, anyway.
What is it about the freedom of living off the land which appeals to us on so many levels?
Why do we focus on some far-fetched fantasy of wilderness existence, when the real deal is quite the opposite?
The reality of subsistence farming is a whole different kettle of fish. It’s hard to work the land, to tame the wild out of it. Every organism crying out against your pitchfork and spade, willing your newly-planted potatoes to disappear into oblivion.
Insects, plants and the elements conspire to return the exquisite vegetable patch back to its overgrown natural state, weeds included.
Is it worth it? We think so. What could be better than the feeling of accomplishment in taming a patch of ground?
Then witnessing the fascinating growth from seeds and offcuts into beautiful, healthy, nutritious ingredients for our next family meal. What a rush!
Here are six tips for creating a successful vegetable patch:
1. Work with the land
Nature knows best; and if you don’t believe it, you can find out the hard way.
The power of Mother Nature will blow you away (and perhaps some of your vegetables, too), so take a careful look at the landscape before you start digging.
Check out the slope – will the loose soil be washed away with the rains? Look at the sun to shade relationship – do the vegetables need full sun, morning sun, partial shade or a combination?
2. Location, location, location
Location is everything, especially if you want a variety of vegetables over the different seasons. Some important factors to consider would be:
- the richness of the soil,
- the animals and birds in the area,
- access for pets and small children
- the direction of thunderstorms (mine always come towards us from the same side of the house)
- accessibility to a water source
3. Seasonal Produce
There is no perfect month to start a vegetable garden, because the beauty of the seasons is what makes it so rewarding. Some vegetables grow better in summer, others in spring and autumn.
Winter is generally a pruning, weeding, waiting season, but if you live in a temperate climate, it is just as easy to plant then, too.
Read up about your crops (or keep an eye on the grocer’s shelves) for a good idea of what to expect in that season.
Growing offcuts (like the heads of carrots, or the soft potatoes at the bottom of the bag) is a wonderful way to stay in season if you stick with local produce and avoid the imported fruits and vegetables.
4. All In
No organic substance goes to waste and everything can be used to prepare, fertilise and grow the vegetables. Start a compost heap or a worm farm with organic kitchen waste.
Use the grass cuttings to create mulch before planting, or use it to protect the new shoots from pesky weeds and relentless grass by laying it over the open spaces between the vegetables.
Use cardboard in your compost heap and water the garden with grey water from your dishes and your baths. Country living is all in!
5. Elemental success
The power of the elements is no small matter, so this is a huge factor to consider when choosing both a location and the seedlings.
If you have freezing winters you may consider a greenhouse or a vertical garden for your porch (although radishes, for example, grow beautifully and can be stored outside in a homemade freezer during the winters (a hole in the ground lined with wood).
Access to water (and rain) is probably the most important consideration, especially if you are going to need the motivation to keep on watering the garden, or are lugging buckets grey water from your bath to the garden.
Consider rain tanks (placed at a higher altitude than the garden so you can run a gravity-fed hose easily).
6. Let it grow
Finally, let it grow. Be patient. A little water, a little sun, a little worm wee and soon it will be time to shoot roots; and then bloom.
Sometimes a vegetable garden needs a spirit of experimentation (do the tomatoes need to be planted or just chucked on top of the compost heap?) and if you take the time to notice the details, you will soon see which methods and relationships work best.
Straight lines and carefully dug holes are not always the most effective.
Don’t harvest too early and you’ll soon be enjoying your freshly-picked vegetables on the dining room table.
What an amazing feeling, pioneer! Leave some of the excess produce (and all the off-cuts) to decompose and give back to the soil. The next crop will thank you for it.