Getting ready for your summer vegetable garden

What does a good vegetable garden need?

• A soil-type medium to hold the plants;

• Sufficient good nutrition at the right time;

• At least six hours of sunlight daily;

• A source of water (harvested rain water or tap water is good, although there is lots of interesting research nowadays on using grey water from the bath or basins).

Now is the time to start planning your vegetable garden, taking the above into account. Start your summer vegetable garden with lots of home-made compost – at least 1 wheelbarrow of compost to 2 – 3m2 of ground. This is spread out and dug in at least 15cm deep. Beds are usually long narrow beds (to allow for easy access from two sides) that are slightly raised. You can either sow your own seeds directly in the garden (following instructions on the seed packet) or sow them in seed trays. To get an early start, sow seeds in trays and keep them indoors in a very light room until the last frosts have come and gone. When sowing seeds, don’t forget to keep them moist at all times, and if sown in the veggie garden, place a very light mulch layer over them to help retain moisture.

Some pests that you may have to deal with:

Cutworms: The main damage from cutworms occurs at night, when caterpillars feed on young seedlings by clipping off seedling stems and young plants near or just below the soil surface. Organic control includes regularly cultivating the soil, hand searching for the worms about 0.5cm below the soil surface, placing a cardboard ring around seedlings (inserted at least 2cm into the soil) or spreading a thin trail of diatomaceous earth around the plants.

Aphids: There are so many different species in many different colours (black to green to white, winged species). All of them play a role in sucking sap. To eradicate them there are several suitable organic insecticides that can be used. Don’t forget that ants and aphids often have a symbiotic relationship (ants protect the aphids from predators and aphids in turn provide the ants with a sugar rich sticky liquid called honeydew). So what you need to do is also get rid of the ants.

Rats and mice: These vermin often eat away at crops, which is all the more reason to look after local populations of predator birds (such as black-shouldered kites and owls), mongooses and even those elusive snakes, as they all help keep down rodent populations.

Thrips: Thrips are tiny insects that suck the sap from plants. Vegetable plant leaves may turn pale, splotchy and silvery, and eventually die. Affected plants can become twisted, discoloured, stunted and scarred. Organic insecticides will do the job, and those containing neem oil can also be used.

Some other ideas to consider when planning your vegetable garden:

• Plan and stagger your crop. As an example, 10 bean plants are more than enough for a family of four. If you stagger your planting and plant the crops about 45 days apart, this will allow for continuous production well into autumn.

• Don’t be tempted to plant the seedlings too close together. They need air and light to grow into full-bodied plants. Plants planted too close together don’t necessarily produce a bigger harvest. Follow instructions for distances between plants.

• Carefully watch the watering of your plants. Both over- and under-watering can harm production.

• Keep the weeds under control as they compete with your vegetables for nutrients, space and water.

• Mulch the soil between your plants. This helps to reduce weeds and water loss.

• Don’t be limited by space. If all you have is a small patio, try planting a few vegetable plants, such as tomatoes, beans, peppers or spinach, in containers.

By Leslie Hoy

For more information on Water Wise vegetable gardening, visit www.randwater.co.za and click on the Water Wise logo. Alternatively, email us at waterwise@randwater.co.za or call 0860 10 10 60.

The Gardener