Photo: Chris Morrison @ Kings Plant Barn Takapuna - Questions answered by Billy Aiken @ Kings Plant Barn St Lukes.
Many people we know would love to build a vege garden at home to cut down on food bills, can you please tell us what tools and equipment one might need to get started?
Oddly this isn’t an easy question to answer because it depends a bit on what sort of garden you will have, and how you prefer to work.
If you’re on a budget, the tools that you definitely can’t do without (unless you’re planting in pots) are a garden fork and a spade, as without them forming beds or aerating soil will be incredibly difficult.
Trowels are also a good place to start as they make planting out your seedlings way easier.
Niwashi (A Traditional Japanese Garden Tool), and the sharks and grubbers are also a great investment as they make weeding by hand way easier.
Often it’s a good idea to get the essentials and then slowly build up the tools as you get a better idea about what you need
Where is the best place to plant the garden? How much sunlight do the plants need?
Most Veggies will grow best in relatively free draining soils, rich in organic matter and nutrients. But don’t despair if your soil isn’t great as a big part of gardening (especially organic gardening) is working to improve your soils.
Most veggie plants will grow best in full sun (at least 6 hours of sun). However, plants like coriander, rocket, parsley, and lettuce will often do best in summer when they are in part shade.
What are the best edible vegetables/leafy greens and herbs to plant at this time in the year?
Most of your leafy greens such as lettuce, silverbeet, cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach and bok choi can be grown through winter. As can broad beans, peas, leeks, carrots, parsnips, and beetroot. But it’s best to get these in quick as you want them to get to a decent size before it cools down and they stop growing as quickly.
It’s also a great time to start planting onion, shallots and garlic. But these won’t be ready for around 6 months.
There are lots of different soils that we can buy, topsoils, composts, etc. Could you please explain the difference and uses for each?
If you are growing in pots it is definitely worth getting a potting mix. Composts and topsoils will tend to shrink, and go solid in a pot when they dry out, and once they’re dry are quite hard to get wet again. As a result plants grown in pots in the wrong mix will often struggle and regularly die.
Whether you grow/make your own or buy it is a great way to add organic matter and nutrients to your soil. But planting straight into compost isn’t advisable as it is too rich. Instead spread it over your garden beds and then lightly fork it in.
Topsoil is the upper layer of soil, around 5-20cm deep. Healthy topsoil should have a higher concentration of organic matter, and soil microbes compared with deep layers in the soil.
Bringing in topsoil is sometimes necessary but normally I’d advise trying to improve the soil you already have. The bags we have isn’t guaranteed weed free but is useful if you need to fill up potholes or significantly raise the level of your soil. Though if you’re making raised veggie beds veggie mix may be a better option.
Living Earths Organic Veggie Mix is basically a mix of compost, bark and other organic materials - great for your garden at home.
Conventional chemical fertilisers work by providing many of the nutrients that plants need to grow in a water-soluble form that can be easily taken up by the plants. And in many ways soil is treated like a growing medium rather than as the complex eco system that it is.
Organic methods of growing aim to improve the soil, to work with and enhance the natural processes to facilitate the growing of healthy and nutritious veggies. Chemical fertilisers often inhibit the growth of many of the beneficial microbes and fungi within the soil.
I would love to cut down on my landfill waste at home, do you have any tips on how can I set up a compost system, and also any information I might need to take care of it?
Great and easy way to turn your uncooked green waste into compost. Sometimes the advice people are given about making compost makes it seem difficult, but ultimately if you stick uncooked veggie scraps and weeds into a pile they will eventually rot down and form compost. Though if you are using weeds make sure that they aren’t invasive or noxious weeds and if you can avoid putting them in your compost when they’ve gone to seed you will make your life much easier further down the track.
Compost bins make the whole process of making compost easy in a small space as everything is nicely contained.
Tumbler bins are a great way to speed the process of making compost as you ‘turn over’ your compost by turning a handle. Turning the compost over speeds the whole process up as it helps aerate the compost, which helps speed up decomposition.
Worm farms are a great way to use some of your food scraps to produce high quality organic fertilisers. The liquid produced should be diluted (about 1 cup into a 10l watering can) and can be used on all your veggies to give them a bit of a boost. The solids produced are mix of worm castings and composted materials and this will give your veggies and soil a boost if you top dress sparingly and lightly fork it in.
But there are several things that you should avoid putting into your worm farms, including any scraps produced from meat, onions, garlic, citrus fruit, oily foods, spicy foods, pasta, and bread.
A bokashi system is a great way to turn cooked and uncooked food scraps into compost.
Keeping the garden growing can be a challenge sometimes, do you have any general tips for maintaining the garden - watering etc?
Bare patches of soil are a great way to grow weeds. So planting up bare patches and mulching can avoid a lot of weeding.
Healthy soil makes everything easier. Soil rich in organic matter will retain more moisture through the drier months and drain better while it’s wet. Soil full of beneficial microbes and fungi is less likely to be colonised by diseases. All of which should make growing healthy plants easier.
Water plants regularly in the drier months, but avoid wetting the foliage of tomatoes, pumpkins, cucumbers, and courgette plants, and if possible water in the morning.
Mulching in summer helps the soil retain moisture, and should reduce your watering needs.
If you are worried about something, even if it’s only a small problem come into Kings and ask as it’s better to catch and deal with issues early before they really effect your plants.
Pallet Garden Inspiration
If you were going to plant one edible plant for the rest of your life, that would have the best growing track record, and also taste great, what would it be?
Sorrell, it’s a perennial leafy green with a sharp lemon like flavour. As it’s a perennial it will happily keep growing in the same spot year after year, and it’s relatively hardy so won’t need lots of looking after.
It’s great when added to salads or used to make a French style sorrel soup.