Previously we designed our own organic area. This week we will focus on how to get your plants growing strong and healthily. Follow these easy steps and watch your veggies grow!
Step 1: Assess
Have a good look at your vegetables. Do any of your leafy greens look like they are being eaten? Are they a bit limp or are they changing colour and do you notice little insects under the leaves?
Step 2: Control plants
It is a common problem when planting new plants into an area, that they are virtually eaten alive. As you have cleared out a small portion of the existing garden, there are still existing insects around. Previously we spoke a little bit about companion plants: companion plants are an absolute life saver!
I am opposed to using pesticides and chemicals to get rid of insects, as these poisons go into the soil and kill all the good microorganisms. Companion plants are a much better way of controlling pesky bugs in all gardens. Have a look at last week’s article (and keep on reading below) for some companion plants that you can use to ward off bugs adjacent to your more delicate leafy greens.
Next: if your plants are looking a bit limp, use your senses! Does the ground look and feel dry? If the answer is “yes”, then you may have to increase your watering – frequency and/or duration. Bear in mind that as it is getting colder you should water in the mornings only. This will stop the frost from forming on your veggies and they won’t get burnt so quickly when the sun’s rays act like a magnifying glass through the tiny drops of dew which form overnight.
If your veggies look like they are changing from green to yellowish (especially around the edge of the leaves), this is a sign that their nutrients are being washed away and are unable to be absorbed. This is called leaching.
Step 3: Come equipped, looking the part
Tools you’ll need are a fork, rake, spade, hand shovel and a pair of secateurs.
Hat, gloves and comfy shoes are [again!] the order of the day. If your aim with a spade and fork, isn’t great, take a leaf out of my book and get yourself a pair of steel-capped boots as an added precaution! Remember to apply sunscreen, too!
Step 4: Clear it up
This is the fun part! Use the secateurs to cut off any of the damaged, bug infested or limp leaves. It is an “old wives’ tale” that using a fork to turn the soil will help aerate the soil: natural microorganisms do that really well (so earthworms are a good thing!). Using a fork around smaller seedlings also damages the tiny roots, so even though it looks great, try refrain from using your fork to turn the soil in a planted bed.
As it is autumn, you will probably have leaves and other organic matter around your herbs and vegetables. Use a rake to remove the debris. A rubber rake does this really well without damaging the soil and tiny plants. Rake the debris into a separate section of your garden and start a small compost heap.
Now don’t add those bug-infested leaves to that compost heap! Why not? Well, adding those leaves will just make the infestation worse. The bugs may breed, and adding the compost to the rest of the garden would help the insects and unwanted microorganisms move around. Those bug-infested leaves are best thrown away or burnt.
For a cure to bug infested plants, I use companion planting. Parsley is excellent for deterring all types of insects. I plant it next to lettuce, spinach, basil, broccoli and mealies. Sometimes I plant a row of spring onions followed by a row of lettuce or spinach. You will be amazed at how these plants work well together! Geraniums, chives, celery, marigolds, coriander, onions and wild garlic are excellent companion plants.
If your problem is leaching, I would recommend buying some compost and placing that around the seedlings to give them a bit of extra nourishment – like your daily vitamin pills, it’ll work wonders! There is a wonderful liquid fertiliser called Nitrosol which can be bought from most Pick n Pay retailers, garden centres and nurseries. Nitrosol is high in nitrogen and thus is excellent for helping yellowed plants recover. This amazing liquid fertiliser can be used on your indoor plants too. Ensure to read the instructions for application of the fertiliser carefully.
Step 6: Patience
The hardest thing to do after planting a veggie garden is to wait for the plants to grow. Spinach, lettuce, coriander, celery and basil take about three weeks to grow before you can start picking them. Mealies and tomatoes take about eight to 12 weeks to bear cobs and fruit, respectively. Don’t give up, especially when temperatures drop. The best time to work in your garden is when it is just warm enough to stay outside – working in your garden will warm you up, so don’t give up! Even if it is miserable outdoors, it is amazing how just spending five minutes doing some weeding inspires you to do more. You will see how quickly you go from being sluggish to really proactive and productive!
Once maintenance has been done, make sure to water your winter veggie garden three times per week. As we head into winter and the nights get cooler, I would recommend watering in the mornings only. Because of water restrictions, this means you’ll be watering just before 6am.
Once your plants begin to grow you will be able to share them with your family and friends. How exciting! Your home-grown veggies will even taste different from shop-bought ones. The time will soon arrive to enjoy the crops from your harvest!
Stay tuned for more organic winter gardening tips as we take you through building a sustainable and nutrient-rich garden that you can literally enjoy the fruits of!
If you have any gardening questions, email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Who is Nicholas Spargo?
Nicholas Spargo, owner of Spargo Landscape Consultants, has been in the landscape trade for 12 years as well as being a lecturer at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre for the past year. He was awarded a Gold for a design at the Lifestyle Garden Design Centre Design Show in 2008, is an Invasive Species Consultant and is affiliated with the South African Green Industries Council.
Landscaping and education are very close to his heart.