Saving big bucks in the backyard

21 March 2012
We have started planting our new season vegetable garden. We do our main planting in March and continue planting until November. Depending on the weather, we usually keep harvesting until late December. The soils are then left to rest for two months and we start the cycle again in March. Organising our gardening like that gives the soil a chance to rest but it also lets us rest too over the hottest months. This system works well for us.

Every time we replant, be that at this main March planting or during the year with our numerous succession plantings, we enrich the soil with organic matter like compost, manures and worm castings. During the year we also dig in any straw mulch that is still on the surface, that gives the soil good structure. 

This is the most important thing I will write about planting today: you must enrich your soil before you plant and every time you replant. No amount of fertiliser later in the year will make up for not doing this. Placing your plant roots in rich, fertile soil really pays off. If you're digging a new garden, you'll probably spend a week or two getting your soil ready before you plant. This is not wasted time, it is a time honoured way of working with your organic garden and is an investment in your future harvests.

We plant both seedlings and seeds. Most of our root crops are planted as seeds, so this includes carrots, turnips, radishes, beetroot, swedes (rutabaga), parsnips. We plant potatoes and sweet potatoes as sprouting tubers. Garlic goes in now in our climate - I have stored ours in a brown paper bag in the crisper of the fridge for a couple of weeks to mimic a cold winter. When the garlic is planted, it "thinks" it's Spring and grows as if it's coming out of a cold winter. Garlic takes a long time to mature. When the green tops emerge above the soil, you'll see them for a long time until they start going brown and dying back. That is usually when they're ready to harvest.

We plant kale as both seedlings and seeds but most of our leafy greens are grown as seedlings. This includes Chinese greens like pak choi and lombok. We plant many more than we will eat and share because the chooks love them too. They grow fast - eight weeks and they're ready, so there is a constant supply. We replant Chinese greens all through the year. The leafy green category also includes lettuce, silver beet (chard), spinach, cabbage, brussel sprouts.

Flowering vegetables and fruit such as tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchinis are planted as seeds in trays,  raised as seedlings, and are then planted out in the garden. There is a post about how we plant tomatoes here.  They're an important crop for us and if we take a bit of care with them we reap the benefits. In our climate it's too cold for capsicum, eggplant, corn or pumpkins right now. We keep our capsicum bushes going, but don't expect them to produce anything until it warms up again.

Basically, root crops don't like too much manure, especially not clumps of it, and nothing fresh. Leafy greens like a lot of nitrogen, so they love enriched soil with plenty of manure. Flowering vegetables like sulphate of potash to help with flowering and root structure, but don't give them too much nitrogen because you'll get a lot of leaves and very few vegetables. Most vegetables love being mulched, but they don't like the mulch touching their stems. The exception to this rule is tomatoes - they love mulch touching their stems and a nice thick layer of mulch built up along the lower part of the stem. Make sure the lower leaves on the tomatoes are pricked off.

All seedlings like a good watering as soon as they're planted and if you have some seaweed concentrate, make up a seaweed tea and use that to water in. The plants will love you for it. Tomorrow we'll talk about making your own fertilisers at home. This increases your level of self reliance and also gives you excellent harvest at little cost.

At the moment our vegetable garden is a mess of half-prepared beds and weeds but it won't take long to get it back to full production. It's something both Hanno and I are very excited about this year. We expect to bypass the high prices and often inferior quality in supermarkets and produce our own fresh organic vegetables. And this year, more than ever, it's important that we succeed with every crop. If you have the space I encourage you to do the same. What are your garden plans this year?


  1. This year I am going to plant out carrots and onions, with marigolds as a companion. I am also going to try wild rocket for the first time. It's very exciting!

    However, I just spent a few days digging out the patch again, and my blisters are a sight to behold :( it might be a couple of days before I'm motivated to get out there again and actually put in the crop!

  2. Your gardens look lovely. I hope mine look as nice.

  3. So do you not have much of a winter where you are at? It sounds like you have a very long growing season.

  4. April, we have, by our standards, a coldish winter but we have no snow or frosts. Our nights get down to 2-3C but most days are 18-20C. It's great weather for growing vegetables and the bonus is there are far fewer bugs than in summer.

  5. I have bought some locally grown garlic bulbs to replant and hopefully, after the long wait, will have some to share with others...I get a kick out of sharing abundant crops.
    I am in Central Victoria & we are expecting a cold, wet Winter



  6. I'm in Canada and I'm in the process of devising a year-round food growing plan, both indoors and outdoors. Other cold climate gardeners have found it works so I'm breaking out of the May to September mindset and planning on continuous seed starting and use of cold frames. Wish me luck! It will be rather dreamy to eat my own spinach in January.

  7. This season we have been trying to put more effort into enriching the soil first before we plant as you discussed, i think we have let this slide a little and it showed in the last few crops.
    We are still working out the best way to age and use the chook manure too (it fills the compost too quickly with the straw so thinking a separate compost pile is needed?)
    I have tried to plant as many seeds as possible this season to save money and am very pleased that they have all started to come up already and now ready for planting out.Such a great feeling to produce seedlings isn't it?
    I seem to have a problem with successive planting and am never quite sure how often to keep replanting so we have an even crop so perhaps shall try and work on that this season too!
    I do love looking at the vegies growing while i wash up though and this season the twins are old enough to start helping in the garden...we had a seed planting morning with the girls which was messy but so rewarding and would perhaps put a smile on your face if you have the time to visit
    Thanks so much for the wealth of information in this post Rhonda...will look forward to tomorrows topic too!

  8. Here in FL even though today was the first day of spring we are already experiencing summer weather, so we'll keep the tomatos and greens we have going as long as we can, then take the summer off. Between the heat and the bugs, nothing much grows. I may try luffas again though--they seemed to like the heat. Then we'll start planting again in the fall--probably October, unless September is cooler than usual like last year.

  9. Fantastic post! Great information!!!!

    Would you ever consider writing for my new magazine? You're a powerhouse of knowledge!

  10. Up here in the tropics, we have had such a lot of rain lately, but for the past two days the sun has been shining and I think this wet season may be on its way out at last! I always try a few seeds early in the season, just in case we get a window, but I think this weekend is definitely calling for lots of seeds to be set out in their little pots. I also like those long pots for starting tomatoes in - they get good strong roots in them. I had a reflective post this week and it has been interesting to see what started people blogging. What started you blogging? Would you care to share that?

  11. I'm at Kilcoy so we get frost over winter but like you I am getting all geared up for the planting season. I have rocket, Kohlrabi, cabbage, silverbeet and herbs all raised as seed and now potted on into pots to grow a bit bigger before they go into the garden. I have planted out betroot and some pak choy but have just today discovered that some littl creature has eaten all the tops off my pak choy grrrrr. It is so wet at the moment that the last of my eggplant are drowning as are my shelling beans, oh well such is life, at least I planted from seed so the money wasted is not too great.

  12. I am planning my biggest and hopefully my most sufficient garden yet. Also, taking up the kitchen/shed rooftop into the game. It is a high and lovely sunny spot, so I've put some containers there for the sun loving plants. I am excited about a new year of seeds, plants and harvest..

  13. I'm looking forward to the homemade fertiliser post. That is an area I need to improve on. We've got peas, potatoes, spinach & onions planted (garlic was planted in November & we have a cold frame of various greens). It's later than usual, but this week I'll start summer seedlings- tomato, eggplant...

  14. I have luscious lettuces growing - Romaine, red leaf, buttercrunch, etc. We had our first picking just last night. Today I planted spinach plants...can't wait for spinach salad with warm bacon dressing, boiled eggs and fresh strawberries. Later today I'll plant carrot seeds - my first time trying to grow carrots. In a couple of weeks I hope the weather will cooperate so that I can plant mountain half-runner green beans, white cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, and bell peppers. I need to take a look at my herbs. Right now the sorrel, sage, flat-leaf parsley and fennel look healthy, but I think I need to plant some thyme. I'm learning how to use herbs in cooking more; in the past I have enjoyed picking them to put in flower arrangements because they are so pretty and smell wonderful. Oh yes, I almost forgot, later today I'll plant some rhubarb out behind the "stool shed". The stool shed was an outhouse in its former life and we moved it to the edge of the garden to hold my tools. I read somewhere that rhubarb was often planted near the outhouse. I dearly love that I can put my potting soil in a trash can I stuffed down the hole of the "potty". I love hearing about your garden - it gives me the energy to keep trying with my own garden.

    Diane in North Carolina

  15. I am a new gardener. I'm just in the process, here in Massachusetts, of building raised beds and planting seeds with grow lights. But I really could use some mentoring. Is there anyone on your list (or a way I could post and ask this question) who could give me advice? I would so appreciate it. Thank you!

    Ellen Allard

  16. Here in our South African garden, we have a large vegetable tunnel to protect from hail and frost. We are coming to the end of most of our summer harvesting of zucchini, gem squash tomatoes and green beans. We stopped picking strawberries, asparagus and rhubarb quite a few months ago. Our pumpkins are looking great and we will wait for the first frosts before harvesting them. I am still planting and harvesting root veggies, spinach, lettuce and have recently put in some bok choi and cabbage seedlings. Very little keeps going in our freezing winter months.Oh, yes the onions are in and I will plant garlic soon.

  17. Tiffany @ No Ordinary HomesteadMarch 25, 2012 5:20 pm

    Love to see your backyard with green fresh leaves and a very nice place to work and raise vegetables. I actually host a weekly gardening link up every Friday on my blog. I'd love for you to drop by and join in.

  18. Hi Rhonda...I so enjoy your blog..I made your beef stew and it was the best I ever made! My husband and I are in a search of alittle house in the country with at least an acre for gardening and just a private place to enjoy life with our cats. I noticed your garden is made with cinderblocks...I did the same thing at our old house only I used the ones that were left on the property and they were the wider your's stand up on their own or do you have to bury them a bit? I would much rather lift a smaller one than those big ones :) also I use fish fertilizer on my it recommended for veggie plants? We're in an apartment now and I can't grow comfrey, etc. yet. Any tips you give are much appreciated!
    Thank you for helping us be better stewards of this precious earth!


  19. Hi Janet, I'm pleased the stew was a hit. The blocks will stand up alone but Hanno beds them in a bit to give them more stability. They're big enough to plant herb in the centre if you want to do that. You can use fish fertiliser on vegetables, it's much better than using the man-made NPK commercial fertilisers.

    Good luck in your new home when you find it.


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