How To Start an Edible Garden in the East Rand

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Rocket makes a great addition to salads

Starting an edible garden is one of the most rewarding projects you can embark on in your garden.  You and your family will be able to enjoy a bountiful harvest fresh from your own garden.

Growing your own will allow you to move away from harmful chemicals and sprays so prevalent in shop bought produce, it will also give you the opportunity to grow edibles that aren’t always available in the shops, think of kale, parsnips and rainbow coloured carrots.

The first step on the road to fresh and tasty edibles is selecting the best site for your patch of produce.  All veggies and herbs except your mint family prefer as much sunlight as possible with at least afternoon sun being the minimum.

I found that especially in townhouse gardens the amount sunlight in a certain area changes constantly with the high walls and suns seasonal change in orbit, transforming a spot that is full sun in summer to a shady area in winter.  So if your sunlight is constantly changing, it works a lot better to rather plant your edibles in pots and baskets as you can move the containers around to ensure they get as much sunlight as possible throughout the year.

Planning is an often overlooked but equally important part in getting the most out of your edible garden.

Have a look at what veggies and herbs your household regularly eats and also what you would like to introduce into your diet.  It’s no use planting and nurturing an edible you won’t end up using, rather focus on the edibles you and your family enjoy.

Also remember more isn’t always a good thing.  Planting too much of a certain type- for instance tomatoes- in one go and you end up with more than you can use for a few weeks and thereafter a big wait till the next crop.  It is best to rather plant a few plants wait a couple of weeks and then plant your next batch, this will ensure that you have a continuous supply of fresh and tasty edibles.

If you have pets that make a habit of digging your plants out, try and avoid using bone meal as the smell gets them digging.  Personally I would recommend looking rather planting in raised beds or using pots and containers to put your edibles out of their reach.  Alternatively one can always fence off the area you are using.

tomato seedlings in seedling trays

Now is the perfect time to plant tomatoes.

Prepare your beds or pots for planting. 
Whether you’re planting in beds or in containers it is very important to ensure that there is adequate drainage.  I find that overwatering is the main cause of plants dying for people trying to grow edibles, especially in containers. 
For beds work in plenty of fresh compost and if possible a lovely organic fertilizer such as Vita Veg 6:3:4 or Bounce back, for containers potting soil with a bit of fertilizer would be perfect.  Apply a healthy layer of mulch on top and allow the soil to rest for a week or two before planting. 

Now the fun really starts, time for planting.

I prefer to take my little plants out of their containers or trays and place them on top of the soil till I have my spacing right.  Spacing is very important as planting too close together will increase the chance of pests and diseases and won’t give you a better crop.  Dig your holes slightly bigger than the root ball of the plants and sprinkle some bone meal or superphosphate into the hole to get the roots kick started.  Put your plants in and cover with soil then mulch.

If you are worried about cutworm attacking your plants, there is a lovely eco-friendly solution you can use.  Cut a brown toilet paper roll in half and slip it over your seedlings till the roll is halfway.  This prevents any cutworm getting to the base of the plants and killing them.  Another method that will help a lot later on is the concept of companion planting.

photo of companion plants for an edible garden

Companion plants for an edible garden.

Certain plants and especially herbs have a positive effect on one another hence the term companion planting.  It keeps getting better, a simple plant like a marigold helps to repel pests from your precious edibles.  Feel free to add spring onions, basil, lavender and many others in-between your edibles to protect them from pests without harming bees or beneficial insects and keeping your family away from harmful chemicals.

Water your edibles as soon as the soil has dried out.  A great way to test for moisture is to stick your index finger into the soil till the second digit.  If it is still moist skip watering till the next day.  Give them a liquid fertilizer like Seagro or Nitrosol every second week to ensure they grow to their full potential.

If you are thinking of starting from seed have a look at our article on successful sowing.  If you spot something unusual or don’t know what to do let me know and I’ll help you find a solution.  Now all you have to do is sit back and think of that sweet and juicy tomato or succulent rosemary chicken you will be feasting on.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.