New to Growing Your Own Food - These Tips Will Help You Get Started

There is nothing quite like the joy of eating fruit or vegetables you’ve grown in your own garden, except perhaps sharing your produce with family and friends.  The advent of the Covoid19 Pandemic has seen many people coming into Barrow & Bench to purchase seeds and seedlings so they can grow their own food.   


If you are new to growing food, or a ‘kitchen’ or ‘productive’ garden as they are sometimes called, here are a few handy tips to get you on your way to gardening successfully.  Of course, if you have any questions or need any points clarified, do come in and speak with our garden staff – they are all avid gardeners, with a wealth of experience among them, and they will be very happy to help your new venture be a successful one. 


There are a few practical things you need to consider first, like:

  • What do you want to grow?
  • Do you have a suitably sunny location (most plants in a productive garden require at least 6 hrs sun a day).
  • Is your soil suitably free draining over winter? (if you have heavy clay soil you need to be applying gypsum at a rate of up to 1kg per square metre, or apply the new eco-flo gypsum, and fabulous liquid clay breaker which is easier on your back as it saves lugging around heavy bags of gypsum, and it takes up less room in the garden shed)
  • Will you be able to water your garden easily (ie can you reach it by hose, or will you need to water by watering can?; can you put in an automatic irrigation system?)
  • Do you need to exclude animals such as hens, dogs or rabbits from your patch, and how will you do that?   You may have to plant into a raised bed if required, or that you fence off an area to be free of animals – after all, if you let the chickens free range your veggie patch you’ll be unlikely to harvest anything. 
  • If you live in an apartment or are renting did you know you can successfully grow many vegetables, and even fruit trees in pots and containers?  Just make sure your container has a hole in the base so that it is well draining, and of course, that it is large enough to sustain your precious produce.


Having the answer to those questions will better help you prepare where you will place your new patch and how to prepare your soil. 


Soil Preparation:  Soil preparation is key to the success of any vegetable patch.  Make it your practice before planting out both winter or summer vegetable seedlings, to dig through plenty of well-rotted organic matter.  If you have your own compost bin, then that’s a fabulous way to start.  Never fear though, without a compost bin you can still prepare excellent soil by simply digging through bagged compost, or bagged chicken or cow manures.  Never put fresh manures into your veggie patch without ageing them (aka, allowing them to rot down)


If you have heavy clay based soils then we recommend you apply gypsum – see note above about rates and follow the instructions on the package.


If you are growing your produce in pots, we cannot stress enough that you will need a quality potting mix.  This is definitely the time for a bag with ‘all the ticks’.  Afterall, you are spending good money on seeds or seedlings – why waste it by trying to grow your produce in a cheap, poor quality mix.  **Note: if you are growing Blueberries you will need an acidic mix (often sold as Camellia or Azalea mix). 

If you are looking for containers you will find both Amari raised garden beds and award winning VegePods, along with a good range of plastic and terracotta pots (and half wine barrels when we can source them).


Planting Day

  • Soak seedlings in a weak solution of Seasol or EcoSeaweed for an hour or so before planting out.  This will help reduce ‘transplant shock’, strengthen their root system and get them off to a good start.  *Just a note that Seasol is not a fertiliser, think of it more like you taking a vitamin tablet as opposed to having a meal.
  • Remove any sticks, rocks, or ‘rubbish’ from your new patch
  • Spread your compost and gypsum across your soil and dig through.
  • Scatter some organic based fertiliser such as Rapid Raiser or Dynamic Lifter over your patch and lightly dig it in
  • Water your patch well before planting, and allow the water to soak in.
  • Now it’s time to plant.  Follow the directions on the packet of seeds or on the seedling punnet to ensure good spacing of your plants, and that seeds are planted at the correct depth.   There are lots of different ways you can plant out your patch.  Some people plant in rows; others in mandala patterns.  Some people only plant using ‘companion planting guides’.  I would recommend starting out simply and building on your ideas and planting schemes as you gain confidence and skills.  There are plenty of great ideas on the internet and fabulous books such as Lolo Houbein’s One Magic Square or  Meredith Kirton’s Harvest.
  • I like to protect my newly planted seedlings with a good scattering of crushed egg shells.  The shells make an uncomfortable surface for soft bodies slugs and snails, and while it doesn’t stop them completely, it certainly reduces damage by these pesky pests.  (all you need to do is keep the egg shells when cooking, pop them in a bowl – I have my bowl out of the way in the laundry.  Once the egg shells are dry crush them with your hands and put them in a container ready for use when you are planting.   An iron based slug and snail bait, which is safe for dogs and children when used as directed, is a good option if you don’t have a plentiful supply of eggs. 
  • Water your new plantings in with a solution of GoGo Juice or eco Seaweed.


Watering:  Most seeds and seedlings will need to be watered on a daily basis until there is rain.  Get in the habit of observing your soil and the plants (observe the colour and feel of the soil when it is damp), and get used to knowing what the leaves should look like – ie are they soft or firm. 


Succession Planting:  Depending on your appetite, it’s a good idea to succession plant leafy greens and fast growing vegetables to ensure you have a steady supply through the whole season.  For example, you could try planting out silverbeet every 3-4 weeks.

Pests and Diseases:  We think pests and diseases in your vegetable garden are best treated as naturally as possibly, after all you are eating the produce, and sharing it with friends and family.  Pyrethrum, ecoNeem, Naturasoap, EcoOil and diatomaceous earth are all fabulous products to have in your garden shed.  Yates have an excellent website with comprehensive information on veggie varieties and pest and disease control.  They also have an ‘ask the expert’ online chat, which is great if you need that extra bit of advice.  You will find it at:


What to plant Now:  Autumn is a transition time.  It’s the time to pull out summer veg, and prepare the bed for winter vegetables.  Generally the soil is still warm enough for good growth and quick establishment, with the days suitably sunny to get your new plantings off to a great start.  The seedlings you find on our seedling bench are all perfect for planting now.  If you are growing by seed, then be careful not to select and plant summer growing veg. 


Things you can plant now include:

  • Carrots
  • Broccoli, cabbage, kale and Bok Choy
  • Beetroot
  • Onions and Garlic
  • Peas
  • Broad beans
  • Leafy greens such as lettuce, mustards, spinach and silverbeet
  • Coriander
  • Radish
  • Fennel
  • Sage
  • Mint
  • Calendula, to name a few.


Of course, there are many ways to plant and grow out a veggie patch.  Do plant a patch you can manage and which works for you.  Grow only food you will eat (there’s no point growing spinach if you hate the stuff, unless of course, you feed it to your hens).  Chat to friends, share seeds and produce – its one of the nicest things about gardening. 


A little about Fruit Trees: 

Autumn, while the soil is warm and the days sunny, is a great time to plant citrus trees.  As with the vegetable garden, prepare your soil well, and do plant before the cold weather arrives.  In the next week or so you will find a fabulous selection across all citrus varieties in the garden centre.


Bare Root fruit trees such as apples, pears, cherries and stone fruits, many of which are grown locally by the lovely folk of Balhannah Nurseries, will be dug and delivered in May/June.    Be sure to follow all directions on the planting bag, especially the advice to prune the trees at planting time.