HOW TO MAKE YOUR GARDEN MORE PRODUCTIVE
Don’t waste space, keep lawns, paving and ornamental flowerbeds to a minimum. If you like colourful flowers, there’s no reason they can’t be planted among vegetables. If you choose the right species, they can act as ‘companion’ plants to aid the growth of the vegies and herbs. Many vegetables and herbs can be grown not only to produce food, but also as attractive garden features. The foliage of many vegetables and herbs is highly ornamental, and many also have flowers that are both visually attractive and pleasingly fragrant.
Make Every Inch Count
On a small property, you will need to use all your available space efficiently. Make an inventory of your garden and think about how each feature or structure could be used or modified to produce something. Here are some examples:
- Walls, fences – for supporting climbing plants and espaliers; to shelter plants and to improve fruit ripening
- Verandas and balconies – for growing potted plants that need extra protection; or use as a potting area; for tool storage; for drying herbs and other produce
- Garden shed – add a shade-house, greenhouse or chicken run
- Pergolas – to support climbers
- Swimming pool – convert to a aquaculture garden that supports fish, ducks and productive water plants
- Incorporate terraces supported by retaining walls on sloping sites.
- Rotate vegetable and crop plantings to get the most out of each bed of soil.
- Make the most of window boxes, pot stands and shelving in greenhouses
Include multi-functional plants as much as possible. Plants that produce food often have a number of other uses as well. For example, a tree could provide fruit and shade for people and foraging poultry, pollen for bees, windbreaks, firewood, timber, and leaves for use as mulch or to compost.
Building up the soil and improving its fertility is the key to a healthy, thriving garden. Compost all the kitchen scraps, garden clippings and animal manures then dig the compost into the soil. Also add seaweed and any other organic material that will break down in the soil. Earthworms will thrive on the organic matter, further improving the soil structure and fertility. Set up a worm farm and harvest their castings to use as a soil conditioner.
If you have chickens give them all the vegetable scraps and fresh grass clippings and excess vegetables from the garden. Use a deep litter system (i.e. straw, old hay or sawdust) and simply toss all your composting material (other then onions, leeks and garlic) onto the litter, the chickens will soon turn it all into lovely compost that you can later add to your garden.
Use organic mulches on the soil surface to stop weeds competing with the productive plants, and to reduce the need for watering. Compost produced by chickens is ideal for this as it will also be weed free.
Minimising Water use in the Herb, Vegetable and Fruit Gardens
Vegetable gardens are notorious in their use of water, but this need not be the case. Most plants will adapt to less water by sending their roots down further and wider in search of soil moisture; through this they develop a larger root mass that has the ability to forage a larger area.
Bare soil is the enemy of the garden, as soil moisture soon evaporates even during mild conditions. Once vegetables are harvested more compost should be added and a new crop planted. During winter or other fallow times, plant a cover crop that can be dug in as green manure later (see chapter 3 for more information about green manure/cover crops). This is another way to conserve water by protecting the soil from moisture evaporation, as well as increasing soil fertility by adding extra valuable organic matter. Alternatively mulch the area thickly with compost and straw and let the earthworms do the job for you.
Even vegetables will grow well without the need for daily watering as long as the soil is well prepared, moist at planting time and mulched immediately the area is planted, or the seedlings are up.
If you do have a problem with a dry garden, even with the use of mulches, other solutions are:
- Using water crystals to improve the bed’s water-holding capacity.
- Watering deeper, but less often.
- Using a drip irrigation system. Sprinklers are a wasteful use of water as they tend to water surrounding paths and grassed areas, as well as the vegetable garden. Micro sprayers are prone to water loss due to drift from wind even a slight breeze can affect the efficiency.
- Use tanks to collect and store rain water.
- Install a grey water filtration system and use this water for the ornamental garden, saving the fresh rain water for the fruit, vegetables and herbs.
Herbs and their Water Requirements
Most herbs will grow quite well with little water. Plants such as thyme, sage and rosemary for example are adapted to harsh conditions in their natural environment and although they may produce lush growth with extra water, they do grow very well without the need for irrigation.
When planning your herb garden make sure that all those plants requiring little water are grouped together. Use raised garden beds to promote good drainage and ensure that plants that are used to dry conditions do not become waterlogged. You can even cover pathways and garden beds with a pebble or gravel mulch. The warmth absorbed by the pebbles during the day is gradually released during the night keeping the soil warm.
Also group plants that require more water, such as parsley, chives and chervil, together in the same bed if possible. Mints, due to their invasive nature, are best grown in pots and watered daily during dry weather.
Grouping plants according to their water requirements will save water in the long run as you are only watering those that need it.
Learn More ...See our courses specially developed for home gardeners ... click here
Our horticultural science staff have over the years written a large range of book and ebooks, many of which are are available through our school's online book store.
To visit the book store and browse some of these titles, click on any of the books below:
More from ACS
Over 150 short courses, certificates and diplomas covering landscaping, crops, plants of all types and general gardening.