How to Grow Your Own Produce

There is nothing better than fresh produce from your own garden. It's healthier, it will usually keep longer, taste better; and it always gives you a sense of excitement and satisfaction that just can't be equalled by a purchase from a supermarket.

Fruit, vegetables, herbs and cut flowers, can all be produced; and the average home garden is large enough to supply an abundance of produce, sufficient to make you largely self sufficient. This can contribute significantly to a strained family budget. Just think what you could do if you didn't need to buy fruit or vegetables; and if you had an over abundance of fresh produce.

WHY GROW YOUR OWN 'PRODUCE' PLANTS

The reasons are many and varied. You can enjoy the taste of fresh vegetables, fruits or herbs, or the colour of cut flowers all year round; you can save money; save time in shopping; have a continuous supply of healthy, nutritious food and you can grow varieties that do not appear in the shops.

Home grown fruits, vegetables and herbs are generally far superior in flavour, texture and nutritional value than store bought vegetables, and they can be picked at the peak of maturity. Your home grown produce can be on the table ready for eating within minutes or hours of harvesting, rather than bought produce which may be sitting around for days or even weeks in the stores before being purchased. 

Growing your own produce in the home garden is also an excellent form of light exercise and relaxation. Many people derive great satisfaction from planting, nurturing, harvesting and then eating their own produce plants. For those concerned with the use of chemicals, such as artificial fertilisers and pesticides, then growing your own is the surest way of obtaining chemical free produce.

You don't need a lot of space to grow many of the different types of fruit, vegetables, herbs or cut flowers, for example a flat dweller can  grow a wide variety of vegetables, flowers or herbs in containers on a small balcony. Those with greater space can be more adventurous in what they grow. By spending just a little amount on plants (e.g. seeds, tubestock), fertilizers, sprays, tools, and of course your own time, you can expect to produce your own produce for as little as a tenth of the cost of store bought produce.

Some Simple Rules For Growing Your Own Produce

1. Always plant the correct varieties for the season and your locality.
2. Always prepare your soil or potting mix properly.
3. Only grow as much as you can reasonably handle without putting a strain on your available time,
   growing space or storage space.
4. Control weeds, pests and disease, ideally as early as possible before they become much larger
   problems.
5. Ensure that your growing beds, or containers get as much sunlight as possible.
6. Provide adequate moisture but don't over water.
7. Provide sufficient nutrients for healthy plant growth.
8. Harvest your produce at the proper time of maturity.
 
THE SITE
The first step in growing your crops is to choose a suitable site. Very few gardeners have ideal growing conditions so it is important to make the most of what you have. The site/s chosen for growing your crop plants, will obviously depend on the types of plants you are growing, but for most vegetables and many herbs, cut flowers and small fruits, you should ideally provide the following growing conditions:
1. It receives maximum sunlight (not shaded by trees and buildings).
2. It has good soil which is well drained.
3. It is relatively free from weeds and other competing plants.
4. It has access to a suitable supply of water.
5. It is sheltered from any prevailing winds.
6. It should be handy to your cooking area, so that herbs and vegies are right where you need them.
Some compromises may have to be made depending on what you have available.

HOW MUCH SPACE DO YOU REQUIRE?
The size of your beds should be tailored to each individual family's requirements, and the types of crops you wish to grow. For example, families who use a lot of a particular crop (e.g. vegetables, cut flowers), who have either limited budgets to purchase food or flowers, or plenty of space available, a large 'produce' garden may be desirable. For those with limited space, or limited time to look after such a garden, or who don't mind purchasing supplementary produce, a smaller garden will be more suitable. It is important to be aware that a small garden which can be looked after easily is likely to be more productive than a large one which is neglected. In the case of perennial herbs, fruits and cut flowers you may be able to get away with less work once the plants are initially established, and hence establish larger beds.

MAKE YOUR PRODUCE GARDENS A FEATURE
It isn't necessary to hide this garden behind a fence or hedge; it can actually be quite decorative and a feature of the garden if designed well. By putting some permanent structure into a fruit & vegetable garden, the seasonal bare patches, don't appear so unattractive. 
This might be done by any of the following:

  • Establish paved permanent pathways
  • Plant in raised beds that are built inside low brick or stone walls
  • Use espaliered fruit trees as a backdrop to the garden.
  • Train fruit trees as archways over paths.
  • Use low growing herbs or cut flowers as hedging to surround beds of vegetables,
  • Use cut flower shrubs as a border or backdrop to the whole production garden.
  • Use low picket fencing to give the area a "cottage garden" feel.
  • Alternatively, you could create a no-dig garden bed which are very simple to start and maintain as
     long as they are done properly to begin with. A no-dig garden is simply a raised bed of compost and
     straw (or similar mulching material) layers, with a thick newspaper base to prevent weeds from
     infiltrating from beneath. Occasionally, extra material is needed to supplement the bed as nutrients
     are used by the vegetables growing, but otherwise the no-dig bed requires little work  and water
     retention is high due to the mulch that is used. Further ideas such as companion planting can also
     enhance this low maintenance feature.

 
OTHER HELPFUL HINTS
1. Grow perennials together in one section of the vegetable patch or in a separate bed where they
   won't be disturbed by the preparations necessary for the cultivation of shorter lived crops.
2. Where possible plant tall crops on the southern side of beds where they won't shade out other
   crops.
3. Plant crops in long rows rather than in clumps or short rows. This makes cultivation easier,
   particularly if you are going to use rotary hoes, etc.
4. Crops that mature around the same time should be planted together so that an entire section of a
   bed becomes available for preparation for the next crop rather than patches here and there, unless
   you are incorporating your 'produce' plants as part of a larger design, such as in a cottage garden.

PLANNING YOUR CROPPING PROGRAM
Try to plan for a continuous harvesting of crops. It is not much use having a lot mature in one month and then nothing the next. Try the following:

1. Stagger the Plantings. Most vegetables and annual flowers can be planted over a three to four
   month period and achieve relatively even yields for each planting. Try planting small quantities of
   each crop at two week intervals. This is easiest for varieties grown directly from seed, as the seed
   can be stored until needed. When seedlings are being used you may need to plant a punnet full of
   seedlings at each planting at 6 8 week intervals, depending on the crop you are growing. If you
   plan what grows when properly; you not only harvest produce all year; but the garden always looks
   attractive and full.

2. Select vegetables to grow that are better for being picked and eaten fresh, such as lettuce, beans,
   tomatoes and cauliflowers. They generally lose nutritional value if left stored or sitting in a shop for
   any length of time. They are also usually the most expensive vegetables to buy because of their
   short storage life.

3. When selecting seeds of a certain vegetable, look at the different flowering and fruiting times for
   the different varieties. Some are 'early' varieties, while others fruit 'late' in the season. Growing a
   combination of these different varieties will help to spread the harvest over a longer period of time.

4. Some vegetables, herbs or flowers can only be grown at specific times of the year, while others
   can be grown over extended periods, or even throughout the year. Try growing those vegetables,
   herbs or flowers with more flexible growing seasons at those times when the other crops are not
   available, and concentrate on growing mainly those crops with limited growing seasons at those
   specific times. 

5. It is also important to compare the expected yields for particular vegetables against the time it
   takes them mature. For example, one vegetable may yield 3 kg of produce per crop for each
   square metre of planting, and take 40 50 weeks to mature, while a second vegetable may produce
   2.5 kg of produce per crop for each square metre of planting, and take only 20 24 weeks to mature.
   Only one crop of the first vegetable can be grown in a year while two crops of the second
   vegetable can be grown, giving a greater yield overall.
 
 
 
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