Is there a secret or a special skill necessary to grow vegetables successfully? If you had asked me a few years ago if I had green thumbs, my answer would have been an emphatic ‘no’. I struggle to keep pot plants alive, let alone anything else. My previous experience at gardening had taught me to successfully grow only two things: garlic chives, and lemon grass. This is only because they stubbornly refuse to die, no matter what I do to them!
Given my history, would you have believed that in the last year I have been able to successfully grow vegetables to feed our family? I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
My husband’s uncle introduced me to Foundations for Farming. Formerly known as ‘Farming God’s Way’, it is a method of growing crops and veggies based on principles found in the Bible. It turns out, you don’t need green thumbs to feed your family. What you need is to plant on time, at a high standard, without wastage, and with joy!
I had learned some of these principles from the books I got from my uncle, and was able to plant and grow vegetables successfully. Now that we have gone through the vegetable garden training from Foundations for Farming here at Crown Stewardship School, I have gained even more knowledge and practical experience, and I look forward to planting vegetable gardens again.
If you would like to grow food for your family but think you can’t, think again. I will outline some basics that can turn vegetable garden failure into success.
- Bed size and spacing
- Vegetable classification
- Soil preparation and compost
- Crop rotation
- Repelling pests
- Top dressing
Bed size and spacing
Make your vegetable beds 110cm wide, and any length you like (although smaller beds are usually better for a home garden). Place your beds always across a slope and not down it. You can make your bed slightly raised by adding soil from the pathways. Make pathways 40cm wide between beds.
Start planting 17.5cm away from the edge of the bed, on both sides. Plant veggies in one, two, three, or 5 rows depending on what the spacing between rows should be (check your seed packet). Two rows will be spaced 75cm apart, 3 rows 37.5cm, and 5 rows 19cm apart. Plant in the rows at spacings recommended on the seed packet.
Vegetables can be divided into three main types, depending on their nutrient requirements.
The groups are as follows:
Heavy feeders take a lot of nutrients out of the soil. Heavy feeders can be further divided into solanaceous, curcubits and brassicas. Solanaceous plants are those with flowers and fruits, such as tomatoes, chillies, eggplant and peppers. Also included in this category are spinach, potatoes and lettuce. These plants need a lot of nitrogen. Curcubits include all creeping vegetables, such as pumpkins, squashes and melons. Brassicas are plants belonging to the cabbage family, such as cabbage, mustard leaf, rape, kale, broccoli and cauliflower. These last two families need a lot of potassium.
Light feeders don’t take a lot of nutrients. They include mostly root crops such as onions, leeks, beetroot, garlic and carrot. The beds on which these plants are grown should not be composted, as this will cause their roots to grow outwards instead of down.
Legumes put nitrogen into the soil. Examples of legumes are beans, peas, chickpeas, soya, and groundnuts.
For practical planting purposes, these vegetable types are grouped as follows:
Group 1 (Green leafies): Brassicas
Group 2 (Root crops): Light feeders and curcubits
Group 3 (Fruiting vegetables): Solanaceous
Group 4 (Legumes): Legumes
Soil preparation and compost
One of the agricultural principles underlying the Foundations for Farming method is that of minimal soil disturbance. Digging up the soil decreases aeration, increases soil erosion, and disturbs the habitat of beneficial organisms in the soil. To prepare your beds, remove weeds or grass, make the bed level, and add some soil from the pathways to make the bed raised. There is no need to dig or turn the soil. Keep the top soil on the top!
Depending on what you are planting in the bed, you can add compost in one of two ways. One way is to dig the compost into the added soil (one wheelbarrow-full per 2m of bed length). This is better if you are sowing lots of small seeds. Alternatively, you can dig planting holes with a hoe, e.g. for seedlings or large seeds planted far apart, and place two handfuls of compost in the hole before adding the seeds or seedlings. This will ensure maximum nutrient delivery to the growing plant.
Good quality compost can make the difference between poor crops and good crops. Good compost corrects the pH of the soil, improves soil quality, improves soil drainage, increases beneficial organism, and even reduces pests and diseases on your plants. It is very important. Thermal compost is ideal, as it is heat-treated by the aerobic decomposition. The high temperatures destroy weed seeds and pathogens. If you can’t get hold of compost, you can use ant heap, or manure. If you use manure, it should not be directly in contact with plants or seeds, as it may burn them.
The application of mulch to your beds is another agricultural standard used in Foundations for Farming. Almost any organic material can be used for mulch – think grass cuttings, wood chips, leaves, dead weeds etc. The purpose of mulch is to cover the soil around your plants. Covering the soil creates the optimum environment for beneficial organisms, reduces water loss so you need to water less, prevents soil erosion, increases water penetration and more. It really is amazing the difference mulching makes to a vegetable patch!
Mulch your bed as soon as it is prepared, to preserve the soil. Move the mulch aside to plant. If you are preparing and planting straight away you can mulch afterwards. Take care not to put very heavy mulch over small seeds – rather leave some space to let them come up, and put on more mulch later.
Seeds and seedlings should be watered every day until they germinate/have recovered from transplanting. Watering should be done at the base of the plant if possible, rather than on the leaves. It should also preferably by done in the morning. Watering this way ensures that the leaves are not wet overnight. Wet leaves encourages the growth of pests and diseases.
Because different types of vegetables take different nutrients from the soil, it is important to rotate crops between beds. Another reason to rotate crops is to break cycles of pests and diseases. Usually a pest will attack a certain group but not another. If you rotate crops the pests will die out before that crop is returned to the bed. Rotate seasonally between the four vegetable groups. Keep a diary of what you have planted where to make sure you rotate through all four groups before coming back to the first one.
The best way to deter pests is to ensure that you have healthy soil and healthy plants. Other things you can do include planting flowers that attract beneficial insects and deter nematodes. Examples of these include marigolds, nasturtiums and cosmos. Make sure you spend plenty of time in your garden so that you can see if there are pests or diseases affecting your crop. If you find something specific you can usually find a natural/organic recipe to treat it with. These remedies could include spraying compost tea, comfrey tea, bicarb or soap spray on to plants. Sprinkling plants with diatomaceous earth will kill insects with an exoskeleton, which being harmless to humans and animals.
Choosing an organic remedy over a chemical pesticide will ensure that you don’t kill the beneficial organisms that make your soil healthy.
For your heavy feeders, you may want to add some nutrients as they are growing. You could put some extra compost around the base of the plant. Alternatively, you can put a cup of urine diluted 1:5 with water (for nitrogen-loving plants), or make comfrey tea or use wood ash (for potassium-loving plants). Top dressing can be added at 2 weeks and again as plants are about to flower. This will ensure large and healthy vegetables!
A last word on how to grow vegetables successfully
Planning is key. Think about what vegetables your family eats, what is easy and inexpensive to grow (spinach is a winner in our family, and so good in quiche!), and how much space you have. This will ensure that you make the most of what you have. Stagger your planting of seeds or seedlings to ensure a steady supply of things you will eat often (onions, spinach, lettuce etc.). Think about how many of each vegetable you use per week to get an idea of how much you can plant. Think if you would like to sell any or have some surplus to give away!
If this all seems a bit overwhelming, it’s okay. Don’t try to do it all at once. Start small! Do whatever you can to a high standard. Don’t compromise on seed, bed sizes and spacing, or compost. Be faithful in the small things. Sow and water, and God will provide the increase.
For more information about Foundations for Farming and their vegetable gardening courses, visit their website and/or contact a training centre near you!