Let me just start by saying that I do not have the greenest fingers in the world. In fact, my indoor plants will tell you that I’m a serial over-waterer and neglect is par for the course. So when I challenged myself late last year to plant a food garden, even I was skeptical that it would be a success.
Fast forward six months and I have a little patch of food garden that has survived quite by accident and is bearing some delicious melons and tomatoes. There is a lot that I’ve learned along the way and I’m going to let you in on some of the tips I received as a beginner food gardener.
Preparation is key.
The best advice I got from other food growers was, PREPARE YOUR SOIL and GOOD COMPOST. You can’t just dig a hole in the ground throw in some seeds and think things are going to grow, unless they’re dandelions, those things will grow in concrete.
You need to plan out WHERE is the best spot for your garden, WHAT are you planning on planting and HOW MUCH light and water will these particular plants need? Your average veggie garden needs AT LEAST 5 hours of sunlight in a day, so pick a spot on your property that gets that or more. You can always cover with shade cloth if it gets too much light.
My property has an EAST garden and a WEST garden (in the Southern Hemisphere a NORTH garden is ideal, but our home is built in a funny orientation on the land). So I chose the East side as this would get the “gentler” sun of the beginning of the day and then shade in the heat of the day, then sun again as the day goes on due to a gap in the homes behind us. I got my hubby to dig out a portion of ground about 1m x 2m against our fence, this would be to aid the putting up of the chicken wire around the garden to keep the dogs and kids out 😉
Our ground is very rocky as the plot is raised up with builders rubble then planted with grass, so I needed to add a couple of bags of organic compost to the ground to make it nutrient rich for my plants. Once the ground was ready we put the fence up around it and I started getting my plants ready.
I was planning on first doing an experiment with some Spanspek (Cantaloupe) melon seeds that I got from a store bought melon. I had already sprouted some seeds and had them growing in small pots in my kitchen window. I didn’t want to start with anything finicky or herbs as we don’t really use herbs (yet) in our food and I didn’t want to commit to too many plants until I really knew if this whole gardening thing would work.
Plant and Mulch for healthier plants.
I planted my melon seedlings and watered them religiously every day. They started to flourish! Along the way I bought some African Daisies and planted them in the same garden, whilst doing this I threw in some old cherry tomatoes into the ground, I seem to do best with gardening by accident it would seem.
The melon plant started to flower and the bees where going nuts I asked on a local growing group what I could do to protect the fruit from getting eaten by bugs etc and I got this advice. Mulch, mulch, mulch!
The best thing to use is plastic sheeting (unfortunately), I later swapped it out for grass cuttings, but the plastic sheeting was lovely as it kept pools of water that attracted a little grass frog that ended up living in the plant and eating all the gogos!
In the meantime, the tomatoes started to grow! I couldn’t believe it! Here next to my melon, a little cherry tomato plant was sprouting out of the ground and going crazy! It grew fast and furious and has produced about six vines with cherry tomatoes on!
We had a bit of a surprise in January when we discovered that our water main was leaking underground, right beside my veggie patch, so this could account for the rapid growth of the melon plant. The plumber came and fixed the pipe and we discovered that the ground in that area was COMPLETELY saturated with water, I wanted to die, we live in a drought area and this is very bad news as this was thousands of litres of precious water just gone! Luckily the melon plant was already mature enough to support the seven melons that were already on the plant, so I would have to continue watering daily (about 4L a day for the melon plant).
I read a great article in the Grow to Eat magazine about growing Spanspek and it said that you’ll know the melon is ripe when it just “falls” off the vine, so give the stalk a little tug and if it just separates with ease, then you’re good to go. I also discovered a fabulous App called Candide, and this has a wonderful community of avid and beginner gardeners, sharing their wins, losses, questions and helping to identify plants, and giving growing tips. This app has been MOST HELPFUL for this beginner gardener, as you’re talking to ACTUAL PEOPLE, not just hoping your Google search will get you to the right place when you have zero clue.
The timeline for the melons from planting early December, to the first fruit being harvested was two months. Today – March 2019 – There are five melons ripening on the vine.
Remember, Melons are summer fruit, so if you plan to plant, wait till spring (September/October in Southern Hemisphere) to get the most out of your plant in the warm summer months.
I’m not sure what I’ll do next, but I have a random butternut plant that sprouted in my compost heap, so I’m looking after that now too. I have also added a sweet potato cutting to the veggie patch. I have Jalapeno Chillies, Basil and Mint in pots outside to add some zest to my cooking.
I hope this helps those gardeners out there who are like me, and have no clue and just kind of “fall into it”, I am so enjoying my garden and the time outside, it’s become a very happy place for me.