This is the simplest of all the methods to grow your own food and is most commonly used for backyard vegetable plots.
Advantages: Easy to set up with minimal cost
Disadvantages: Requires more water to grow and is a little harder on the back working at ground level
Choosing a location to grow and marking out a space
Choose a location with the best access to sunlight, then mark out a space using a string line wound around garden stakes.
Preparing the soil – French Intensive Method
When starting to grow your own food from scratch, I recommend this method to help improve your soil structure.
- Now that you have marked out the space, get rid of any surface weeds, lawn or plants to start with a clean slate.
- Divide the prepared space up by marking it out cross-ways into strips about the width of your shovel. Start on one end and dig a trench on the marked strip about 30-40cm deep along the entire length, placing the removed dirt in a pile or wheelbarrow.
- Throw compost and manure several inches deep in the bottom of the freshly dug trench. Ideally if you have worm castings, throw these in as well at this point.
- Dig the compost into the soil at the base of the trench with a garden fork so it is well aerated.
- Dig a second trench right next to this one and place its displaced soil on top of the first trench/compost mixture, breaking up the soil as you go. You should end up with a slightly raised first trench and a bare second trench ready to repeat step 3.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4.
- Continue the process for the remaining garden bed area.
- The last trench at the end of the bed will be filled with the soil placed aside from the first trench.
- You can repeat this process each time you have a new crop to plant and grow each season.
Most vegetables grow best in a soil with a pH that is near neutral and very slightly acidic (a pH that is around 6.5). Other plants have different pH requirements, some more alkaline (above pH of 7) and some more acidic (below pH of 7). Maintaining the correct pH for your plants helps the plant use up the nutrients it needs from the soil.
A good example of this is my blueberry plants. The first year they were looking quite unwell with yellowing leaves despite my best efforts to add as much organic matter as possible. In turns out that blueberry plants required a very acidic soil to be able to utilise the nutrients in the soil, so I added a couple of applications of sulphur and now the plants look green and healthy!
So the point I am trying to make is that the soil in your garden might be full of good organic matter and nutrients but if the pH is too high or too low, the plant will not be able to use those nutrients.
A good rule of thumb to keep the pH as close to 6.5 as possible for your vegetable patch is to add 250 grams of agricultural lime per 1 square meter of garden every year.
Note that every plant will have different requirements for pH so make sure you adjust the soil space to your plants needs prior to planting out.
Maintaining the balance
Now that the garden space is set up, it’s a matter of keeping the soil healthy by constantly adding in organic matter to help retain the water, hold the essential nutrients, keep a good soil structure, feed the worms and help balance out the pH of the soil. The most common method I used for this is composting. We throw all our vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, dead leaves, fire ash, animal manure, hair from the boys clipper cuts, finger nail clippings and straw into the compost bin and return all this to the soil after it has broken down. The other important part of maintenance is to keep the water up to the plants whilst they grow and mulch really well on the surface of the soil with straw to keep the moisture in.
This should be enough info for you to get started and grow a basic vegetable patch –please visit the forums and explore the website for more information as you progress.