Cape Town - Although devastating cold fronts have swept across the Western Cape this month, July is still a great time to plan, strategise and dream about all your plans for a spectacular food garden.
If you have a warm, protected seedbed area, it can even be a time to sow vegetables for planting out in September.
Consider these five helpful tips from top vegetable experts for planning a successful vegetable garden this summer:
Make a list of vegetables that you want to include in your vegetable garden. Now look at the list and consider which vegetables can be incorporated into the rest of the garden. A good method is to walk around your property with a list of all the vegetables in contention, and allow ideas to develop as you go.
“By planting vegetables out in your garden borders, you leave more room in your dedicated vegetable patch,” says vegetable expert Bill Kerr.
Below are a few ideas from Kerr on how to incorporate vegetables into your garden border:
* Use Swiss chard Bright Lights in place of the regular Fordhook Giant. Bright Lights is a colourful variety that looks stunning when planted in garden borders. Plant it in strategic areas in clusters for effect, or in pots on the patio.
* Different coloured lettuces, whether mixed together or planted in alternate rows to show off their colours, are ideal for borders as well as the patio.
* Clusters of leeks make excellent form plants and can be left in the ground for a long time.
* Runner beans and tall growing tomatoes are perfect for covering a garage wall or fence.
* Globe artichokes, peppers, chillies and brinjals are a few other considerations for the garden and patio.
Ensure a long harvest.
A common fault is to fill up the vegetable patch with one planting in spring. This results in only one harvest for the season. To ensure multiple harvests, calculate the quantity required for a week of a particular vegetable, establish how long it will be in production for, and then plant accordingly.
Find out how long it takes for the vegetable to come into production, and have your second planting ready to harvest when the first is finished. For example, beans will take 60 days until production, be in harvest for a month, and deliver a yield of 1kg per running metre of row. You would therefore calculate how much to plant at a time, and then plan for sowing once a month. Try to plant those vegetables that stay in the ground for a long time at the edge of the bed.
Preparing the soil.
In all probability your vegetable patch is empty, or just about, this month. This gives you a splendid opportunity to condition the soil.
“Sandy soil is a common problem in Cape Town, which should not be seen as an obstacle to growing your own veggies,” says Robert Stodel of Stodels Nurseries. “The secret to a successful vegetable garden which consists of clay or sand is to feed with lots of compost to improve your soil, and to feed regularly,” he says.
“Both clay and sandy soil lack humus, and therefore need large quantities of compost or organic material, which can be added during the winter months and dug in. Do not be scared to add too much.
“Organic material will also take away that 'oily look' in sand, and will result in your soil becoming less sandy and firmer.
“After a few years of adding organic material to your sandy soil, your garden will be a haven for any plant or vegetable. Squash, pumpkin, butternut, peas, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes and onion are all vegetables which thrive in sandy soil,” Stodel says.
Follow these steps for a simple, safe way to sow seeds:
Step 1: In the fertilised, prepared soil, draw a furrow with a hand hoe across the bed.
Step 2: Apply a liberal amount of water with a hose to the furrow.
Step 3: When the water has drained away, sow the seeds on the wet surface.
Step 4: Cover the seeds with soil by pulling the back of a rake over the furrow while walking parallel to it.
Step 5: Sprinkle a thin layer of dry lawn clippings over the sown area. You should just see the soil through it. If done correctly, no further irrigation is necessary until the seeds have emerged.
What to sow.
Sow cold-tolerant vegetables such as carrots, beet, leeks, spring onions and cabbages late this month.
For those who wish to do their own seedbeds of tomatoes, brinjals, beans, cucumbers, gems, lettuce, marrows, peas and peppers, now is the time to sow these in a warm, protected area.
Seedlings can be transplanted in the middle of September.
Kay Montgomery, Weekend Argus