Soil is definitely a good place to start. Good, healthy soil with plenty of nutrients will make growing your vegies much easier and more rewarding. Adding compost is one of the simplest ways to do this. You can buy bags of compost reasonably cheaply from most garden centres. This summer I discovered ZooDoo which is compost made from the dung of the zoo animals. www.zoodoo.co.nz It has proven very effective on my small garden beds. There are other kinds of organic fertiliser you can add (blood & bone, etc.) but to keep it simple start with plenty of compost.
Plant vegetables you like to eat. Do research on each thing you want to grow as different plants like different things. Lettuces are a good place to start, and herbs such as basil - but it really depends on what you like to eat and how much space you have. This summer is the first time I've had a serious vegie garden, although I've been growing things ever since I was a kid. I have found Ooooby really helpful - asking questions in the food growing group or just reading people's posts about what they've been up to, and also doing searches online about the plants I wanted to grow if it was something I hadn't tried before.
The other important thing to remember at this time of year is to water regularly. Plants can dry out very quickly in the hot, dry weather.
Good luck! it's lots of fun and the best way to learn is to just do it - and observe the results.
Just to add to Arianes advise,first i think its best to see if there's any garden groups in your area because climate pays a big part as in when and what is planted,local people know the local climate.
Second can you let us know what type of soil you have Emma, is it sandy?,heavy loam?,light loam?how deep is the soil ?whats underneath?stones or clay?
Good on you for getting into gardening! I'm new too and thought I'd share my early experiences. A bit of a novel but I hope you can stick with me and get some ideas for your garden :)
When we moved here I found that we have lots of worms making great fertile soil. So I went ahead and started digging a 2x8m bed and, 3 weekends later, finished. Turned out I didn't have to dig far to find out the soil is FULL of stones, all sorts of rubbish and AWFUL weeds (ivy, oxalis, buttercups, clover etc). I perservered though - didn't want all that back breaking work to be for nothing - and planted out my tomatoes, broccoli, celery and lettuces with a few marigolds scattered around (I also planted potatoes and onions in tyres - changing my tack for next sowing and growing potatoes in chook feed bags, onions in the garden). Then I mulched with HAY.
Big mistake number one. NEVER mulch with hay. I learnt the hard way the difference between hay and straw. Hay has all the seeds in it - straw doesn't. Duh. Needless to say, I was thoroughly defeated by the weeds that quickly took over the garden - it was like it happened overnight. The combination of the weeds from the hay and the weeds that I thought I was smothering by digging chunks of the soil up then turning it over (weed side down) quickly turned my vege patch into a haven for weeds. It was very disappointing and I now have a new saying to add to my library - "Gardening has got to be fun otherwise you won't keep it up" - same with most things, I guess!
I didn't want to give up though - I was lured by the beautiful broccoli, lettuce and celery we were still able to harvest (divine straight from the garden. I hated the taste of store celery and was incredibly surprised by how delicious homegrown celery is - so sweet and juicy!) and the multitude of tomatoes appearing on the plants.
So I did A LOT of research (almost went cross-eyed reading library books and surfing the net) and got clued up on companion planting, crop rotation and successive sowing (I strongly recommend a trip to the library!). I came up with a list of the herbs, fruits and veges I wanted to grow for the family and, after doing more research and quite a few re-writes, I got a planting plan sorted that worked crop rotation and successive sowing into it. I've made a lot of guesses on the quantities to plant to feed the family but I'm expecting to have to make changes to my 'planting plan' as I learn how things grow. Very complicated (for me!) and probably a bit ambitious for my first go but I wanted to make sure I stay motivated and seeing the bigger picture is a big help there :)
So after 3 days hard slog I have just finished building 7 raised beds using some ideas from no-dig gardening. I cheated and purchased 3cubic metres of premixed garden soil (mushroom compost and organic compost already added) and mulch because I didn't want to run the risk of adding any muck from our soil straight off. Using timber palings I knocked up the 'walls' and lined them with black polythene then laid cardboard on the ground and a thick layer of wet unbleached paper on top then a layer of mulch on top of that. The idea is to block out all light to the weeds/grass underneath to (hopefully) kill them or at least slow there ascent to the surface. The cardboard and paper will slowly decompose and let the lovely worms up into the garden to do their thing. Soil on top of all that then I started planting.
I hope this one works - will be devastated if all my planning still results in a mess - but I think that because it is clean soil, if any weeds do come up they will be easier to pull out one by one than the onslaught I had to deal with before.
I definitely agree with Ariane - start by growing veges that you like to eat - it makes it so much more satisfying eating broccoli for dinner when I know I've just been out and picked it myself. And it tastes light-years better than store bought - seriously. I found broccoli really easy to grow and would highly recommend you growing onions if you have the space (I've heard homegrown are loads better for you than store bought - no nasty chemicals) and potatoes next season. So easy to grow both potatoes and onions (I've never seen onions growing before now and I'm amazed at them - watching them lift themselves out of the ground a little more each day - I won't have to do any digging to get them out!).
I also agree with Richard - a garden group is definitely a good idea. While we haven't really got one here in town, I put the word out on www.nzgardener.co.nz (their e-mailer is great and check out their TV episodes on www.primetv.co.nz - Get Growing - I keep missing them on TV so have been following them on the net, very helpful) and found so many people willing to share their experiences (and seeds and plants) that it really has encouraged me to keep going. I've found gardeners to be a wonderfully generous bunch of people!
I didn't want to buy soil in because, obviously, it costs more than using my soil and it seemed such a waste. In the long run though, I would do it again given the choice - I'm really excited about the coming months now, not defeated as I was with my other vege patch. I know that the soil I have in the gardens now is full of all the right things to give my plants a good headstart and will be less work for me.
In a nutshell, try to make your garden as easy to maintain as possible so you will want to keep going out there. Read up on successive sowing and crop rotation so you can be encouraged by the healthy plants in your garden and the steady supply of food coming in the house. Check out www.gardengrow.co.nz too. I found this site invaluable for finding out when to plant and harvest veges - great resource once you've decided what veges you want to grow.
Sorry it's so long but hopefully it will be helpful!
some simple ways of finding out what to are:
- find someone who gardens already and offer to help them in exchange for advice
- get some good books - Yates Garden Guide has lots of helpful stuff (including a bit on organics) - including soil and descriptions of veges and flowers; and Richard Llewellyn Hudson, 'Organic Gardening in NZ' is another great one. There will be others in the library and book stores - do avoid the glossy, coffee table ones though.
- go to a dedicated garden centre (not the one at the back of the hardware chain store) and ask questions - they are generally very helpful and willing to encourage.
But most of all, have a go - start small and don't expect too much in the first year. Our family saying was it took us five years to get a good garden going - and then we moved!
I found courgettes easy to grow but they take a bit of room but the produce that comes off them is heaps, and beans,lettuce, spring onions, beetroot, radish are all things I've grown and found easy and I'm a novice too...
A few more really easy care plants to start with: silverbeet, rocket (pick often), buttercrunch lettuce (don't let the soil dry), dwarf beans (too late now), broad beans (pick 'em young), squash in the spring, snow or sugar-snap peas (dwarf varieties easier to start).
Easy herbs from seed: marjoram, oregano, mint, lemongrass, dill, rosemary, thyme, Russian tarragon. Basil come spring, parsley, coriander.
Get your seed online from Kings - www.kingsseeds.co.nz . Huge selection and cheaper than normal retail if you're buying a reasonable number of packets. Buying seedlings is OK for getting started, but growing from seed is far more economical and in the case of brassicas they grow better from direct sowing than from transplanting.
Biggest thing, as has been pointed out here, lots of compost. Don't throw any plant material away - compost it. If you have access to seaweed that's great for the compost.
Put all your kitchen scraps in a worm farm. You don't need to buy one if you're on a budget, an old tub, or a couple of decent sized buckets can do the job. If you wish to buy one the Warehouse have good ones for $30 or $40.