How to start a flower or vegetable garden, while building an ecosystem

Building an ecosystem doesn’t have to take a lot of money, but it does take time.
Use what you have or is available in your area. (Most people complain that it costs money to have plants, propagate your own. When fancy plants die due to the wrong growing conditions, one could become discouraged to continue gardening.) Work with your natural environment.

If there is a must have plant that doesn’t fit your climate zone, grow it in a growing structure. This saves water and prevents pests, therefore nullify the need to use pesticides or poisons.

Working with the environment saves a lot of energy and time. Work with Nature, keep it simple, keep it easy. Have fun! And do what works.

I personally dislike weeding and mundane garden maintenance (mowing the lawn). Nature doesn’t have weeds or lawn, only pioneer species and grasslands. Plant succession at various stages. If you do choose to have a lawn for pets or children, choose an indigenous species that thrives in your climate zone.

The biggest key to sustainable gardening is HEALTHY SOIL. If plants are healthy and getting the right nutrients, they grow optimally. This reduces the need to use pesticides and artificial fertilizers.

We have reached the Anthropogenic age, every action matters. Do your part, live sustainably!

Choosing the right location
A successful vegetable garden needs at least 6 hours of sunshine and a little afternoon shade. This requires some thought, so spend time in your garden watching the sunlight at different times of the day. Note your trees and your neighbour’s trees and watch the way the sun shades an area beneath a tree. A sunny winter spot under a deciduous tree might be completely shaded when the tree leafs out in the spring. North gets the most sun and the South is the shaded side.

Choosing the type of flower/vegetable beds
This decision should be made fairly early in the planning process. There are several types of beds that are all good options with a blending of the three being an option, too.

Raised Beds – Raised beds are one of the simplest ways to start a vegetable garden. The materials are inexpensive, you don’t need to till the soil, and there is a weed barrier which helps prevent grass from getting into your garden. While raised beds are the most common, there are other options that work just as well. They also are less labour intensive.

Pots – If space is limited then pots are a great solution. Large, medium, and small pots are great for growing all sorts of vegetables and herbs. Some veggies that do great in pots are Lettuce, Peppers, Chillies, Chives, Spring Onions, Parsley, Mint and Garlic. A pot is infinitely practical and can be moved easily to find the best sun.

Plant directly in the soil – People have used this method of vegetable gardening for centuries. You till and amend the soil prior to planting. Our ancestors did the tilling by hand and used manure to amend the soil. It is best to get a soil sample tested to see what your soil is missing. Most nurseries will have information on this as well as soil amendments. You will want to create rows with mounds for most planting. The concept of companion planting is ideal for these sorts of beds.

Bed preparation
Clear a 1m x 2m patch of land. (The bed can be any size, but the more space, the more produce.) If you can, get 4 bags of mushroom compost (preferably) otherwise 30dm bags of compost. Add one cup (240ml) bone meal per m2 and mix together in your new bed. Add chicken manure, if possible otherwise pig or cow. Cover it with mulch – Lucerne, straw or even grass clippings (once they have turned brown, otherwise they utilize the nitrogen from your bed to decompose). Water thoroughly and let it sit for about a week or two. You will see the soil settle.

Everyone needs a compost heap
I chose a plastic green drum, with no base as it was already here and suited my purposes perfectly. (I normally have a heap hidden in the bottom of the garden, but this specific garden has no semi shade and a heap would spill out.) It was filled to the brim a week ago and has already dropped more than half its mass, producing about an inch of compost. I throw all garden and kitchen waste, including egg shells, into there. Preferably throw chicken manure in too, helps to produce N (Nitrogen) which speeds up the process and heats heap up to sterilize soil and to kill weed seeds.
Ideally it will reach temperatures of 80 – 90 °C in the centre, once the cycle of decomposition has been initiated. I will keep turning it every few weeks to sterilize entire heap.

There are many ways of building a compost heap. I always find that following the fundamentals of nature is most successful. Full sunlight dries your compost heap out too quickly. Deep shade doesn’t let it dry enough, so it becomes soggy and slimy. So look for a semi shady patch in the garden.
Throwing cooked food brings pests such as flies and rats. (These items would ideally go to a bio-composter to be 100% sustainable.)
I throw all my kitchen waste – EXCEPT citrus and onions as they deter good decomposers and break down the digestive systems in organisms which are inhabiting the heap. Therefore it takes longer to decompose. If you have earthworms, put them in the compost heap… they will help it a long.

Work with what you have. This soil will feed your garden in the future!!

Selecting your plants
Once you have prepared the soil, select your seeds and herbs or veggie seedlings (having a mixture allows the crop’s growth period to be staggered.) Start with Bulbinella, Swiss Chard, chives or spring onions, tomatoes and your favourites. Your flower/vegetable bed must get at least 6 hrs full sunlight per day. The larger plants will provide shade for the smaller seedlings that will come out later in areas with full sun and provide a wind break. Read the back of the seed packs, this Guide or ask at your nearest Garden Center for advice on which plants to select if you are having difficulty.

Extra tips to aid growth
If it is really hot and Windy, put a shade cloth wall around the bed to get it started. Use your rinsing water from your dishes or grey water (rain water from tanks if you can spare it). Two to three buckets should water the entire patch (that is 1m x 2m in size). Water 2 times per week, depending on how much rainfall your area receives or as needed. The soil should rather be too dry, than too wet. The ultimate test is if you press your fingers against the soil…it should have a few particles stuck to it. If none, then too dry and if it sticks, then it’s too wet. Seedlings require more regular watering than established plants. Getting it started is where most of the work is involved. Once it’s established, it looks after itself. (Therefore mulching is essential).

Happy gardening!

@ Lollies Garden
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