Here are our Smart Veggie Patch Top 9 Tips for creating a super abundant and easy-to-manage Homegrown Organic Garden Wonderland.
With growing food supply chain issues and rising supermarket prices, now is a great time to invest in your very own Homegrown Food Production System. So if that covers the when and why's, then the Top 9 Tips might help kick you off with some how to's.
So let's get started.
Table of Contents
The Best Soil
Before setting up your very own Smart Veggie Patch, you must find a place in your backyard that will give the garden the maximum amount of sunlight available. Things like overhanging trees and high walls or fences can negatively affect achieving abundant yields. Sunlight is critical for not only plant photosynthesis but also essential for soil health and warmth. Cold soil has reduced microbial activity and makes seed germination much more difficult. Without sufficient sunlight, plants will also not absorb nutrients efficiently and can be more susceptible to pests and disease.
It also pays to consider winter sun patterns if you want to produce food all year round. I do promote that you place your Veggie Patch as close to your home as possible for various reasons, but at the end of the day, if that is not also the best place to maximise sunlight hours on your garden, then the priority is the sun.
The Best Soil
Starting with the very best soil you can find and afford is the best way to have a Veggie Patch that can produce abundant amounts of organic produce from the get-go. In fact, I would spend the most significant portion of my Veggie Patch creation budget on the soil. There are other things you can take shortcuts with or make do within the short term, but your soil is the fuel that drives your Veggie Patch outcomes.
Very rarely is the existing soil in your backyard going to be suitable for growing abundant organic produce in without months, if not years, of hard reconditioning work. Not to mention the potential for backyard soil to be contaminated with various nasty toxins and heavy metals. By the time you add up all the input costs of turning poor soil into good soil, let alone fantastic soil, plus all of the time it takes will easily justify getting great soil from the start.
Wind can negatively impact your yields, yet I see many gardens out in the open and at the mercy of prevailing winds. To maximise our garden output, we need to minimise all the things that will impact your ability to produce volumes of beautiful organic produce. Windscreens can be great, but solid walls are better. Please spend some time understanding from which direction the prevailing wind (the direction it comes from the most) will impact your garden and find ways to reduce or negate it. Wind from other directions can be an issue, but most locations will have a direction that the wind comes from more often than not.
Studies have shown that young seedlings can have up to 70% of their potential yields reduced if they are exposed to the wind during their early growing stages. Think of any wind sweep coastal region; you will probably have noticed that very few trees grow there! So, protect your future food supply from day one.
The benefits of a sheltered garden are endless. A roof on your garden will allow you to retain heat, harvest rainwater, run irrigation lines, provide shade in summer and trellis points, helps stop bird strike, protect the garden from frost, and the list of benefits goes on. With the addition of a roof and walls, you can create a mini garden oasis for your Veggie Patch!
I realise many people see a greenhouse-type structure as not necessary and a step too far in the garden creation process, but I look at it like this. As I have had both outdoor and indoor Veggie Patches over the last twenty years, I can say that an indoor Veggie Patch can produce at least two to three times more food than an equivalent-sized outdoor garden… and with LESS TIME and EFFORT!
I will always sign up to get more from less, especially when more organic food and less is less of my time and effort. If you are committed to growing your food for the long term, you need to consider building a small home for your garden. It will pay for itself in no time.
Automated irrigation systems come in various sizes, styles and capabilities. No other piece of technology in your Veggie Patch will save you more time and provide you with more benefits. Consistent and measured watering of your Veggie Patch will vastly improve soil health, crop yields and the efficiency of your garden's water usage. Not remembering that you forgot to water your garden as you lie in bed at 2 am also saves on a lot of self-recrimination and loathing (lol).
Unless you are the zen master of time management, watering your garden inevitably falls between the cracks of your overloaded to-do list. Knowing that whatever life throws at you in your day-to-day life, your Veggie Patch is always supremely watered and thriving offers massive peace of mind.
For what can be a modest initial investment will have most certainly paid for itself in the first year by simply increasing the volume of output from your garden. Well-watered plants can thrive, and just a short period where they are either over-watered or under-watered can impact yields dramatically. Speak to a local garden supply centre or irrigation specialist to find out what system will suit your Veggie Patch and your dream of food security.
Using foliar sprays is a great way to balance possible nutrient and mineral deficiencies in your soil. Liquid fertilisers have been around for a while, but recent research has radically improved their ability to impact yield outputs. If your soil is already in excellent condition, then foliar spray can also add a real growth kick to your plants and produce. Using a foliar spray application just before the fruiting or flowering stage in a plants growth cycle can also help lift yields.
You can buy liquid fertiliser from any garden store. A rule of thumb is to look for ones with the highest levels of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phospjorus and ones with the highest number of other trace minerals. You will need a garden liquid spray pack of some description and follow the instructions on what application rates are applicable. I find a fortnightly spray works well, and I also like to mix up what liquid fertiliser products I am using to offer the Veggie Patch the greatest range of inputs.
You need to be constantly generating compost for your garden. The more decomposing matter you have in your soil, the greater the soil health and microbial counts (number of essential critters in the soil). Generating compost is not complicated by using green waste and food scraps. Compost bins that accelerate composting times and keep nuisance pests at bay are also a great addition to any Veggie Patch. We directly compost food scraps into our soil and get great results.
So people promote the wild harvesting of manures and seaweed and things like that, but you need to research on how to prepare these best and avoid potential issues you may encounter. While adding manure you bought at a roadside store can sound like a great idea, often, the animal that created might have been recently dewormed. This animal dewormer preparation can still be contained in the manure and, as the name would suggest, might also kill worms in your garden. Any compostable material you have sourced from outside your home or farm needs to be thoroughly aged and left in the sunlight to help mitigate a range of issues like these.
Compost is key, and ensure you are constantly topping up your garden beds with a variety of new well-composted material every few weeks.
These are the little engine room guys of your garden. The higher the microbial count in your garden, the healthier and more abundant it will be. Microbes (and beneficial bacteria) feed on the decomposing matter in your soil e.g. compost. The more decomposing matter, the greater and healthier your microbe count. As these microbes secrete waste products and die, they cycle nutrients that then become available to your plants. A plant's root system can also contain attributes that attract microbe populations, giving the plant first-hand access to the goodies they provide.
The apex predators are worms in the world of soil microbes and bacteria, so a high worm count in your Veggie Patch soil indicates healthy microbe counts. To know what is going on with this invisible world in your garden, it is highly advisable to purchase a simple 400x microscope. Many of these will simply plug into your phone and use the screen to view what is in front of the microscope. You can easily see these microbe populations within the soil, and it becomes easier to identify if the population count is growing or decreasing.
You can add microbe populations to your soil, but without sufficient levels of decomposing matter, they will simply die off. If you have good microbe counts in your garden, you can feed them with regular composting and liquid microbe supplements.
Raised Garden Beds
A raised Veggie Patch bed is a godsend for any gardener unless you are particularly adept at working while bent over or on your knees. They are simple, easy to buy or build, and can provide years of valuable service. A raised garden bed allows you to isolate your soil from potential toxins in your backyard soil, makes planting and harvesting far more straightforward and can help raise baseline soil temps.
They make running irrigation lines less problematic and help reduce wind-blown weed seeds from getting into your soil and germinating. When we had ground-level beds, the idea of working on the Veggie Patch felt far less attractive to me. Being taller than average and having the natural flexibility of a traffic light, I really struggle with getting up and down to work on a ground-level bed.
I also feel that the volume of soil contained in a ground-level bed requires far more 'topping up' with composts and nutrients to keep ahead of the natural depletion from growing food in them. A raised bed for me is more like a 'long-range' fuel tank for your produce. You can cycle a larger amount of nutrients and have more in reserve as you plant across seasons. Everything you add to your soil still takes a considerable time to break down. If your Summer harvest has used much of what was available during that growing season, you might not recycle new nutrients fast enough to back up to even a modest Winter veggie patch.
I hope this helps with some food for thought when designing and creating your own Smart Veggie Patch. We have approached the concept of Homegrown Food a little differently to some people as we wanted to develop an abundant and reliable food source or food production system. Our experience as parents and entrepreneurs has taught us that a key to achieving growth and reducing stress is to create simple, replicable systems and routines that produce desired results.
Our Smart Veggie Patch is a reflection of that. Some people might feel we are way overthinking it and… we are. We tried the super traditional 'old-fashioned' type of gardening, and while it has a huge amount of positives and things to learn from it, it ultimately felt like a backward step. I want to imagine how food will be produced in the future and create a garden that is a step along that path. You can't go backwards to go forwards. For me, you take the best of what you know and have learned from the past and try and envisage how that might look in 10 years or even 50 years. A Smart Veggie Patch is hopefully a step forward in the evolution of what a Homegrown Food Future could look like.
About The Author
Terry Memory is the author of "The Smart Veggie Patch" which will be available through Pan Macmillan in July 2022. He lives with his wife Gemma, and their six kids live on a forty-acre organic farm in the Huon Valley in southern Tasmania, Australia. Terry and Gemma produce most of their food requirements for their family with a two hundred square meter Protected and Controlled Environment garden that also thermally heats their home. As a successful health food entrepreneur, Terry co-founded the 13 Seeds Hemp Food and Tasmanian Tea Companies on his farm. Terry is a passionate sustainability and self-sufficiency advocate with over twenty years of practical experience.
TAGS: Veggie Patch, Vegetable Garden, Raised Garden Beds, Growing Your Own Food, Self-Sufficiency, Sustainability, Homegrown, Homesteading, Off-Grid, Organic Food, Backyard Garden, Community Garden, Urban Garden