There are many different types of vegetables that you can grown and the types you choose and the methods you employ will depend upon the time, space, level of knowledge and other resources available to you.
 
Here are 9 steps that you can follow in growing your own vegetables:

1. Choose the Right Spot

A vegetable plot should be sited where it:
  • Receives maximum sunlight - tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, aubergines need the most sun (8 hours a day at least). Root crops, such as carrots and beets, need from 6 to 8 hours of sunlight every day. Leaf vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, need around 6 hours of sunlight a day.
  • Has good, well-drained soil.
  • Is relatively free from weeds and from tree roots.
  • Has access to clean water.
  • Is sheltered from wind.
The size of the vegetable plot will depend upon how much space you have and how much you want to grow. As a general guide an area of 80 to 100 sq. metres can provide a family of four with an adequate yearly supply of fresh vegetables if you grow two or more crops in most parts of the plot each year.

2. Look at your Soil

  • For sandy soil, dig in well-matured organic matter, e.g. aged compost and manure.
  • For clay soil - dig in organic matter or coarse sand (not builder’s sand); use gypsum if your soil is sodic clay - to flocculate clay particles. 
  • For a raised bed, only import good loose loam (avoid clay soils) and add lots of organic matter – this is important because imported soil is usually sandy, and will dry out quickly without the addition of composts and well-aged manure.  
  • Test the pH - constant addition of organic matter i.e. compost, animal manures and mulch, can over time tend to acidify the soil. This is unavoidable in vegetable growing areas. – use a soil ameliorant e.g. dolomite to raise the pH from time to time. Always test first though (inexpensive tests kits are readily available and reliable) – aim for a neutral pH of 6.5 – 7 as most vegetables prefer this range. 

3. Feed Your Plants

  • Feed the soil not the plants – this improves soil life and soil fertility. Plants fed constantly with soluble fertilisers may grow well, but the soil suffers; a build-up of salts from fertilisers can damage of the soil’s structure and also contaminate it.  By adding well decomposed organic matter, i.e. animal manures and compost to the soil we are feeding the soil and improving the structure and the fertility, plants can then access the nutrients they require for healthy growth. 
  • Keep plants growing vigorously - prepare soil well before planting, add compost and slow release organic fertiliser such as blood and bone and compost teas during the growing phase. However annual vegetables grow rapidly and use a lot of soil nutrients, the compost you incorporated in your initial bed preparation may not be released fast enough to keep up with the plant's capacity to grow. To overcome this - top-dress the soil with a suitable organic fertiliser such as blood and bone or pelletised manure. Plant leaves absorb nutrients very quickly and therefore applying foliar plant food is an ideal way to boost plant growth, particularly for leafy crops such as lettuce, cabbage, cauliflowers, and silver beet. Don’t over feed though - overfeeding can lead to as many problems as under feeding as it produces lush green growth with sappy lax stems. This type of growth also encourages insect attack and also tends to collapse during hot conditions. 
  • Space your plants adequately it is important in plant growth and root spread. Small seedlings planted too close together will result in less than satisfactory growth, even with good soil preparation; plants starved for space and light will rarely produce a good crop. Over-crowding will also reduce ventilation around the plants, making them more susceptible to disease problems, such as mildews. 
  • Use Suitable Fertilisers: blood and bone, pelletised manures, well decomposed manure such as horse, sheep, cow and chicken (take care with chicken manure as it can burn plants if is too fresh and is alkaline).
  • Use Compost – the nutrient value of compost varies depending on how it was prepared (but it does add important organic material to the soil which aids soil moisture holding capacity and can improve structure).
  • Use Mushroom compost – don’t overuse this as it tends to be alkaline. A one-off application, if the soil is acidic, helps to improve pH, structure and water holding capacity.
  • Use Liquid manure and compost teas - quarter-fill a large container with weeds, and/or manures and legumes, top up with water to cover the material, and leave it all to stew for three weeks, stirring occasionally. Alternatively hang a porous sack of manure in a large water-filled container, such as a plastic water tank – dunk it regularly. Dilute the tea with water (1:10) and apply to the soil (for manure tea) or used as a foliar-feed (weed tea). Top up the brew often with water and more weeds. Keep it covered to prevent mosquitoes breeding in the container. 
  • Use Seaweed extracts - can be extremely valuable for its trace elements and as a good source of readily available potash. There are several liquid fertilisers on the market probably all sharing the same desirable properties.

4. Plant When Conditions Are Favourable 

Planting too early, before the soil has warmed up will check plant growth, may delay fruiting, may reduce the harvest and encourage insect attack. Planting out of season also creates problems e.g. Asian cabbage planted during the hotter months for example tends to run to seed, lettuce seed won’t germinate in conditions over 30 degrees etc.  
 
Mulch - mulching will help control weeds and prevent erosion of the soil from around the crop roots, reduces water need and helps provide nutrients. Mulch also increases the soil population of beneficial organisms such as earthworms. Mulch material should not have direct with the stems, etc. of the vegetables, as this may result in pest and disease problems e.g. stem or collar rots.
 
Control pests and diseases promptly - regular inspection of your vegetables is a must. The early sighting of pest and disease problems can prompt early action and control with appropriate natural control methods. 

5. Mulch Your Soil

Wherever possible, use organic mulches to cover the soil. They preserve soil moisture, suppress weed growth and enrich the soil as they break down. Use whatever is available in your area for e.g. lucerne hay, pea straw, compost, bagasse (sugar cane residue) or manure. 

6. Rotate Your Crops

Crop rotation is the practice of grouping crops together in their plant families, and growing them in their groups, moving each group round the growing area systematically on an annual basis. This is done primarily to reduce the build-up of soil-borne pests and diseases. But it also contributes to better weed control, and improved soil health and nutrient balance. 
 
Simple crop rotation systems:
  • Gross feeder (e.g. tomato), then legume (e.g. beans), then light feeder (eg. carrots or onions) then green manure, then gross feeder again.
  • Flower crop (e.g. broccoli), followed by fruit crop (e.g. peas), followed by leaf crop (eg. lettuce) then followed by a root crop (e.g. carrot).
  • Rotations should be designed so that crops from the same family, do not follow one another (in some cases, gaps of many years may be necessary to get rid of pest or disease problems. Grow a crop or crops for half of the year, and graze the same area the other half.

Example of Plant families 

  • Brassicaceae:  broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, sea kale, kohlrabi, turnip, swede, radish, horseradish, rocket etc.
  • Cucurbitaceae: cucumber, marrow, pumpkin, squash, cantaloupe (i.e. rock melon), zucchini
  • Liliaceae: onion, leeks, garlic, chives. 
  • Fabaceae peas, beans, clover.
  • Poaceae: corn, other grains.
  • Apiaceae: celery, carrot, parsnip, fennel.
  • Asteraceae chicory, lettuce, endive, globe artichoke, sunflower.
  • Chenopodiaceae: silver beet, beetroot and spinach.
  • Solanaceae: tomato, capsicum, potato, aubergine.

7. Water Your Crops

Vegetables in particular need regular watering to thrive – don’t let the soil dry out; always keep it moist but not saturated.  Hand watering is fun but it is also time consuming and can be inefficient – the plant roots rarely receive enough water for good strong growth.  A permanent drip or trickle irrigation system is the best watering system for vegetable garden beds. A well-designed automated system saves time, uses water efficiently, and directs the water where it is needed. Soil and water-borne particles can block irrigation fittings, so they need to be checked regularly. Also take note of where the pipes are buried so you don’t cut them when digging over the bed at a later date.

8. Control Pests and Diseases Promptly 

Regularly inspect your vegetables! Early sighting of pest and disease problems can prompt early action. Use organic control methods – they may not work as fast as potent chemical sprays, but they can control many problems successfully and safely. 

9. Plant to Maximise Harvest and Space

Plan for a continuous harvest, as this avoids the feast and famine situation so often experienced by novice gardeners. Here are some ways to ensure a year-round supply of produce:
  • Stagger the plantings. Most vegetables can be planted over a three to four-month period achieving relatively even yields for each planting; sow small quantities of each crop at two-week intervals. 
  • When selecting seeds look for early, mid and late season varieties of each vegetable or fruit, to stagger harvest times over the entire season. 
  • Some vegetables can only be grown at specific times of the year – plant these at the appropriate time. Others can be grown over extended periods, or even throughout the year – grow these when the other crops are not available.
  • Crops that mature around the same time should be planted together so that an entire section of a bed becomes available for preparation for the next crop rather than patches here and there. 
  • Plant tall crops where they won't shade out other crops.
  • Inter-plant complementary crops e.g. climbing beans up cornstalks, pumpkin under corn, basil with tomatoes etc.

There is plenty to learn - but the rewards are substantial. If you are interested in learning more about growing your own vegetables why not take our 100 hour self paced Home Vegetable Growing Course?

If you are not ready for a full course we also offer shorter study programmes, such as our Fruit and Vegetables Short Course. This is a different approach to learning - you decide when you study, with the aid automated self-tests to help you build your knowledge.

Growing your own vegetables is one step towards a healthier, more self-sufficient life. Improving what you eat is one thing, but there are many more elements to a more self-sufficient lifestyle, with sustainable approaches to improve your environment as well as your diet. If you want to learn more about Permaculture, we offer a range of courses for the beginner, through to those looking for more advanced, in-depth studies.

If you want to find out more, please get in touch with our specialist tutors using our FREE COURSE COUNSELLING SERVICE to find out what courses will suit you and your goals.