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A food garden at home is a cost-effective source of healthy produce and a great way to exercise; here's Joburg City Parks and Zoo's guide to help you start your garden today.

Vegetable gardens are a source of nutritious foodVegetable gardens are a source of nutritious foodFOOD gardens is one way of improving the quality of life for residents in the city – it offers a source of healthy food, particularly for those most in need.
City Parks and Zoo believes food gardens are important because they:

  • Create sustainable livelihoods;
  • Address socio-economic and environmental concerns;
  • Help people make healthy lifestyle choices, and develop and expand their knowledge of food gardening; and
  • Teach that planting and tending a garden is a healthy activity, producing good food and beautifying the environment.

Here are some simple guidelines to help build and manage your own food garden.

Choosing a site for your garden

The site you choose for your food garden will contribute greatly to its success. The amount of sunshine it receives, the soil type and other factors play roles in a garden's success.

Sunlight

When deciding where to set your garden, think about the vegetables or fruit you want to grow:

  • Vegetables such as tomatoes squash and peppers, require a full day of sunlight.
  • Root vegetables, such as carrots, can cope with half a day of sun.
  • Leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach, grow in the shade.

You will need to place your garden to receive the kind of sun exposure your plants need to grow their best.

Soil

Also check what kind of soil the plants you want grow best in and plant your garden accordingly.

  • The soil should support plants to produce healthy root systems.
  • Make sure that your soil drains well as standing water after storms will stunt the growth of vegetables.

Remember to avoid planting your garden near tree roots to avoid your produce competing with the root systems of established trees and shrubs.

Preparing the soil for planting

Once you have a location for your garden, you need to prepare the soil for planting.

  • Remove weeds, stones, rocks and rubbish from the soil.
  • If the soil is hard, loosen with a hoe or pick and add compost. Follow the directions on the bag of compost (or make your own) for the best soil mixture for your garden.

Caring for the soil

Soil is not an endless supply of nutrients for all plants. It must be cared for and allowed to recover from planting. The best way to do this, and ensure a healthy crop, is crop rotation, where you plant different vegetables and fruit at different times of year, as each plant uses different nutrients.

Crop rotation may also reduce pest problems and diseases in the soil.

To ensure effective crop rotation you can divide your garden into:

  • Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, green pepper, etc.;
  • Legumes such as beans and lentils;
  • Brassicas or leafy vegetables such as spinach; and
  • Roots, such as carrots.

To make the most of your garden, make sure to plant fruit and vegetables according to the seasons they grow best in:

  • Spring: Green beans and pumpkin, carrots, eggplant, onions.
  • Summer: Beans, carrots, potatoes, green beans, lettuce and onions.
  • Autumn: Carrots, peas, green beans, lettuce, onions, pumpkin.
  • Winter: Broad beans, eggplant, peppers, pumpkin, turnips.
  • All year: tomatoes, beetroot, spinach, onions and cabbage.

Caring for your garden

There are a number of simple ways to keep your garden healthy. Efficient watering, using homemade compost and treating plants for pests and diseases all help keep gardens growing at their best.

Make your own compost heap

A compost heap is an excellent source of nutrients to boost your garden's soil.

To make a compost heap:

  • Dig a trench in your garden, or use an old drum or wooden crate to build your compost heap in.
  • In the trench, drum, or crate, first lay down a 20cm-thick layer of soil, then throw a 20cm layer of dry leaves, grass and sticks over it.
  • The next layer, also 20cm-thick, should contain moist kitchen waste (such as eggshells or old bread (not meat or oil)), leaves, and wet newspaper.
  • Continue layering soil, dry leaves, kitchen waste and wet leaves to a height of 1.2m.
  • Cover with a final layer of soil and water until damp.
  • Turn your heap once a week using a garden fork.
  • When you cannot recognise the contents of the heap, it is ready to use as compost. This should happen in about two months.
  • Mix into your garden soil or use as fertiliser for healthy produce.

Mulch for water retention

Mulch is a layer of materials used to cover soil to:

  • Reduce evaporation;
  • Keep soil moist;
  • Moderate soil temperature (warm in winter, cool in summer);
  • Reduce weeds and soil erosion; and
  • Fertilise soil.

Types of mulch

Organic mulch can be made from bark, dead leaves, straw, compost, nut shells, stones, bark chips, pebbles, etc. Simply spread a thin layer of mulch over your garden, taking care to avoid covering plants and their stems, to gain the benefits.

Watering your garden

  • Water twice a week during the summer and once during winter.
  • Ensure deep watering; the water should reach 30cm into the soil.
  • Water in the early morning or evening to save water by reducing evaporation.

Pest and disease control in your garden

Natural pest control is very effective, and cheaper and healthier for your garden than commercial pesticides. Here are some natural remedies and strategies to reduce pests and plant diseases.

  • Weed out diseased and pest-ridden plants as soon as possible to prevent spread.
  • Use natural mulch and compost to grow healthier disease- and pest-resistance plants.
  • Rotate crops to prevent pest re-infestation.
  • Mix a teaspoon of ginger and garlic paste in a bottle of water and spray or pour the mixture over diseased plants to disinfect them.
  • Mix a teaspoon of sunlight into a bottle of water and spray or pour over diseased plants.
  • Always wash garden tools after use to avoid spreading diseases.
  • Water plants in the early morning or evening to keep foliage dry to retard disease growth.

A food garden is a simple way to produce cheap fresh fruit and vegetables for your family, learn more about healthy eating, and get some fun exercise under the bright Joburg sun. Start your food garden today and grow your favourite fruit and vegetables.