Do you have 15 mins to spare?
Once your garden has been dug, those 15 minutes a day will look after all of the sowing and planting, care and maintenance, even the picking you'll need to do. There'll be days when the garden needs no work at all, and some when you'll need to put in more time. But on average, just 15 minutes a day is all it takes!
We'll take you through how to set up your 15 minute veggie patch then how to spend your time each day.
Choose the position
Site the bed near the house. You'll be making it part of your daily routine and proximity is a big plus. But the location has to be sunny. Vegies won't grow well in less than six hours direct sunlight every day (more is better). A tap nearby makes watering quicker and easier.
Choose a size
You have to turn what's there now into a bed of deeply dug, fine, crumbly soil, rich enough to grow your crops fast. How big you make it is up to you. A single-person can feed themself from 9 square metres, a three-person household perhaps twice that area. But make a start, you can always make it bigger later on. Even a few square metres will help stock the larder and just one square metre will give you a small sample of produce and a big serve of useful growing experience.
Dig or no-dig garden?
Dig it:Clear the surface then use a spade to dig over the site, taking out anything that isn't soil. Break down clods into fine, crumbly soil. Vegies are big eaters, so work in cow manure or compost (a 25-30 litre bag for each square metre) and complete plant food (dose as directed on the pack).
No Dig:If you don't want to dig, you can buy ready-made, raised vegetable beds in various sizes, or plant in pots or even polystyrene boxes from the fruit shop. Fill with potting mix or a blend of potting mix and soil, but ensure they have drain holes first.
Begin with your favourite vegetables while weighing up the amount of space you have. Lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and herbs, comprise a useful starting list.
Garden intensively to make best use of space. Intercropping is the planting of fast, non-competing crops around slower growing, main-crop plants, for example lettuce around tomatoes, or beans climbing up corn. You can also save space by training vines, such as cucumbers, up a trellis at the back of the bed. Succession planting is where you plant in stages, sowing a few plants today and a few more two or three weeks later to give you a succession of crops.
Your Garden Tip: Sow or plant in patches as well as rows. Patches can help compress the space you have to work across (and save you time!).
15 minute task: watering
And now for how to spend your 15 minutes per day.
Never let vegies wilt. It doesn't matter if the top centimetre dries out, but the soil below that must always be damp (not sopping wet). Using a gentle flow, direct water to the base of plants, not over them. This promotes deeper roots and you'll save water by not wetting that bare ground between plants. During dry periods, weeds won't germinate as easily in those areas, saving time on weeding. Base watering also minimises problems with mildew that can occur with overhead watering. To water in seeds, or very small seedlings, use a fine, gentle spray.
15 minute task: fertilising
Veggies take their nutrients from the soil and you need to replace them to maintain its fertility. Replenish with compost and organic matter, such as manure, applied as a thin mulch along with the periodic use of complete plant food. Compost and other organic fertilisers improve the condition of the soil, feeding the micro-organisms necessary for fertility and plant health.
15 minute task: mulching
Mulch is a thin layer of organic matter spread over the soil. It acts three ways: it insulates the soil, reducing temperature fluctuations and wasteful evaporation; it enriches the soil as it rots back into it; and it excludes light from the soil surface, minimising weed seed germination. Apply mulch thinly and use a medium coarse material, such as lucerne hay or sugar cane mulch. Reapply when it rots away.
15 minute task: weeding
Anything you didn't plant is a weed and the longer it remains, the more food, water, light and growing space it diverts from your crops. Weeds also harbour insect pests and they make your neat little vegie patch look untidy. Make it a rule, when you see a weed, to pull it out. Do that every time you visit your vegies and you'll never have a big problem. A hoe is a great tool for weeding between rows of vegies - push and pull its blade across the soil to sever weeds at ground level. You can leave the bodies of young weeds on the ground to rot back into and enrich the soil.
15 minute task: debugging
Lots of insects and other pests will try to get to your dinner before you. But if you inspect your plants every day, you'll be able to detect problems before they become too damaging. Squashing pests on sight is the safest, most organic means of control, but there are also non-toxic, organic or very low-toxicity products available to help control pests on vegies.
Slugs and snails - sprinkle iron-based snail bait around seedlings. These products decay into iron, which is a useful element in the soil. Alternatively, pour beer into shallow dishes placed at intervals around plants. Slugs and snails crawl in and drown.
Aphids, mites and whiteflies - these can be controlled with a safe remedy, such as eco-oil, the soap spray Natrasoap, or pyrethrum.
Caterpillars - squash them on sight, or use a biological control such as Dipel or spinosad. Regular use of eco-oil destroys caterpillar eggs.
Beetles and bugs - not all are damaging. Pest beetles eat holes in leaves or fruit, pest bugs suck sap causing wilting, spotting or premature fruit fall. Squash by hand.
You don't have to wait until plants are full size before you start picking them. Many plants, including loose-leaf lettuces, silverbeet and rocket, can have one or two outer leaves cropped as they grow. Carrots and shallots can be pulled while still young, and zucchini should definitely be harvested when small, sweet and tender. For full-sized crops, you'll see when they're ready by how they look compared with those in the fruit shop.