Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

Home » Articles posted by Kate Northey (Page 2)

Preparing an old garden bed or renewing a vegetable patch

Renewing an old veggie patch

There are many ways to do this, but for a new gardener I found this one to be pretty straight forward and easy to follow. Please do comment if you have found alternative methods, I’d love to hear them and I’m sure others would as well!

  • 1. Dig out and remove any unwanted plants. Leave their roots systems in to decompose and add organic matter to the new bed.
  • 2. Turn over the soil to a depth of at least 2 shovels deep. Approximately 40cm.
  • 3. Loosen up the soil so there are no big clumps of soil.
  • 4. Remove any large stones and sticks.
  • 5. Add any ameliorants that are need. For example – Sandy soil – add lots of organic matter (mixed manures, worm castings etc.), and gypsum (for calcium) Clay based soil- the addition of Gypsum (a clay breaker) and course washed river sand, as well as organic matter. Puggy soil – soil that holds too much moisture- adds lots of course washed river sand to aid in drainage.
  • 6. Add Gypsum (calcium) to the soil if you have not already done so, certified organic pelleted fertiliser and of course, WORM CASTINGS! (if you can get your hands on some)
  • 7. Hydrate the soil. One person holds a hose and disperses the water evenly, while the other person turns the soil over with a pitch fork. Continue to do this until the soil is hydrated to approximately 1 shovel deep. You will visually see when the soil is starting to retain moisture. Don’t make it soggy though.
  • 8. Rake the soil so that is level using a nail rake, but don’t compact it.
  • 9. Now you can either go ahead and plant or you can wait 7-10 days and then take a pH test to determine the gardens pH. If you need to adjust the pH, do so, and wait a further 7-10 days before planting.
  • 10. Mulch with sugar cane to a depth of 50mm wether you are planting at the moment or not. If you have really course sugar cane try this out – place sugar cane on mown lawn, run over it with the mower. This will chop it up more finely which will allow new seedlings or immerging seeds to be able to reach the sunlight sooner (then they won’t be lanky and stretched trying to reach for the light).


Companion Planting & Flowers for the Vegetable Patch

Companion Planting - Friend or Foe

Companion planting flowers with vegetables is an age old practice.  Not only is it aesthetically pleasing but logical too.  There is no need to justify why your planting flowers instead of vegetables as the two go hand in hand in organic gardening. Inter planting flowers amongst the vegetables or using them as borders provide many benefits:

  • By making vegetables more productive through attracting pollinators to the garden.  Some vegetables do not produce showy flowers and therefore pollinators do not get attracted to them.
  • By repelling pests and promoting visits from beneficial insects who feed on the pests.
  • By planting different flowers along with the vegetables creates a unique biodiversity in your garden.


    • Parasitic wasps – feed on aphids, caterpillars, coddling moth, and tomato grubs.
    • Ladybug larvae (Hippodamia convergens) – feed on mites, scales, mealybugs and aphids.  They can consume over 5000 aphids in their life cycle (Copyright 2008 Nature’s Control.)
    • Hover flies, and Robber flies – feed on many insects, including aphids, thrips, leafhoppers, grasshoppers, moths, beetles, caterpillars and other flies.
    • Ground beetles – feed on ground-dwelling pests.
    • Lacewing larvae (Chrysopa rufilabris) – feed on aphids, mites, scale, fungus gnats, thrips, mealybugs and whiteflies.
    • Preying mantis (Tenodera sinensis) – feed on a variety of garden pests.
    • Damsel flies – prey on mosquitoes and other flies.

    As insects have different feeding requirements throughout their stages of development, a diversity of flora is crucial for attracting them the garden.  It is true that they feed on pest insects but there are certain stages of their life cycles where they need nectar and pollen in their diet.  This is where the flowers are poignant to the insect’s life, both providing food, host plants and shelter.

    Sometimes neighbouring flowers are used to attract the pests. This kind of crop is called a trap crop. The pests get attracted to the trap crop which is eventually uprooted and disposed of.

An Assasin Bug making a meal
of a 28 spot lady bug                      Beneficial Insect eggs

                                               A 28 spot lady bug                                                                                       A benificial lady bug


Beneficial insects are attracted by flowers from mainly the aster family (Asteraceae) and umbellifers family (Umbelliferae). This is not to say that other flowers won’t work.

Asteraceae: includes daisies, asters, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, dahlias, calendulas, tagetes, zinnias, strawflowers, camomile, tarragon, lettuce, cornflower, chicory, dandelion, gerbera, thistle, wormwood etc.

Umbellifers:  especially attract parasitic wasps and predatory flies. Includes:  dill, carrot, parsnip, parsley, lovage, celery, coriander, fennel, anise, angelica, chervil, caraway etc.

Marigold  CalendulaTagetes

African and Mexican marigolds produce a pesticidal chemical (thiopene) from their root systems, so strong it can last years after they have died.  Certain Varieties of marigolds (Tagetes) can help manage nematodes when planted the previous year. Marigolds and mustard greens used as a green manure help in depleting soil nematodes.

Petunia  Petunia x hybrida

Petunias help to repel melons beetles, cabbage pests and spider mites. Petunias as a trap crops attract beet leafhoppers.  

Chamomile (matricaria recutita)

Attracts beneficial wasps and hoverflies. Repels cabbage white butterfly.

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum)

Can be used to kill nematodes and encourage an array of beneficial insects.

Cosmos (Cosmos sp.)

Repels Mexican bean beetle attracts predatory insects.

Nasturtium  Tropaeolum majus

is among the best at attracting predatory insects to the garden.  Also used as a trap crop in luring aphids away from your vegetables.

Sunflower  Helianthus annuus

It is s said that they encourage ants to herd aphids onto them, keeping them off the neighbouring vegetables. (

Tansy   Tanacetum vulgare

Deters many non-nectar eating insects. Including: cucumber beetles, squash bugs, sugar ants, mice, fleas and moths.  It is toxic to many animals, so don’t plant it where livestock graze.

Sweet peas  Lathyrus odoratus

Attract pollinators.

Sweet alyssum.  Lobularia maritia.

Attracts hoverflies, ladybugs, big-eyed bugs, lacewings and tachinid flies


Herbs for Chickens

herbs for chickens


Who do you think is healthier and happier?

The best medicine of all is fresh air, open spaces and the opportunity to be a real chicken… The humble chicken. Is a domesticated descendant of wild jungle fowl from Asia. There are now an estimated 24 billion worldwide. There are a number of common herbs that can be grown for chickens for general health. Herbs can also be used to treat chooks for infestations of worms, lice and mites. Herbs for general health of chickens.

ALPHALFA: Is rich in protein, amino acids, minerals and chlorophyll. Generally made as a tea and then added to the chicken’s water source. Aids in general health and egg production.

ALOE VERA: Farmers in Zimbabwe have been feeding aloe vers and aloe spictata to their poultry overcome a wide variety of illness. The leaves are harvested, washed and crushed before being added to the chickens water supply. I found a great article: Use of Herbal Plants in Poultry Health Management in the Mushagashe Small-Scale Commercial Farming Area in Zimbabwe.

BASIL: Used for its antibacterial properties and for mucus membrane general health.

CATNIP: Insecticidal properties and used as a sedative/relaxant for feisty chickens!

CHICKWEED: A common weed that grows during the cooler months of the year here in SE Qld. A general tonic green.

COMFREY: Comfrey is rich in protein and is a very nutritious tonic food. It has high levels of potassium and calcium and is a good source of amino acids. Recommended to feed to chickens before their daily grain to aid in keeping yolks golden yellow and benefit their general health.

CORIANDER: Helps to prevent fungus. Is high in vitamin A (eye health and vitamin K (Prevents blood clots). Is a useful antioxidant and used for general bone health.

CRESS: A high source of iron, folic acid, calcium, vitamins C, E and A.

DANDELION: Rich in protein, vitamins A, C, K, D, B-complex, iron, manganese, phosphorus and trace minerals. Helpful for the immune system.

DILL: Great for respitory health, an antioxidant and for restless chickens fro sedation and relaxation.

FENNEL: Enhances egg laying and great at repelling external parasites.

FEVERFEW: Insecticidal properties. Flowers and leaves can be made into a tea and sprayed to control lice and mites.

GARLIC: One the most all round health tonic herbs for chickens. Is used in the treatment of lice, worms and other parasites. Also increases egg laying. A tea can be made by putting lots of cloves of crushed garlic into a cup of water overnight. It can be given to individual chickens via an eyedropper or the tea can be added to the chicken’s water source for a few days to a week.

GOTA KOLA: The leaves fed to chickens are a useful tonic. It can be used externally for skin conditions.

LAVENDER: Great insect repellent – helpful in repelling mites and other common parasites if cut fresh and spread around the floor of the chickens housing or added to their nesting box. Also used for sedation and relaxation.

LEMON BALM: Is antibacterial and found to repel some rodents. Lowers stress levels if placed in nesting box.

MARIGOLD: Increases chickens egg laying.

MARJORAM: Increases chickens egg laying.

MINT: All varieties can be used in nesting boxes to aid in repelling insects and parasites. Useful as an antiseptic, and will also stimulate the nervous system, circulatory and brain functions.

NASTURTIUM: Nasturtium leaves and seeds have antiseptic and medicinal properties and are also useful for controlling worms.

NETTLES: Nettles are one of the all time great herbs for chickens. Not only do they provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals (calcium, protein, manganese, phosphorus and potassium) but can also stimulate egg laying, help prevent worms and other parasites and help to fatten up any skinny chickens.

OREGANO: Contains antibiotic properties which may help prevent avian flu, blackhead, coccidia, e-coli, infectious bronchitis and salmonella. Also used to prevent mites. Scatter around the floor of the chicken house and also use in nest box.

PARSLEY: Promotes circulatory system development, enhances reproductive health (egg laying), rich in vitamins.

PENNYROYAL: Insecticidal properties. Scatter around the floor of the chickens housing.

PINEAPPLE SAGE: Promotes nervous system health but the flowers will also attract bee’s. This is great for the vegetable garden so it could be an idea to plant in the veggie patch/orchard and keep away from the chickens housing.

ROSE PETALS: High in Vitamin C and will make nesting boxes smell great.

ROSEMARY: Has been mentioned to help in relieving pain, aid in respiratory health, and also has insecticidal properties.

RUE: A great insect repellent. Dry and scatter through their housing to repel a variety of common pests. It is advised to wear gloves when picking this herb as it can cause a skin irritation to some people. SAGE: Helps control parasites and is a great antioxidant.

SOUTHERNWOOD, MUGWORT, WORMWOOD: Great as an insect repellent. Grow these away from other plants as its roots inhibit growth. Dry and scatter around the chickens housing.

TANSY: Great at repelling external parasites. Dry and scatter leaves through chickens housing. Tansy is also a compost activator.

THYME: Promotes respiratory health. Is an antioxidant which has antibacterial properties and also helps to control parasites.

THYME: Promotes respitory health and helps to repel parasites. I’m sure there are many more valuable additions to a chicken’s diet. If you have any other great herbs that should be on the list please share your info with the rest of us via the comment link!

I’m sure there are many more valuable additions to a chicken’s diet. If you have any other great herbs that should be on the list please share your info with the rest of us via the comment link!

Nasturtiums. (Tropaelum majus)

Egg Plant

Egg Plant

BOTANICAL NAME:  Solanum melongena


aubergine = berenjena = brinjal = garden egg = egg apple = patlican = melongene = melanzane = Guinea squash.

The Eggplant is a spongy, mild-tasting fruiting vegetable that  has a  meaty texture.  It is low in calories.  Generally it is not eaten raw, but is baked, grilled, or sauteed.   Eggplants are best when they are firm with unbroken skin, have no soggy indentations and are shiny in colour.  Male eggplants tend to have fewer seeds, and are therefore less bitter than female eggplants. 

To recognise the sex of an eggplant, look at the indentation at bottom. 

If the indentation is deep and shaped like a dash, it’s a female. 

If the indentation is shallow and round, it’s a male.  

Smaller eggplants tend to be less bitter.  

FAMILY:     Solanaceae.


The Eggplant has been noted as an aphrodisiac and feared as the cause of insanity.

The Eggplant is believed  to have originated in India .Cultivationhas been recorded in China as early as 500 B.C. The Eggplant was originally taken to Africa by the Arabs and Persians during the Middle Ages and eventually found its way to Italy in the 14th century. c

Eggplants were consumed without hesitation in various parts of the world, except Europe. In fact the Europeans called it “mala insane”—the mad apple or bad egg. Because it belonged to the nightshade family (which contain numerous poisionous varieties of plants) the humble eggplant was considered dangerous and was considered unfit to consume.

Louis XIV during his reign in the 1600’s first introduced the Eggplant to the menu but wa not accepted very well….supurstitious notions that the Eggplant caused fever, epilepsy and even insanity created a belief that the Eggplant was more of a n ornamental plant rather thatn a food source.  This belief continued for more than a century.

The United states was first introduced to the Eggplant  in the early 1800’s by Thomas Jefferson. Once again – because it belongs to the nightshade family it was slow to gain acceptance into the culinary world and to be accepted as a vegetable. It took until the late 1800’s and early 1900’s  when Italian and chinese immigrants entered America to revitalise the potential of the eggplant and make it an socially accepted edible vegetable.



American: Generally regarded as the classic or regular eggplant that you buy in the supermarket.  Large in size, purple in colour.

·        Japanese eggplants and Chinese eggplants:

 have thinner skins and a more delicate flavour than the American eggplants, and not as many seeds – these tend to make an eggplant more bitter. Typically more slender than the American eggplant.  They range in colour – purples, pinks, greens.

Sicilian eggplants

Large in size with purple stripes.  Thin skined with a subtle flavour.  

Baby eggplants: 

 Small in size, growing to only about 8 inches long.  Sweet flesh and thinner skin.

The small size of Indian eggplants means they are tender and easy to slice.

 Garden eggs:   very small eggplant, the size of an egg or smaller. A colour range from white to greenish-yellow.

The Japanese eggplant is long and skinny and ranges in color from dark purple to nearly black. It has a smooth, thin skin and a flavor that is both delicate and sweet. 

 Chinese Eggplant

The Chinese variety of eggplant is easy to recognize as it has a light purple colour and a long, smooth, cylindrical shape. They taste sweeter and more delicate than more common eggplants, primarily because they have fewer seed.

White Eggplant vs Purple Eggplant:

  • White has a hard skin vs purple has a softer skin
  • When cooked the white eggplant has to have its skin removed vs the purple eggplants skin can be left on to be eaten.
  • The white eggplants are considered less bitter with fewer seeds vs the purple eggplant is considerably larger so there is more flesh to eat.
  • The white eggplants are considered creamier vs the purple eggplant is still larger so there is more to eat…


  • Ph 0f 6-7in a rich fertile soil.  Best suited to the warmer months of the year to provide 5-6 months of hot weather.
  • Eggplants are frost-tender and prefer a full sun position.  Early morning sun is advised due to the hairy nature of the leaves. 
  • A deep rooting perennial that prefers a well drained soil.
  • Grow to a height of approx 1m and a width of .5m
  • Hairy leaves, sometimes having tiny spines.  Star-shaped flowers –  usually purple, sometimes white.
  • Edible fruit that can beeither: black, purple, green, white, yellow, orange or red, sometimes striped or shaded.
  • Harvest times can vary  from 45 to 90 days after transplanting seedlings into  garden beds.

Eggplants are generally classified by the shape of their fruit. There are five basic groups:

  • globe, elongated or cylindrical, egg-shaped, specialty and pea eggplants.


Spacing – I generally space Eggplant at approx .5m apart to allow for adequate airflow and sunlight.

Staking is not required if you produce strong healthy seedlings. 

Plenty of liquid seaweed throughout the growing stage will produce a strong root system to hold the plant sturdy in the ground.

Do not allow to fruit until the plant is of an adequate size.  Could you hold up a bowling ball if you were only a baby?

A balanced, organic fertiliser is recommended.


·        This will depend on each variety but tradirional varieties take 50 – 70 days.


·        Cut fruit off with scissors or secateurs.  Do not rip the fruit off s this will create an opening for disease to enter the parent plant.


  • Potato beetle and Flea beetle – will cause holes in the leaves.  Both can be controlled easily with the application of a natural bacteria called SPINOSAD. 
  • Aphids
  • Mites.  These will be identified by “small pin pricks into the leaf surface”.  You will not be able to see mites with the naked eye.
  • 28 spot ladybug – it will also devour leaves.

·         Another way to control insect pests is to encourage ladybugs, lacewings and other beneficial insects in your garden. These “good bugs” are natural predators of aphids, mites and many other damaging insects.   




 A 28 spot lady bug = BAD GUY.