Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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What can I use as mulch ?

Types of Mulch

There are many other forms of mulch that you can use instead of store bought, plastic wrapped mulches. Store bought mulches are great, they should contain no seeds and no pathogens. They are easily transported due to the wrapping and are generally an affordable option. There are other options available though that you can grow at home and harvest yourself.

These can include:

  • Lucerne

It is nitrogen fixing, deep rooting, extracts water and nutrients from deep within compacted soils. Harvest before flower set for best nitrogen release from the nodules on the roots.

  • Clover

It is a nitrogen fixating cover crop.

  • Green manure crops: borage, buckwheat, fenugreek, lupins, mustard, sun flowers.

Please refer to my article ’Green Manures’ in the blog/article section

  • Lawn clippings

Leave lawn clippings for a few days to a week to start to break down before applying to soil. High in Nitrogen. Keep in mind: have you sprayed chemicals on your lawn? Are you adding them to your vegetable garden? Thick layers can dry out and form a crust or impervious barrier for water penetration. Rough up occasionally and apply some organic fertiliser pellets into the mulch to aid in efficient breakdown.

  • Algae

Algae from dams and waterways are high in nitrogen. Simply scoop it off the surface and apply directly to the garden.

  • Arrowroot

Fast growing.

  • Acacia (wattle) and other nitrogen fixing shrubs

Provides Nitrogen.

  • Sawdust

It must be aged for a length of time to be useable. These can be acidic and best used for native plants and larger shrubs. It is great as a weed suppressant through pathways of your orchard.

  • Leaves

Be sure to let age before use to start to break down. Pine needles and Eucalyptus sp. are highly acidic and are not suitable for the vegetable garden. Save them for the strawberry patch or established trees. Use aged chook manure, spread lightly, through your compost pile layers to aid proper break down of these types of leaves. A wire cage 1m by 1m, lifted off the ground (to aid bottom air flow) allows high temperatures to be achieved. This will help create a useful compost/mulch from these plant materials.

  • Old clothes!

Probably best to give to a local charity store but they can always be used as mulch.


  • Manures from cattle

Most commercial grazing animals are regularly wormed on a 3 month basis. Let the manure sit for at least 3 months to expel any worming agents before putting on or into your vegetable garden. You don’t want to kill your earthworms!

  • Lemongrass

It is fast growing but low fertility. Great as a windbreak or to help stop unwanted grasses forming.

  • Comfrey

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