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).