Ready, steady, grow: How to create a vegetable garden in one weekend

Converting a lawn into an edible garden is an easy project that requires nothing more than enthusiasm, writes gardening guru Jane Griffiths

02 May 2021 - 00:03 By Jane Griffiths
A lawn converted into vegetable beds.
A lawn converted into vegetable beds.
Image: Keith Knowlton

Setting up a vegetable garden can be a daunting prospect, especially if you've never gardened before.

The first step is to chose the right location. Look for an area that receives at least six to eight hours of sunlight a day, ideally flat or on a slight slope. For many urbanites this will mean their lawn.

This is a good spot for a vegetable garden as grass is not a terrifically hungry feeder, meaning the soil below it will be relatively fertile.

Also, when a lawn is mowed and the blades of grass are cut, the below-ground counterpart of the plant balances out by sloughing off some roots. As a lawn is mowed regularly, the roots die back regularly too and are added to the soil, creating a humus-rich environment.

Converting a lawn into an edible garden is an easy project that can be completed in one weekend and requires nothing more than willing hands and enthusiasm to get them dirty — and green.

In no time you will be producing healthy organic food for you and your family.

HOW TO TURN A LAWN INTO AN EDIBLE GARDEN

WHAT YOU WILL NEED:

  • Plenty of cardboard.
  • About half a cubic metre of fertile growing medium (a mixture of topsoil, well-rotted manure and compost) per bed. If you are a beginner gardener, start with just one or two beds. Once you have learned to manage these, expand and add more.
  • Bed edging; you can use stones, planks, bricks, logs or recycled bottles.
  • Weed guard and material to cover the pathways between the beds; you can use straw, bark chips, bricks or gravel. (I recommend covering the pathways, but you can leave grassed pathways as long as they are maintained regularly.)
  • A selection of seasonal seeds and seedlings.

WHAT TO DO:

Step 1: Demarcate the area for your vegetable garden and, on the outside edge, slice down with a spade, severing all the grass runners. Insert lawn edging to prevent grass growing into your beds and paths.

Step 2: Cut the lawn within the area as short as possible and cover the whole area with layers of cardboard, wetting it thoroughly as you go, until it is about 2cm thick. The aim is to smother the grass, so you want to block the sunlight completely.

By creating a vegetable garden on top of the grass, you don't lose any valuable topsoil, nor do you disturb the beneficial micro-organisms in the soil. Earthworms and others will convert the cardboard and grass into friable humus within a few weeks

Step 3: Mark out the pathways (about 50cm wide) and beds, making each bed about the size of a door (1m x 2m) so you can reach the middle easily without stepping on the soil.

Step 4: Use logs, planks, bricks or stones to edge the beds. Aim to make them about 25cm deep.

Step 5: Lay gravel, straw or bricks over the pathways. Placing weed guard down first will prevent the need for weeding later.

Step 6: Fill the bed with growing medium, watering it in well.

Step 7: Plant seedlings and sow seeds.

Radishes are a rewarding choice for newbie gardeners as they grow so quickly from seed.
Radishes are a rewarding choice for newbie gardeners as they grow so quickly from seed.
Image: Keith Knowlton

QUICK AND EASY EDIBLES TO GROW IN AUTUMN

  • Chives: Much easier than onions or garlic but add a similar flavour.
  • Spring onions: Leave a few to flower and set seed and you will never need to plant them again.
  • Swiss chard: Relatively hassle-free and grows throughout the year. Save seeds for replanting.
  • Beetroot: A multipurpose, quick-growing crop. You can eat the leaves and root.
  • Lettuce: Do successive sowing to ensure regular harvesting.
  • Rocket, mustard, bok choy, mizuna: Easy to grow and will seed themselves.
  • Radish: Quickest vegetable from seed to harvest.
  • Coriander: Best sown directly where it’s to grow. When transplanted it tends to go to seed quickly.
Use plant markers to help you keep track of which type of seeds you've sown where.
Use plant markers to help you keep track of which type of seeds you've sown where.
Image: 123RF/Taya Johnston

VEGGIE GARDENING SHORTCUTS

Many people think a vegetable garden involves hours of daily labour. It doesn't have to. By working with nature we can reduce unnecessary work.

Here are some low-maintenance shortcuts to growing and maintaining a quick and easy vegetable garden:

  • To maintain fertility, add organic matter such as well-rotted manure and compost to the surface of the beds and use slow-release organic fertilisers when required;
  • Regularly mulch the surface of beds with leaves, straw or compost. This provides food and homes for beneficial insects, smothers weeds, retains moisture, keeps the soil an even temperature and prevents water runoff and disease transfer;
  • With smaller beds we can fill them with plants so when they are fully grown their leaves just touch one another. The resulting canopy retains moisture and creates shade, preventing weeds from germinating;
  • Plant a variety of vegetables and herbs in each bed. Diversity encourages beneficial insects and helps prevent disease;
  • Do successive sowings for continual harvests;
  • Leave some plants to go to seed for a self-sufficient vegetable garden;
  • Don't harvest whole plants — just pick leaves from a few; and
  • Keep records of what you have sown where.

• Griffiths is the author of four popular vegetable gardening books, the latest being 'Jane's Delicious A-Z Of Herbs'. Visit janesdeliciousshop.co.za