Make An Instant Vegie Patch

How to make liquid feed Put the rotten comfrey under the tomato plants Ediblebackyard NZ

Today is for the beginner veggie gardeners – a quick and easy way to get your gardens off to a strong start. I remember how daunting starting is – so I’m keeping it simple. You and me together, we got this.

Before we transform your balcony/ lawn/ paddock to a garden of Eden, let’s set you up with temporary container gardens so you’ve got fresh veggies coming in as soon as poss. With a good dinner on the way, you’ll feel more relaxed about taking the time to work up a really solid garden plan.

Gather containers

A crate is my favourite veggie growing container.

Gather together all the containers you’ve got. From 1 litre through 20 litres – anything bigger than that takes a lot of soil to fill. Broken buckets, boxes, feed sacks, compost bags, baths, pots, evergrow bags, fish bins, crates – as long as water can seep out of it, you can use it.


summer potager

Put your containers together in the sunniest spots you can find and do it before you fill them. They’ll do best when bathed in light for as much of the day as possible. Make 10am – 2pm your minimum.

As well as sunlight, they need warmth. The plants I’m recommending today will still grow in the cold, but they’ll grow slowly. Speed the pace of growth along by placing them somewhere warm and out of the bite of the early morning low temperatures.

  • Use the north side of buildings, fences or hedges where the sun is trapped + held and cold southerly flows are cut off.
  • Brick, stone or concrete walls or floors hold heat and slowly release it at night
  • Sunny, closed in spaces like porches and decks work really well too.
saladings and rudbeckia

Bunch all the containers together to hold moisture and for good company. Let plants spill over onto each other in a neighbourly way because plants, like people, perform heaps better in a community.

How to fill your pots + make potting mix

Fill your containers with a free draining, nourishing mixture.

You can make your own by mixing a third each of good garden soil (dark and sweetly earthy smelling), compost and grit (river sand, well rotten sawdust or small gravel). If you don’t have good garden soil, go for a 50/50 compost + grit mix. 100% compost is too rich ok.

leave a lip when you fill your container ediblebackyard nz

Fill your pot to just below the top, leaving a little lip so that when you water the water doesn’t run over the edge. Sprinkle a full spectrum mineral fertiliser or worm castings on top and lightly work in with your fingers.

  • If you are buying potting mix in find one without added fungicides and artificial fertilisers.
  • Find a way to avoid plastic bags – see if you can fill buckets or sacks at your local landscaping yard, or fill a trailer and share it with a few friends.
A plant pot mulched with a mix of leaves and straw

Spread some mulch on the top of your pots to help retain moisture. Use whatever dry organic matter you have to hand – leaves, well rotten sawdust or trimmings from herbs. You can also use scraps of fabric like sacking, an old towel or a strip of shadecloth.

The best beginner crops for pots

Leafy greens – the king of them all


Leafy greens are the best value crops of them all. They give more harvest + more nutrition for less effort, than any other crop and they fit easily into every meal.

Keep them productive by regularly picking the biggest leaves from around the outside of each plant. Harvest a little from a few plants rather than alot from one and always leave a good core of leaves.

I’m going to recommend an amount of seedlings per person here – it’s arbitrary, but will give you a place to kick off from if you are unsure.

red russian kale ediblebackyard nz
  • Perpetual spinach or silverbeet or chard. Space seedlings at 25cm. 2 plants per person.
  • Kale. Plant seedlings at 10cm spacings. 3 plants per person.
  • Parsley. Plant at 30cm spacings. Let parsley flower to feed the beneficial insect. 1 plant per person.

Bokchoy + Radish + Phacelia: seed for beginners

Mulch a pot with old sacking ediblebackyard nz
Cover direct sown seed with sacking to protect it from birds + rain + drying out.

Don’t let raising from seed daunt you ok. Mother nature does it all the time in such a casual way – dropping seeds in cracks and on logs, under leaves and fallen branches, in sun and shade – and still they rise and grow. If you want to have a go, these 3 crops are super easy and a good place to start. Here’s some help how to raise really good seedlings.

Bok choy seedlings 2 weeks from sowing
Bok choy seedlings 10days from direct sowing seed.

Bok Choy is so awesome to grow at this time of year – such a quick and useful autumn and winter crop to have under your belt. You can either plant seedlings or direct sow seed. The seed germinates quickly – perfect for beginners! Space plants at 20cm and harvest in 8 weeks. Either pick the outside leaves as you need them or cut the whole plant off at the root for a new flush of leaves. Keep a fresh supply coming on by planting a new lot every month. 6 plants per person.

Radish may not be high on your wishlist but is the very best entry level seed a beginner gardener can grow, so even if you don’t like it have a crack! Space seed at 5 cm and harvest in 5 weeks. Sow a row in front of lettuce plants or calendula seedlings. Harvest as soon as they are ready, it doesn;t take radished long to get woody and yuk. Feel in the soil for size, pluck one and see, have a play!

Phacelia is the most gorgeous greencrop + bee fodder you can grow. Such a quick growing plant and pretty as a picture. Scatter sow the seed thickly on top of the pot. Fill a whole container with it and place it amongst your vegetables to make them happy. Pop calendula seed or seedlings amongst the phacelia seed for an uplifting vibe of orange and purple all winter long.

Pick and come again salads + Spring onions + Herbs

Salad harvest Ediblebackyard NZ

Pick and come again salads are the best. Choose from the wide range of looseleaf salads as well as chicory, endive, corn salad and mizuna. Here’s my easy peasy way to direct sow salad. Or you can buy seedlings and plant them out at 10cm spacings. For continuity of supply sow small patches often. At the first or second harvest it’s time to think about sowing the next little patch. Plant a dozen per person if you are nuts about salad like I am.

cut and come again salads

To harvest, simply pluck the biggest leaves from among the carpet of leaves. Be sure to always leave a generous supply behind for regrowth. A weekly shot of liquid feed will keep them coming back again, and again, and again.

My favourite cut and come again lettuces are Freckles, Green or Red Salad Bowl, Rouge d’Hiver, Drunken Woman Fringed Head, Red or Green Oak Leaf and Red Sails.

spring onions

Spring Onions are quick – ready in 6 weeks from planting. They’re heaps easier + quicker to grow than regular onions, but full of onion flavour. Plant at 3cm spacings. Plant a new lot every month for your very own regular, onion supply.

leafy greens are the best

Rocket + coriander are brilliant to have on hand for a punch of flavour in pestos, salads and curries. It so happens they prefer cooler weather – autumn hello! and are super easy to grow from seed. They really are best direct sown. Sow the seed in the same way you sow salads. Do your best to pick them regularly. Once they head off to flower just let them go, they’ll feed the bees and beneficial insects and then will self seed everywhere, so you wont have to sow them again.

You can of course grow anything in containers and aren’t limited to these crops. I’ve just focused on the easiest ones to get you started. Check out my May in the veggie patch diary for other timely ideas.

A daily check, how to water + a weekly liquid feed

eggplant seedling
  • Visit your pots every day and check in on them. This daily visit is your best bet for success.
  • Check your soil to see whether or not you need to water. Here’s how to test for water.
  • Check seed for germination. If its under cover, remove the fabric once seedlings have 2 or 3 leaves.
  • Pull out weeds. If you aren’t sure whats a weed and whats not then just leave things to grow a bit – sometimes it becomes more obvious once they’re a bit bigger.
  • Check for snails or slugs. If there are big chomps out of leaves then make an easy beer trap by submerging a small pottle with beer in the soil.
  • If birds have been scratching about, make a tipi with some twigs to protect seedlings until they are big enough.

Keep all your plants growing strongly with a weekly liquid feed. Use your home made brew – heres how I make mine or mix EM + seaweed together in your watering can and pour it all over the plants and soil. Watch them go! 😊

broccoli harvest

You are going to learn so many wonderful things with your first vegie patch! I’m so excited for you and so happy that you’ve joined the food growing revolution. You are just what the world needs.

Thats dinner sorted – let’s start your plan!

Sarah and Craig Concept plan

Now that you’ve got dinner sorted, you’re ready to turn your attention to working out where your permanent garden beds + fruit trees will go.

Before you make these choices, you need to understand your particular growing environment. There’s an easy but very awesome permaculture tool to help – it’s called a basemap, and you’re going to make your own one. It’s a record of all your observations – where the wind blows, the sun shines and the frost sits.

When its finished – and there’s no rush here, you have container gardens! – you are going to know exactly where to put your garden beds, the compost, the greenhouse, the lemon tree and how to get the very most out of your space. An abundant, easy to work veggie garden coming your way! Read all about how to make a basemap here … lets do this!


  1. Karen Grimwade says

    Great article thanks. I’m not a beginner – but still found it helpful.