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Minimum Effort for Maximum Harvest

Posted by Alan Singleton on

This is an article I did for the Toowoomba Chronicle, thankfully edited by journalist-in-waiting, Ellen Singleton. Some good tips on gardening:

Toiling away in the garden can be very therapeutic and the bountiful harvests are the icing on the cake. Unfortunately not all of us have the time to spare.

There are a rapidly growing number of time-poor families who are keen to know just where their food comes from and how it was grown. Although limited, local markets can provide a connection with organic growers and the huge success of Toowoomba’s first Farmers Market goes to show just what interest there is.

A combination of these markets and growing our own food can reduce the amount purchased from supermarkets with all the ‘food miles’ involved and questionable nutritional value.

Anyone needing convincing that there is a difference should try the ‘taste test’. A homegrown tomato, potato or carrot versus one off the shelf ‘designed’ for size and longer shelf life. No contest!


The first thing the home gardener should consider is what area they can allocate to produce. Those with a larger patch can consider citrus trees as well as sizeable garden beds to allow for a range of produce.

Would-be gardeners with a small yard do not despair. With some thought, the smallest area can be productive. You can get an amazing harvest from one tomato bush or a fantastic range of herbs from a very small area.

Two tips:
do not think you can grow everything the family will need
be satisfied with eating what is in season.


Healthy soil means healthy plants that are resistant to attack from pests and disease. Your soil should contain at least 20% organic matter (compost). For the long-term health of your garden, feeding your plants by building the soil with organic fertilizers and compost is best. This will give you soil that is rich in organic matter and teeming with microbial life. Organic fertilisers take longer to do their work so a bit of forward planning is required.

Remember that beautiful tasting tomato had to steal nutrients to get that good so replenishing soil over time is vital.

Rock minerals are a natural mineral addition that contain trace elements that can really give your plants a lift. Apply after every second harvest and place a little in the hole when planting your seedlings.

Getting a Head Start

Here are some tips if you want to give your plants a head start this spring. Lay black plastic on the ground and cut holes to plant your seedlings. Make a frame to cover with hession to protect your plants. Remove these protections when the weather gets warmer. Cover your plants mid-afternoon with frost cover and remove in the mornings. Grow your seedlings in a green house ready for transplanting.

What To Plant:

These are some easy to grow staples that a gardener of any skill can grow:
Spring Onions – plant anytime, fast growing and more vigorous than shallots
Lettuce – Loose leaf lettuce allows for easy picking of leaves when needed
Tomatoes, Capsicum and Eggplant – All easy to grow, just cover fruit early with calico bags to avoid fruit fly stings. Also ensure your tomato bush isn’t exposed to excessive nitrogen (compost with excess manures and green waste), this can result in ‘trees’ but little fruit.
Chinese Vegetables – Both quick and easy, choose a range from bok choy to pak choy
Silver Beet – A plant that just keeps on giving! Take some leaves off and presto, more appear! Don’t forget silver beet loves nitrogen.
Beetroot – Use compost but don’t add any fertilizer or else you will get lots of leaf but not much root.

Get together with friends and neighbours to share your crops. Bill puts in the tomatoes while you grow the lettuce and shallots. This way you wont end up with feasts and famines. Another trick to get around having too much at one time is to plant your lettuce or whatever too close together and take out every second one early.

Saving Time and Water

A ‘wick garden’ has to be the ultimate when it comes to saving time and water in the home garden.

They have a water reservoir under the actual garden, the water ‘wicks’ up to the plants through capillary action. This means no hand held water once the seedlings are away, usually three to five days. For the plants, they get just the right amount of water all day every day, and a growing medium with a thriving ecosystem of micro-organisms and worms once the garden is inoculated.

For the gardener this means no time wasted watering, very little weeding, and no risk of killing off plants with too much or too little water. With no loss of water past the root zone and no evaporation that water bill from the council will look a whole lot better.

Wick gardens are normally built above ground which means a canopy to protect the garden from the cold, pests, birds or animals is an easy addition.

An added bonus is the garden will look after itself for weeks which means you can plant, go on holidays and come back to a bountiful harvest.

For more information on wick gardens and ready to assemble kits go to

About Alan Singleton

Alan is a keen organic gardener who has lived in Toowoomba for some years, He has been a celebrity guest speaker at gardening shows. He gives up his time to speak to groups about water management, how to build wick gardens, their history, orchard applications and how to get the most out of the back yard garden. He can be contacted on or ph 07 46 395 680

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