Each year, I do a course at TAFE, often for a semester or two. I usually gravitate towards the art department and over the years, I have had wonderful teachers for printing, pottery, papermaking, weaving, silk painting, shibori and batik. I have enjoyed many end-of-year exhibitions.

This year, I noticed a ‘Dry Season Vege Garden’ course. As my back garden is meant to be all food, I thought a bit of expert advice might help my dismal efforts at growing veges.

Tuesday became the highlight of my week. I met a tribe of people from all professions who just wanted to grow veges and were interested in anything that grew. Under the guidance of three great blokes — Kim Courtenay (he loves his veges), Stu Bonner (all about irrigation), and George (make sure you get your assignment in!) — we planted seeds, repotted seedlings and planted the seedlings. We watched the TAFE vege garden grow and each week was harvest week. But what did I learn?

We learnt by doing and there was very little note-taking — heaven. It was all hands-on with lots of chatting and discussing different ways of growing veges. It was a relaxed atmosphere where there was no competition, just a hunger for learning. As the weeks went on, we sometimes had a taste of our harvest. Someone made pesto from the kale, and I made jambo jam from the tree growing in the TAFE garden. We ate fresh broccoli, cut open a watermelon and ate sweet corn.


This is number one. Prepare your garden with good organic manure — chicken manure, horse manure or even camel poo. I was lucky to go to the rodeo grounds and get a great load of horse manure. Get the soil right and you will not have to add anything else for the growing season.


For veges, drip irrigation is best. You really don’t want sprayers as the water is not getting to where you want it — the roots. We learnt how to calculate the water flow/pressure and how much pipe was needed for the pressure depending on the flow of the dripper hosing. There are different measurements for drippers — three or eight litres per hour – which I think a lot of people don’t know. They just go and buy dripper pipe and wonder why their veges are not getting enough water. Add water and your veges will flourish.


It was such a pleasure to go into the shade house and see seeds popping out of the soil that we had planted the week before. I find it amazing that you plant the tiniest of seeds and the next week you see a bit of green. Small seeds go into seedling trays and larger seeds go into small pots. As they grow, you repot. Wait till they are nice and strong, and they can then go in the garden. That was always my downfall. I planted direct into the soil and did not give seedlings a chance by repotting them and making them happy before planting.


Mix half river sand and half organic manure (wear a mask and gloves as you can catch some nasty infections). Dampen down with water — make sure it is not waterlogged, just nice and damp. This is your mixture for the seedling tray and small pots. These are best to go into a controlled environment such as a shade house or an area protected from the sun and wind.


Many hands make light work. At the TAFE vege garden, we planted heaps of tomatoes, spring onions, leeks, kale, melons, eggplant, watermelons and sweet corn. A lot of it was en-masse. When you have over ten people planting, you can get a whole lot done. We had the biggest patch of tomatoes, spring onions and sweet corn (we planted those seeds direct into the soil). We did not waste one dripper hole. We worked on the fact that the soil was right, the water was right, and the plants created their own environment — no mulching and very little weeding.


Not everything does well. Why? Maybe there is not enough water or perhaps we were a bit rough when transplanting. And some bugs love certain veges. Do not be afraid to pull something out if it is not working. Another vege can go in its place.

My home vegie garden flourished. I pulled up my 14-year-old holey retic that had sprayers on the dripper system (no wonder it didn’t work well), and I put in new drip irrigation. I repositioned the beds, found a source of premium horse manure, and I planted and planted. Of course, you always end up with too much of something so share the love and give to your neighbours and friends. And learn how to preserve what you grow. We did produce a lot of passata for our Italian cooking.

Enjoy the fun of growing your own fresh vegetables and knowing where they came from. Some veges last for weeks in the fridge.

Lastly about TAFE.

What a great group of lecturers. We are so lucky they are passionate about what they teach. I went on to do the ‘Wet Season Vege Garden’ course. That’s another story.