Welcome to Level Zero.

Ever bought a great looking gardening book, but after the temporary hit of ‘I’m so gonna do this’, it soon becomes another pretty shelf ornament on the alter of ‘too hard; too much to learn’?

There is a level zero for every garden skill,
but most books don’t start there.

Level Zero vegetable gardening is for ABSOLUTE beginners – very few rules, simple tools, and basic methods to experience success.
Come make a real start. 🌿

RULE 1: One new veg per season

VEGETABLE FAMILIES mostly share what they like and don’t like, so learn one entry level choice per family. We have seen the Level Zero alliums already, and we will explore other families too. My recommendation is choose just one new veg per season that your family loves. Along with a easy herbs, flowers, and asparagus or rhubarb, it is enough commitment. It will also teach you other essential skills. More on that later.

RULE 2: Organics is the answer

SOIL HEALTH in the books involves a lot of testing, tweaking, turning and frankly.. tension, if you are new to all this. Avoid it all by just focusing on organics (plant matter) instead. Lots of it in the soil all the time will give you a rich enough, open enough, healthy enough soil to plant almost anything, year after year. You can get fancy later, but so long as you are TRENCHING every bed every season, you have enough food to keep veg and worms in the bed very happy.

RULE 3: Seedlings for vegetables

PLANTING has many methods, but most are not Level Zero. Seed-raising, seed-saving, cuttings, division.. all might be in your future, but the good old punnet with a few strong little beauties is your friend for now. We will learn those other skills by growing herbs, bulbs and flowers that are all useful but not essential. One skill at a time.

RULE 4: Simple tools

TOOLS are cool, but you don’t need near so many as you think. A square head spade, a small rake, a trowel, garden knife, dibber and boots. That’s it. Any more is for later, or…just ’cause you just want to. I add sturdy scissors and a brush for harvest and clean–up. We will learn how to use each properly.

RULE 5: Don’t rush

The best advice I ever got was from my Gran, Nancy – “You can have it all, my dear.. just not all at the same time. There is a season for everything.”

Most folks who try gardening in a rush spend lots, go hard, crash and burn. Let’s do this so it sticks. Slow. There is no rush.

Look wide; grow well, folks 🌿

Alliums, Level Zero

This is growing alliums, the onion family, at Level Zero for absolute beginner gardeners. Learn to grow these, and the rest of the Allium family will be yours to explore. The two most easy alliums to grow, and those we prefer here in our patch, are GARLIC and WALKING ONIONS.

STEP ONE: In Level Zero gardening,
we stick to the most basic methods and simple routines that can prepare the garden for anything we want to grow. Check them out here first.

Garlic stories

Garlic is about the easiest allium to grow. You don’t need special conditions or seeds, just a store bought garlic head. Just be sure it is AUSTRALIAN garlic, as those from overseas have been mostly bleached, roots gouged off, and sprayed with growth inhibitor. Ew. In the cooler regions, APRIL 25 (Anzac day in AU and NZ) is a traditional ideal day to plant garlic, but seriously folks any time is fine. You’ll harvest in summer when the plant leaves start to yellow off. See below for the easiest planting ever.

Walking onions are curiously named by their growth habit. They are bunching onions that multiply at the base, but also grow stems with bulblets that grow on top in place of flowers. These ‘sets’ become heavy and eventually bend the stem over to touch the ground, where they form roots and start to grow on their own. In the garden, if left, they seem to ‘walk’ away from the original location – GENIUS! We use these ridiculously versatile and useful onions all year, from root to set – the quintessential no-waste veg.

curious 'sets' atop walking onions
Funky sprouting ‘sets’ atop walking onions
freezing - such a great way to store onions
Ready-to-freeze walking onions

FUN FACT ~ The mini bulblet ‘sets’ on bunching onions are what are used to make the little cocktail pickled onions we trot out at parties. Small, round and perfect 🧅🧡

Why not try pickling some for yourself?

So, where can you get walking onions, you ask?
– You may find some at a heritage nursery.
– Next Summer we will be making ours available for sale by mail order within Australia. 😎
– (sneaky tip) some supermarkets sell ‘Shallots’ that are actually just bunching onions. Though perhaps not walking onions, they are worth giving a go. Why not pop one in the ground and wait. If it multiplies at the base, then BINGO!

>> LET’S TRY THAT RIGHT NOW <<

Went to the super and bought a garlic and some shallots to show you. Excuse the grainy picture. The Garlic will seperate into good size cloves to plant. The shallots you can see are even dividing (I took off the outer skin to show it), so will likely multiply nicely. Its a grocer’s trick to sell bunching onions as shallots, but it’s good for us. Happy days. I will plant them and see what happens.

>> GETTING THEM INTO THE GROUND <<

  • CHOOSE A WELL-RAISED BED that has been trenched, so that it has plenty of organics to feed the bulbs.
  • SEPARATE THE CLOVES AND ‘SHALLOTS’ so you can plant one in each hole, about a fist or so apart
  • PUNCH a hole with your dibber or super handy Japanese Hori garden knife if you have one, deep enough to fit the bulb with a few cms spare.
  • POP THEM IN and cover with soil (or not, if it’ll rain soon) and mark them so you know where they are.

Seriously, that’s it. Don’t fuss. As Autumn and Winter rains come, you will see new shoots, and they are away. We will check in again when they have popped up.

Look wide, grow well, folks. 🌿

Level Zero Asparagus

Asparagus is a Level Zero garden treasure.

It isn’t fussy, will likely grow without attention and pop up every Spring to remind you that you are still kicking goals.

>> Good for at least 5 years <<

THE GOOD NEWS: Asparagus is a perennial plant, which is different to the annual plants we grow that shoot, fruit, seed and die each year. Asparagus will live on and survive on very little, but if you want great harvests and do nix for it for a full five years, you can plan now to give these babies enough food and entertainment to last all that time, with just minor topup snacks in winter if you choose.

{psst.. if you are curious as to what happens after 5 years, then jump over to see Dividing Asparagus.}

>> Step 1: Make space <<

This step depends on where you intend to plant your asparagus. If it is in a new raised bed, then start with it mostly empty, or dig the row space down by about 30cm to start. In open ground, dig a trench about 1-2 feet wide and as long as you want the crowns to go, given they are planted about 40cm apart. Even just one plant in a pot on a balcony will use this method.

Plenty of space for hungry asparagus to thrive over at least 5 years.

>> Step 2: Think lasagne <<

THE BOTTOM LINE: We need a deep super-thick bed of organic material that these plants can stick their toes in and feast on for five years straight, but still keep the crown up higher than the roots so that water doesn’t soak and rot them.

Enter the asparagus lasagne – not the eating kind – the garden kind. It is a bit different to what most folks do but we find for beginner gardeners, it packs a punch and lasts the whole five years with no more fuss.

If you are super keen of course, there are always more ‘Level-Up’ options like incorporating Hugelkultur or Bandicoot Trenching but those stories are for another day.

The ideal planting plan for asparagus
The ideal 5 year planting lasagne for Asparagus.

BOTTOM LAYER: 💩🦨🦴

The bottom layer of the trench is the rich stuff – manure of any kind 💩 or pelletised Dynamic Lifter 🦨 or Blood n Bone 🦴.

MIDDLE LAYER: 🍁🍂🌿 🥑💐🍄

The middle layer is the thickest – 30cm + of as much organic STUFF as you can pack in – we mostly use fallen leaves because we have so many after Autumn (⚠️NOT eucalyptus or pine needles), but you can also use garden scraps (⚠️NOT lawn clippings), kitchen scraps, old flowers, twigs, mushroom compost. This is what the crowns will eat for the next five years, so be generous. It will look like a lot but remember that it will all decompose and compact so really pack it in there. If you have access to fresh woodfire ash, then do add some of that and mix in too, or otherwise some garden lime, so that all that organic bulk doesn’t end up too acidic. Just a few handfuls per plant space. It’s not vital, but helpful.

TOP LAYER: 🗻👑🤎🌾

This requires a mound of soil on top of the organics, so that the crown sits up above the roots, which have their toes down in the good stuff. Even when the whole lot compacts, the drainage will still work for us. Back fill over that with soil so that the crown is covered, and water the whole lot in to remove any large air pockets. This will be the last time you water them before they sprout in Spring. Top dress with a fist depth-ish of straw (any kind) and say goodnight. That’s it.

Crowns sitting on top of the soil mound, with leaves beneath.

NOTE THAT THE CROWNS ABOVE SEEM PLANTED UP QUITE HIGH
but all those organics underneath will decompose and compact, and the whole bed height will reduce sink. Each year, we top dress with more organics and straw, which effectively buries the crowns deeper each year.

>> Step 3: No Touchy!<<

There is just one down side to this delicious perennial marathon, and that is the asparagus have taken a hit and been disrupted in the planting, and whether freshly divided, or bought from a nursery and hence still very young, they will need a rest. This coming Spring they WILL sprout, but please just let them grow their fronds fully this year, to settle, grow new roots, and get one growing cycle in before we harvest. In Autumn, the fronds will turn golden again, and can be cut off ready to tuck in for another sleep.

When you are ready to Level Up, see more of our
>> Asparagus stories, here <<

Look wide; grow well, folks 🌿
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