Horticulture: Your action plan when planting vegetables

Fresh vegetables are essential for good health and there will always be a market for them. Follow this planting plan and produce vigorous veggies.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recommends an intake of 400 g of fruit and vegetables per person, per day, or 146 kg per year, to ensure an adequate supply of nutrients.

Vegetables are important to human nutrition because they contain vitamins, minerals and protein. In almost all developing countries, vegetable consumption is far from sufficient.

Thorough planning and good cultivation practices (from seedling to harvest) are needed if vigorous vegetable plants are to be produced.


There is a need for fresh vegetables, which can be marketed on a larger commercial scale, but it is important to consider the following factors:


Make sure you choose the best soil available on your plot, farm or yard. Quality loam to clay/loam soils are best for producing vigorous vegetables. Sandy soils can be problematic because of excessive drainage of water and nutrients, as well as the presence of nematodes. This will stress the crops and result in a lower yield.

The nutrient status of the soil should be analysed regularly. The quantity and quality of irrigation water are just as important and need to be determined before planting.

The type of soil you have can influence your crop harvest. You might need to add some organic matter to enhance soil quality.


Water quality is another important factor. If it is poor, it will adversely affect soil quality as well as the quality of the crop. Depending on where you are situated, there might be several options for watering your garden. During the rainy season, vegetables can be grown under rain-fed conditions in most parts of southern Africa. It is possible to grow vegetables in the drier months if you have access to a water source for irrigation. Irrigation tends to be more costly, depending on your water source, or the irrigation method you use.

If a borehole is the only available water source and does not supply water at a rate of at least one litre per second, you can’t produce veggies on an area larger than 200m2.

The volume of water needed to produce the optimum yield of vegetables can be very high. At least 15 mm to 20 mm of irrigation water is needed once a week.

To irrigate one hectare of land, you will need between 1 920 and 2 620 kilolitres of water.

There are several options for irrigation, depending on the size of your farm, ranging from watering cans, motorized or solar pumps, drip or sprinkler systems, wells, water conveyance systems, etc.

Choose an irrigation system that is suited to the soil and the crops being produced, otherwise the yield will be greatly reduced. The system must be manageable and well maintained.

In drier areas you might need to look into irrigation during drier months if you want to have a continuous supply of vegetables.


It is extremely important to make an informed choice regarding crops. The first requirement is a suitable market. Determine the size of the market, how far away it is, and the quality and quantity the market requires. Also make sure that you know the crop’s climatic requirements.


Orange coloured vegetables like carrots, orange fleshed sweet potatoes and butternut are a good source of vitamin A.

Consider which nutrients crops supply when you decide what to plant. Vitamin A is a nutrient in short supply in our diets, so orange and dark-green, leafy vegetables should be eaten often. Carrots, butternut and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, as well as leafy vegetables such as amaranthus and spinach, are the most important crops to include in your vegetable garden.

Leafy greens, like spinach or indigenous plants are another good option in your vegetable garden.


Vegetable production is expensive. Input and labour costs are high, so optimum yield and quality are essential to be profitable. Costs and financial resources are directly related to all these factors. If there is not enough money to pay for all of the inputs you need for vegetable production, abandon the idea.

As part of your planning, you will need to determine the supplies you need, such as fertiliser, seed and seedlings, and chemicals. The size of the garden or field will determine the kind of cultivation and equipment to be used. If fields are small, hand cultivation is possible; otherwise a tractor, and the right implements, are essential. Vegetable seeds are usually very small, so a fine seedbed is required.

The projected volume aimed at your market will determine the size of the plots. Also remember to plant according to planned marketing date. Decisions about how to lay out the vegetable plots should include your chosen crop rotation system.


A tomato is not just a tomato; there are various cultivars including short growers, long growers and fresh-market cultivars to consider. Determine your target market first, so that you can select the right cultivar for all vegetable crops.

Your best course of action would be to find out from the seed companies which cultivar is most suitable in your area and for your market. They will want to know the summer and winter temperatures, when to expect the first frost, and the length of each season.

There are a variety of tomato cultivars to choose from, so make sure you do proper homework about the needs of the cultivar you choose.

This information was written  and adapted from information supplied by Erika van den Heever and Sunette Laurie from the South African Agricultural Research Institute (ARC).

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