Urban Food Garden

Creating Your Own Local Vegetable Planting Guide

Some twenty years ago I put together a planting guide specifically for Ballarat and District vegetable gardeners.  What went into the guide was based on interviews with a number of experienced gardeners in the Ballarat area, only vegetables they (and me) had planted were recorded.  

The reason for doing this was that planting times in vegetable planting guides for South Eastern Australia did not accurately reflect Ballarat’s gardening conditions.  While this guide is far from perfect I believe it is more accurate than any other planting guide, and as a result has become a useful reference for Ballarat veggie gardeners.

Other local areas may also benefit from having their own local planting guide.  This page explains why I created the Ballarat & District planting guide and to encourage gardeners in other areas to create their own local guide.

overview of planting guides for south eastern Australia

While the various seed planting guides that cover South Eastern Australia (Tasmania, Victoria, South Eastern SA and Southern NSW) are all divided into three zones these guides can be broadly grouped into two categories. 
Though note that the zones of six planting guides that I have examined in detail all covered slightly different areas.  For example, some parts of one area in one guide that was listed as cool could be listed as mild in another guide.  Though the variations were minor and did not take away from my basic premise that these guides simply cover too big an area to be accurate.

the layered category

This category has the three zones in an ordered layer. 
ZONE 1 (Cool):   Covering Tasmania, Southern and central Victoria, and the highlands of Southern NSW.
ZONE 2 (Mild):  Most of Northern Victoria,  parts of SA coastal NSW.
ZONE 3 (Warm/Arid):   Parts of northern Victoria, parts of southern SA and Western NSW. 

the doughnut category

ZONE 1 (Cool):  Covering most of  Tasmania and the central highlands (the doughnut hole)  from Western Victoria through to  Southern NSW.
ZONE 2 (Mild):  The northern tip of Tasmania, Coastal Victoria, most of Northern Victoria,  parts of SA and coastal NSW.
ZONE 3 (Warm/Arid):  Parts of northern Victoria, inland SA and western NSW.  

LEFT: The layered zones.  RIGHT: The doughnut zones.  Most of the guides that I examined used the layered zone category.

why planting guides for south eastern Australia are often inaccurate

Whether a planting guide uses the layered or the doughnut category it is easy to find inaccuracies. 

For example, the layered category puts planting times for Melbourne and Ballarat in the same zone (cool) where in fact spring planting times for Ballarat are roughly six weeks later than Melbourne.  When I lived in inner city Melbourne I planted my tomato plants in the middle of September whereas in Ballarat they are traditionally planted on Melbourne Cup Day, the first Tuesday in November

Similarly,  using the doughnut category zones, Bendigo and Warrnambool come under the same zone (mild).  Yet these two cities have quite different weather patterns and could not possibly have the same planting times. 

creating your own local vegetable planting guide

To create your own local planting guide you would need at least six local vegetable gardeners with more than five years experience of growing vegetables in your local area.  Basing a guide on one or two seasons is not a good indicator of planting times.  Seasons will vary from year to year, it is averages that you want.

There are several ways you can find experienced vegetable gardeners to survey.

  • From within your own gardening friends circle.
  • Local gardening Facebook and online chat groups.
  • Community gardens.
  • Gardening clubs.
  • By placing an article in your local paper seeking input from gardeners.
collecting the data

These days Facebook and online survey platforms, such as Survey Monkey, are effective ways to gather information.  But remember that many older gardeners are uncomfortable with the internet, it would be a good idea to use a paper survey form as well.  Below are two links to a preformed vegetable planting guide survey form.  There are two versions to choose from, a PDF version and an editable word version (.docx).  As only common vegetables are listed I have also left some blank rows for people to add extra vegetables.

When getting people to fill out the survey I suggest that you ask them whether they plant seeds or seedlings for each vegetable that they grow, as this will give you a better understanding of the best way to plant each vegetable.

processing and presenting the data

After collecting the data, tally the totals and discard the outliers, only list planting months where there is general agreement among your survey respondents.  If a vegetable has few respondents then I suggest you leave that vegetable out, if your guide is to be accurate it must be based on hard facts, not speculation.

Once you have compiled your results, present them in some sort of planting guide chart.  There are many ways to present a vegetable planting guide, though you might want to view the Ballarat & District Planting Guide for ideas of how to layout your own guide.

Remember that your guide should only be seen as a first version.   Distribute it within the local gardening community and encourage gardeners to give feedback.  As more planting information comes in adjust the planting months and add vegetables that were missed in the first version. In time you will come up with a vegetable planting guide that will be an asset to your gardening community for generations to come. 

And if you do decide to have a crack at making your own local vegetable planting guide do send me some feedback about what you are doing, I would love to hear from you!