If you’ve ever dreamed of plucking juicy ripe tomatoes from your very own tomato vines or watching tiny leaves push through the dirt as they transform from seed to plant, but the idea of setting up a veggie garden seems too hard or perhaps your weekend gardening project keeps getting pushed to the bottom of your priority list amidst a whirlwind of sporting events, birthday parties and mountains of washing, remember, it doesn’t need to be a huge mission. It can be as easy as you let it be. It can start off small, and with a little regular nurturing and a bit of Googling, can grow to fill your backyard or your balcony until your heart’s content and your belly’s filled with every home grown delight you can imagine.
The first thing to remember about having a food garden is that there are ways and means. Whether it’s digging over a patch of soil amongst the weeds in the yard, sprouting juicy tomatoes in a pot on a patio or herbs in some recycled yoghurt tubs on the window sill, growing something edible from a seed can be one of the most incredibly satisfying activities and easily altered to suit your situation. For me it’s the sense of achievement. I love showing every visitor to my house my veggie patch… “Come see my tomatoes, you can pick one if you like, I’ll make you some relish, take a zucchini home with you I’ve got stacks, oops, mind the dog poop”. And I adore the fact that my mind is forever growing and expanding along with my veggies. When I first piled up the rocks and pulled the thousands of weeds that was once my garden, building ‘beds’ for planting every seed I could get my hands on, I soon discovered that even if they did grow well, two carrots was clearly not enough carrots to feed my kids, while two zucchini plants would produce enough to keep every kid in the street in zucchinis for the entire summer. Today I’m still no expert, but through a few years of trial and error, Googling, and opening my ears to every bit of free advice I could get, I’ve come a long way. I have a little veggie patch that makes me proud, that works my muscles and uses my senses, and there is something so heart-warming about watching my daughters toddle down to the patch on a sunny spring morning, returning with their little fists full of fresh snow peas for their lunch boxes, lettuce for their sandwiches and even an early cherry tomato or two filling their cheeks, the tell-tale juice dribbling down their chins. Now, as I was saying, ways and means…
Gardening can quickly become a very expensive and complicated hobby. However, it can be as cheap as chips and as simple as you want it to be. It starts with dirt. If you are lucky enough to have a little patch of earth you begin by getting your hands dirty. You dig. You pull out weeds. You dig some more. You turn your earth over and over searching for any little root you can possibly find. Your back will ache and you’ll get dirty streaks on your face from wiping away the sweat with grubby hands but your shower will feel fantastic and you’ll sleep like a log. You can also buy a bag of potting mix at the supermarket for less than the cost of a parking meter and fill a pot or any number of recycled materials, milk cartons, coffee cups, even a plastic bag or an old boot! If it holds your soil and has a hole for drainage you can grow something in it. Essentially, once you’ve done this you can pretty much scatter some seeds in the dirt and they’ll grow. But, we all know plants need water, but they need food too. I’m not going to go into the details of the nutrients in the soil. Different plants prefer different conditions and more info on fertilizers can be gained from the friendly staff at any nursery, but personally, I find that a handful of pelletised chicken poop and a sprinkling of blood and bone will give my plants a great start. Then comes the fun part. Choosing your seeds. Often people are tempted to buy seedlings. I am tempted to buy seedlings. It’s more exciting to put an actual plant in your soil that you can watch grow from day one and there’s less risk of forgetting what you put where. Seedlings are a great option but not as economical. You can buy a hundred seeds for the price of 6 seedlings at the nursery. Plus, some plants don’t cope well with being transplanted and die from the shock leaving you confused and sending you off to the nursery to buy more seedlings for it only to happen again, so it’s worth asking about this when you shop. Whether you want a variety of plants so your kids can watch in awe as they discover an eggplant doesn’t actually produce eggs, or just a patch dedicated to your favourite summer berries, there is a world of opportunity. You just need to choose plants that match the time of year, the space and the conditions of your garden. Obviously, planting a crop of corn in yoghurt tubs on a windowsill is going to be a pointless, though experimental and slightly amusing experience. However, snow peas trailing out of a hanging basket or strawberries poking out of slits cut in the sides of a hessian bag could produce some great results. Get creative! Again, the garden nursery will tell you what’s easiest to grow or ask the old lady next door what she’s planting. This brings me to a most wonderful part of gardening, community.
Gardeners can be the most friendly, chatty bunch of people you’ll ever meet. Many a time I have bonded with a lovely old Nana substitute over the seedlings at the nursery. Everyone loves to share their successes and ponder over their challenges. Whether it’s the old man down the road pottering around his prize roses, the local expert doing the free demo at the farmer’s market or the work experience chap at the garden shop, asking for tips and tricks is one of the absolute best ways of broadening your garden knowledge. My next door neighbour told me he plants his sunflowers well into summer but first he files back the hard seed casing a little and soaks his seeds in water overnight. He has a great display every year. Also, we live in the 21st century. We have a world of knowledge at our fingertips. When I was struggling with the repeated death of my leafy greens I read an article about common pests in Gardening Australia magazine. Apparently, on closer examination, that greyish dusty looking stuff on my plants were in fact swarms of tiny little critters called aphids. Jumping into a Google search I soon discovered that while expensive bug sprays were available it was cheaper and easier to make up some ‘white oil’ with some dish washing liquid and some cooking oil. Diluted in some water I was soon armed with a spray gun that would block the respiratory system of the bugs. Probably shouldn’t mention here that the first time I tried this I forgot to dilute the mixture, coating my cauliflowers in oil and basically deep-frying them in the hot summer sun. Even easier, you can get rid of the little buggers with a good old-fashioned squashing at first sight and blasting them off with the hose. I also discovered that some people believe you can reduce the risk of an infestation through companion planting, using plants that the bugs hate next to the ones they love. Thus, with mint and sage growing happily alongside my broccoli and cauliflowers I have actually had leafy green success this year, PLUS, I now know all that stuff! Who would have thought that little old me, the gardening novice, would be able to advise people on dealing with aphids! Thanks Google.
Gardening can be a very disappointing experience. All that work digging, weeding, watering, then, it just…died…. But death of a plant is not a failure. It’s a discovery. A learning experience. Perhaps you need some more nutrients in the soil, up the watering, try a different variety, get the seeds in earlier, get that worm out of your toddler’s mouth. It doesn’t matter because you can always just try again. You might not be able to feed the neighbourhood this year, but when you sit beside your garden with your cup of tea as the sun sets, with the scent of wet earth in the air and you observe what you have achieved today, you will be feeding your soul.
About the author
This article has been written by ‘Heather’ – one of Lift Magazine’s ‘Anony-mums’. Our ‘Anony-mums’ are those mums who, for sensitivity or legal reasons (or perhaps just because they’re a bit shy), prefer to remain anonymous, but never-the-less wish to share their stories, tips and experiences in a positive, supporting and uplifting way.