You can’t beat the taste of your own vegies
When I was 24 and looking for a house to buy, I bought a typical first- homebuyer’s property — with a typical first-homebuyer’s garden. It was a 1970s home that had been a rental for years and was old and dated with a dried-out garden. My then boyfriend (and now husband) Pascal DeRoche and I set to work doing budget renovations.
One of the things people said to me in those early days was: “Why don’t you start a vegetable garden? You have plenty of space.” Perhaps it was another way of saying: “Why don’t you do something with that wasteland of a yard”.
I was not enthusiastic. I thought it would be way too much work for too little reward. But after two years of living away from home for the first time and wincing with guilt each time I threw out expensive vegies that had gone mouldy, I thought I would give growing our own a try.
Now I am hooked. I started off with one bed. Then another. Now we have raised beds that line the fence, a potato patch, fruit trees and wine barrels of blueberries and vegetables. Who knew all these years there was a gardener in me waiting to get out. In the cooler seasons, we eat from the garden every day.
The good thing is that a vegetable garden does not have to take up much time once you have put in the effort to set one up correctly. You also will save. Although it takes money to set up it will eventually pay off and then some. For example, I have seen cos lettuce for $19.95 a kilo in the shops. Meanwhile, a punnet of cos lettuce will cost you about $2.25 and will give you enough crisp fresh leaves for months.
Pick a spot in your garden that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. If you don’t have such a spot, don’t stress — I found many things still grew without that much sun, and lettuces, broccoli and spinach are very happy growing in shade.
Our soil wasn’t great, so we invested in corrugated steel raised garden kits from Bunnings ($199). You also can make beds from sleepers or planks, or plant vegies in Styrofoam boxes or those green jute bags from Coles. Planting in raised beds, big pots and old wine barrels also will help control garden pests — such as the dog. Our dog Nala loves blueberries and I have caught her blissfully munching them directly off the bushes. At least with the height of the wine barrels there are some branches she can’t reach. We bought a trailerload of soil and manure for the raised beds at about $70 a cubic metre.
After the bed construction came the fun bit — the planting. I am no gardening expert. I read a lot but, in the end, I just tried things to see what worked in our soil and garden and what didn’t. We have had the best success with lettuce, broccoli, silverbeet, tomatoes, rhubarb, eggplant, Warrigal spinach, blueberries, spring onions, asparagus, artichokes and herbs such as thyme, oregano, rosemary, chives, garlic and basil.
Pascal also realised we could direct the run-off from our evaporative air-conditioner deep into a vegetable bed. Now it waters the eggplant, lettuce, celery and a passionfruit vine. If you plan on doing the same, make sure the water is piped into the ground rather than being sprinkled directly on the topsoil.
I also planted fruit trees. I recommend planting fruit trees early. You never know if you will be living in a house for longer than you initially expect, like us. Or invest a little more money to get more mature specimens.
We were lucky that the previous owner had planted some small fruit trees and these have all fruited since we moved in. We get mangoes, grapefruit, nectarines and pomegranates and we have also planted figs, apples, lemon, apricots, oranges, olives and a passionfruit vine. We nourished a small half-dead grapevine that was by the fence and now we get bucketloads of grapes in summer. We got 52 mangoes one year from a tree not much taller than I am.
Growing our own also has encouraged us to be a bit more experimental in the kitchen and we now cook with a bigger variety of vegetables. There is something both fun and satisfying about cooking something you watched grow in your own yard.
Our back garden is very much the average Aussie yard. But now, with vegetables and fruit trees, it looks so much nicer. We get the occasional frog and blue-tongue lizards have moved in to breed and eat the slaters and slugs. And they love the fruit that falls on the ground. Our backyard is never quite going to look like one of those magazine gardens —but it’s now a productive one and we love it. So does the dog.
Raspberries growing in one of our old wine barrels. You can get wine barrels from gardening centres but they can be expensive so try Gumtree for cheaper ones. Picture: Maya Anderson www.house-nerd.com/articles
TIPS FOR AN EASY PRODUCE GARDEN
• Plant fruit trees early. Put aside a little more money to get more mature trees if you can.
• If your soil quality isn’t great, plant in raised beds, pots or wine barrels.
• It is worth it to invest in good vegie-garden-specific soil and add sheep or cow manure.
• Tomatoes, kale, silverbeet, Warrigal spinach, rhubarb, spring onions, lettuce, eggplant, oregano, rosemary and thyme are all easy to grow.
• Try planting all different kinds of things.
• I find lettuce, spinach and broccoli love to be in shade.
• If you don’t have a big garden, you can still grow vegetables in pots or wine barrels.
• Make your own compost from kitchen scraps to cheaply enrich the soil regularly.
• Plant a mature asparagus crown. An asparagus crown takes three to five years to produce good shoots but mature crowns are available from some nurseries and sometimes they even are on sale through Gumtree.
• Plant passionfruit and grapevines along walls and fences.
EASY YEAR-ROUND PICKINGS
I wanted things that did not need much care and that would grow through much of the year — plants that we could just pluck from when we needed a bit.
Try Warrigal spinach, lettuce, onion, beetroot, celery, oregano, thyme, kale, rosemary, silverbeet and tatsoi.
Original article @ www.house-nerd.com/articles
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