GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.
 
 
 

Happiness is a home grown tomato!

✅  I live on a small suburban block with terrible terrible soil, but at the last count had  more than 70 edible and useful plants and over 500 kg of produce a year. 

✅  You don’t need a large block of land to feed yourself – you just have to start!

 
 
 

✅ FOR ME, GARDENING has been a lifelong enduring passion.   IT’S MY KEEP FIT, MEDITATION and THERAPY SESSION all rolled into one. And here’s the big plus – YOU GET TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD YOU HAVE GROWN YOURSELF.  

✅ I HAVE BEEN GARDENING NOW FOR NEARLY SIXTY YEARS since I first helped my dad on his ALLOTMENT in London.  IT ALSO BECAME MY PROFESSION when I trained as an HORTICULTURIST back in the 1980’s. Over those many decades I have planted thousands of seeds, taught hundreds of classes, designed many gardens and learned an awful lot  THIS IS WHERE I HOPE I CAN HELP YOU?  YOU CAN LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!

✅ I ADMIT IT IS OFTEN HARD WORK, AND REQUIRES PATIENCE AND EFFORT which I frequently see wasted for want of a bit of KNOW-HOW and a gentle nudge in the right direction.

✅ I know that most people don’t have my knowledge or experience – so let me give you a helping hand and  just look at this post as YOUR SHORTCUT TO HAPPINESS.

 
 
LET’S GET STARTED
The first three points are fundamental to successful food growing and they are essential – YOU CAN’T FUDGE THEM.

1.  CHOOSE AN AREA THAT GETS 6 HOURS OF SUN PER DAY.
Most of the food plants we grow start from seed then flower and fruit within a few months – these are called ANNUALS (e.g. beans, tomatoes, cucumber, corn, potatoes).  Fundamental to their success is the amount of light they get – they need at least six hours of sun per day.  The exceptions are leafy salad plants (e.g.lettuce, rocket, watercress) and some annual herbs (e.g.mint, chives, sorrel) which will tolerate less than 6 hours – these can go in partial shade.  I have food planted all around the garden – about 70 different varieties – which makes the most of the varying light conditions.  

TOP TIP: As well as planting straight into the soil I use containers to maximise the available space and light that I have.  I grew this crop of potatoes in an old washtub I got from the tip.  From planting to harvest in six weeks ✅

2.  FIX THE SOIL.
FOOD IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE SOIL IT IS GROWN IN and a soil rich in organic material is the way to go.

HOW CAN YOU TELL? If water is held in the soil but does not get waterlogged and it is full of earthworms, then you have probably done everything right and your food will be healthy and nutritious too.  Remember, PRODUCE GARDENS ARE HUNGRY GARDENS so WHEN A CROP IS FINISHED AND BEFORE YOU PLANT AGAIN  TOP IT UP WITH THE GOOD STUFF: compost, worm castings, composted grass clippings, animal manures, lucerne, seaweed, straw; add a liquid feed every couple of weeks and bingo; and, as I am about doing this as cheaply as possible, I make my own brew OF COMPOST TEA

TROUBLESHOOTING If you have done the first two and the garden is just not thriving then do a pH test – which measures the acid/alkaline levels in the soil.  Very simply, soils with a neutral pH (6.5-7) are more likely to be fertile; when they are too acid or alkaline the nutrients in the soil become locked up and are unavailable to the plants. 


A Little Story: I recently had a client who thought she had done everything right but her veggie garden was just not thriving.  A simple pH test showed the soil to be quite alkaline – why?  Well, a few questions revealed that she had used mushroom compost to build up her soil and as one of the main components of this is chalk, I knew that this was the cause of her problems – being alkaline, it is renowned for causing pH problems. Easily fixed with addition of acid stuff – blood and bone, chicken manure and good old fashioned urine – it really is a waste to flush it away.

 
 
 

3.  ORGANIC AND CHEMICAL FREE.  

There is nothing quite like the pleasure that comes from growing your own food and then picking it for dinner –  especially when it comes with the added bonus of being pesticide-free and healthier than anything you can buy in the supermarket. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT – Nature is in a fine balance out there and if you reach for the spray can every time you see an insect you will be killing off all the good guys that help to maintain a healthy balance – as well as yourself.  There are many simple and non-toxic ways to control pests and diseases and going organic is the way to start.  Your garden world is teeming with life – every cup of soil contains millions of micro-organisms that play a vital part in the cycle of life.  Don’t be the idiot that causes one more crack in that circle because we are rapidly reaching the point of no return.  DO YOU WANT TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION AND NOT THE PROBLEM – THEN KEEP READING.

TOP TIP: I’ve put my homemade recipes for controlling unwanted pests under the GARDENING section at the top of the page.  These are simple and NON TOXIC remedies for things like FRUIT FLY, SCALE and CABBAGE WHITE BUTTERFLY– check it out – there’s lots, lots more.

 
 
 

4.  DO NOT PUT YOUR KITCHEN GARDEN NEAR OR UNDER TREES.

WHY – you will just be feeding the tree roots – the trees will thrive and your veggie garden won’t.  Raised beds are the way to go and try to have all/some of your food garden as close to the house as possible – especially the things you are going to use every day like herbs and salads (Permaculture course – lesson one).

GARDENS EVOLVE – they are ever changing and never finished!  I recently had to completely rebuild my kitchen garden because trees roots from a tree 20 m away were sucking the life out of it.  IT HAD STARTED OUT AS A NO-DIG BED that used to be lawn and had served me well for 15 years.  Time for a radical rethink and new raised bed built from recycled roofing tin (I lined the bottom of it too!!) and old hardwood posts. We used all of the old soil from the original bed and just added heaps of compost and cow manure.  Within three months it was just pumping and, so far, tree root free!

NOTE FROM ME:  The tree in question is a lovely deciduous tree with yellow blossoms Pride of Bolivia or Tipuana tipu and for many years I had misidentified it as a native cassia.  Jerry Coleby Williams, from Gardening Australia put me right. “Cripes Di, check out this link”!  They have endless problems with the invasive roots of these that have been planted as street trees in Brisbane.  I really don’t want to get rid of it as it forms a backdrop to my garden and the birds love it – its currently housing a family of galahs – geez, their teenagers are noisy!!  So I did this instead.

IF YOU HAVE LIMITED SPACE – then use pots and whatever containers you can lay your hands on.  I love to use old oil and olive cans evocative of Greek courtyard gardens; they have an added bonus of being portable, free (cafes happily give them away) and I can put them under cover when we get a Mullumbimby ‘big wet’.  I mostly use them for my herbs that dont like wet feet – thyme, oregano, bay, rosemary, marjoram, sage

 
 
 

5.  ONLY GROW THINGS YOU ARE GOING TO EAT – OR THAT MAKE YOU SMILE.
MAKE A LIST OF ALL THE FRESH FRUIT AND VEGGIES YOU BUY – and all that your heart desires –  and see if your area is suitable for growing them – LOOK AROUND AT OTHER GARDENS.  Buy local seed and plants and save your seeds from one season to the next – you will have more success with these than anything you can buy in the shops – and swap them with other gardeners.  CHECK OUT MY SEASONAL PLANTING GUIDE

NOTE:  We tend to start out by planting things we grew up with, but this just may not be appropriate. FOR EXAMPLE –  I grew up in the UK with all manner of green runner beans, but they just don’t do that well where I live now, but snake beans (seeds from Grace, my egg lady), winged beans (bought from Green Harvest) and Purple King (from my mate Dave) thrive – I learned the hard way through disappointment and observation. You can’t put a square peg in a round hole and expect it to be happy!  Below is the wonderful trombone zucchini – wich does fabulously well in my Aussie subtropical garden but would never have grown on my dad’s allotment in London.

 

 
 

6.  YOU CAN’T GROW EVERYTHING YOU EAT BUT YOU CAN EAT EVERYTHING YOU GROW.
Most people I know that have a food garden suddenly become more interested in cooking and exploring new recipes – and we all know by now the benefits of a home-cooked, home-grown meals.  You also learn new skills and find yourself pickling, preserving and jam making – and sharing –  discover the joy of giving away food.  MY LATEST BATCH OF MARMALADE is with fruit from my blood orange, lemon and cumquat trees.  There are lots of delicious recipes for PICKLES, JAMS, PRESERVES and CHUTNEYS ON MY RECIPES PAGE – all made with homegrown produce.

 

 

7. START SMALL.
IF THIS IS ALL NEW TO YOU THEN START OUT WITH A FEW SIMPLE HERBS AND LEAFY GREENS. This does not have to be an expensive exercise and you can use all manner of recycled containers as planter boxes – or even ol hessian sacks.  I think the most fabulous I have ever seen was a garden in the engine housing and boot of an old car – recycled heaven!  One pot of PARSLEY is good place to start if you don’t have time or space for anything else – it’s going to taste a whole let better that anything hydroponic that you buy in the supermarket – cheaper, healthier and NO WASTE.

A creative gardener using bits of concrete drainage pipe and an old bath for their garden.
 

IF YOU ARE NOT SURE WHAT TO PLANT THEN HAVE A LOOK AROUND LOCAL GARDENS FOR IDEAS, and take a trip to any allotments or Community Garden in your area; talk to people.  I have learned more from talking to other gardeners than I have ever learned from a book.  And, you really don’t need that much space to grow food for two people.  How many kale plants does a girl need – my answer is one?  Having an understanding of PLANT FAMILIES will help you to become a better gardener too. This knowledge will give you food all the year round and help to keep the pests away too – it’s called COMPANION PLANTING or, in other words, good old fashioned COMMON SENSE.

 
 
 
 

8. DIG AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE.
It’S NOT GOOD FOR YOUR BACK OR THE SOIL.  Sheet mulched NO-DIG BEDS are the answer. Often, the best spot for a veggie garden is taken up by lawn – if it’s not used for walking, lying, sitting or playing on then get rid of it – turn it into a productive garden bed. FROM LAWN TO GARDEN BED THE NO-DIG WAY. Click on the link above to see step-by-step instructions.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
9.  THINK ABOUT THE VERTICAL
 
I CAN GUARANTEE THAT IF YOU START USING THE VERTICAL SPACES IN YOUR GARDEN TO GROW PLANTS UP AND OVER IT WILL SUDDENLY BECOME much more interesting and beautiful. – plus you will be MAXIMIZING AVAILABLE SPACE. 
 
✅ Do you have a gap between a couple of posts?   Then cover it in chicken wire and grow some tomatoes and sweet peas, or attach some mesh along the underside of the eaves to grow a PASSIONFRUIT vine.  
 
✅ I have seen amazing things done with up-turned bed-frames that have been then smothered in flowering vines and edible plants.  Build a simple arbour over your veggie garden for beans, cucumbers and peas – mine is made out of recycled pool fencing – in fact, most of the landscaping materials on my patch have been hunted or gathered.  I try to avoid buying stuff as much as I can – especially plastic.  It’s part of my religion – anyone can join by the way!
 
✅Thinking about putting up a fence – then plant an edible hedge instead.
 
 
 
 
 
Passionfruit vine – the view from my bedroom window
 
 
 
 
10.  A GENTLE PLEA FOR CHAOS.
 

  • Don’t be a slave to neatness – straight lines and regimented rows are for the army not for a sustainable garden.  Think about NATURE – does she do it that way?
  • Plant a mixture of annual and perennial food plants so you will always have something to eat. Check out the Seasonal Planting Guide on the main page.
  • Think about the birds and the bees; attracting beneficial insects to your garden, birds, and small reptiles will keep your garden healthy and happy.  PLANT LOTS OF FLOWERS – zinnias, marigolds, cosmos, daisies ………………………….and some natives – grevilleas, tea trees, lomandras.
  • Let some herbs and veggies go to flower and seed (like parsley and dill); the benefits of this are threefold – they attract pollinators and you can collect the seed for next season – and it looks gorgeous.
  • Edge with logs and rocks – they make handy hiding places and large shallow dishes make great birdbaths.  Mixing everything up helps to create balance and harmony in a garden –  and you will have less pests and diseases. 
A healthy and productive garden can’t help but be beautiful.  Don’t give up, just give it a little time and love.
 
 

11. Oh!, I forgot – MULCH, MULCH, MULCH

 

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