Growing your own food, from putting seeds or seedlings in the dirt, to seeing them grow, then harvesting and eating your home grown fresh produce, is a wonderful thing. The rewards can be as simple as the fresh herbs you use to enhance your meals, or the tomatoes that actually have flavour! It can also be about a lot more, like having access to affordable, healthy, nutrient-dense foods, and living a more mindful, purposeful, low-tox lifestyle.
The benefits for every day folk who are starting to grow some of their own food, can include:
- Good health from getting out in the fresh air, connecting with nature, doing some exercise, and eating better
- Education and awareness for yourself and your kids, about nature, lifecycles, the food industry, as well as skills like gardening, composting, cooking, preserving and reducing kitchen/ food waste
- A great way to get involved with your neighbours and in your community, helping to build resilience and adapt in place
- Satisfaction and having fun creating, growing, trouble shooting, connecting, being productive
- There can be environmental benefits from less carbon emissions, less reliance on fossil fuels, less pollution and less waste
- You can nurture the land, animals and communities around you, be a part of the solution!
- Being able to feed your family and loved ones in times of rising food & energy costs, food unavailability, unemployment, environmental breakdown etc.
There can be challenges, including lack of time, money, space, skills or knowledge, lack of support or interest from partner and family. Sometimes you have none of those obstacles, it is just knowing where, or how to start! Check out my Beginners Guide to Urban Homesteading for some solutions, or sign up to get my FREE Guide to Urban Homesteading (see the form below), which can really help you tackle the obstacles you might face!
Whether you want a few pots of fresh herbs, a couple of raised beds with seasonal goodies, or a complete urban homestead, the essentials of growing remain the same. What you need is:
- Healthy soil (dark, loose and moist, rich in humus and nutrients/ essential elements)
- Sunlight (on average, full sun for 6 hours each day, some varieties like leafy greens can handle getting just 4 hours, others like tomatoes, chillies, capsicums and eggplant need up to 8 hours to grow and produce well)
- Rain (or water)
- Seeds (or seedlings, which are young plants raised from seeds)
- Good Bugs & Pollinators (insects, like bees, & the wind)
Your garden will also need a TLC, that is, time, love, and consideration. It does take some time to set up the infrastructure, learn the skills, and then maintain your garden. You need to enjoy the challenges, be willing to connect with nature, not just expect to skip straight to the part where you pick your own food. You may also need to troubleshoot, and think about solutions to issues that pop up.
WHAT TO GROW IN
Whilst there are a diverse range of growing methods and systems used around the world, the commonly used backyard edible gardens include some kind of garden bed or container, which holds sufficient soil to support the plants to grow (as little as 30 to 40cm deep), is located where there is enough sunlight (but not too much heat), and either catches the rain or can be easily watered.
- Containers/ pots using plastic, ceramic or terracotta pots, or grow bags/ potato grow bags, or buckets/ boxes or other items with drainage holes added to the bottom, filled with soil & mulch
- No-dig garden beds where a garden is formed directly on top of lawn/ dirt/ ground, using layers of growing mediums, or consider hugelkultur, which involves using layers of pruned branches, leaf mulch, and other organic matter, which then breaks down to make the growing area and feed the plants
- Raised garden beds are a structure/ container is placed on top of the ground and filled up, you may build your own, or buy pre-made garden beds (like Vege Pods or Vege Crates) or DIY kits (like Birdies raised colourbond garden beds), or make your own from pallets/ sleepers/ concrete etc
- In ground garden beds, where a hole is dug in the ground, and existing soil turned over, or removed for soil to be added
A NOTE ON SOIL & MULCH
You may have decent soil available already, which is dark, friable and ready to plant in, or you may be able to condition, and improve the existing soil with compost/ humus, worm castings, added organic fertilisers etc. Or you may have to buy organic ‘vege mix’ from a nursery or hardware store by the 25 to 30 litre bag full, or from a wholesale landscape supplies for a trailer or truck load.
Mulch for vege beds is generally a light, loose material, such as sugar cane mulch, pea straw or lucerne, which covers the top of the soil, and then sits around the base of the plants as they grow, keeping in moisture and nutrients, and reducing weeds from growing. You can buy it by the bag or ‘block’ at nurseries or hardware stores, or even by the bale from stockfeed stores or bulk nurseries.
PLANNING + CREATING
Although your edible garden will be influenced by the time, budget and space you have, any challenges you might face, as well as your growing climate/ zone, the basic steps to plan and create your edible garden, include:
- Decide what kind of garden beds, or containers you will build or buy, and where to locate them on your patio/ backyard/ side yard/ rooftop
- Make a plan of what and how much you want to grow, based around what is suitable for your space, time and family preferences/ requirements
- Make a list of the equipment and materials you need to source, and gather them
- Plan a day, or weekend, to build or put it together
- Set up or build your garden beds, and add the soil (or condition/ improve the existing soil)
- Plant your seeds or seedlings, gently water
- Cover with a loose topping of mulch
- Ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting, leading up to harvest
I highly recommend that you sign up to my email list to receive your FREE Guide to Urban Homesteading (PDFs emailed to your Inbox) to help you with your planning, and access the Assessment and Design Tool. Forms can be found on the bottom of this page.
Sometimes the hardest part is choosing from all the wonderful options of what you can grow! This will depend on the space you have, the climate or zone you are in, what season it is or what you are heading towards, and what you eat.
I recommend checking out Gardenate (they also have an app) to work out what climate/ growing zone you are in for your country, and the guidelines for what is recommend for you to plant in what season/ month. You can make a garden plan a month or so in advance of the ‘next season’, including chores or maintenance that needs doing for your edible garden, and what you want to grow.
Easy to Grow Cool Season vegetables & herbs
- Asian greens
- Sugar Snap Peas & Snow Peas
- Broad Beans
- Kohlrabi and Fennel
- Onion/ Leeks/ Spring Onions
Easy to Grow Warm Season Vegetables & Herbs
- Tomatoes – cherry or grape tomatoes
- ‘Green’ Beans
- Pumpkin – small like Golden Nugget, Jack be Little, Red kuri
- Squash – squash delicata or spaghetti vege
Easy To Grow Year Round + Perennial vegetables & herbs
- Herbs (thyme, rosemary, dill, parsley, coriander, chives, sage, tarragon, oregano, mint – except basil, which is frost sensitive)
- Carrots (carrots must be grown from seed, and can be a little tricky to germinate and grow, but I’ve included them here, as they are such fun to harvest, and everyone loves carrots)
If your vegetable or herb plant isn’t thriving, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it getting enough sunlight & consistent watering?
- When did I plant it? Does it simply need more time?
- Is the soil in good condition? Is the pH right?
- Am I growing it in the right climate & season?
- Does it need plant feed? Is there competition for the nutrients?
- Any pests or diseases? Is it incompatible with another plant?
- Was the seed old? Or the seedling frail?
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