As Covid19 continues to wield its impact, people find themselves in situations they never envisaged and food and access to food can be at the forefront of our thoughts. To be a bit more self -reliant you, along with many across the globe, may have decided that now is the time to become a producer of vegetables/ herbs to either reduce the number of times you need to shop or to add variety to what you can buy.
For some of our friends across the globe we know that this is not just an option but may be an absolute necessity. We ask you to check in with your local Permaculture group for really good information regarding your local options. If you are in this situation and don’t know of a local group get in touch and we will try to connect you.
If you are gardening for the first time there is so much to access online in videos, podcasts, books etc. When we moved onto our land many years ago and with four children and no income, producing some extras was a necessity and a steep learning curve without those resources. Here are some tips from our experiences and some links to help you in your quest.
We preface these tips by saying that normally when teaching about vegetable gardening we spend a lot of time and focus on the planting of perennial crops and then annuals. We make compost piles and talk about soil structure. We spend a lot of time in the planning. In these turbulent times , while these are all best practice, most people will be looking at what they can source or grow quickly and so we will look at that now.
Food is all around us
For all of these options please make sure that you identify these plants properly and that they have not been sprayed with any poisons or are from areas trafficked by animals.
Most of us can go for a walk each day and in our own gardens, verges, parks etc there may be edible weeds that you can start picking now.
In some cases you may be lucky enough to stumble on some edible Australian flora ( or your local version if not in Australia) either in your own garden or while out walking
(image Mountain Pepper from australiangeographic.com.au)
You may have or know where some edible ornamentals are located.
Growing your own inside or when space is limited
Herbs grow well in pots on the windowsill or balcony and can add variety and nutrition to your meals ( check as some ,such as basil, are seasonal)
Microgreens take little space, are quick to produce and highly nutritious.
Sprouting – take a jar, something to cover it (hold in place with an elastic band) and open your pantry. Beans, peas, herb seeds, lentils….all can be sprouted and will quickly provide you with something home grown.
For the above please see sourcing seed below
Starting a garden
Firstly consider what you are going to grow, how to grow it , what resources you have and what you need.
Plant what you will eat
In our first plot Sharon grew edible chrysanthemums. Yes we had lots of them. Did we eat them- not really. They went into the stir-fry but there were other greens we preferred. We now grow vegetables which we eat all of the time with an occasional new one added in for variety. Only John likes Brussels Sprouts and only Sharon likes eggplants so we only grow a few. But our staples are there all the time: lettuce, rocket, parsley, chives, spring onions, silverbeet/spinach, raddichio, kale amongst them. They are used every day and can be added to almost every meal and they reproduce easily. Seasonal vegetables are added during the year.
Plant cut and come again plants that grow quickly as soon as possible
While you are waiting on longer term plantings some plants grow quite quickly and you can them repeatedly from an early stage- parsley, chives, spring onions, kale,rocket, mizuna, peas ( shoots then pods) etc are all in this category. Seeing something growing gives you confidence ( and variety in your diet).
https://www.naturallivingideas.com/18-fastest-growing-veggies-can-harvest-no-time/ ( check your climate)
Plant for your climate
We would all love tomatoes in winter but unless you have a greenhouse it isn’t going to happen. If you’re in the northern hemisphere heading into spring the world is your oyster in terms of planting. For those of us in cooler climates you want to get some good growth on your plants before the soil cools down.
https://www.organicgardener.com.au/planting-guides (Australian guide)
Plant things that don’t travel well.
As transport tightens up, foodstuffs may sit in trucks for longer than they normally do. While potatoes, cabbages, carrots and onions will cope with this, lettuce and herbs will be more wilted than normal when they do arrive. If you really want and can get these crops in that's great , just remember they have a long growing time and can take up a lot of room.
Assess and gather your resources for growing vegetables
Sourcing your seeds or seedlings. First time gardener? Heading into autumn? Seedlings are easier. (see grow to your climate below)
If you are getting seed we would always recommend that you get organic open pollinated however we are aware that seed companies in this category ( including our favourite (Green Patch Seeds https://www.greenpatchseeds.com.au/ have been inundated with orders and there may be quite a waiting time). Other options for seeds are a local seed saving group that you can access, does your support group have seed, do you have seed that you didn’t realise you could grow ( see sprouting and micro greens) ?
Check if your neighbours have seeds or seedlings ( if you are in an urban area and people are walking as their daily exercise why not put a notice out the front of what seed you have and what you would like? Add a phone number and then you can safely work out an exchange). Some dollar shops and supermarkets stock seeds and you can sometimes get organic seeds there ( if all else fails get the seeds that you can and grow them the best way that you can. Learn more about organic seeds and seed collecting so that down the track this won't be an issue.)
Division of some herbs will give you more plants- if you have ( or friends or neighbours have) chives, spring onions, mint, tarragon then ask for a clump ( with roots on) trim back and replant.
Where to grow
Garden: dig up the lawn or take some ornamentals out (if they are not edible) - or if room plant vegies around them. For the first season soil where lawns are dug up will have enough nutrients to give you a crop.
Pots: these could be regular pots or whatever you have at hand- tin cans with holes punched in the bottom, old buckets, styrofoam boxes, tyres stacked up, old wheelbarrows – look at what you have lying around and try to use it. The main consideration is its depth to allow for root growth and that it has good drainage.
Growing medium : If you have no access to soil at hand one of the most useful things you can do on one of your few trips is to stop and buy some. Take all the necessary precautions but get some soil. Whilst you are there, throw in a bag of organic compost and a container of organic liquid fertilizer. Yes you can produce these yourself but right now time is critical. As time moves on learn about composting and fertilizing.
Planting seeds and seedlings
Each type of plant has specific requirements and seed packets have information about planting, germination, spacing, days to maturity etc or look here ( Australian version) https://www.theseedcollection.com.au/Sowing-Chart
For additional information about raising seeds and transplanting seedlings see the following links