These are certainly challenging times for everyone and adjusting to our new normal is surreal, to say the least. With everyone spending more time at home, we believe that it’s a great opportunity to use this time to slow down, connect back with nature, take care of our health and most importantly one another. Which is why we’ve teamed up with friends of the brand Tess & Byron from Urban Growers. We chat about starting your own veggie patch, the importance of growing your own food and reviving your gardens.
In 2019, we were gently encouraged to slow down and be mindful.
In 2020, it seems we’ve been forced to do so.
There’s never been a better time to go slow, stay home and take stock of our lives.
Up until now, our world has celebrated the ‘hustle’, and now it’s asking us to replace this hustle for hobbies, and I can’t think of a better hobby than gardening.
At our house, we’re using this time to slow down and grow something.
Whilst in self-isolation, you might find yourself wandering outside to your courtyard, peering over your balcony or simply sitting on your front step basking in the cleaner air and autumn sun. The timing of our country’s self-isolation period has aligned with the season I'm usually planting out my gardens for winter.
Our team managed to get seeds into soil for most of our clients before the lockdown, whilst others have asked me to post seeds and guide then through the planting via FaceTime so they get it right. It all comes back to food pretty quickly in times like this.
When writing the chapter ‘why grow your own food’ in our book Slow Down and Grow Something, I mentioned that it would be a skill worth having in case of a food shortage. Luckily in Australia we grow food for about 60 million people so running out isn’t an issue, but when the supermarkets got slammed by panic buyers, our clients were sending photos of their garden full of veggies, herbs, leafy greens and fruit and I must admit, I did feel a tickle of pride.
So now that I'm working from home, I wanted to share what I’ve learnt about creating edible gardens in the city in the hope that these ideas might save you time and money and bring you closer to that self-sufficient, green-thumb life that you’ve dreamed of.
On a fundamental level, you will need five key ingredients to get growing - Sun, soil, seeds, water and the time to be immersed in it. Growing food doesn't require much ‘stuff’, it’s an easy-entry hobby, for everyone. One cannot ‘have all the gear and no idea’ - they would simply have, no idea.
But to prevent that, here are my top five tips to start your veggie patch today.
At this time of year, the most important thing is to find the sunniest spot for your garden or pots to be located. Remove a couple of square metres of turf if you have too, or rearrange the layout of your courtyard furniture and ornamental plants where possible. I use an app called Sunseeker which shows me where the sun will be in the sky at any time of year, so I use that to decide on the best position. Remember that large deciduous trees in our streetscape will start to drop their leaves soon, so this may work in your favour to allow the sun to shine through during winter.
Buying most things is a little tricky at the moment, especially if you simply don’t have the spare cash. But it’s wise to spend on quality soil as this will make a big difference. I just ordered a home delivery of potting mix, compost, native planting mix, sugar cane mulch and some blood and bone fertiliser from my local nursery. Premium potting mix for pots and some compost or seed raising mix will be beneficial for topping up gardens beds before planting seeds. For best soil preparation, try to loosen up any compacted soil, turn some new compost and fertiliser through it and water it in. This is the perfect time to empty your compost bin or use worm castings from your worm farm to improve the soil structure.
So what to order for Autumn? Below is a list - choose your favourite ones to eat, which will, of course, give you more motivation for a healthy harvest.
If space is limited, start with herbs and leafy greens, you’ll get to harvest them daily. Follow the instructions on the packet for spacing and try to drop a single seed in each hole, if they’re fine like lettuce seeds, just sprinkle over the surface. Don’t forget to add plant labels so you remember which is which!
Water your new seeds daily or at least enough to keep the soil on top damp. Pots placed out where they can receive rainfall (not under an eave) will keep the leaves clean, deter pests and as an added bonus - the rain from lightning storms carry a small amount of nitrogen, which aids in producing healthy green leaves. Your hungry edible plants will also love a liquid fertiliser every few weeks, plus a powdered seaweed extract mixed in a watering can, too. If you have a worm farm, use the liquid diluted with water to pour over your new seedlings as they emerge. This will improve soil structure and biology and lead to healthier, stronger plants.
One of the keys to growing success is daily observation. I’m not asking you to spend your day forest bathing, but just taking a moment each day to observe what's happening with each of your plants. The changes you didn’t see before will become the changes that call you to action. Attention to detail is knowing what you're looking for. Time in the garden is what will bring you the bounty, and what better time than now.
Photography by Alex Carlyle