In january of 2011, Our family of five (now 6) lived off garden produce from our suburban front yard for one week, and we didn't loose any weight...unfortunately. It was an experience that changed the way we thought about food and the value of a suburban garden. Since then we have extended our sustainable food production beyond our suburban front yard, and into our local community and neighbourhood, beginning a community orchard and local food swap. One front yard just isn't enough!
This is our lemongrass that Joe's sister gave us a cutting of a year ago, thanks Lou.
When Jo and I first married we never spoke of gardening. Terms such as 'heirloom varieties', 'no dig garden' and 'companion planting' were foreiegn to us and never used in our day-to-day vocab. My Mediterranean gardening gene lay dormant during the several years that we flatted in apartments and Joanna suspected nothing. As far as she was concerned, she had married a low maintanence yet incredible and very handsome man...but all the while my metamorphasis from pleasant docile husband to fanatical gardener was germinating somewhere in my deepest psyche.
When we began our very first vegetable garden box at Umina, Jo thought it was 'cute'. Secretly though I had plans to take over the world and turn it into one, giant, vegetable garden. I would use throw-away one liners in order to prime my unsuspecting wife, such as "I think we could fit one more vege box just over there in the corner" or "how about we dig up the entire front lawn for a new vegetable garden and if you like you can have that little patch over there for some pretty little flowers or something...darling."
Yes I remember, only too well. I was always suspect...albeit a little unprepared, but always suspect. One day whilst visiting Joe's parents I heard his Dad say to Joe, "Come, look at the broad beans I have grown, they are as big as da house..." This exaggeration I was used to, but it was Joe's response that made something down my neck tingle and my hearing became unusually alert. "Broadbeans hey, yeah show me Papa, easy to grow you say, needs lots of cow manure you say...do you have any seeds?"
It was also about this time that Joe gave up smoking and began exploring other 'habits' that he might enjoy. He ran for a while, he shamefully dabbled in miniatures for a while... but it was the day he planted a handful of Papa's broadbeans that I knew he had found that missing something...but not just for a while. It was just like Jack and his bloody beanstalk, ever since he got his hands on those beans, things have become out of control.
macadamia nuts from our lovely tree
That was two and half years ago.
When we first moved here to Springwood, we were very lucky to have some existing and well established trees such as the Mulberry, Macadamia, grape vine and a variety of citrus. Over the last twelve months we have added eight vegetable beds, three Blueberry bushes, a blackberry bush, a lychee tree seedling, two more grape vines, a passionfruit vine, two pear trees, a banana tree, an olive tree, a bay leaf tree and a fig tree . We also have a few experimental, interesting plants such as lemon grass which is super easy to grow and yummy in stirfries, a loofa vine which you can either eat young of allow to dry and use it as a sponge or scrubber. We have also grown Quinoa, a fancy Aztec grain that is really good for you but also really expensive in Australia. You can eat it like a porridge, a cous cous, with salads etc and whilst we have managed to grow about 5 plants so far we have not yet followed through with the task of preparing the seed for eating.
Take yourself on a tour, here is a map of our garden:
Apart from the trees we also set about establishing some garden beds to grow our vegetables. So far we have the following 9 vege beds.
carrots, lettuce, lazy housewife beans, potato bags x 2. (forgot to draw this one in - its near the mulberry tree).
This sounds like we have food coming out our ears but many of the things we are growing won't be ready for months and others years. For example this year we planted asparagus, however it needs two years before it can be harvested. This sounds like a long wait for a bit of asparagus but unlike other vegetables, the same asparagus plant can be harvested for over twenty years. Likewise the blueberries won't be ready for another twelve months but will then fruit annually for years to come..at least that is what an optimist would say. A pessimist might say that the birds will eat every single last one and then stain our balcony with runny, purple poos, which is probably closer to what will happen as opposed to our blissful, blueberrian, utopic aspirations. It's hard being an optimist sometimes...
However we must press on beyond all our bird pecking pessimistic thoughts and believe in our grand garden plan. We would love to one day turn our garden into an ongoing supply of lots and lots of lovely foods. The hardest thing we have come across so far is developing an ongoing crop rotation. If you are not planting something every week, you are not eating something every week, its the old feast or famine scenario. In our case we have to plant something everyday to keep up with Jo's ravenous pregnancy binges.
In the short term in preparation for our F.F.F.C. we want to build another vege bed in the front garden. In the long term we have plans to plant two apple tress and lots and lots of flowers. Today we ordered some foxgloves, chamomile and borage.
Flowers are really important for a healthy vegetable garden as they have many benefits. For example chamomile improves the growth of most vegies, borage attract bees and is edible, nasturtiums improve the growth of many root vegetables and all of them look great. Flowers have another important benefit in our case, they mean our neighbours might actually stop to admire our gorgeous displays of colour and somehow miss the pumpkins that are crawling over our fence and across the communal thoroughfare which everyone so far has been very gracious in ignoring (except for the crazy lady who walks her dogs, stares at us from the darkness and always looks like she is about to steal our largest pumpkin).
Eyes off crazy lady.
Growing Heirloom Vegetables
We told you last week that we would share where you can buy some of the best varieties of fruit trees and vegetable seeds on-line. Our top two are the Diggers Club and Eden seeds. Just google either and you will easily find them. The great thing about both is that they supply many heirloom varieties (heirloom refers to many old varieties that are no longer sold in shops because genetically modified types are more favoured for mass production). Fruit and vege like purple carrots, Turks turban pumpkins and tigerella tomatoes are heirloom varieties which you will rarely find in coles and dare we say even Aldi. So why grow them? If you are as big a fan as we are of the earth shattering news reports on 'Today Tonight' you may have seen the program on purple carrots. They have the highest antioxidant levels than just about any other food. Tigerella tomato plants yeild around 20kgs of fruit per plant and you will be challenged to find a variety that surpasses that. As for the old Turks Turban, it just looks and sounds wacky. There are many, many more heirloom varieties and you will be amazed at the shapes, sizes and colours that your vegetables can come in. We have bought our pear trees, blueberry bushes and plenty of seeds through Diggers and it has been delivered straight to our door.
Next week, pests, bugs, grubs and general disasters. We would love to tell you about some simple, non-toxic solutions to save your shrubs from the possums, birds and slugs. Also our first recipe from the garden in preparation for the F.F.F.C.
P.s. If you have been trying to write a comment unsuccessfully you can now do so by selecting the anonymous option, we would love to hear from you.