Start Your First Food Garden

Bernadette Brady encourages you to start your own vegie garden

Sowing Peas - the seeds are large and easy to handle

"I just don’t have the time", "I don't have any space", "I tried once before and they all died!", "I always forget to water!", "Oh, it's easier to go to the supermarket"… you get the drift?

These are some of the more common excuses for people NOT to be bothered!

Look deeper and often the real reason is that there hasn't been an early positive experience with gardening or the simple pleasure of munching on fresh home grown fruit and vegetables.

But for me, fruit and vegie gardening has always been a part of my life.

Childhood summers were made sweeter with the prospect of ripe luscious apricots and plums that grew in our suburban back yard, far superior to anything we could have bought at the fruiterer. We had to try and beat the birds to the best ones, always out of reach, up at the very top of the tree.

Then in the depths of winter, we would open a jar of ‘sunshine’. Bottled fruits or jams, lovingly preserved by Mum, who had “bothered” to grow and process the fruit in all the heat of those long hot summers. It wasn't unusual, it wasn't uncommon or complicated – it was simple, loving and nurturing. Consequently, I have always "been bothered!"

For many and varied reasons not everyone has had childhoods spent playing and foraging in gardens. Recognising the role that these positive experiences have in long term health and wellbeing, many schools are adopting Kitchen Gardens into their curriculum.

These ‘hands on’ programs actively demonstrate to children the simple pleasures of growing vegetables and just how easy it is to cook healthy, nutritious food from that garden. As a result of these programs, families often adopt the ideas that the kids themselves bring home from school, from starting their own family vegie patch to making healthy food choices for the family's meals.

The foundations of Kitchen Gardening and other horticultural therapy programs are the fundamentals of good health, good value and empowerment.

The benefits of gardening in terms of mental and physical health are proven and well documented. Gardening gets your blood moving out there in the fresh air and sunshine, it reduces stress levels, improves rest and sleep patterns plus, when you consume your bounty, you are eating the very best that nature can offer for optimum physical health. The incorporation of gardens into aged care facilities, hospitals and other institutions is a cost effective proactive choice aimed to foster wellbeing amongst its clients.

As far as value goes, what price can you put on something YOU have grown and nurtured?

Invariably, when you have a successful season and there is a glut of produce, you’ll find vegies are always a great price in the fruit shops. However, you really can't compare – there is the freshness, flavour and nutrient content, the food mile factor and the potential to share your bounty with neighbours, friends and family.

Then there is empowerment – when did we surrender our responsibility for feeding ourselves? Is the "cost" of buying food that we could easily grow really worth it?

We have become very comfortable exchanging dollars for food, but the simple act of growing some of our food empowers us. The politics of food and food security is complicated but, put simply, growing your own food is good fun and is satisfying to the soul!

As we head into spring with the days lengthening and the soils warming I encourage you to take the opportunity to grow something.

Try your favourites

My suggestion for those embarking on their first vegetable garden project is to start small and grow produce that you actually like to eat. It sounds obvious but so often I see beginners starting with radishes, broad beans or silverbeet – not to everyone’s palate and usually not a winner with the kids!

Try seeds

When it comes to deciding whether to plant seedlings or seeds, be brave and try seeds. You get so much more choice and they are more affordable too.

For example, for a packet of our Dwarf Snow Peas, you will pay 3-4 cents per seed and for smaller seeds like onions the price per seed works out to below 1 cent. Start your vegie garden growing with seeds that are large and easy to handle, like beans, peas, zucchini or pumpkin, until your confidence and knowledge grows.

So to get it all happening for early spring planting from seed, try some peas – Sugar Snaps or Snow rather than the varieties that you would shell, as they have a broader appeal and offer more immediate rewards. Most are climbers, even the dwarf varieties, so you will need a trellis or some sticks and string. Choose a sunny spot in the garden or even a large pot will work if you are short of space.

Sow twice as deep as the seeds

The rule of thumb for seeds is to plant to twice the depth of the seed. For example, a pea seed is in the vicinity of half a centimetre round, therefore aim for a planting depth of roughly one centimetre. Really you are pushing the seed just under the soil, enough to bury, not too deep as to risk rotting. Moisten the soil before planting and just keep an eye on the moisture levels – germinating seeds don’t like drying out nor do they enjoy a swim.

Shoots should be up in around 7-10 days, be warned though, birds and snails fancy pea shoots and can decimate your efforts, so perhaps protect them with some wire netting and pet friendly baits.

Harvest should begin in around nine weeks and, wonderfully with peas, the more you pick the more they grow. With care, you will have peas for dinner (if they make it to the kitchen!) for a couple of months until the heat of summer begins.

With the success of a small crop of peas behind you, the possibility of growing something else will entice. For the sake of a couple of dollars spent on a packet of seeds, a bit of time and water, you will be rewarded in ways that just might surprise you.

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Bernadette Brady

Bernadette is an experienced gardener with a long term involvement in Community Gardens and a keen interest in growing "all things edible"!

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