Just a quick disclaimer… I am not a trained gardener. I am not a horticulturalist. I just wanted my very own kitchen garden, so read endless books, blogs and words of wisdom to determine the best way to start. Then I started. My garden is my sanctuary. I wanted it to look pretty, but also be totally functional and grow the best produce I could, in the space I have. I don’t have any (much) technical knowledge about it, but I just follow my gut and plant what I feel is right for this region and season. If you want a few tips about what works and grows in my Orange-region garden, I hope these articles help. In the end, the best advice I had was just to start and it will inevitably grow.
I’m from a family of gardeners. My mother’s father had the most amazing vegetable garden outside London, that provided all the vegetables in season they needed. New potatoes. Beans. Brussels. It was a very different time back then. Families needed to be as self-sufficient as they could. Mum’s family had a beautiful back-yard brimming with freshly sown seeds and vegetables in varying stages of growth to ensure a plentiful supply. All the photos of my grandfather show him bent over tending to his crops. My parents were lucky to find some beautiful land in Australia to do the same – so my brothers and I grew up with a large garden full of plums, apples, oranges, grapefruit, rhubarb, banana passionfruit as well as the freshest vegetables available. A greenhouse meant my parents grew from seed, planting out seedlings once they were ready. In addition to the seeming never end of fresh produce, we grew up with a healthy understanding of keeping soil healthy to provide crops, tending to seedlings in greenhouses and the ins and outs of producing one’s own food.
So, it was no surprise I too turned to backyard gardening. My first attempt was in town in Orange. A girlfriend with an orchard donated four large apple crates to me so I could start my own veggie patch. Well, my own four veggie patches. It took a week for me to lovingly level the backyard, lay bricks and then prepare all the crates ready for planting. In between laying the bricks, I consumed all the gardening books I could to learn the best way to prepare these empty ex-orchard crates for planting.
In the end, The Little Veggie Patch (https://littleveggiepatchco.com.au/products/choose-your-own-crate-adventure?variant=12341069938788) seemed the logical pattern to follow. I had the crates, so just had to source the liner, a staple gun, sugar cane mulch, soil and compost (I used ANL Vegetable and Seedling Mix) mixed with A LOT of chicken manure from my girls! (You’ll be incredibly impatient to plant when you get to this stage – but I’ve found letting it sit and settle for a week works wonders.
I started with four crates in town. For seven years these four crates provided everything I could hope for as a beginner gardener – Tuscan cabbages that grew taller than me, fresh juicy strawberries, rhubarb, endless tomatoes, zucchinis and the list goes on. I’d fence off the crates in between seasons and let the chooks scratch around, aerate the soil and, of course, leave fresh manure ready for the next season.
Then we moved out of town. A blank canvas. A larger area to play with. An area I could see from the kitchen – so it could be developed as a true ‘kitchen garden’. Unlike my first garden set up, I was working full time, so needed help to establish the beds. Same formula – but on steroids!
The beds were ready to fill in winter. An exceptionally cold winter with loads of snow days. That meant there was a huge wait between completing the boxes and actually getting dirt under my nails planting seedlings.
As spring slowly rolled around, it was ready to get the beds planted. I enjoy growing veggies I can’t buy in town. Heritage heirloom vegetables from The Digger’s Club are a firm favourite: Romanesco broccoli, purple beans, purple cauliflower, lemon drop tomatoes, golden zucchini, Red Russian kale. The list goes on.
I’m a greedy gardener. I like planting quite soon after I harvest. I don’t like having empty beds. But I do practice rotation planting to maximise soil fertility, give the soil the best chance to replenish nitrogen for future greedy varieties and of course try and beat the pests that also like my veggies.
I have bees, so always let a few plants go to seed to keep the bees happy. They also enjoy edible flowers like nasturtiums, marigolds and violas that also spruce up any salad I make!
This winter has provided a cold, slow growing window. Covid-19 lead so many people to explore gardening and go down the self-sufficiency path. It also limited my access to seedlings and seeds – which was a great thing as it meant so many others were starting their gardening journeys. Despite not having crates brimming with produce this year, my kale, spinach, broccoli and celery are this season’s best performers. What’s on the cards for spring planting this year? I seriously cannot go past over-planting tomatoes. I like to have a range of varieties on the go – everything from the large mortgage buster beauties, to the petite yellow lemon drops. This way I always have a colourful salad on hand. Cucumbers and zucchinis. Rocket. Baby spinach. Herbs – a whole crate is brimming with herbs as they can sass any quickly thrown together meal.
Growing and eating seasonally really is fabulous. It brings so much joy in all the stages – planting, tending to and then eating and sharing your produce. Don’t let the fear of not knowing it all, stop you from starting. I’ve found learning along the way is the best method! It really isn’t rocket science. A dedicated area for planting. Healthy soil. Water. Organic fertiliser. Good quality seedlings, or seeds. And time. It really is worth the work and the wait!
Books I recommend (in no particular order)