Molong’s Stephanie Hall-Richards isn’t quite sure how she started gardening in 2016, but she recalls being struck by a no-dig gardening article then which led to her buying a seed catalogue and the rest was history. To this today Stephanie remains a no-dig advocate, growing unique seeds for commercial suppliers and food all year round for her family.
Sharing the good juice
“My main message when I’m talking to people or doing my column in the Molong Express is that gardening doesn’t have to be complicated, especially food growing,” she said. “I talk a lot about adding a lot of compost on the garden beds but I manage well without following all the rules out there.”
For Stephanie, the thought process is always ‘how can we plant a plant with as little work and as few inputs as possible?’ so that she’s gets the maximum out of the garden without too much of her time or thinking.
Nature’s got the answers
“To start with, the soil needs to be healthy and I prefer manure and my home-made compost for this,” she said. “I don’t have any rules compost – I throw in anything; scraps, weeds, and chicken manure. And if I was going to purchase anything for the mix it would be mushroom compost. But essentially good composts have to have 50:50 of brown (dead) materials like cardboards, straw, hay, and paper – and green ingredients (ie. recently living) like grass clippings, trimmings and manure, but no meat, cooked food scraps or dairy. And I add a bucket of one then a bucket of the other.”
She is quite strict that no plant-material going into the compost has been sprayed with weed-killer by avoiding any chemical-use in the yard because the poison can residually survive composting and go to kill the plants in the garden.
There is a science with composting that is good to understand, she says. “There is cold composting and hot composting. If you make a huge compost bin and puts loads of material in, especially manure, the compost will get hot. And if it gets over about 40-50 degrees it kills any grass seeds. But my compost is not that big, so it doesn’t get hot enough to kill seeds, so I just pick the weeds out of my garden.”
Companion planting and segregation
To keep pests at bay she engages nature to do the heavy lifting. “I try to put in as many different vegetables as I can in my garden for diversity – not just because I love them – and also grow a lot of different herbs and flowers,” she explained.
“To start, I don’t have rules about where things go in the garden, so I might have basil next to my tomatoes, and then in another garden there’ll be some more tomatoes. I never put all of the one crop in the one space so if one tomato gets a disease the others several metres away usually stay healthy.
“But also, by having flowers in garden, you can attract lady beetles, whose favourite food is aphid which can be a really bad pest in the garden. So by attracting beneficial bugs to the garden they can tend to take care of a lot of the problems we might encounter. I quite like lady beetles because they make the best predators.”
So, in an ironic way, having the pest in the first place is what will attract nature’s antidote to come along for their favourite food. Stephanie intentionally grows calendulas, broad beans, rosemary and thyme which lady beetles and butterflies happen to enjoy for the flowers.
Growing a love of gardening
Stephanie has four and eight year-old sons who enjoy helping her in the garden, especially eating the delicious berries straight off the bush. Her youngest also helps with the planting and his interest in gardening is being fostered at his pre-school, Molong Early Learning Centre.
Mother of many seeds
For over a year now Stephanie has been producing seeds as well as food from her garden. She is fascinated about the origins of seeds, their passage across different countries and through families, and the growers themselves.
“I became quite fascinated by that and wanted to be one of those people who knows all about the seeds in the catalogues, so I signed up to as many different gardening catalogues as I could and eventually an advert came out looking for a contract grower. I signed up with them to grow tomatoes and joined another this year to also grow a corn variety,” she said. “There are more and more varieties all the time as there are so many people saving, collecting and combining the genetics of the plants. It’s so exciting.”
By following the isolation rules of contract growers Stephanie ensures that the strains of the seeds she grows are pure and so when they’re sold in the catalogue they will grow true to their strain. And with the delicious fruit of the tomatoes left after saving the seeds she makes a year’s supply of pasta sauce for her family.
Filled with year-long promise
Her garden is completely season, so when the frosts come the tomatoes are gone. It’s the time she grows the frost hardy foods for winter like broccoli, cauliflower and leeks.
“My ideology is to grow what wants to grow, and after seven years of gardening I’ve realised there are some things that will never work in my garden, and so be it,” she said. “In my monthly column in the Molong Express, the question I am asked mostly is when they should be planting Winter or Summer vegies. I always say for our temperate climate they should plant for Winter in Spring/Summer, 6-9 months in advance. So, right now I’m planting leeks…so it is continually hard work in preparation for what we’d like to eat in the future. And it’s 100% worth it for the benefits to our family.”
Keep on giving
Stephanie keeps raised and no-dig beds for aesthetic and practical reasons. Her contract-growing on the ground is a better use of space and water, while the different water needs in the raised beds particularly suit her garlic. Both are perfect for her extensive garden projects – which continue to expand – and from which she looks forward to continued learning and harvests in what is an ideal closed loop enterprise.
Stephanie is delighted to be nominated in recognition of her achievements in her home garden and for bonding the local community with her gardening knowledge.
Our 2023 Garden of the Year is sponsored by The Avid Gardener and Caledonian Landscapes.