Would you love the satisfaction of harvesting your own fruit and vegetables, then turning them into meals for you and your family. I know that not everyone has a huge backyard and plenty of time to grow everything they eat. So what do you do when you would like to try gardening and don’t know where to start?
My answer is Ask. While I am a passionate gardener, I also love to share my knowledge and help others develop their edible spaces – whatever the size and level of experience you might have. It might be pots of herbs on your kitchen bench, a couple of balcony planters or a few raised beds in the backyard. Growing a few herbs, some salads vegetables or even a couple of basil plants at the base of your cherry tomato plant. These can make a huge difference to your health and your hip pocket.
Small changes can make a big difference.
The two main questions I am asked about gardening are:
Where do I start ? and When do I grow what ?
Where do I start?
It may sound simplistic, but I suggest that first you write down a list of what you like to eat. What Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs do you buy on a regular basis? Then write down a list of the ones you would like to buy more often but are a bit more expensive or difficult to find in the shops. If you can, with a highlighter or a different coloured pen, note down which ones you buy in your main seasons. Most herbs you will find all year round. Examples for summer produce would be Basil, Tomatoes, Zucchini and Beans. While Pumpkin, Potatoes, Broccoli and Cabbage are generally found in the winter.
If you are new to gardening or limited with your time. Potted Herbs are a great way to get started. First I would choose Perennials (Plants that continue to grow for many seasons/years) Rosemary, Thyme, Mint, Sage and Chives are all hardy, robust plants that can survive a little neglect. Then I would choose Annual herbs (those that only grow for 1-2 seasons before going to seed and dying) need a little more care and attention. Basil and Parsley are easier to grow that Coriander.
Quick maturing crops like radish, rocket and lettuce are likely to be your high turn over crops and ones that you purchase weekly. These and herbs are also the ones with the most limited shelf life. I am a fan of growing them in self watering pots. They can survive a few days or a week if you get busy and will still reward you with a harvest.
If you have space for a larger pot and like eating tasty tomatoes, then a Cherry Tomato plant is a great choice. They are far more disease resistant that the salad tomatoes, fruit earlier and for a longer period. Some varieties will yield up to 12kg of fruit. For an initial outlay of around $20 (An Advanced seedling, pot & potting mix) you can grow in excess of $120 worth of tomatoes. Very satisfying.
Once you have had a bit of success you might want to move on the a few of the more expensive or more difficult to find vegetables and herbs, such as garlic and/or ginger.
When do I grow what?
The convention is generally to refer to 4 seasons (Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring). However, in SW Western Australia we generally have 2 main growing seasons – Summer and Winter. What you will find is that quite a few plants take 4-6 weeks to be ready to harvest (Lettuce, herbs etc) and some will take considerably longer, 12 weeks plus. For us, Autumn and Spring are our busiest planting times, so that we can have an abundant Winter and Summer harvest.
Once you have an idea of what season you are in, you will need to plan ahead a little, for crops other than herbs and salad greens. Garden centres are a good place to see what seedlings are available, ready to plant for the next season. Stalls at your local Farmers Market will also give you plenty of choice and hopefully some organic seedlings. Be aware when buying seedlings – Avoid them if they are very tiny, look very large for their pots (or have roots hanging out the bottom) or are small & flowering already. These are usually past their best.
If you can, join a Gardening Group in your local area. There is a wealth of knowledge out there. I am a member of a local Edible Garden Group. We meet fortnightly at different peoples gardens, share ideas / successes / failures and produce. They are a great way to meet like minded people. Face to face and hands on will always be better than Facebook or online.
However, if that doesn’t suit you, then not to worry. There are also a lot of websites out there that can help prompt you when to plant seeds and seedlings. Take care that the information is specific to your climate type. If you are not sure what climatic region you live in don’t worry, there is is usually a map explaining.
Always plant your seedlings into good quality potting medium or enriched soil. A rich, well rotted compost will give life to your seedlings and potting mix doesn’t necessarily have to be the most expensive to be the best. Remember, ‘you are what you eat’ and your plants need to eat well too.
Have a go!
With so much information our there, from thousands of different sources, it is totally understandable to get a bit of ‘analysis paralysis’. My advice is to pick one source of information and stick to that for the season.
Local knowledge is always best. I send out a monthly newsletter for clients with information regarding What to harvest and plant now (for our area), Advice on how to keep your garden ticking along nicely and the odd Seasonal Recipe. Try to find a local source where you live.
It is important to be realistic with the amount of time and money you want to spend on your edible garden. Start small and manageable so that you have some success and want to continue. Keep trying, we all have failures from season to season.
Most importantly – Have a go!