20 February 2013

Food gardening has the potential to save us all

The first of this season's vegetable seeds were planted in trays and then I stopped because of the rain. We had a drought in the last six months of last year, then all hell broke lose and since then we've had 1078mm/41 inches. About 275mm/5 inches of that fell yesterday. Now the seed trays are undercover because I don't want them to be wet for too long as this stage. Some seedlings are susceptible to damping off at this stage. So we have a tray of pak choi (they germinated in two days), Moneymaker tomatoes, pickling onions and curly kale, soon I'll plant up some sweet peas, and two large cherry tomatoes in pots. I'll need to made a trellis for them but I have the canes from next door's tall grass plant. I'm not sure what it's called but it's long and strong so that's all I need to know. A teepee of canes will hold them up nicely.


Hanno prepared one of the garden beds with manure and organic matter and he has another one dug over and weeded. When the rain stops, that will be were the root vegetables go as they don't like rich soil with manure. This year's root crop will be Derwent Globe beetroot, Chantenay carrots (sent by my good friend Sherri in Canada), Early Purple turnips, Gentle Giant radish and Miyashinge Daikon radish. We'll probably put in a few potatoes too. We eat celeriac, swede (rutabaga) and turnips but they don't grow well here so we'll continue to buy them. We want to put in climbing Lazy Housewife beans and dwarf beans at their base, along with some sugar snap peas. They'll have to wait for the rain to ease off too because they'll rot in the ground if the soil is too wet.


If you're keeping an eye on your money, the cheapest way to grow vegetables if to use heirloom seeds. Heirlooms come in a huge range of different vegetables and at the end of the season you can save the seeds from your best plants and keep them going the following year. If you do it right, you only have to buy one lot of seeds, not new seeds every year. This is how we all use to garden way back when. It's cheap using F1 or hybrid seeds too but you can't save those seeds for the following years. They won't grow true to type. If you can get your hands on heirloom seeds, you'll be on your way to some fine frugal vegetables.  If you happen to have seeds at home now and you're not sure if the seeds are alive, read this post I did a few years ago and test them for viability.

The best way to store seeds is to package them tightly in their own packet and put as many of the packs into a sealable jar as you can. Then place that in the fridge. They'll keep well for a few years. They'll also store well in the freezer but if you freeze them, do it in a plastic container.


The capsicums/peppers and chilli bushes are growing well and into that bed I think Hanno will add mushroom compost and manure and plant the Moneymakers I've just sown. He has planted two seedlings of Moneymaker that we bought at the market and hopefully they'll be producing fairly soon. What a disappointment the shop tomatoes are. When you're used to the freshest home grown produce, it's a big step down in quality when you have to buy weekly fruit and vegetables. A friend up the road, Fairy at Organised Castle blog rang to tell me she'd leave some Lebanese cucumber seedlings at the gate early Monday morning. Sure enough, they were there and survived sitting out in the rain nicely in their tray and plastic covering. That will save me sowing any cuc seeds and I'll have some to give to Sunny as well.


Our greens include silverbeet, sugarloaf cabbage, red cabbage, Lombok cabbage, Portuguese cabbage, the curly kale already planted and Great Lakes lettuce. It's really a cold climate lettuce but it does well enough here without developing the solid heart. I love it for its crispiness and sharp crunch.

This year's vegetable garden flowers include Queen Anne's lace - for attracting beneficial insects, nasturtiums - for salads, compost material and just for the sheer beauty of the flowers. I have a beautiful pale yellow type with a red centre called Peach Melba. It's so pretty. I still have calendulas in and hopefully some will self-seed as well, I'll have to keep an eye open for them because a certain over zealous gardener sometimes whips out self-sown plants along with the weeds.  I want to pot up a couple of hanging baskets too. I have Jolly Joker pansies and Alyssum Snow Cloth here so I think they'll look beautiful hanging off the side of the bush house. Later in the season, I'll plant up some sunflowers for the chooks and wild parrots.

If your sweet potato starts to sprout, allow the shoot to grow long, then plant them in the garden. You'll probably get a really good harvest.

After a lot of thought, we've changed the way we grow certain plants. Although we still grow tomatoes in the ground, and that is where you always get the best yield, we're also growing some in pots. With the weather so unpredictable, I want to be able to move some tomatoes so if there is a lot of rain we can have them under shelter, or a prolonged drought, we can easily keep the water up to them. I've also moved the thyme and oregano, both in pots, over to the bush house along with the potted blueberries. When the rain stops, I'll get out there, make a small ornamental garden on the corner of the bush house near the sand pit, and then scatter the potted plants around that new garden. It keeps them in one zone where I can keep and eye on them, they're sheltered during winter. I'll add a bit of colour to that zone by planting up a large pot of Sweet Peas - Galaxy, a scented pea. 

We have plenty of compost, straw, comfrey, seaweed extract, manures, water and enthusiasm and we're ready to go. It feels more important than ever to grow our own vegies this year. Food gardening has the potential to save us all so it's good you know how to do it, or you're learning how to. I know many of you join us every year in this journey into self-reliance and I'm guessing there are more and more new gardeners raising their first crops this year. No matter what category you fall into I hope you have a lot of fun in your garden, learn plenty and enjoy abundant harvests. If you need help with your planting and want to ask a question, we have a special section over at the Down to Earth forum. I drop in there most days and will answer questions but there are many excellent gardeners there who will be happy to help you along.

28 comments:

  1. How thrilling to read of your garden plans :) There is nothing on earth like the promise of a garden full of homegrown produce!

    Glad to hear that you are getting some rain... the security of full tanks must feel very good after such a horrible drought.

    Hope that those Chantenay carrots grow well for you XO

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  2. Oh, this makes me so excited for our spring this year! "Lazy housewife beans," I should look into those ;) Good luck getting everything planted out and growing strong!
    -jaime

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    1. I always grow lazy housewife beans and they are prolific!

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  3. Thanks for all of the inspiration. It's great to hear about the huge variety of things you are growing. Last year we moved into a house that has a couple of big spaces for veges, so we have really enjoyed getting the garden started and all of the work is paying off, with lots of cucumbers, tomatoes, leafy greens etc. We also planted a kumara (New Zealand sweet potato) and have been eating the leaves in salad. We are eating a lot better too, as I feel guilty letting any greens go to waste, so we practically eat them with every meal!

    One thing I didn't have success at all with is seeds. They all got sadly waterlogged and it was a bit cold for them (plus I think they were too old), so we had to start again with shop-bought seedlings. I have had success with seeds in the past when I had a glasshouse, so I will have to try some different techniques this year to keep them dry and warm enough. Again, thanks for the inspiration. It is great to see the variety of veges you're growing from seed. So many more varieties than those available as seedlings in the shops.

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  4. I love gardening, it's so gratifying. I love pottering about with my fingers in the earth. It makes me feel connected and whole. So far we've raised a few seedlings- I feel so protective of them when they're just 5mm high or so! Of course growing your own food is frugal, enjoyable, and it tastes wonderful! Oh and there's no need to run to the shops for a handful of mint when it's growing at your backdoor :)

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  5. Thank you for this encouraging post, I can't wait to get started myself :-) And lovely to know that I can get help on the DTE forum as this will be my first year having a big garden (I've only really done square meter gardening so far).

    Gardening will save us not just when it comes to food production, but also in the health department I think. I feel so much better just being outside with my hands in the earth!

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  6. Hi Rhonda

    Like you I have made some changes to how I garden to take account of the unpredictable weather.

    I have an old esky which The Duke drilled large drainage holes in for growing some of my lettuce. I find that if we get prolonged, heavy rain the lettuce just rot in the ground so this way I can pick it up and move the whole lot under the verandah for a bit of shelter if required.

    It was great to be able to share the cucumber seedlings with you. Mine are growing so fast. The prospect of some sunny weather today will be a bonus.

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  7. Hello Rhonda
    You brought a smile to my face this morning, I too have an over zealous gardener and have to walk him through the garden and help him identify which are the new shoots and which are the weeds! I have 6 opportunistic pumpkin plants that sprouted in the garden miraculously, they have grown crazy since the rain (I am in Brisbane) so I hope I get some pumpkins, I think they are pumpkins, who knows, how exciting!
    You motivate and inspire me to keep learning and trying and I have learnt to accept that not all my seeds will sprout, but that is ok.
    regards Leonie

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  8. Morning Rhonda
    In Victoria we are in the produce season. I had run short of tomatoes and had to buy one. It was hard and tasteless. I said to my hubby, see this is why I am out in the garden growing what I can. So our family can be spoiled for great fresh produce.
    Zucchinis they are a little over though. 4 plants too much for one family, take to food swaps and guess what there are heaps there too. Off to make zucchini slice and freeze, I love it for a quick lunch to take to work. Will make two to use up yummy chookie eggs too. I am currently picking something everyday for my family out of garden love that. Di

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  9. After the mess nature has made of my vegetable garden, I'm a bit slow on planning our Autumn plantings. Hoping to get some of the beds emptied out and turned over to the chickens first, they are full of bugs that need disposing of. We went down there one night in the dark and the slaters were everywhere!! And whoever says they only eat rotting stuff should see them all in a row nibbling on a lovely fresh Cauliflower leaf. Between them, the slugs, snails and cabbage whites, I get excited when I get to harvest ANYTHING!! but will keep persevering, because it's worth it in the end!

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  10. It is that time of year again, and I have also been prepping my beds. The thought is though, that we still might get a bit more rain before the rainy season ends. you sound as though you have everything all nicely planned.

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  11. I'm garden planning today too Rhonda! Sketches of beds and purchasing new seed and plans to save a bit from the heilooms in the garden. It is always a little strange to read your posts on vegie gardening though - we're so different in terms of climate! We're getting ready to plant all of our cool climate things and to say farewell to the tomatoes etc :)
    Happy gardening!

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  12. I love planning a new garden! But at our house I'm thinking about greens, beans and peas. Nocturnal visitors dug up last year's carrots! But I might give beets a go again. I have decided that even though I love the potential in a little packet of seeds, I have more success when I use farmers market seedlings for most things. Beans, peas and most soft herbs excepted.

    I think we need food gardens more than ever. For all the reasons people have already written about - but also because they are good for your mind. I find it very therapeutic - even through all the failures.

    :)

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  13. it's an exciting time isn't it rhonda! so full of possibilities... i planted out loads of seeds (and am also covering them from all the rain we are getting at the moment!)... i find seeds so exciting- watching them sprout, then nurturing them into plants! i've probably overplanted the seeds, but that is OK because i share them with my dad who mainly likes to grow from seedlings these days... looking forward to getting the new garden planted out after such a trying summer!
    i'm wondering, do you get frosts where you are? do you have to cover anything up or do you just grow frost hardy things over winter? our summer was so awful that i'm considering growing some things over winter and getting a frost cover for them (as our days are still very warm- we are just a little south of you i think)
    amy

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    1. We get no frosts here, Amy. I reckon you should push the envelop and see what you can grow - frost or no frost. Good luck, love.

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  14. Its that time too down here in Adelaide, to start pulling out some of the Summer veg and make way for some seeds to get going........Its a messy time in the garden, bits an pieces everywhere...I saved seeds last year, in fact I only just posted about them, so many seeds from just one or two plants....those vegetable plants are just so 'giving', not only do they give you their fruit and vegetables, but then they throw hundreds of seeds back at you to do it all over again the next year......I will experiment with my seeds as they came from plants that I bought at the nursery....no matter how often the seasons change, I always feel anticipation and excitement of the next lot of food we will be growing, it never gets old for me...

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  15. Sowing and planting time is my favourite season. A little way off for us here in France (not before early May), but land preparation is already being thought about, just as the last of last year's crops finish.

    My daughter lives in Rockhampton, which I imagine must be within a few thousand miles of where you are. Happy sowing!

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    1. Rockhampton is about a six hour drive north of us. Happy planting when the time arrives.

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  16. Hi Rhonda! It's exciting, isn't it? I have started this journey with a couple of pots and now have a raised bed, containers, pots... It never fails to amaze me how those little seeds germinate and grow so quickly! :-) And I agree - being able to grow your own food will become more and more important, so it's great to get a head start. Hopefully, my garden won't be plagued by slugs quite as much as last year but after promising I'd never ever grown anything ever again (after last season's debacle), with the new season the optimist comes out again and I can't wait to start getting the seeds into the ground. Thank you for a lovely post! Kirsten x

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  17. Hi Rhonda - we are moving this year and one of my priorities is to find a house with enough land to enable us to become as self sufficient in veg and fruit as we can. I also long for a pantry so I can keep homemade preserves etc. When I find the right house I will be back to the forum for advice as I have not done too well are gardening so far. Lily. xxx

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  18. Hi Rhonda,
    I will be planting my first garden this year. I have your blog for a while and I love it. I must say that you are so much like my Mom that I find it funny. I showed your blog to my Mom and she looked at me and said " That IS Me, so why didn't you listen when you were growing up?"

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    1. So why didn't you listen to your mum while you were growing up, Amy. Hmmmm? Say hello to your mum for me. She sounds like a wonderful woman. :- )

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  19. Hi Rhonda - thanks for the memory jog! I got home from my 88 year old Mum's yesterday and couldn't, for the life of me, think of what I'd thought to make for her. Then I saw your new blog top - a new peg bag!! Thanks again, and for the encouragement to get planting for this year's garden crop. Here in the UK it's still very cold and very very wet, but the last few days have brought some sunshine which means I should be able to get out there soon. My chooks certainly appreciate the better weather - I was considering finding wellie boots for them!

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  20. Hi Rhonda,
    Great post. I have found that making a up a cup of chamomile tea and spraying on seedlings takes care of damping off. Another idea that works is cinnanom powder.
    Kate

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  21. It's both delightful and frustrating to read you talk about your garden, since my Massachusetts, USA, garden is deep in snow now, with more on the way over the weekend. But I'll be starting my cool-weather crops soon, and hoping that I'll actually be able to work the ground by Saint Patrick's Day to start my peas.

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  22. How grand it is with your work at getting down to earth literally. Here we are up to our knees in snow. Only little tray of seeds can be started in the basement but we no longer do it. We wait till May and buy some seedlings for the garden and herb pots.

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  23. The sweetbox has just finished blooming and the hellebore are in full flower. When I walked through the garden this morning the lilacs, wisteria, and hydrangeas are all starting to leaf. This is my favorite time of year. I am moving from just ornamental plantings into sustainable gardening. I found both your post and the photos to be inspiring and informative. I will start germinating seeds for the garden this week so a little push from you was helpful. Thank you for sharing.

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  24. We have limited space but we do have a great deck. I am planning a raised bed garden this year where I can grow my own herbs and vegetables. I just started the seeds and can't wait to have my own fresh produce.

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