DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS

DOWN TO EARTH SIMPLE LIVING FORUMS
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21 April 2014

Growing food for the non-gardener

Everyone should taste produce they've grown themselves at some point in their life. It's a skill we should all have - that ability to plant a seed, seedling, vine or tree, manage it, watch it and eat it when the time it right. However, some people can't do it. They have either no time or they have no land. If you're in that group of people because you're either out at work during daylight hours and have no energy when you're home, you're raising a young family or looking after an elderly relative, or you simply just don't have the land because you're renting, I might have a solution. 

My solution won't give you an abundance of food, nor will it allow you to give up shopping for fresh food at the market. What it will do though, is allow you to grow one thing well so you can experience the taste of real food and start to develop food growing skills.


This project can be carried out indoors or out in the backyard. The options are, outside, to plant a fruit tree or vine or, inside, to grow mini salad lettuce. If you're renting and you're going to plant the fruit tree, you may need to ask your landlord for permission to do this. Once you've got that, you're set. Most landlords, even those opposed to a garden going in, would probably be okay with a tree of suitable size. But there will be some readers who own their own land but haven't yet fully utilised its opportunities. Please include yourself in this.


Hanno and I travelled to Germany in the late 1970s so I could meet his family. We intended to stay for a couple of months but ended up staying a couple of years. I often went food shopping by myself, and although I went to German language classes, I picked up a better understanding of the language when I was out shopping. One day I bought some peaches from Greece. Unlike Australia at that time they imported food from other countries and it was really interesting to me to taste these fruits. Those peaches from Greece were the best I'd ever tasted and I was convinced that it was the climate there, coupled with the soil the peach tree grew in that made this magnificent and remarkable difference in taste.

And then I grew peaches here in our backyard and I knew then that the mysterious element was time. Many fruits and vegetables grown now don't taste of much at all. Tomatoes don't taste like tomatoes, apples are bland and don't taste like they used to. I think that's because they're grown fast, usually fed with all sorts of man-made fertilisers and then they're stored. They grow true to the look they should have, true to the smell, they feel the same, but they do not taste the same. They've lost the taste of real food. When we grew our peaches, they started off small but even then they had the most delicious, intense peach aroma and flavour. Our tree grew in the middle of the vegetable garden and it was watered when the vegetables were and fertilised with comfrey. Those harvests, wow, they were magnificent. It was like we were eating the sweetest, most carefully tendered peaches, sold at the best shop in town. But the truth was we had tendered them in our little backyard, along with all the other food we ate. We gave it no special treatment, no extra water; it was just allowed to grow at its own pace and to develop the unique and extraordinary flavour of traditionally-grown, organic peaches. Sadly we pulled out that tree when the fruit fly found us a few years later.


But now we have our oranges that the fruit fly don't bother with. Hanno was in the kitchen yesterday while I was writing and in he came with a slice of orange - "taste this," he said.  Well, it was like the peaches all over again - that intense orange flavour that commercial oranges don't have. That orange was perfect, although it didn't look like much. It was still tinged with green on the top of the orange, it had a couple of bumps, but that flavour, the flavour of a sun-soaked, organic orange was there to make us forget all about the look and just remember that taste.


So if you have room and the right climate I encourage you to plant an orange. You'll be growing some of your own food but the work required will be a small fraction of what you'd be doing if you had a vegetable garden. A tree is a real investment - unlike most vegetables that have to be resown every year, a tree will take a few years to start, then you'll have oranges galore. You'll still have to learn about what the orange tree needs to thrive, you'll have to water it - that's nothing. And then once a year, you'll get a crop of the sweetest oranges from your backyard. You will have produced fruit; real food. An orange tree needs an open sunny spot to grow, dig a large hole to plant it in, add compost and manure - both can be bought in bags at the produce or hardware store or at the garden centre. If there are any flowers on the tree when you plant it, snip them off. I know it seems counter-productive to do so but it will allow the tree to establish its roots in the first year instead of concentrating on producing fruit. Do it the second year too. After that it just needs fertilising with the manure a few times a year and a deep watering once a week, maybe a bucket full. When the flowers and fruit appear, increase the watering to two buckets a week.

Luckily it's not just an orange you'll be getting. With your oranges, as well as eating them fresh from the tree, you'll have juice, fruit for jam, flavouring for cakes, biscuits and your savoury dishes and if there is some left over, maybe a bottle or two of cordial.

We have a Washington navel orange tree - we have a couple of them and they're a good tree in any backyard. If your climate is too cold for citrus, or you don't like oranges, try a cold climate apricot, pear or apple. Grow what you love and what can be grown where you live but do give it a try. You'll be gardening and producing some of your own food but without the fussing of a vegetable garden.


Just pull out these tender little lettuces when you have a salad and sow new seeds to replace them.

And if you have no room, time or permission, try the indoor option. Get a long trough pot, similar to those used as window boxes, fill it with potting mix and compost and plant lettuce seeds of your choice. Sit the pot on a warm window sill, or outdoors if the temperature is right. Lettuce need bright light to grow but they don't need full sun, so a light window sill would be perfect. You'll have to water them and care for them, and when they're two or three inches high, pull them out, cut off the roots and replace those you pull out with a new line of seeds to continue the lettuce throughout the season.  What you've have are little mini lettuces, with all the nutrition of a well grown organic lettuce, and it will be fresh. You can't buy freshness - you have to grow it yourself. But if you do this small project, not only will you be starting to learn abut food production, you'll be eating some of the best lettuce or oranges you've ever eat. And that is priceless.

What other ideas do you have to help non-gardeners with food growing skills?


24 comments:

  1. I think this is a great article to encourage people to grow something, no matter how simple or small. Most anything can be grown in pots, if actual garden space isn't available. It will be worth the effort when the plants produce fresh, chemical-free stuff to eat. :D

    We just planted some peas, beans, squashes and okra a few minutes ago, and more things will be ready soon. We (my three sons and I) are lucky enough to have some land, and with my parents next door there's a bit more. I'm putting in a small salad garden in the front yard. Between the chickens and gardens, we're going to have a busy year! Can't wait for harvest time.

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  2. Here in the UK I have an orange tree in the greenhouse although it gets moved outside in the summer, at the moment it has 5 fruits on it and they are just starting to ripen, it is also just coming back into flower, this will be the first year we have had fruit off it, after reading your post i cant wait to try it, I also have a lemon a lime and a satsuma tree, last year I got 16 satsumas and they were the best I have ever tried so sweet and juicy.

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  3. Growing herbs on windowsills, and learning to grown sprouts of lentils, onions or mung beans and Arafat for salads.

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  4. This is a lovely post!
    Unfortunately, I don't have a garden so I don't have enough space to grow large produce. I am moving in a couple of weeks though, and I think I might just start growing some herbs of my own, I love surrounding myself with livings things, plants, animals and humans alike :) Brightens up your day!
    Have you made any posts before about growing things indoors?
    I hope you are enjoying your weekend, here in Glasgow the weather has been amazing over the last few days, I cannot believe it! x

    http://julesthenorweegie.blogspot.co.uk/

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  5. Having a lovely time looking through your blog, I'll have to continue tomorrow now but thank you for such an interesting journey x

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  6. Rhonda, we have a couple of orange trees but not a navel orange tree which is my all time favourite and I can't wait for them to appear in the shops each autumn. We have enough land so I really should just go and buy our own tree as it would save me lots in the long run as I have one every day when they are available.

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  7. I don't have room to plant big trees so bought a Washington navel dwarf tree and a lemon and mandarin dwarfs. The lemon tree has produced lemons two years in a row and the others we are still waiting. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

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  8. I am clearing off our north facing deck so I can try and grow some winter veggies in old tomato boxes. Today I am on the hunt for some styrofoam boxes from supermarkets. I am also armed with an excellent plan for a balcony worm farm kindly given out on the forum! As we rent an apartment I cannot have chooks, so the worm farm will become a source of fertiliser for the balcony veggies instead.......will keep you posted in how we go. Phil

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    1. Just got 12 styrofoam boxes with lids from Coles this morning for free....woo hoo! Mrs suggested she might like to have some herbs too ...... Family warming to the subject.

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    2. The ones with lids are like gold up here. There'll be no stopping you now, Phil. Happy gardening.

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  9. One point for renters is that there are small fruit trees available- sometimes called patio fruit trees- that do not grow very tall and are happy to stay in a suitably-sized container so they can take the trees with them when they move. Placed by a sunny window, on a patio, or out in your garden/yard, they'll grow happily with minimal care.

    Growing your own produce can be such a satisfying experience. I still get a child-like glee when I see the first signs of life after I've planted seeds. Let the growing adventures begin!

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  10. "You can't buy freshness - you have to grow it yourself" Bingo!

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  11. One of the best and easiest things I have grown is basil. I planted it in a window box and set it on the water collection tank by the hen house. I watered just a little every day when I changed the hen's water. We had a bumper crop of basil! And it was so easy! I could just toss a little water every day while doing another chore and then pick it when I collected eggs! We ate so much pesto! Yum!

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  12. Lovely post! Container gardening is so rewarding, too. I find companion planting (herbs and flowers, too) helps in both stimulating plant growth and controlling/preventing pest and disease problems. Trellising allows you to choose plants you might not otherwise think of growing. Soil is very important, followed by sun/water/temperatures.

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  13. I don't know how long you had your peach tree Rhonda, but they are the shortest lived trees of all the fruit. At most they last about 15 years or so; no 100 year old peaches like with apple or pears! But they can produce amazing fruit. I think growing the fruits and vegetables that suit your climate best is the key. Watering is a problem in some areas though, I vie in northern California and we are going through drought. This happens every so often but it gets to the point that water-wise gardens are the way to go or get water rationing. But we should all do what we can, at the very least support our LOCAL farmers, and not those overseas so much.

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  14. Hi Rhonda! I just wanted you to know that I recently purchased your book Down to Earth on Kindle and am enjoying it very much! We live on a farm in Missouri. We are working to pay off our debt so that in 8 years we will be debt free and able to retire. We are also trying to hone in on our gardening skills so that we can preserve more of our foods. I garden mostly for fresh foond right now. I work full time and just can't get to canning it all up yet. One thing each season I put up for the winter months.
    Thank you for inspiring me to work harder towards our goal!

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  15. Such an inspiring post! It's still to early to plant most things here, but I am ordering seeds! I mostly garden on the deck, now, but it's surprising what I can produce that way.......

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  16. Love this post Rhonda - totally agree. I'd add for those with limited space, to try growing microgreens in plastic punnets or trays on a sunny window sill/balcony. You have nutrient-dense food in 7-14 days (they are bigger than sprouts and the younger cousins of the mini lettuce salad greens you have pictured here). Dwarf fruit trees are available in most varieties, grafted onto shorter stock. I underplant all my potted fruit trees with edible flowers like nasturtiums, violas and pansies to bring in pollinators as well as food, without wasting space. I'd also suggest a simple basket or pot with the culinary herbs you most use. Chives & spring onions take up no room at all and can be planted in the centre with other herbs like oregano, marjoram & thyme around the edge.

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  17. A very motivating post Rhonda. You might remember me grizzling about our soil and health issues that prevent us doing much gardening, but reading all these makes me realise that I'm just procrastinating, and as soon as we get those chooky vandals fenced in, I'll have another go at gardening!
    Off topic, but I can't access the forum...is there a problem or just routine maintenance?

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    1. Gina, the forum is down at the moment. I hope it is back this morning.

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  18. We have just purchased 48acres. It was an old farm that has been broken up into approximately 20-30acre blocks. We are lucky enough that we could afford 2 of them, one being the top of a hill, which is home to two of the most amazing wedge-taled eagles. The second block adjacent is the old farm house paddock and it has the oldest mulberry tree I have ever seen, blackberries (that we need to tame), 3 enormous pear trees, 3 orange trees and a walnut tree. The pears are delicious, the oranges aren't ripe yet but they look like they will be great. I also thought walnuts were horrible bitter nuts, until I tasted them straight from the tree. And we are far enough away from town that we don't have a fruit fly problem. Everytime I go out there I feel both at peace and invigorated.

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  19. Sadly orange trees will not grow where I live so it is not one I will be planting anytime soon! I always recommend to people to grow herbs as they are so easy to grow in pots and taste so much better than the best dried ones. You can freeze any surplus for use over the winter if it is too cold for them to continue growing. Herbs are the only plants I grew when we were renting, they moved several times with me. When I finally moved into my current house the plants were all planted in the ground and are still growing strong now :)

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  20. I lost my entire crop of peaches to fruit fly last summer however I am now armed with some homemade traps for next summer, and will try again. I have 3 citrus trees, I freeze lemon juice in ice cube trays perfect size for cooking and lemon water/tea. I use the citrus skins to make fabric softener. There are a couple who blog from Brisbane where these ideas came.The leaves of citrus trees are idea to use for decorating the dinning table for special occasions too. I saw the chef Jaime Oliver do this once and I just had to try it. All these things have been a great success.

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  21. I would also really recommend finding a mandarine tree that suits your local climate. They're no more difficult to manage than an orange tree, fruit fly tend to leave them alone and they're amazingly prolific.

    Also, kids love them! Even really picky kids don't demand special preparation of a mandarine; they're happy to peel and eat them without any grizzling.

    Kids love mandarines and they're one of the most convenient fruit out there; no chopping or packaging, just cart them around in their skin.

    Gem

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