Food gardening has the potential to save us all

20 February 2013
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.