We’re living in deeply uncertain times with covid-19 ripping through our world – everything is changing dramatically and quickly *for everyone*. When in crisis we need to look for the opportunities – stuff that can hold us up and stuff that we can control to bring us the goodness and resilience we need. Growing some of our fresh food does this and is one of the most sensible things we can do right now.
Goodbye lawn and hello edible landscapes! Here’s six different ways you can grow food for free (or very little) in your back/front yard, in your courtyard, your balcony or kitchen bench. I also made a backyard video you can watch over on YouTube SHOWING YOU these six different methods in action.
What food can you actually plant right now? (Autumn in southern hemisphere)
This list can be planted in most parts of the world now – if possible, check with your local nursery or garden group to confirm your best options. Also see planting guides here for the rest of the year here for cooler climates, here for the subtopics (zone 2) and here for other climates). If you’re wondering what climate you live in (for Australia) see this page to help you out.
QUICK crops you can eat within 8 weeks: All can be planted as seeds, directly sowed (DS) into the soil.
- Asian greens
LONGER crops you can plant now and eat within 8 – 12 weeks: DS = Directly Sowed, T = Transplanted as seedlings
- Carrots – DS
- Beetroots – DS
- Swedes – DS
- Garlic – DS
- Brocoli – T
- Leeks – T
- Cabbage – T
- Broad beans – DS
- Peas – DS
Where to place your garden?
If you’re gardening outside, some things to consider include…
Sun: If you’re in a cool climate, make sure you place your garden where it get full (or lots) of sun. If you’re in a warmer climate, you also need lots of good sun, but keep in mind when summer rolls around, you may need to provide some shade for it to thrive.
Water: You need to have easy access to water to irrigate the garden as needed. This can simply be a hose and tap.
Access: Make sure it’s easy to get to and monitor your garden. Ideally it’s close to your house and you can see it from one of your windows so you can peek out and check on it as needed.
Protection: If you live somewhere with wildlife pressure like us in Tasmania (i.e. possums, deer, wallabies etc), then you’ll need to fence your garden to keep them out. Keep it simple, it can be some timber/steel stakes and a roll of wire mesh or netting.
BEFORE YOU PLANT ANYTHING, YOU NEED TO PREP YOUR SOIL. Sorry to shout, but it’s really important. There are many, many great methods for you can learn about, here are a few to get you growing quickly that will either cost you nothing, or very little.
For folks with limited access to materials and funds, this method just requires an existing lawn, a shovel and some seeds or seedlings.
Dig the desired area of ground and weed out the grass, add a border around the bed to prevent the grass from coming in. Make sure the ground is level and plant directly into the bed.
Be prepared for some weed pressure and some grass/weeds will grow back. You’ll need to manually weed these out.
The easiest in-ground garden bed option. Simply weed out the lawn and add a border (like a moat) to stop grass coming back.
This method is for folks with weed pressure and who can source some cardboard/newspaper and compost.
Do the above method outlined above for in-ground gardening and then add a layer of wet newspaper or cardboard over the top, making sure there’s no gaps in between the sheets. On top of that add a 5cm later of compost. You can plant seedlings into this immediately by punching a hole through the newspaper. The cardboard layer slows weeds coming back. They’ll still come (and need manual weeding), but this gives you some breathing space.
Wet cardboard to slow weeds coming back with a thick layer of compost (or aged manure) to feed the soil.
For people with really poor soils (too sandy/rocky or heavy clay), no-dig gardening allows you to build up. This method requires you to bring in all the materials, so only suitable for folks where that’s actually an option. See “box gardens” below for a smaller alternative for above ground gardening.
Want something super easy and quick? This one’s for you. Again, you have to bring in all the materials, unless you already happen to have some bales lying around your garden.
This is a short-term, one season type of garden where you simply put a series of compost pockets (2 handfuls of compost) directly into the bale and plant your seedling immediately – plus add water. You’ll get a great crop for one season, at the end of which the bale will have started to break down. At this point you can compost the whole bale or use it as garden mulch for another section of your property.
Box gardens are for those who have no access to earth and limited space, i.e. balconies and courtyards. Styrofoam boxes can be sourced from local grocers and are small enough that they’re easy to move around. Some will need to have holes punched through the bottom for drainage, while others come with holes. It’s a good idea to add a layer of coarse woodchips or blue metal stones to increase drainage.
If nothing else, you can grow sprouts on your kitchen bench. All you need is a jar, some whole lentils, water, and a clean bit of cheese cloth or a tea towel. You can also use a range of other pulses or seeds – lentils are are go to favourite. You can see the SIMPLE process below – thanks to The Lean Green Bean for these graphic. You can also see a video on the process from our dear friends at Milkwood over here.
If you are growing from seed, you might consider growing some crops in seed trays (or egg cartons) in a more controlled microclimate (inside near a sunny window). There are many different recipes for making seed raising mix. We make our seed raising mix with the following – you can also buy some pre-made.
- 2 parts compost – to provide nutrients
- 2 parts coco peat – to retain moisture (you could also used aged sawdust/fine woodchips)
- 2 parts coarse sand – to provide drainage
Where to buy seeds?
In Australia, we use Seed Freaks, Southern Harvest and Diggers as our main ones – but there are so many more. Please post where you source your seeds in the comments below for others to read. Thanks!
The secret to good gardening?
There are a few key things that will help you succeed…
- Water – make sure you provide adequate water. Notice if it’s been raining (or not) and do the moisture test of sticking your finger in the soil. If it comes out wet – it doesn’t need watering, if it comes out dry then you need to water. I know – so high tech.
- Weeding – all gardens will need to be weeded at some stage. The hot tip is to weed often when they’re young as it’s 100% easier to remove them then before they become established.
- Turning up and paying attention is one of the most important keys to successful gardening. This is where you’ll notice any problems and address them.
- Having a crack! Just have a go, gardens are very forgiving, don’t care if you stuff up (numerous times) and want to grow. Just start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.
Good luck, have some fun with it and may it nourish you and your loved ones. Together (while apart) we can do this.
One more thing
If you reeeeaaalllly wanna chat and learn from us face-to-face (in a remote kind of way), we now offer online consultations which you can read about over here.