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Hunter Gatherer with Rohan Anderson – Growing Veg for a Family of Four

by Jenny Butler
Tuesday 30th August 2011

Another tasty day with Ballarat hunter gatherer, Rohan Anderson! Today Rohan is showing us how to grow veggies at home with even the smallest space, especially with great ideas like wall-mounted planters! – Jenny x

My mum had this dream to live in the country and grow fresh food for her family – she achieved said dream back in the 80’s. We lived on a small farm, with a large veg patch, a modest orchard, a plethora of happy chooks and a bunch of cattle that we raised – some for us and some for market. It was the good life, minus Margo and Jerry living next door.

Times were good, and it’s been in my blood ever since. Even in rentals I’d plant a little summer crop, often at the bemusement of my friends.  At the time probably not a very normal thing for a bloke, but I admit I have a soft spot for raising something from seed and harvesting the fruits of my labour, or should I say, veg of my labour.

A lot of people I speak to say they’d love to have a veg patch, and knowing their backyard situation I always stir them up and ask why they don’t actually have one!  It’s not hard folks! It’s easier than you might think – start with baby steps, and keep it small and simple. For your first season just buy a punnet of strawberries and a few tomato plants. Look after them well during summer and I guarantee you’ll be hooked after tasting your home raised real fruit.

I’m not a big fan of rules, but I do like sensible advice.  And the best advice I think is to restrict what you plant to veg you know you’re actually going to eat.  So many times I’ve fallen into the trap of planting something ‘exotic’ and never eating it, it’s a waste of resources. Most family cooking requires a good quantity of the basics; onions, garlic, lettuce, tomato, potato, carrots etc…

So when you’re ready I suggest you grow these first, then move onto plants that are a bit different but will surely become a regular each season, like kale, purple sprouting broccoli, reddy spinach, borlotti beans and whatever you find tasty. Just refrain from growing veg that you won’t get a kick out of.

Like most things, follow the instructions on the pack, have fun, preservere and you’ll be able to provide some (not all) of the fresh food for your family, whilst making a little dint into your carbon footprint by not relying on produce that has traveled plenty of road miles to reach you.

Now that I’m a Dad I get extra special joy in the garden with the girls. I love summer gardening, when they come out and eat cherry tomatoes and strawberries straight from the plant.  I get so much of a kick seeing the kids learn about where their food comes from, I’ve ended up a volunteer teacher/gardener at the primary school, teaching kids how to grow and look after their own patch. They have a ball; I just wish I could get the message out to more adults!

If you’re really keen, then now is the time to start raising your seedlings for spring planting. But if that’s a bit intimidating, then go to you local independent nursery and buy up on seedlings. And ask those dudes for advice, they really know their stuff.

This month I’m planting onion, basil, lettuce, carrots, leeks, beetroot, eggplant, spuds and even a few early tomatoes. We only have a 9m x 9m backyard, which supplies our family well. What’s your excuse?!

- Rohan


by Jenny Butler
Tuesday 30th August 2011

15 comments

  • Cathg1g2 3 years ago

    I am onto it!

  • sarah 3 years ago

    super-inspiring! x cheers

  • Kimbalee 3 years ago

    …my excuse – pests!! I live in the Dandenong Ranges, i don’t want to use chemicals, i have gorgeous worm infested soil, i netted my patch for possums, i companion planted for my last Spring crop…all my herbs and spinach are happy, but any others i’ve tried (broccoli, capsicum, lettuce, chili, all were obliterated. I even beer-trapped my snails
    :-)…i’ve been told it’s small native rats?! Any advice would be awesome! :-) Thanks Rohan, more of us should be home-growing…

  • Margie 3 years ago

    Kimbalee – how about raised beds? You can make them with straw bales around for protection… a la Jerry from Gardening Australia.
    I’m SO KEEN FOR SPRING!!!!!

  • Rohan 3 years ago

    @kimbalee

    Thats a problem I have in out middle of country town backyard! My apples and pumpkin where attacked last summer! All I could do was to net them and hope for the best.

    The beer traps are really good for the slugs, as it olive oil in old margarine containers dug a few cm into the soil. Companion planting with plants like Marigold will attract the right type of insects, as for rats and mice, I’d tend to trap them. You can get traps that won’t harm them and then you can relocate them or there is the other more practical arrangement which will dispose of them for good. I tend to prefer the latter. In urban areas there are plenty of rats, you won’t make a dint in the population.

    Unfortunately when the conditions are good, rats and mice are almost unstoppable, especially when they have a plentiful supply of food provide by yours truly. It’s a matter of deciding whats more important, a few dead rats or a profitable supply of food for your plate.

    The soil in the Dandenongs is stunning stuff, so much organic matter and plenty of buys. It’s tend to try some brick raised beds, it will also aid warming the soil for summer loving plants like tomato and chilli.

    One last thing….(what a massive reply!!!)
    When your planting seedlings, cut and old plastic bottle (milk, soft drink etc) at the base, and place it around the base of your seedling. There are a heap of benefits, notably that you can still get water into it, the bugs like snails and slugs don’t seem to be bothered by it and you’ve made a mini hot house providing warmth and protection until such time that the seedling is almost popping out of the bottle, and once the bottle is removed it has enough leaf cover to survive a little attack by garden pests. It’s the only way I can get my pumpkin, zucchini and eggplant to get a good start otherwise they get eaten as seedlings.

    Best of luck!!

  • Kimbalee 3 years ago

    thank you so much!!! I am keen to get on planting now thats for sure….as i enjoy my lunch with fresh spinach from my garden, i’m keen to get more of that “fresh from my garden” stuff on my plate! I have a raised bed, but might head to the local “tip shop” and get some old wares to plant in too…that way I can shimmy them about in the garden to catch the sun, and if I move – take all my hard earned effort with me :-) thanks again for your responses, bring on Spring! :-) xx

  • Kimbalee 3 years ago

    oh and lastly wanted to add, if anyone is keen enough to catch their snails (sans beer intake), some local pet shops (that sell reptiles and amphibia!) will buy them off you to feed to their slippery friends….

  • mariana 3 years ago

    absolutely love this post!
    a beautiful and productive garden..
    the info and the questions and answers that followed, all super helpful! i was wondering if you feed your veggies rohan? and if so what type?
    thank you in advance!

  • Rohan 3 years ago

    Mariana,
    I sometimes feed the veg with Seasol, as a soil conditioner. Before each big plant up I’ll add some Blood and Bone, or mix soil with the stinky stuff at the bottom of my compost, which seems to have a heap of organic matter in it enough to give the veg a really good kick on.

    I also rotate my crops, and plant legumes to fix nitrogen prior to the tommie season.

    Hope this makes sense!!

  • Blue fruit 3 years ago

    Love your infectious enthusiasm, Rohan. You are spot on, growing veggies is an addictive and very rewarding past time! There is nothing more satisfying than eating veggies straight from the garden.

  • Bron 3 years ago

    Question for you, Rohan.
    We have half an acre of land that we are about to turn into a bit of a food forest (slowly, over time).
    We’ve just bought a whole bunch of seeds (a fair bit because we have so much land) – Zucchini, Watermelon, Cherry Tomato’s, Tomato’s, Shallots, Sweet Corn, Rockmelon, Rhubarb, Chilli, Carrots, Capsicum, Pak Choi, Garlic Chives, Pumpkin, Lettuce, Beetroot, Cucumber, Marigolds and a bunch of herbs.
    My question is should we grow them in seedling pots first, or can we just sow them into the ground as seeds?

  • Rohan 3 years ago

    @ Bron. Firstly let me say who envious I am that you have land!!!!

    Some varieties prefer to be planted directly where they will grow, and some don’t mind the transplant. There are only a few things that I sow directly such as carrots and mixed leaf greens. Pretty well much everything else I raise in seed pots of toilet rolls. The reason is that we have a challenging climate here in Ballarat so I like to raise plants in the mini hot house. Also I have a dog that likes to sun bake on my mulched veg patch, but she’s rather considerate and will not sleep on little plants.

    Also one other benefit of seed raising in pots is that you get the plant to a decent old size before you plant it giving it more of a chance to survive and overnight attack by snails and bugs. It’s the only way I can get pumpkin, zucchini and capsicum to grow.

    With that much land you will be able to feed a few families, including fruit and nut trees, berries and herbs. Amazing potential! I hope you have good soil!

  • Rohan 3 years ago

    @Blue fruit. Couldn’t agree more. I just ate a Rabbit Cacciatore and most of the ingredients I grew myself, and I obviously shot the rabbit too, but didn’t make the bullet ;-)

  • Bron 3 years ago

    Thanks for your advice, Rohan (sorry, only just saw your comment). We have probably fairly average soil, but we had been mulching a large part of it – the fruit trees went into that section. We also created a bit of a no-dig garden in one part of the yard, and, for obvious reasons, it’s very high in nutrients. As for the rest of the yard, well lets just say we have a nice rock garden! We’ll be mulching it all over time.

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