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How To Start A Productive Garden TODAY!


‘Think the world is ending? Grab a shovel, not a shopping trolley.’ That was the headline of  Adam Liaw’s recent Guardian op-ed that inspired the TDF office to spring into gardening action. (Clearly we weren’t the only ones, with multiple online seed stores reporting an overwhelming number of orders in recent days!)

If growing your own produce at home is new to you, we’ve compiled the following advice from those in the know to get you started. The one tip they all share? Start now – it’s easier than you think!

27th March, 2020

Ben Shaw in his Geelong garden. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Amelia Barnes
Friday 27th March 2020

Now is a great time to be growing your produce before the chilly months set in. In fact, if you start planting your winter crop today, you could be greeted with delicious vegetables in as little as four weeks.

No idea where to start? We asked chef-turned sustainable-farmer Paul West, permaculture expert Ben Shaw, and TDF’s in-house gardening enthusiast Alice Ziebell for their beginner’s tips!

Rich, healthy and alive soil is key to growing successful productive gardens. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Ben Shaw also hosts permaculture workshops and consults with people wanting to integrate permaculture principles into their own gardens. Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Peas! Photo – Marnie Hawson.

Getting started…

Contrary to popular belief, very little is needed to get started in the garden. Permaculture expert Ben Shaw is the owner of a thriving productive garden in suburban Geelong, and he says no tools are needed, especially in the beginning stages. He simply advises ‘access to a patch of dirt – either a backyard, community gardens or pots.’ 

‘It is very cheap to build a ‘no-dig’ garden. No tools required – just some time to collect all the ingredients! Longer-term it’s helpful to have a wheelbarrow, a fork and shovel to speed up the process.’ 

Get the best quality potting mix (for garden beds) or planter mix (for pots) you can afford, plus organic compost to mix in so the soil is nice and rich.

There are several locally based, online stores that can deliver seeds and seedlings straight to your home such as The Diggers Club and The Little Veggie Patch Co.

Paul West advises that you shouldn’t expect to be a pro straight away, and that rather the reward is in the process of growing (you and the plants!). Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

For Paul West, nothing trumps a deeply nourishing meal and made with ingredients you have grown yourself. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Harvest time in the vegetable garden with Frankie and Wilco, in the garden of Horst Schoeps in Narre Warren! Photo – Kate Ballis for The Design Files.

Start simple, perhaps with one pot of parsley? Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

What to plant if you have little space

Not everyone has access to a backyard, but luckily there are plenty of fruit and vegetable varieties that lend themselves to being grown in pots and styrofoam boxes, either on a windowsill or balcony. This is Paul West’s area of expertise, and he recommends herbs such as parsley, thyme, rosemary, oregano, coriander and basil. Edible leafy greens such as rocket, mizuna, mustard greens, butter lettuces and cress are also great options. 

Once you’ve planted these varieties, it’s important to give them consistent love and attention. If you have two or three pots on an apartment balcony for example, dedicating an hour a week to maintenance is ample, but this must be spread out across multiple days. You can’t set up your garden to ‘set and forget’, or think one blitz on a weekend will provide you with food for months to come. ‘Plants need regular food and water just like us, so it’s best to think of food growing as a gentle marathon where you do a little bit every day, rather than a sprint where you go mad for two days and then never look at it again,’ Paul says.

Judy Sederof’s overachieving garden in Brunswick! Photo – Annette O’Brien for The Design Files.

What to plant if you want food quickly

Those leafy vegetables and herbs Paul West mentioned above? Not only can they be grown in pots to suit a small space, but if you put them in the ground right now, they’ll be ready to begin harvesting in four to six weeks! ‘When you do start harvesting, be sure to harvest the outermost leaves first, and never take more than one-third of the plant mass,’ he says. 

Of course, you don’t need to be a literal expert to grow your own produce at home, as shown by TDF’s very own gardening enthusiast (aka our partnerships manager) Alice Ziebell! Alice spends every weekend tending to her crop of plants alongside her landscape architect husband, Marlon Ziebell. (Once your vegetable garden is underway, be sure to try out some of this pair’s delightful recipes!)

Alice says right now is the perfect time to plant your winter crop while the weather (and soil) remains warm. ‘It will give them a nice head start so that come the cooler weather you’ll have a thriving winter veggie garden. We’ve just put cabbages, broccoli, bok choy, carrots and beetroot in the ground.’ 

If you’re looking for something that you can start picking ASAP and is easy to grow, Alice says you can’t go past radish seeds. ‘Pop them straight in the ground and you’ll be picking and eating them in just a few weeks! (Don’t forget, radish tops are also delicious and can be used for making pesto, so you really can eat the whole thing!)’

What to plant now, for down the track results…

Garlic has to be one of the most used ingredients by any home chef, and if you’ve got a head on hand already, you can literally separate this into cloves, place them 2cm deep in soil, and start the growing process today! They should be ready in six to nine months. That being said, try to buy organic, Australian garlic where you can for the best results. 

Fruit trees are a much longer investment, but one that’s incredibly rewarding. These are generally fine to plant in winter, but keep in mind they won’t yield fruit for a few years! Ben Shaw has had great success with plums, pears, apricots, tamarillos and limes. Be sure to research what fruit trees are most suited to your garden’s climate before getting started.

Our very own Alice Ziebell at her father-in-laws incredible Leongatha property! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Photo – Marnie Hawson.

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