Getting started with growing your own - a series of interviews

by Liz Beavis
I vaguely remember a time before I had a garden, chickens and so many cattle.  A time when I lived in a rental property in the city and I thought I’d like to grow things, but I seemed to have a knack of killing anything in a pot.  Gardening seemed really hard, and I didn’t really know where to start.  Somehow over the last few years I’ve figured out how to grow things, even how to propagate seeds and make compost, in some ways it seems completely unbelievable given where I started.


I recently had a question from someone just like the old me, she wants to start growing some veges in a rental property, but doesn’t really know what to do.  I started trying to think what advice to give, and it wasn’t easy!  When I started my latest garden, we had lots of cow poo and mulch in the paddock, so we just borrowed a rotatiller and dug up part of the house yard.  My husband welded up a nice frame to support a massive amount of shade cloth that we got at a clearance for $50.  He also set up a recycled water system to water the garden and fenced out the chickens.  From there all I had to do was plant veges and work out which ones would grow in my climate.  Without these free and cheap resources, growing my own would have been so much more difficult, and I don’t really know where I would have, or should have, started. 


Then if occurred to me that I know (in blogland) lots of people who are growing their own in different situations, all over the world, on different sized properties and in different climates.  I wondered what advice they would give a new grower, so then I decided to ask them.  Over the next few weeks I will publish a series of interviews with other bloggers about their advice to a new grower. 


Farmer Liz - interviewing myself first :)
I'm going to share the interviews with other bloggers each Wednesday until I run out of them, but first I'll interview myself :)

Tell me about your garden and climate.
My current garden is about 4m by 10m.  It is fully fenced to keep out the chickens, although they trim anything they can reach through the mesh.  It is covered with shadecloth.  I have four garden beds which I attempt to rotate with annual vegetables.  Since discovering permaculture, I've been trying hard to establish perennial crops around the outside, things like arrowroot, sweet potato and Jerusalem artichoke.  I also grow lots of herbs in pots that I move around the garden so that they can get sun in winter and shade in summer.  Our climate is crazy, I called it a sub-tropical mountainous climate (we are 426 m above sea level here at Eight Acres).  In summer we can get temperatures in the high 30degC during heat waves, which is difficult for all but the tropical species to survive, but in winter we will get frosts that kill all the tropical plants.  Last winter I got a small greenhouse, which helped me keep some ginger and chillies alive through the frosts.

When and why did you start growing your own?
I jumped into growing when I moved in with my husband on 5 acres of land in the Lockyer Valley.  He already had chickens, and we decided to start a garden, and get a little poddy steer.  We didn't know what we were doing!  I was lucky to have picked up a Jackie French organic gardening book at a market, and to have wheel-barrow loads of the neighours' horse's poo in our paddock, but we really didn't take the time to plan the garden.  The first year we had some successes and some major failures, we were planting everything at the wrong time, we hadn't done enough to improve the soil and we were very lucky to put the garden on the north side of the house.

We started the garden because we had an idea that we wanted to be self-sufficient.  At the time petrol prices were at a record high and we were genuinely worried about peak oil and our ability to access food grown elsewhere.  In the meantime, fuel prices have decreased, but there are so many other reasons to be self-sufficient, we have continued to work towards this goal and have learnt an amazing amount.

an early success, but I've never grown such a good eggplant again!
From your experience, what’s the best way to start growing your own?
Do some research!  At the very least you need to work out where to put your garden so it gets plenty of sun.  And you need to have some way to improve your soil, a bokashi bin, compost or a worm farm, if not chickens or a steady supply of manure from cattle or horses.  A source of mulch will also be important, any cheap form of organic matter is perfect, we use old hay and wood chips from our mulcher.

If you're unsure about the time and effort required, you can start with a few pots of herbs that you would normally buy.  If you can keep them alive and use them in your kitchen, then you can start to try other plants, in more pots or in a small raised bed.  Don't be too ambitious to start with, its best to start small and increase as you learn more.
keeping herbs and other plants in pots is an easy way to start small
What are your top 5 favourite useful plants for beginners to grow? 
I wrote a post on this a couple of years ago and not much has changed.  Obviously it depends on your climate.  Everyone says that radishes are easy, but I find them a real challenge!  Try lots of different varieties and unusual veges until you find the ones that you like to eat and that do well in your garden.  My current favourites for my climate are:  silverbeet, spring onions, climbing beans, cherry tomatoes, and cos lettuce.

Any suggestions for keeping your garden cool in summer?
If you have a hot summer like mine, you really need to consider shade, or you won't be able to grow anything through summer.  I find that plants on the edge of my shade cloth cover do not do well when it gets really hot.  You can use temporary shade cloth structures, plant shady plants that will die back in winter (arrowroot is great for this) or keep things in pots that you can move into shade (like my herbs).

Shade cloth covers the entire garden.
Any suggestions for helping your garden survive frosts?
I've had to accept that there are some things that I can't grow here (e.g. passionfruit :(), but that the frost also presents opportunities to grow root crops through winter, that would be difficult if my climate stayed too warm.  I also use a greenhouse to get some of my favourites through the winter.

protection from the frost in a small greenhouse
What’s your favourite thing about growing your own?

I like to know that we always have some food out there, even if its just a few herbs and leaves of silverbeet.  During the QLD floods a couple of years ago, it didn't matter that we couldn't get to the supermarket.  And during normal time, we save a lot of money on vegetables.  I don't provide 100% of our needs, but I come close at times.  I also love being able to swap and barter with others to further reduce our reliance on the supermarket.  I could go on and on, but one last thing I wanted to mention is that I find the garden very relaxing and peaceful, with a wonderful sense of achievement when something grows well.


one year I produced kgs of cherry tomatoes, it felt good to have such an abundance

Next week I'll interview Linda Woodrow from The Witches Kitchen.  Well, what do you think?  What's your advice for those who are getting started with growing their own?


The rest of the interviews:

Linda of Witch's Kitchen

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