I think it’s time for another food gardening plug! This time I’m simply going to show you some of the produce I’ve grown over the last couple of months, and talk about the experience of growing them:)
Firstly I guess I’ll start with the things I’ve intentionally grown, as opposed to those that just happened, which I’ll discuss later. There is my staple herb garden, which is my pride and joy, since I masterminded its construction and planting from the very beginning, and it’s an enormous source of satisfaction (and deliciousness) for me. This contains parsley, basil (perennial and annual), garlic chives, rosemary, a kaffir lime, a bay tree, lemon grass, lemon balm, thyme, mint and marjoram. Sounds like a honking lot, doesn’t it? But really, it doesn’t take up a lot of space and more critically, it doesn’t take much care. I’m a great believer in a garden that can take care of itself. Originally, when the concrete was taken off the top (I carved a chunk out of what used to be shared driveway) I put in a bunch of compost, but since then all it’s had is the occasional mulching. We’re talking very occasional too, more than six months apart. It very rarely gets watered either. Yet, I have more mint than I know what to do with, parsely coming out my ears, a mat of thyme big enough to sleep on… you get the idea. Throw in some herbs people! Things like thyme, majoram and mint can be grown in the cracks in pavement and will help to keep down weeds, as well as smelling delicious when you step on them 🙂 Also, practically all herbs can be grown from cutting (particularly mint) and most of them are very forgiving when you do so that with a high success rate you’ll have plenty of herbs fairly fast.
A bit of fun I had this year was in planting a strawberry pot. If there’s one thing I’ve found out about strawberries, it’s that they are very heavy feeders. If you don’t feed them, they just don’t fruit. This being said, you can get a bit creative with feeding them 🙂 I use slow release food pellet thingies, which you can get for about $3 for a big container, and the occasional spare bit of seasol when I’ve mixed up a watering can full for something else. The other thing I’ve discovered is that strawberries really like a banana peel. So, wander around admiring your garden eating a banana, and then stop by the strawberry pot and leave the peel there. I had a reasonable amount of fruit from it too (it’s still going!), the only problem being that they tend to ripen one, maybe two at a time, so they’re more of a treat than anything else. I also had a lot of lettuce and spinach growing, all of which went very well. I have grown the lettuce several times from their own seed, and there is no noticable change in the plants, so they’re obviously a good stock. Not only that, but the seeds I hadn’t collected are self seeding, so there’s random lettuces sprouting here and there, which is handy!
My capsicums also went very well indeed, going absolutely nuts and pumping out the fruit. The fruit were quite small, much smaller than you’d get in the shops, but with a much stronger, sweeter flavour and with so many growing at once you just picked four or five of them. They were much easier going than the strawberries, requiring only the occasional watering on very hot days when they tended to wilt. I strongly recommend them as easy growers. Not only that, but from the seeds from the ones that I didn’t pick are already sprouting new plants! This is ideally what you want from a cooking garden- self seeding plants so that you don’t have to spend any money on seedlings.
Then there are the carrots, which I harvest as I need them. I grew them from bought seed, since none of mine have gone to seed yet. They aren’t anything like your shop bought carrots, I haven’t had many that have only one tap root and they’re much more carroty flavoured. It seems like everything I’ve grown for myself has a much tastier flavour than bought, which probably has to do with there being about 10 minutes between garden and plate, or garden and mouth depending on the plant and my appetite 🙂 Anyway, I’ve had all varieties of shapes, sizes and contortions in my carrots. However, in terms of presentation it actually makes things more aesthetically interesting- it also punctuates the homegrown-ness of your vegetables when you serve them. The beauty of carrots also is that you can plant them all year round if you use a fairly standard variety. For me, this means that as soon as a punnet of carrot seedlings is transplanted out into the garden, it is refilled with dirt and new seeds, so that the carrots are constantly being planted and harvested. A note on carrot growing- if it’s been a very dry period, like we had this summer, give them a good hard water about an hour before you uproot them, or they can be a bit bitter. Otherwise, they’re beautifully low maintainence and take up very little space among your other plants. Not only that, but the feather tops are quite appealing, so there’s no reason not to plant them scattered about a flower bed as an interesting foliage note. Ten points says most people won’t even guess they’re carrots 🙂 You could even grow them in pots as feature plants, they’d look lovely with their draping tops.
My zucchinis did very well this year too. Zucchinis are the ninjas of the vegetable world. There’s nothing, there’s nothing, and then all of a sudden there’s a zucchini lying there the size of half a tyre. Perfect for stuffed zucchini, or for whizzing up for zucchini slice or zucchini hash browns (which admittedly I haven’t made yet, but I swear it can be done! I’m making it my mission to perfect them). Again, low maintainence. Stick it in, water it if there’s no rain for ages, and zucchinis will happen.Then, finally there is The Mystery Vegetable which produced three very tasty melons/pumpkins (although I’m not sure if that really counts in the intentional category).
On to the Children of the Compost! I rarely compost once I have established a garden (I probably should) but when it’s still in creation I compost a lot. I’ve been in the process of reclaiming a bit of not-quite-lawn-but-not-garden-bed-either into a flower bed, so I spread it with lots of compost. Then I got busy with other things, and while I was gone there sprouted various vines and a whole lot of tomato plants. The tomatoes were insanely prolific, I’ve never seen anything like it. Every day you could go out and pick several handfuls of tiny toms without making the slightest dent in them. And oh, the flavour! Absolutely to die for. If there is one plant you ever grow for yourself, make it tomatoes. The flavour is just insanely better than anything you ever buy, and tiny toms seem to fruit heavily, making up for their small size. The melon/pumpkin vines spread out (you need a lot of space to grow them, definitely not balcony material) and eventually started producing fruit (at which point I could identify them). I ended up with a Japanese Pumpkin, which I got 4 largish pumpkins from, who went to various delicious fates. Then there was a rockmelon which gave me one soccer ball sized fruit and one tiny little cute one, a bit larger than a tennis ball. They were particularly tasty, once again having a much stronger, better flavour than bought melons. Finally, there was a butternut pumpkin vine, from which I got one full sized pumpkin and one mini pumpkin, which was possibly the cutest pumpkin I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the good sense to photograph it before it got eaten. 🙂
Now don’t get scared off by this! It sounds like I grow a lot of plants, and I do. The one thing I have, which you may not, is a lot of space. Other than that, I spend very little time or money on my garden. Every month or so I transplant the seedlings and replant my seed boxes. Every second evening I water any pot plants, but because that’s a pain I have very few pot plants. The actual garden beds don’t get watered unless they’re brand new seedlings or it hasn’t rained in forever. Maybe every 6 months I get excited and mulch, or maybe even put on a bit of cow manure, but that’s very very rare. The only thing I spend money on is the occasional bale of sugarcane mulch, snail pellets and seeds. The point of this post is actually to show you that vegetable gardening is piss easy, and that you will get results. All you need is a bit of space and sun shine. Even if you don’t have space, a little creativity can make things possible. Things like spinach and carrots are quite attractive, and can be grown in pots as feature plants so that you don’t have to compromise between vegetables and style if you have a balcony. Food gardening makes a huge difference to how you eat, since your scraps go into the compost and eventually come back onto your table, a cycle which changes your relationship to how and what you eat. It’s also a great lifestyle thing- it gets you out of the house and active and you eventually get to eat what you’ve produced, which inevitably tastes wonderful (the sweat of labour is the best sauce). Not only that, but it’s great fun for kids, and it reconnects us with our food. It’s important to remember where the things you eat come from, and the process by which they come to exist.