Growing your own food is one of the most rewarding and liberating activities and is an excellent use of your garden. Concern over modern farming methods, food quality, and the environmental impact of importing fruit and vegetables and overuse of packaging materials has led to many embracing the concept of ‘Food Freedom’.
But as well as bucking the system, planting, tending, and harvesting crops has immense benefits in all kinds of areas – a welcome boost to physical and mental health, a great way to do your bit for the planet with sustainable and cyclical garden practices, and a great way to get the kids interested in eating their greens. However, those who don’t have green fingers – or have yet to discover them – can be daunted by the prospect of starting a productive garden. Luckily, getting up and running isn’t as hard as it may seem, and doesn’t have to break the bank. Let’s look at some innovative tips to get your garden growing.
As with any project, starting a fruit and vegetable garden requires careful planning. Set yourself realistic goals for the first season – there is nothing more off-putting than planting difficult crops that need more attention than you are willing or able to give. Start small if you’re a beginner. Assess your soil – if it is dry or full of clay you may want to install some raised beds or plan for an efficient irrigation set-up. Plan your beds around the light and shelter in your outdoor space. And set yourself a realistic budget – you’ll find most things can be done relatively cheaply with a bit of lateral thinking.
A good rule of (green) thumb is this: if you don’t like it on the dinner table, don’t plant it in the garden. Aside from that, choose crops based on your local climate, and appropriate to your experience level. Some plants are much lower maintenance than others, and while it may not seem like an innovative hack, crops you can grow easily will boost your confidence levels. Plus there are tons of resources online to help, whether you want to grow plump, juicy strawberries, or sweet, crunchy carrots.
This is a great tip if you’re pushed for space, or simply want to try something new. When growing upwards you can produce large amounts of vegetables – in fact, any vegetable you can grow in your garden will do well in a container. Shelves offer the benefit of multiple tiers of containers, but many vertical gardeners use hanging baskets or trellises. Hanging baskets are well suited to trailing plants such as sweet potato vine, and cherry tomatoes and peppers will all do well (and look great) in baskets. Trellises are good for beans, peas, and tomatoes, as well as vine crops such as cucumbers or squash.
This is a way of growing vegetables without soil, by fostering a symbiotic relationship between aquatic animals and your plants. The setup is easier than you might think, and systems can be made to fit all sizes of garden. Basically, your plants will feed on waste and discharge from your fish, and in turn, the plants will clean the water – which will be full of nourishing microbes. The fish need to be freshwater – tilapia and barramundi are popular due to their tolerance of diverse water conditions, trout can be used in colder water, and you can even raise snails and shrimps. The plants you produce in an aquaponic system are usually those which require lower nutrients – salad crops such as radishes, lettuce, rocket and herbs, and others such as kale and spinach, spring onions, or leeks.
Cold frames are a great way to extend your growing season – it’s a way to ensure that your crops get enough sunlight while enjoying protection from the elements, namely cold and wet conditions. You can buy them from the garden center, but most gardeners make their own. They are inexpensive and can be made from upcycled materials like cabinets and old windows. There are many resources online to help you make an appropriately sturdy cold frame depending on the weather conditions in your area. For colder areas, a bale of straw will help you make the most out of the sunlight. And remember to place the frames in an area that gets plenty of sun – north-facing cold frames don’t tend to work as well.
One of the best ways to fertilize your crops while also maintaining sustainability in your garden is to compost. A vital part of any garden, compost is essentially just decomposing organic matter, so you can fill your composting bins with garden waste, food leftovers from the dinner table, peelings, eggshells, and tea bags. Compost is rich and nutritious for your fruit and vegetables, as well as being free! You can buy a barrel or make your own bins easily enough.
Follow these tips if you’re thinking about embarking on a ‘Food Freedom’ journey, and can’t wait to start producing delicious, healthy, organic crops at home.