Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Food Gardening for Beginners Part 1

This article is the first of many that I hope will guide you towards the goal of growing your own food.

Many people like the idea of growing their own food and whilst it is a great idea, if you do not plan properly you can waste a lot of time and resources and end up with little to show for it.

Allow yourself a year before you make a commitment. If you can’t wait that long, read the article on ‘Fast Food Growing’ which is coming up soon.

Remember, people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.

Why do you want to grow food?

People grow their own food for a variety of reasons:
To save money
To grow quality, tasty food
To grow unusual varieties of fruit and vegetables
To avoid unwanted additives being consumed (many bought foods are treated with chemicals, even so-called ‘fresh food’)
To better utilize their property by growing food instead of wasting valuable resources on lawns and other ornamentals.

What to plant and how much

Start by planning to grow what you like to eat. Make a list if necessary and find out what grows in your region.

You can find out about what grows by acquiring local knowledge:
Visit local open gardens or community gardens.
Join local garden or permaculture groups. These groups often help determine how many plants to plant to get the food you want. When we first started years ago we planted a punnet of eggplants. Great, but nobody told us that each plant held 20 plus fruit. That’s a lot of ratatouille.
Check on line planting charts and seed catalogues for seasonal planting info.

Eden Seeds Planting guide

Gardenate Planting Calendar - Click on "Planting Now" pop your zone in (Aust, NZ or UK)

How much you grow will be determined by how much room you have.

Can you use fences or put up trellises for vertical growth.
You may choose to consider dwarf or espalier fruit trees (growing trees along fences).
You may consider multi graft trees (several varieties of tree on one plant eg three types of apples or four types of stone fruits on one tree)

Time management

How much time can you really devote to your garden?

Even ‘Fast Food Growing’ requires time and commitment to get the desired results.

Most vegetable gardens do best with regular attention. One hour per day is better than large blocks of time spent on weekends. Even just a slow walk around the garden each evening or morning can spot larger jobs for the weekends.

Do you intend to spend time travelling or holidaying and expect someone else to care for your garden? If you don't have very much time don't have a very big garden area.

Your physical state

Be realistic about what you can and can't physically do.
Do you have a partner or friends who can help out with any heavy work?
At the same time consider site layouts with any disability in mind. Raised beds and wheelchair access can be included in designs to enable all to participate.

Climate

Investigate the local climate.
Have you lived in the area long enough to know the local weather patterns? If not find some one who has. Research from the weather bureau for your state or region will provide charts and maps with lots of info.

Weather Bureau link

If frost is a problem find out the first and last frost dates for your area. Note frost free areas of your land and choose the best areas for your chosen plants. Some plants need winter chilling (such as apple and plum trees and raspberries to name a few) so frost isn't always a problem.

If frost cannot be avoided you may have to reconsider what you want to grow. Or get/make a hothouse.

When reading seed catalogues check their zones or regional guidelines for information.
These are just some of the things you will need to know before we can even get out in the garden.

Part 2 looks at planning.

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