I experienced a kind of mini social death last week. Vegetable patches are all the rage in my suburb with families spending happy hours educating their small children about the rhythms of nature and the nutritional benefits of snow peas. I think it’s fantastic, I really do. But I’m no good at it. When two mums from playgroup came round last week, they eyed my sad looking dwarf beans and said “Oh, it’s such a shame about the possums, ” before turning the conversation to the joys of sharing home-grown salads with their grateful three year olds. The truth is, it’s not the possums, its me.
Keen to live up to my sustainability ideals (and not deprive my own three year old of home grown snow peas) I decided to do something about it. I emptied the last of my dead plants into the compost bin at the weekend and went off to South West Sydney in search of Veggie Nirvana. Camden is a pretty unlikely setting for horticultural heaven, but that is where you’ll find the extraordinary suburban backyard of Toni Salter; mum, ex-merchant banker and passionate exponent of growing your own veggies. A qualified horticulturalist, Toni teaches people how to get their veggie patch in shape.
I joined the ‘Grow veggies in pots’ workshop, which started with fresh, home-made scones (still warm from the oven), jam, cream and tea. Top marks. The session moved on to the basics of pot selection (terracotta looks good but requires frequent watering, self watering pots are the opposite), pot position (I didn’t know plants needed around 6hrs of sunlight per day which might explain a lot…) and companion planting (grow blue flowers like lavender to attract bees and pollinate your veggie plants).
We toured Toni’s garden – blueberries, tomatoes and eschalots around the pool, water filled pots growing reeds and waterlilies just along from the kids trampoline (providing shade for the pots of herbs growing in front of them). There are leafy greens on the verandah and a mini chamomile lawn under the hills hoist. The beauty of Toni’s classes is their accessibility. She has a real-world back yard in which she grows practical produce. It’s all do-able. Even I, with my track record of miserable horticultural failure, wasn’t intimidated. She also encourages questions so I got answers to all my beginners questions like ‘what’s mulch’ without being made to feel daft.
I took away three important things from Toni’s ‘Grow Veggies in Pots’ class:
- Choose high quality organic potting mix
- Fertilise (and no, the liquid seaweed isn’t a fertiliser. Use it in combination with a fish emulsion for best results).
- Organic pest contol – Spray plants with diluted biodegradable dishwashing liquid to tackle aphids and mix bicarb with water for an effective fungal spray.
Since doing the workshop on Saturday, I’ve found myself having conversations with all sorts of people about home-grown produce. I’m writing this in my local café where the owner has been chatting to a customer about his veggie garden. He comes over to me and says “Are you coming in tomorrow? I bring you BEAUOOOTIFUL rocket from my garden.” That’s the thing about growing your own veggies. It’s not just the nuts and bolts of sowing and tending plants. It’s more than harvesting and enjoying the taste of produce from your own garden. It’s about honouring the basic human instinct for nurturing life, sharing what we produce, and making friends along the way.
Do you have a green thumb? Did somebody teach you how to grow your own or learn by trial and error? I wonder what percentage of a successful veggie grower’s food comes directly from the garden….
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