In our modern society we are increasingly disconnected from the source of our food. Perhaps even more increasingly though is the desire to reconnect; to know the farmer, to plant, to grow, to harvest. Urban Growers exists to do just this, giving people the tools and ability to grow their own edible garden, no matter where they live. Urban Growers founder, Byron Smith, shares with us why he is so passionate about growing your own food, and some of his best tips to grow your own edible garden..
No matter how limited your prior experience is, often the desire to do something is all you need to do it well. We believe that growing food is not an activity reserved exclusively to farmers, country folk or people of ancient times. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of gardening with people of all abilities and walks of life; I’ve grown veggies with kids at school, planted herb gardens with families in their homes and taught the art of irrigation to staff in corporate buildings, and the common thread I’ve seen is that we are all capable, caring growers when given the time and space to learn.
The key is having patience and a willingness to learn. You don’t start a garden and expect to be feeding your family the next day. The beauty lies in the lessons learned along the way and appreciating the way nature unfolds in its own time. If you allow it to be, the garden can be your greatest teacher. It teaches us all lessons of patience, perseverance and presence.
For those of you who already have a garden, you know that the size of the garden doesn’t matter, it’s the sum of the experience that it brings you. For many people, the biggest barrier to growing fresh food is space and for city dwellers, the struggle sure is real. But with a little space, adequate sunshine and a fair amount of love and care, a food oasis could be waiting at your backdoor. Whether it’s growing the tastiest, ruby red beetroots or the convenience of knowing your basil and mint are within arms reach when it comes time to flavour your favourite dish. The patch to plate experience is one that keeps both our bellies and hearts content.
If you’re growing from scratch, we recommend starting with a small herb garden and expanding slowly as your knowledge and gardening success grows. It’s important to understand the climate in your garden, and plant according to the preferred growing conditions of each plant. Your local nursery will be full of great advice and the internet, as we know is a place for knowledge. But I’ve found the best thing for hungry learners is to pay close attention to your plants and garden, if you listen carefully enough, they’ll tell you what they need. Observation and attention to detail will help you relax and notice the garden’s daily changes.
Whether you’re setting up a brand new veggie patch, or revitalising one that’s not flourishing as well as it could, here are a few pointers to get you growing.
1. Grow what you love to eat.
For small spaces start with your favourite herbs, then grow your leafy greens so you have something to pick weekly and if you have more space start thinking fruit and vegetable varieties. We often see people buying herbs like Marjoram or Oregano, because they are a familiar name, but when it comes to harvesting, they never actually use it. Have a think about which fresh herbs you generally add to the supermarket trolley. Herbs and leafy greens are a good start for a small space and will give you a constant supply for your daily dishes. Make a list of your favourite greens and try to grow these ones first, you’ll be far more satisfied in the long run.
2. Seek some sunshine.
It’s no secret that edible gardens require good sunshine, at least 6 hours per day in fact. The location of your pots or patch should receive sunshine for the most part of the day. Edible plants (mostly annuals) are usually grown as a cool or warm season crop (compared to perennials which live for years), so they need good sun to keep growing the leaves you want to pick each week. Keeping your crop open to rainwater is also beneficial as it washes your plants and adds nitrogen to the soil.
3. Get to know your soil.
It may not be the sexiest of topics, but it’s without a doubt a useful one to know when getting your garden growing. Plants are only ever as good as their soil, so it’s crucial to understand the what makes a healthy soil. If you don’t have good soil under your feet you’ll need to purchase some quality garden soil or potting mix – and remember with this, you get what you pay for. Make sure you choose quality mix and pay the extra for premium to give your herbs a head start! Compost and worm farms will also help you establish and maintain rich healthy soil – add it to your garden every few months or so to get the nutrients rich.
4. Stay connected.
Gardening is one of those hobbies, passions and tasks that will transport you into your flow, keeping you pottering outside in the rain or sun for longer. Just being connected to the simple things in life will always, I believe, be where we’ll all turn to for real satisfaction and fulfillment.
Nothing makes us happier than seeing people become more in touch with the seasons and cycles of nature. We believe keeping our connection to place through the soil or sea is fundamental to caring for the earth and sharing resources fairly with each other.
I’m a strong believer that we, as a community, need to take back some level of food control. Unfortunately, packaged food and tasteless, frozen produce has become the norm for most of western society and as a result huge health issues have arisen. Even if it’s just a few herbs to add to your meal, growing your own food brings with it a multitude of benefits, and not just for the belly. At home for instance, I can make a breakfast omelette any day of the week just from the garden – a couple of eggs from the ladies and some spinach, kale, basil, parsley, tomato, rocket, sage from the garden bed. We have the hive producing enough honey for our neighbours and friends and an abundant veggie patch that provides more than enough for our household.
Even if you don’t have enough space to grow food for your family, visiting your local growers market for fresh, in season produce still has an effect on our food production and gives our community back some level of control. Imported and out of season foods have more food miles, less nutrients and less taste. You need to enjoy and appreciate good food and its effect on your mind and body. I’m happy to see that things are progressing in that direction now.