Being a backyard gardener and growing your own food is just so hot right now. Everyone who’s anyone is doing it! But is growing your own food really worth it?
The answer to this really depends on how you define the word ‘worth’. If you define it solely in dollar terms then I’d say from experience that the answer would likely be ‘no’. If you were to do a direct $$ comparison of the cost of growing your own fruit and vegetables, to the cost of buying the cheapest produce you could find at the grocery store, then the grocery store will win this argument hands down.
But are you really comparing like produce for like produce? Probably not. For many reasons.
For me, growing my own food is totally ‘worth it’, because for me it isn’t about cost savings, it’s a lifestyle choice based around what is best for my body and my mind.
Growing my own food has made me a better person. That’s a bold statement I know! But if spending time outside away from my computer, connecting to nature, slowing down, feasting on delicious food and being able to share produce with loved ones isn’t improving me as a person I don’t know what will.
Most of us want to live a cleaner, greener lifestyle, but what does that actually mean?… For me the answer to this question has changed over the last 10 years since my interest in trying to live a more sustainable existence has grown.
I’ve always had a passion for food and cooking and this ‘interest’ has been instrumental to an overall lifestyle change. I think I’ve gone from being a fairly blind consumer to being more informed about the car I drive, the food I eat and the products I use around my home. Once I started to understand the challenges and rewards of growing my own food it opened my eyes to other areas of my life that I could improve on because I started to realise how closely linked our choices are and how they effect the world.
The ’sustainable’ journey has been very gradual and at times almost accidental. My mum has always had a passion for gardening, but I showed no interest until I realised that I could take my obsession with food even further by attempting to grow it myself – suddenly gardening was appealing to me because I could eat the rewards!
My first vegetable garden was small and fairly uneventful, but I was so inspired by the process of nurturing a plant and seeing it fruit that I kept with it and each year I’ve made a bigger space and changed the types of plants I’ve grown and the way I’ve grown them. It isn’t an easy journey because there is so much to learn and just when you think you have it ‘nailed’ you find a plant covered in some sort of bug that destroys all your days and months of hard work.
I encourage everyone to give veggie gardening a go, even if it’s just growing your own herbs in pots. The Confetti team visited Transition Farm earlier this year and during our interview with CSA farmer Robyn, I remember her telling us that the simplest thing we could do to change our food systems (which seem so ‘broken’), is for consumers to understand where their food comes from. Robyn encourages people to meet their farmer as the more we are ‘connected’ to the source, the more informed our choices will become. Very wise words from a very wise woman. You can read more about Transition Farm in our Confetti Mag article here.
So you probably have an idea by now if you are ready to give this gardening gig a go. If you are keen to embark on the journey, but are a little unsure how to go about it, I’ve included some information on my latest version of a veggie garden and the process it took to build it in the paragraphs below. Happy gardening!
Garden bed design
For the last 4-5 years we have used a raised garden bed constructed of used pieces of corrugated iron from the dump shop with pieces of wire (or sometimes cable ties – my favourite ‘fix it’ item), attaching the corners together. We’ve always had the garden very close to the house so it was a part of our living space and was easy to access – this closeness to the house is based on permaculture principles. This year I decided I wanted to make the garden look prettier and more permanent, so I contacted local permaculture designer, Tonielle, to draw up some plans that we could work from. I wanted the veggie garden to be more ‘thought-out’ and to work with the rest of the garden, our chickens and our bees. I have a stack of gardening books that I re-read each year, but I felt like I need someone else’s help to guild us through a complete change and it really helped to have someone who knew what they were doing.
Detailed plans were drawn up for the entire block so we could work through each part of the garden in the order we wanted to – when we had the time and the $$ available. Tonielle came to our house and we walked around the block together and talked about the things that were important to me and how much time I wanted to spend in the garden. This was a great opportunity to really think about what I wanted from this space we called ‘home’. I decided I wanted to build the beds out of wood, but reclaimed wood so it didn’t look too perfect and meant we were still using recycled materials. I also didn’t wanted to use treated timber, so it meant we needed to go with ‘hard wood’ (so it doesn’t rot) which we sourced from a demolitions yard.
The design is an ‘L’ shape and there are four separate beds totalling 12 square meters of growing space. We used the ‘no dig’ method of layering hay, compost, newspaper and manure several times over. You can read more about the ‘no dig’ method here.
Here’s a bit of a break-down of our costs:
$800 – 8 x 2 inch lengths of hardwood for sides of garden bed – 96 metres in total
$200 – 4 x 3 inch lengths of hardwood for each ‘post/corner’ – 24 metres in total
$110 – bags of concrete from hardware store (to set corner poles) – 10 bags
$44 – Hay bails – 4 bails
$217 – Compost – 2 cubic metres + delivery
$260 – Chicken manure – 2 cubic metres + delivery
$52 – Hire of equipment from hardware store (compactor) – 24 hours
$69 – Pavers (200x200x50mm) – 56 pavers. We already had existing 400×400 charcoal pavers from old garden which were used in the new garden design.
$200 – Plants + seeds – hardware store and markets.
$100 – Irrigation pieces – from hardware store. We already had existing irrigation so it these where just replacing old pieces or creating new lines.
$80 – Weed mat – 20 metre roll
$100 – Roll of plastic – 20 metre roll
Rough total: $2232
The main construction of the beds and laying of the pavers took two men (my partner + brother) and two women (sister in law and myself – 6 months pregnant at the time!) three, seven hour days to construct. The foundation of the ‘L’ shape was created by having a 4×3 inch hardwood post cemented into the ground at each point of the ‘L’ and then the 8×2 inch pieces were cut to lengths and secured to the 4×3’s with screws to make the ’sides’ of the beds. The beds consisted of three 8×2’s in height, so that made the total raised bed height 24 inches (61cm).
Before the beds were filled the old irrigation line was tapped into and each bed was given a ‘main’ line which was left sticking out before we filled the beds. This took around two hours to do stage one of the irrigation. The filling of the beds took two people (one, now 7 months pregnant!) around eight hours to layer with the compost, manure, hay and cardboard. Before the beds were filled we lined the base of each bed with weed matting and the edges of the bed with plastic (to stop weeds coming in and soil escaping).
Once the beds were filled the ‘main’ irrigation line to each bed was connected to a 25mm pipe that ran in the shape of the ‘L’ and then small lines were taken off this with different spraying/dripping options depending on what was being planted in each bed (the planting map came from the plan that was created by Tonielle, but I’ve also worked off my own plan from previous years). Stage two of the irrigation took around six hours for one person to complete.
Once the beds were layered, irrigation was setup and the beds were given a good soaking of water, and then left to sit for a week. The planting of the beds took one person around eight hours to complete working from the plans we had drawn up. I’ve worked off my own planting plan before based on information I’d read about companion planting in books and online.
Throughout the growing season there’s always maintenance and further planning that goes on. Some plants require pruning and staking as they grow (like tomatoes) and I also like to ‘succession’ plant so that I don’t have everything fruit at the one time. There can often be issues with the irrigation system and there may need to be further adjustments if you notice some plants are looking a bit dry or others have mildew on them.
Our crop this year was quite a successful one and we even tried growing a few things that we hadn’t tried before. We ate stacks and stacks of silverbeat/chard, lots of tomatoes early on (lost the late part of the crop to bugs), lots of corn, a small amount of peppers, fennel, carrots, spring onions, eggplant and a whole array of herbs. I’m really excited to start the growing season again next year (2015)! Honey xx