If you haven't already said goodbye to your lawn and hello to edible landscapes during this pandemic, here are six different ways you can grow food for very little cost in your backyard, front yard, courtyard, balcony or even on the kitchen bench.
As Covid-19 continues to create discord and uncertainty, growing some of our own fresh food gives us something we can control to bring us the goodness and resilience we need in times of crisis.
WATCH: Six different ways you can start a vegie garden on the cheap
Where to plant your garden
If you're gardening outside here are some things to consider:
Sun: If you're in a cool climate, make sure you place your garden where it gets lots of sun. If you're in a warmer climate, you also need lots of good sun, but keep in mind when summer rolls around, you may need to provide some shade for it to thrive.
Water: You need to have easy access to water to irrigate the garden as needed. This can simply be a hose and tap.
Access: Make sure it's easy to get to and monitor your garden. Ideally it's close to your house and you can see it from one of your windows so you can peek out and check on it.
Protection: If you live somewhere with wildlife, then you'll need to fence your garden. Keep it simple, it can be some timber or steel stakes and a roll of wire mesh or netting.
Soil prep is so important
Before planting anything, you need to prepare your soil. There are many great methods you can learn about. Here are a few low-cost ways to get you growing quickly.
In-ground method: For folk with limited access to materials and funds, this method just requires an existing lawn, a shovel and some seeds or seedlings.
Dig the desired area of ground and weed out the grass, add a border around the bed to prevent the grass from coming in. Make sure the ground is level and plant directly into the bed. Be prepared for some grass and weeds to grow back, which you'll need to weed out.
Sheet mulching: This method is for folk with weeds problems, who can source some cardboard, newspaper and compost.
Start with the in-ground gardening method mentioned above and then add a layer of wet cardboard, or wet newspaper, over the top making sure there's no gaps in between the sheets.
This layer helps to slow weeds coming back (they'll still come, but this gives you some breathing space). On top of that add a five centimetre layer of compost.
You can plant seedlings into this immediately by punching a hole through the newspaper or cardboard layer.
No-dig gardening: For people with really poor soils (too sandy, rocky or clay-heavy), no-dig gardening allows you to build up. This method requires you to bring in all the materials, so it's only suitable if that's actually an option.
Box gardens: Box gardens are for those who have no access to earth and limited space, like balconies and courtyards. Styrofoam boxes can be sourced from local grocers and are small enough that they're easy to move around.
Some will need to have holes punched through the bottom for drainage, while others come with holes. It's a good idea to add a layer of coarse woodchips or blue metal stones to increase drainage.
Straw-bale gardens: For something super easy and quick, there's the straw-bale garden. Again, you have to bring in all the materials, unless you already have some bales lying around your garden.
This is a short-term, one season type of garden where you simply put a series of compost pockets (two handfuls of compost) directly into the bale and plant your seedlings immediately, then add water.
You'll get a great crop for one season, at the end of which the bale will have started to break down. At this point you can compost the whole bale or use it as garden mulch for another section of your property.
Seed raising: If you are growing from seed, you might consider growing some crops in seed trays (or egg cartons) in a more controlled microclimate (inside near a sunny window). There are many different recipes for making seed raising mix. We make our seed raising mix with the following - you can also buy it pre-made.
Two parts compost to provide nutrients. Two parts coco peat to retain moisture (you could also used aged sawdust or fine woodchips). Two parts coarse sand to provide drainage.
Growing sprouts: If nothing else, you can grow sprouts on your kitchen bench. All you need is a jar, some whole lentils, water, and a clean bit of cheese cloth or a tea towel. You can also use a range of other pulses or seeds.
Soak the lentils in water for 12 hours, then drain the water from the jar and let it sit. Rinse and drain every 12 hours. The lentils will begin to sprout.
Once they are the desired length, usually between two and four days, they are ready to eat. Dry them on a paper towel and then store in the fridge.
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Secrets to good gardening
There are a few key things that will help you succeed with your garden:
Water: Make sure you provide adequate water. Do the moisture test of sticking your finger in the soil. If it comes out wet, it doesn't need watering. If it comes out dry, you need to water.
Weeding: Weed often when weeds are young as they are easier to remove before they become established.
Nurture: Turning up and paying attention is one of the most important keys to successful gardening. This is where you'll notice any problems and address them.
Having a crack: Just have a go, gardens are very forgiving, they want to grow and don't care if you stuff up. Just start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.
Good luck, have some fun with it and may it nourish you and your loved ones.
- Hannah Moloney and Anton Vikstrom are the founders of Good Life Permaculture, a landscape design and education enterprise regenerating land and lifestyles.