This evening my colleague facilitated a workshop on growing your own food (first of eight workshops we are running called 'Future Living Conversations').
By Camilla Carty-Melis
Here are some notes, insights and reflections. "Growing your own food has almost become a subversive act" Tania Ashman.
And I think she is right… at least for many of us who are living in urban areas of economically developed countries, where supermarkets and out-of-season (and out-of-climate) food shopping is the norm. But with the convenience and choice available to us elsewhere, why would we grow our own food? Here are a few of the reasons we came up with: we know the history of the food… who grew it, where it was grown, how it was grown, if chemical pesticides/fungicides/fertilisers/etc were used (and if they were, they were probably/hopefully on a lower scale to commercial growers)
growing food encourages biodiversity in our gardens (e.g. birds are attracted to veggies that have gone to seed)
food we grow is more affordable and conveniently located (and it arrives fresher) (AND we can grow different varieties from those in the shops)
it is therapeutic and an opportunity to learn
it offers opportunities for sharing and trading with neighbours
the carbon footprint of our food is lower
we have grown it ourselves! (there's definitely a sense of accomplishment)
Actually it seems the real question is not 'why would you grow your own food?', but rather 'why not?'
Tania explained that when it comes down to growing your own food, it doesn't matter how much or how little you know about gardening: just start! She recommended using permaculture principles for establishing and maintaining your productive garden. Permaculture is about using, following and mimicking natural ecosystems; working with nature, rather than trying to control it.
While each person will find their own way of growing their food, here are a few of the 'best practices' that were mentioned:
- Don't grow a monoculture – even if you only like one particular vegetable, grow a variety of different plants. This is important for the health of the soil and garden as a whole.
- Practice crop rotation – don't keep growing the same thing in the same year season after season, as this is not good for the soil (upon which your whole garden depends). Check this page for really easy-to-follow information on how to crop rotate.
- Group plants according to their water needs (e.g. all the dry plants together, all the plants than need lots of water together, etc.) – this increases water efficiency.
- Recycle all nutrients – by composting your garden and kitchen waste.
- Don't over weed – letting some plants go to seed means they can self sow for next season. Or even if there are a few plants in there that you didn't plan on having there…. unless you are going to put something else where they are, consider just leaving them there because anything is better than bare soil.
Remember: Don't leave soil bare, as it strips it of nutrients and life. The only time soil is bare in nature is after an ecological disaster… we don't want this in our gardens.