Gardening – Grow your own

As winter approaches, fruit and veggie prices start climbing; which makes it more difficult for people on a tight budget to get their vital intake of healthy food. There is really no excuse for not growing at least some of your own, though. Everyone can grow fruit and veggies. It’s not rocket science, although you never stop learning. The amount and diversity of what you grow is entirely up to you, your available time and resources.

Leafy greens and herbs are the easiest to start with. Pots of herbs on a sunny kitchen windowsill or deck will supply more than enough of these nutrient-packed plants all year round. An ongoing supply of leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and silverbeet, plus easy root crops, like carrots and radish, can be obtained from a couple of square metres of good topsoil or garden compost or, again, some pots on the deck. Add a small bamboo or wire frame for half a dozen snowpea plants, and you’ll be eating these all winter and spring.

Potatoes are also able to be grown throughout winter in large containers. The old blue recycling bins we used to use are fantastic. Place them in a frost-free position and add extra soil as the crop grows to encourage the plants to continue developing new tubers up the stems. These are very productive. Come summer, these same bins can be used to grow kumara in the same way.

Fruit is also easy to produce, although the trees are more expensive and slower to start than veggie seed or seedlings. However, fruit trees will produce for many years with minimal attention. For those renting their home, planting in pots works just fine for quite a few fruit crops. A potted or planted lime tree will produce more limes than you will ever need. Meanwhile, dwarf apples and nectarines provide seasonal treats. Fruit trees also provide shade in summer, food and shelter for birds and insects, and beautiful displays of spring flowers and autumn foliage.

Once the gardening bug bites, moving to the trickier crops – those that are less economically viable or those that require a bit more planning or space – is the next stage.

A bed of asparagus will produce succulent spears every spring for decades; likewise, a clump of rhubarb comes in handy when you’re looking for a quick dessert treat. Garlic is one of the slower but very satisfying and incredibly nutritious crops to grow. An avocado tree is a long-term project on a big scale but looking at the price of avos now, every home should have one!

With some planning, dedicated gardeners can have year-round production of a variety of crops; enough to buy only the out-of-season essentials such as tomatoes and beans from the supermarket. With the addition of a small greenhouse, even these can be produced nearly year round. A family with a fruit and veggie bill of $100-$200 per week can reduce this by up to $10-$20 per week with their own lovely, fresh, spray-free produce and get some good exercise in the process. A no-brainer, really.

Andrew Steens