I love growing my own food and in many ways I’m happiest in my garden. I don’t grow food to be some sort of hard core zero waster. I grow food because it feels fantastic to do so, because I’ve been doing it since I was a child and because my efforts for a sustainable, low impact life are more than about managing my waste.
But of course, the issues of waste management and food are closely intertwined, so it’s not surprising that growing my own food has zero waste benefits like no packaging for fresh produce and using reusable glass jars for food processed and preserved at home. My second hand Fowlers Vacola jars are so durable they’ve been reused for decades by various families. I am grateful to have received them.
I view growing my own food as profoundly important – “An antidote to industrial food, climate change, harried living and social injustices”, as Shannon Hayes, The Radical Homemaker, puts it.
By growing my own food I’m developing resilience skills in the face of climate change, selecting plants for my micro climate, returning nutrients back to the soil, eliminating the use of fossil fuels, relying less on money, developing an authentic attachment to a place and gaining the benefits of time spent outdoors amongst nature. I know what I am feeding my family, and they can connect what they eat with what they see outside.
While I don’t think total self-sufficiency is desirable or possible, we are working towards being more responsible for our own food which involves eating more with the seasons, because it feels right, and let’s face it, because I hate driving to the shops. I love having great quality food at my fingertips when I need it.
When I haven’t grown or made something myself, I look around me for wild food I can gather and other local growers (friends and neighbours) I can share or trade with. This is one degree of separation from the source of my produce which means I can have great faith in the freshness and production of my food. It also means I’m still eating locally and seasonally.
I’m very proud of the progress I’ve made in the past 12 months, to feed my family with plants I’ve grown, gathered or been given, so let me share some of the journey.
We moved house at the end of April 2017 and a couple of months later I got started on my new veggie patch. There were a lot of weeds to clear, beds to build, bird proofing to do, compost and chook poo to dig through, mulch to add, plants to move from the old garden, and seeds to collect and plant, but I eventually got it done. All by hand and by using only what was available on site. There were many days where my body ached to the core, yet mentally and physically I was deeply satisfied.
It didn’t take long for my patch to become a productive jungle and my attention turned to harvesting, storing, eating and preserving. I believe I am self-sufficient in almost all the vegetables, fruit, and herbs I have listed below.
- Asparagus, Beetroot, Capsicum, Carrot, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Leek, Lettuce, Potato, Pumpkin, Radish, Rape, Rhubarb, Rocket, Spring onion, Sweet potato, Zucchini
- Lemons, Plums, Raspberries, Tomatoes
Herbs and spices
- Basil, Celery seeds, Chilli, Chives, Coriander, Curly leaf parsley, Dill, Fennel, Garlic, Italian parsley, Lemon balm, Mint, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
Wonderfully, a mature plum tree near the veggie patch produced a bumper crop this year. We ate all that we could and bottled more for eating later in the year. I also made plum jam.
Initially I was ecstatic when tomato plants started popping up all over my garden from the previous owner, so I organised them into rows and didn’t buy any others. As it turns out, all the tomatoes that grew in my garden were cherry tomatoes. I love them but it’s more work to harvest and process them compared to larger varieties of tomatoes. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to stock up on jars of pasatta, tomato paste, tomato sauce, tomatoes preserved in their own juice, and frozen tomatoes. My garden is still producing plenty of tomatoes I can eat fresh but when I’ve had enough of them I will pull them out and hanging them upside down in the shed to allow the last ones to ripen slowly.
As I have for the past few years, I grew enough garlic to meet our needs plus enough to replant for the next crop.
Two chili plants have also provided me with enough chilli to make sweet chilli sauce, dried chilli flakes and powder, and to keep some in the freezer. I diluted the sweet chilli sauce with capsicum.
Now the Spring and Summer crops are finishing up so I’m preparing the beds for late Autumn and Winter crops. Recently, the dam that feeds my vegetable garden dried out and much of what is green in this photo has now withered severely.
Gathering food, otherwise known as foraging involves finding and harvesting wild food. Here are some things I found near my place:
- Apples, Blackberries, Mushrooms, Pears
Here’s some produce I was given from friends and neighbours:
- Beans, Celery, Lemons, Lettuce seeds, Swede seeds
I have a feeling I’ve left some produce off the list, but you can still see that I’ve been able to supply a lot of our fruit, vegetable and herb needs without buying a thing and without the large food miles attached.
Every time we eat better, we make an impact on the world. Let’s try to eat better more often than not.
This is very inspiring. Did you make the Passata from cherry tomatoes? Thanks for the link about hanging the tomatoes as well. I don’t grow nearly as much as you yet, but cherry tomatoes are easy – even for me! I have already pulled them out, but next year!
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Thanks 😊. Yes, made all those tomato products from the cherry tomatoes. I have about 25 bottles of pasatta so far.
Hung some of my tomato plants to ripen the remaining ones only to have a possum come onto the verandah and consume them while we were away for the weekend!
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Well done on the great garden efforts in such a short time Tammy. I see you have kept those round above ground beds you were ‘iffy about at the beginning. What are your thoughts 12 months on?
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Thanks Nola, Yeah, I’m glad I kept the raised beds. I have really liked them for growing root crops and small leafy greens, also garlic – basically anything that would grow close to the ground. It saves my knees from getting sore from all the squatting I would have to do, but I do get a bit of a sore back when I have to reach into the centre for a while. If they were slightly smaller they would be perfect.
One thing I’ve done in the past couple of years is save the tomato skins when canning – most people blanch them for a minute or so to get the skins off, then throw them in the compost. Instead of throwing them away, I now dehydrate the skins and run them through my spice grinder to make a fine powder that works really well in soups and stews as flavouring and a bit of a thickener – just like using tomato paste.
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That’s a great idea. I’ve been leaving the skins on which doesn’t bother me but my husband really notices it. That could be something we try.