Reuben and I have learnt so much about growing food this year. Our approach to our garden really changed after reading Jackie French’s book, Backyard Self Sufficiency, and seeing Jackie’s talk on the same topic at the Bendigo Writer’s Festival. I touched on Jackie’s ideas in this post but, basically, her philosophy is that the traditional neat rows of vegetables you see in European gardens are not ideal for the brutal Australian climate. Jackie advocates planting in groves, with a variety of plants all mixed together, planted close to each other. This allows the bigger plants to protect the smaller ones from the elements and can reduce the impact of pests.
As Jackie says “Most Australian gardeners plant too far apart. This is a relic from another culture: in European gardens you had to grab every available ray of sun. Our gardens need more shelter. Lots of leaf cover means the soil is insulated from the heat and cold, and the plants get more protection against frost.” Jackie also says “Don’t plant straight, neat rows: they allow pests to start at one end and march down the row munching, like guests at a smorgasbord. Break up plantings so that there is no large groups of any one plant.” We followed these guidelines while planting our veggies in spring and it has a resulted in wild, rambling jungle of healthy plants. While our garden isn’t the neatest or prettiest this way, it is the most productive it’s ever been. We call it our food forest, and we love it!
We’ve had great success with tomatoes, zucchinis, cucumbers and corn this year, but for some reason our eggplants, capsicums and chillies never came to anything. We’ve got pumpkins and melons growing happily under our fruit trees, and have been picking spring onions, silverbeet and herbs as we use them. Our basil is thriving and will soon be ready for making pesto with. Before Christmas we had lots of delcious home grown raspberries, and now that they’ve finished, we’ve started getting blackberries. Our tomato plants have gone especially crazy and are taking over the veggie beds. Though the tomatoes are still green right now, there are so many of them, soon enough we’re going to be eating tomatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
This summer we really wanted to have a go at preserving some of our harvest for the first time. Our zucchinis went wild in December and in the space of a just few days, our little zukes became giant monsters, so we figured a zucchini relish was a good place to start. We also had too many cucumbers to eat in salads, so thought we’d have a go at making bread and butter pickles. And so it came to be that we spent our new year’s day in the kitchen, listening to records, chatting, chopping and stirring bubbling pots over the hot stove. Aside from one incident involving a very large quantity of spilt sticky pickle juice, it was a lovely way to ring in the beginning of a new year. I’d quite like to make preserving our harvest at new year an annual event. (We used this recipe for the relish and this one for the pickles.)
We haven’t tried our pickles yet, as we are giving them time to mature, but we cracked open our first jar of relish a few days ago. We ate it with zucchini and corn fritters (from our garden, naturally!) and it is oh so delicious. We polished off that first jar in the space of just two days!
And it seems now I’ve got the preserving bug! I’m hoping that once the fruit on our little peach and plum trees is ripe, there will be enough for me to attempt jam making with, and I am planning to plant lots more beetroot in the future, so that we can pickle some.
We still have so much to learn when it comes to feeding our family from our garden and larder, but I can see we are making real progress now. It makes me so happy to think that our children will grow up knowing where their food has come from and being involved in the process of growing and preparing it, understanding the seasons and (hopefully) being grateful for all that the earth provides. A few years ago I never could have imagined how satisfying I would find growing and preserving my own fruit and veggies, but today, as I look at the little row of jars stacked neatly in our pantry, nothing could make me prouder.