Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Beetle Shack Gardening Column - February 2103 - Starting Out

It's a little late but here is February's Gardening Guide courtesy of Dave. He'll be back later in the month with a post about how to include your kids in the gardening process, because this month is all about the kids, right!?

So here we are; the belated second installment of the bitchin' Beetle Shack Gardening Guide.

I'll be honest - I love the idea of a new project; the dreaming, the excitement of the scheming and planning, the actual moment that I get going and get some action on the ground. Now if you ask Em, she'll tell you that's where it ends; that is, in amazing dreams and half finished bits and pieces all over the place. But don't buy it okay - it's totes not true. I finish heaps of things, sometimes.
I have found that one of the best tricks to successfully growing some of your own food is just to start. It sounds so ridiculously simple but I think it is absolutely the key to urban or backyard food production. Too often we get stuck in the dreaming because everything seems too big; I know for me, I often see all the things that I don't have rather than the things I do (i.e limited space, poor aspect, tree cover etc). But I've found that in the simple act of starting, a world of possibilities reveals itself.

The first thing we grew in our front yard was a row of seven climbing snow pea plants, climbing up some chicken wire against a brick fence - Em planted them with the kids one day while I was at work and they were some of the crispest, most succulent snow peas ever.

Once those were done, I hounded Em to let me take over some lawn space and put in two raised beds, 3000mm x 1500mm  - a total of 9m2 of growing space (after about 6 months Em gave in and I was out there in a flash - one of my life goals is to slowly eliminate any lawn mowing from my weekend chores!
In those beds we planted various bits and pieces, all of which were relatively simple (tomatoes, herbs, spinach, silverbeet, kale, garlic etc); it was still a pretty small set-up but about ten times the size of what we'd previously had. Now we have almost half the front yard devoted to vegetable production and looking at photos of the yard prior, I can honestly say that I would never have thought of putting some of things where we have. It is incredible how much food you can produce in a relatively small space (we produced over 20kg of tomatoes 0.5m2 of bed in our first year); the trick is that until you start, you don't notice the nooks and crannies that have been there all along; the small corner of the bed that's perfect for a little thyme bush; the far cramped corner adjacent the water meter that is just hanging for a few sunflowers to be slotted in (the guy who checks our water meter must curse us every time he comes near the place). Nor do you have the knowledge that you gain by getting in there and doing it - that too starts to open the space up and the possibilities become so much more exciting.

On my computer desktop I have the below photo - it's pretty much what my dream kitchen garden would look like; we're still a long way from this but every time I look at it, it reminds me of the possibilities that even a small space provides.  And the beauty that food gardens add - so much less dull than 40m2 of grass!

So, whatever your space, get started. Find some pots and plant those out; if you have a yard, dig up a small patch of the garden and start small with a bunch of seedlings from the local nursery. If you only have a balcony there's still no excuse - Indira Naidoo  has an amazing garden on her Potts Point balcony that produces an astounding amount of food.

Just start, and I promise you, you'll begin to notice things you've never noticed before.


  1. This is just what I needed - a good ol' "just go do it!" talking to!

    After much umming & ahhing (read: procrastination) we finally planted some chilli seeds given to us in those little cardboard tear-off package thingys in planters in our tinsy-tiny courtyard.
    We'll see what happens - I figure if something grows I'll be delighted, if not we'll just try again. I'm hoping for beginners luck!

    Loving this series so far, Dave (& Em) & looking forward to future instalments!

    Sar xx

  2. Cool, we are doing the same at our place, not so pretty as your inspirational image but we are eating well! :)

  3. We're trying to figure out how to work with the space that we have in our backyard and your dream garden picture has just given me ideas! We're just going to have to give up on some of our lawn and let the fruit and veg jungle take over! Thanks for sharing!

    Sophie xo

  4. Love this, "just start", should be a motto for many things. I cannot wait for the rains to stop here in Brisbane so I can re-plant my two raised garden beds in the backyard. I lost everything, bar for the pumpkins, when it flooded in January. Since then it has rained way to much to re-plant. If only I had a water tank. But I have been keeping my little herb garden on the veranda going. Plus just planted a whole tray of seed. Fingers crossed, by the time these sprout, I can re-plant.


  5. Love the garden inspiration photo. The crushed granite paths look great in contrast to the lush green vegies.

  6. wonderful and inspiring! Dare I tell you we are moving to a 13 acre property at the end of the year...oh I can't wait to rid myself of my 400sqm suburban block with no room for a veggie garden besides the dark space beside the shed where nothing grows. We just got a pump for bore water and are planning the garden now...you are so right...the plannig and the dreaming is just the best! I can't wait to be harvesting our own veggies x

  7. Loved reading this. And I love your dream garden. It's true what you say about a small space. I stick pots of herbs and chillies here there and everywhere and it's amazing how many tomatoes a few plants can yield in one season. Just starting is great advice; I've been putting off all my gardening jobs over the last couple of weeks because it seems daunting, but what I keep reminding myself is that it's not about the end goal - there's never an end - it's about losing myself in whatever I'm doing down there so that it becomes enjoyable. When it's enjoyable, I achieve so much. Works in life as it does in the garden!

  8. i really would have a garden like this!

  9. I'd say you're fairly early in getting Feb 2103's gardening post out! ;) You're right about just 'starting'. We have a big patch we made out of redgum sleepers and it needs reworking over. You've inspired me to get out and replant it with the kids for autumn/winter veg. Alison

  10. You've got a good one Em

    (husband, garden, life, etc)


  11. This is so good! We have a huge space but have always put off gardening on a large scale because we are renters but I am now slowly taking over the lawn with veggie gardens. Now I just wish I'd started 2 years ago. :)

    One of the best things I ever read about gardening was to always plant something new whenever you pull something out or harvest a plant, even if it's just a handful of broad beans roughly shoved in the soil. That way you are always using all the space you have and it helps to ensure you have garden fresh food for more months of the year.

  12. "just start" perfect words for having a go at anything you so desire in your life to do. Totally swooning over that garden. xxx

  13. love these posts, amusing, informative and (re)inspiring. Dave, your dream garden idea is the same as ours, hooray for no lawn and for growing a whole lot of food, have you ever looked at http://www.happyearth.com.au/? They have a quarter acre and at last look had not bought any fruit or veg for over a year, our gardening heroes. xx jay

  14. Just start! Absolutely.
    We often get so stuck on details of blossom times and companion plants and is it a root day or a leaf day?...but the second we start digging and get our hands dirty, the second it all falls into place and makes sense.
    What fun!

  15. this is just what i needed to hear. i sometimes get a crazy all or nothing mentality when what i really need is a just star mindset. we rent but we have a contract on a house but i should just start some containers. i think i can..i think i can...

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Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, advice and solidarity.

xo em