Growing vegetables and fruit
Growing some of our vegetable and fruit needs and keeping chickens is a good way of reducing our household's environmental impact. Much of the food sold in the ACT is transported long distances, involves processing, packaging and refrigeration and subsequently has a high environmental cost. Canberrans' eating habits are the largest contributor to our big ecological footprint. By eating organically grown fruit and vegetables, unprocessed food and reducing the amount of meat we consume, we can help reduce our impact on the environment.
There are a number of advantages to growing vegetables, fruit and herbs:
- ensure food is organic
- ensure food is fresh
- grow heirloom varieties - these are often higher yielding varieties and using them can help preserve seed biodiversity
- recycle food scraps into compost thus reducing waste
- educates children about food and provides them with life skills
- is a healthy physical and mental activity
Jackie French in her book Backyard Self Sufficiency describes the delight in growing most of your own food. She says:
I like growing our food. It makes life richer. If you buy potatoes from the supermarket that's all you get: potatoes. But for me, this evening's spuds give memories too: grubbing them up with Edward this morning, and listening to the lyrebird sing, and smelling the soft, damp soil. p 4
>> More information on Jackie French's garden
Ideally vegetable gardens should be raised above the ground to ensure good drainage. The sides of the garden can be retained with products like railway sleepers or treated pine. Do not use CCA pine as the chemicals may leach into the soil. Vegetables require fertile soils - clay soils can be improved with the addition of manures (such as sheep or chicken), green manures, worm castings, straw or lucerne as well as home made compost. Many vegetables are thirsty and require regular watering to their root zones. Drip irrigation will deliver water efficiently to the root zone of vegetables.
In the past it was recommended that vegetable gardens needed on average of six hours of sunlight per day. With the spectre of hotter temperatures simple shade structures may needed to be added to the garden so vegetables can be protected on very hot summer days.
Digger's Garden Club estimates that a household of three people would require 42m of space to grow all their vegetable needs for one year, whilst a one person household would require 10m2.
If you lack the room to create a vegetable garden, consider joining COGS (Canberra Organic Growers' Society) to obtain a community vegetable plot. Eleven different gardens are sited across the Canberra-Queanbeyan region. Alternatively if you are unable to garden due to time or a disability consider shopping at the Farmers' Market. Markets are held each Saturday at EPIC at Mitchell and at Queanbeyan. Not only do they offer fruit and vegetables but locally grown meat products, bakery products and gourmet foods.
Lanyon Homestead, on the outskirts of Tuggeranong has an extensive vegetable garden, featuring many heirloom varieties.
A wide range of fruit trees can be grown in the Canberra region including stone fruits, citrus, berries and bush foods. Fruit trees which are slightly frost tender may be grown under an eave of a north facing wall where they will receive greater protection. Wholesale nurseries have introduced a range of dwarfed fruit trees which have proven popular with the increase of smaller garden spaces.
Innovative Food Growing Techniques
Joel Malcolm in Western Australia has developed a novel system for growing food. In his back garden he has combined hydroponic food growing techniques with fish culture to create a system he has termed aquaponics. He has created an attractive and productive system growing barramundi ready for the table as well as vegetables, fruit and herbs in an area of 8x4m2.
Turf Landscape Studio developed the Vertical Salad Bar which featured in the 2004 Year of the Built Environment Future Gardens display in Sydney. The concept of vertical salad or vegetable gardens which take up less ground area offers a promising alternative to the traditional raised garden bed. As Canberra block sizes continue to diminish and more people live in townhouses and apartments the vertical garden may take off!
>> More information on the salad bar
>> Information on alternative food growing
Blazey, Clive (2002) The Australian vegetable garden: what's new is old. New Holland: Sydney.
French, Jackie (1993) Backyard self sufficiency. Aird Books: Victoria.