Friday, 3 April 2009


I received an email today from someone who has recently immigrated to Australia from the UK and is renting a house in the Adelaide hills. They would like to grow some food and wonder how on earth they get started, when, in his own words, Neil says he has never grown anything in his life. Having myself recently spent some time in France, with an Englishman, trying to grow vegetables, I feel I can perhaps understand how daunting it must be to attempt to grow anything in such a different climate, without some help. So, Neil and family, here is something to help you make a start.

Things you probably don't realise:

  • We have a Mediterranean climate.... think of southern France/ Italy/Greece/ Lebanon.
  • As we move into autumn, the weather gets more conducive to growing vegetables. I grow food all year round with no special equipment.
  • It is highly unlikely you will ever overwater your vegetables enough to kill them, especially if you grow things in foam boxes, with good drainage holes punched in the bottom.
  • It is highly unlikely you will get frost enough to kill anything, unless you are in a low, flat spot. Overnight temperatures may dip to zero degrees once in a blue moon.
  • Full sun in the UK is not like full sun here. Here, most leaf vegetables will grow in the shade or with a bit of sun, even through winter but the more winter sun the faster they grow. In summer you will need to give all your vegetables some shade, some of the time. This never used to be the case but it is now.
  • It is good that you have never grown anything before because you don't have fixed ideas about how things should be!

Getting started:

  • Other people will have different ideas but this is what I would do.
  • Foam boxes 1,2 and 3: It is cheapest to grow from seed but since you are new and keen to start, I recommend you go to a garden centre and buy some seedlings of the following vegetables -1 punnet of  lettuce, 1 of beetroot and/or spinach, and a punnet of mixed Asian greens.
  • Foam box 4: Some herbs are dead easy to grow from seed: parsley, chervil, coriander, chives.
  • Foam box 5: Sugar snap pea seeds.
  • Into a wheelbarrow or on the driveway, mix the following:  3 bags S.A. Composters compost (it is THE best....and worth every cent), 1 bag some kind of composted manure (cow, zoo, chicken),1 or 2 bags cheap potting mix, 4 handsful of Blood and Bone (read the bag and get the purest and not the ones mixed with sawdust or anything). Get enough of everything, it is annoying to have to go back for another bag later!
  • Each foam box needs 6 holes in the bottom, each as big as a 5c piece. Be careful how you make the holes or you will ruin the boxes.
  • Cover the bottom of each box with a 2 sheet thickness of newspaper or a layer of shade cloth. This will stop all the soil washing out the holes and stop the ants crawling in through the holes.
  • Fill the boxes to within 2 inches of the top with the compost mixture. Water well (yes, before you sow or plant anything!) with a watering can or gentle spray nozzle until thoroughly wet.
  • Plant and sow. Read the packets for sowing instructions. Sow the peas all around the perimeter of the box. Make a wire square out of wire that you can fit your hand through and place it over the box of pea seeds so they can grow up the wire. It needs to be 2m high!! Use a solid support or it will blow over when your peas are tall.
  • I would also buy a packet of Multiguard snail pellets... they are made of iron and won't harm birds or dogs etc.
  • Water the seedlings in well. Leave in the semi-shade overnight or for longer if it is 30 degrees or more.
  • Pat down the covered seed beds and water with a sprayer or very fine hose nozzle. Cover the foam box with a piece of glass or plastic. Place in the shade if hot or dappled sun at most. (In winter, place them in the sun to germinate.)

What then?

  • Once the seeds have germinated and the seedlings look happy, by then it will be well into April and they should all be out in the sun for most of the time, if possible. Keep the seed boxes covered with the glass or plastic at night until they plants are a couple of inches high. Protect them from heavy rain...if it ever rains again!
  • Watering too much will leach out all the nutrients. Stick your finger into the soil down to the second knuckle. If there is dampness there, all is well. If not then water well.... not just a little spray, give them plenty and then leave them for a few days or a week or until they begin to look droopy.
  • Begin picking a lettuce leaf or 2 as soon as you like and snip a few leaves of the herbs and you have your first meal from your own garden! Enjoy!

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