One of my big themes for 2021 was moving towards self-sustainability. I highlight “moving towards” as I still live in a house that is rented, I am on the power grid, I drive a car, and so on. Long term goals definitely include living off the land and growing all of my own food, but I appreciate that it is a journey, and I get a lot of satisfaction from small incremental change.
For now, I am pretty satisfied with the small selection of leafy greens and other vegetables I grow myself. I get a lot of pleasure out of watching plants grow and develop, especially when I know exactly what is in the soil they are growing in. I also love the experience of going out to the garden and picking fresh leaves and veggies and taking them straight to the kitchen to be prepared for a meal.
Anybody can do this, even if you live in an apartment! There are however, some key ingredients you are going to need:
Somewhere to grow them:
Whilst the farm fantasy is alive and well, a few small pots on a balcony can be a great start for you to begin growing some of your own food. If you have a little bit more space, such as a courtyard, perhaps you could invest in one or two raised garden bed planters for your veggies. And if you are fortunate enough to have even more space, then it could be possible for you to prepare a section of the backyard for planting, or even look into preparing a “no dig” garden that you can layer upon the ground and build up from there.
You can’t get around the fact that plants need sunlight (and water, and nutrition). So, if your balcony is in complete shade all day you will need to consider what kind of plants can grow with very little direct sunlight. Perhaps you start off your edible garden journey with some herbs? It is a good idea to do some research before you go out and by your seedlings, to find out how much sunlight they need for optimal growth. Some plants can’t handle too much direct sunlight such as delicate lettuce or some leafy greens, and some veggies love as many hours of full power sun as they can get such as tomatoes and zucchinis.
It is no secret that top soil in Australia is very nutrient deficient. It is quite upsetting to learn that most of the fruits and veggies you buy in the supermarket, whilst they look bright and perfect on the outside, are actually quite devoid of the nutritional properties they once had. This mostly comes down to the nutrient deficiencies in the soil. The exciting news is that when you are growing your own veggies, you know exactly what they were fed, what was (or wasn’t!!) sprayed all over them, and how they flourished before your very eyes!
Buying bags of soil from bunnings is perfectly fine. Depending on what you decide to grow you will probably want to add some extras. I will always mix in a bag or two of blood and bone, and plenty of my own compost, as well as a few layers of cardboard at the bottom, and sugar cane mulch throughout (do a little bit of research on no-dig gardens to get some more info on why these layers are helpful for the plants).
Your veggies need to eat too:
The following tips are slightly next level, but not by much. If you have a small courtyard or bigger, these could be excellent ways to start creating more of a direct relationship with what you are eating, as well as implementing some ideas of permaculture into your household, (not to mention reducing food waste unnecessarily going into landfill!)
So easy. Keep a small bucket in the kitchen for your food scraps (no meat, and try to keep onion, garlic, and citrus to a minimum as they are all very acidic). You can include brown paper bags, cut up cardboard toilet rolls, and other cardboard products as well. And then have a compost receptacle outside that you can tip your kitchen bucket into when it is full. The compost will break down itself over time and create amazing rich compost for you to add to your soil at the next planting season.
Creating your own worm farm.
This is a tiny extra step from your composting step. There are fancy worm farms you can buy with draws for each layer of worm colony, and a tap to collect their liquid castings, but my advice is to just D.I.Y and make one yourself.
My worm farm is a small black plastic garbage bin, with a series of square holes cut out of the bottom, sitting in a large plastic laundry tub. There are a couple of holes cut out of the lid on top as well because the worms need air. I started the colony with one small Tupperware container full of worms from a friend’s farm, and now there are thousands of them squirming around in there!
I put my kitchen compost scraps straight into the bin (be sure to cut everything up nice and small so it is easier for them to devour), I add a little bit of water when it is getting too dry, and gently turn them once a week. And when the laundry tub gets full of their black/brown castings (wee), I lift the bin careful up and out, and pour the liquid from the tub into a series of jars.
This is black gold! Dilute it with water (1/5th worm juice), pour some on your plants and you will be amazed at their response! Best of all, you are creating the most beautiful cycle of your food scraps feeding the worms, the worms feeding your plants, and your plants in turn feeding you!
I hope there have been some helpful ideas here for you!
By Dr Karina Smith.
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Karina Smith is a Melbourne based Doctor of Chinese Medicine and Yin Yoga Teacher, Teacher Trainer & Educator. With a passion for women's health, through Yin and Chinese Medicine Karina aims to improve the health of her students, patients and clients.After years of dancing and its emphasis on performance, yoga was an unexpected beacon of self-care and restoration for Karina, where her relationship to movement shifted to something that was there to nourish her mind and body.
A year after commencing practice at the Australian Yoga Academy (AYA), Karina knew she wanted to do the yoga teacher training on offer there - and from thereon it has been a deep-dive into the rich offerings of this ancient practice.
Karina has now studied and taught yoga extensively - including two 350hr Teacher Trainings (AYA and Shantarasa Institute, India), studies under the renowned Bernie Clark and Paul Grilley, over a decade of teaching at numerous studios in her home town of Melbourne, and lecturing for The Australian Yoga Academy.
In 2018, Karina launched her own 50 Hour Yin & Functional Anatomy Teacher Training and continues to run this course. Karina’s love of Yin Yoga revealed a deeper fascination for human anatomy and led her to pursue Chinese Medicine. After graduating in 2019, she now runs her own clinic offering acupuncture, herbal therapies, moxibustion and cupping treatments.