December 2014 marked our fourth year of food growing experiment. I say it is an experiment because the food garden is a work in progress and there is always something new to learn with each growing season. With food gardening nothing is set in stone. What works one year may not yield the same result another year. It is a changeable landscape.
This is where permaculture design principle no. 1 rings true – observe and interact.
Year one was an ambitious year. I wanted to grow as many varieties as possible on my designated 60 sq. m. of food growing area. I had corn, pumpkin and squash, potato, four different types of rhubarb, radish, carrot and all the leafy greens under the sky. There was too much of everything. Yes, it was a very good year with plenty of surplus to share.
I was also obsessed with being meticulous, neat and tidy. Everything was planted in a neat row, raised bed by raised bed.
Year two was my novelty year. I experimented with Malabar spinach for its gorgeous red stems and purple berries. I only cooked with it once and it wasn’t very memorable taste wise. I had amaranth by the rows, again for its vibrant burgundy leaves. They were good in quiches and stir-fries.
I did add two varieties of pelargonium to the garden for its insect repelling properties. In actual fact I love the smell and their tiny purple flowers.
Come year three, I wanted to be more fluid and artistic and less rigid in the garden. I planted bushy borage, sage and comfrey randomly in the raised beds. My wild rocket overtook an entire bed. It was originally one cutting from an Italian neighbour but has now overgrown and threatened to spread to other parts of the garden. It’s a plant that gives and gives and gives and very popular with the local bee population.
The garden is now well established and I prefer the random approach to growing food. It has a ‘wild’ look and feel to it. The perennial chilli happily exists in the strawberry patch. Beetroots, spring onions and cucumber vines are a party of three in one bed.
Over the years, I have learned a few valuable lessons in food gardening:
- Grow stuff that you actually like to eat.
- There is no need to grow five zucchini plants to feed two people, and this applies to everything else.
- Be smart with space.
- Succession planting is good food growing management.
- Have fun and be creative in the garden.
I have stopped growing things all neat in a row. I plant things randomly but I do consult the companion-plating chart. I appreciate bee-attracting plants like borage and sage. I try not to grow more than two of good providers like squash and zucchini. Tomato is the exception to the rule. Freshly picked tomatoes are like candies. It’s what I imagine sunburst to taste like.
Herbs are a must because it makes good financial sense, and the same goes for garlic.
Last but not least, what’s a food garden without a few good chickens? They are the ultimate garden helper.