One of the most common questions I have been asked by clients lately is “How much do I need to grow to feed my family over a year?”
And to be perfectly honest, the only answer I can give is “it depends”. There are so many variables that should be considered as every family, every person is different. We need to consider how much space you have available and how much time you have to spend growing your food. Not just more food but the variety of food can make a difference also as each particular vegetable and fruit has its own set of requirements, needs and wants.
When I first started growing our food, I was keen and eager and planted everything. I worked out we were growing almost 80 different types of fruit and vegetables. The amount of time it took me to tend the garden was huge, and that is not including the water cost either. But over time and observation, taking notes and asking my children to go pick what they wanted in their meals, meant that I was able to refine that extensive list to what it is today. And knowing it is something they will eat as they chose the varieties through the harvesting observations.
While every person is different, there are, however, some averages we can work from. They can be adjusted over time as you get to learn what you and your family prefer to eat.
While the below is just a small sample of what you may need or want, knowing the numbers means you can then start to break down the planting and seeding to seasons and even months (which is what I do).
For example, feeding the 6 people in this house means that we need to plant 24 tomato plants to get the yield to see to our needs. But planting them all at once would create a glut, and then famine in our harvesting schedule. Knowing that we can plant tomatoes over 8 months of the year mean that I only need to seed up 3 tomatoes a month to meet that need.
The same can be done for something like spinach. Again, looking at 6 people that is 486 plants. A huge endeavour. But breaking it down to a monthly planting means that over 9 months I am only seeding 54 plants. Using the square foot gardening method means that it will only take up approx. 1m square (and spinach taking 5 to 11 weeks to mature)
The numbers below are just averages and only a sample of the fruit and vegetables available. And for each person it is different. You may eat more vegetables, then you need to adjust the quantities accordingly, but this will give you something to start on to help bring about a level of food sovereignty, resilience and self reliance.
Plants per person for a whole year
Tomatoes - 4 plants, Onions - 30 plants
Leaf Lettuce - 600 plants, Capsicum - 5 plants
Carrots - 192 plants, Cucumbers - 3/5 plants
Corn - 50 plants, Broccoli - 10 plants
Celery - 7 plants, Zucchini - 2 plants
Butternut pumpkin - 3 plants , Pumpkin (Qld blue) - 1 plant
Garlic - 12 plants, Spinach - 81 plants
Asparagus - 6 plants, Eggplant - 2 plants
Radish - 96 plants, Beetroot - 72 plants
Kale - 4 plants, Beans - 15 plants
Eggplant - 2 plants
Square Foot Gardening Method Example
There is something about making your own jam from the fruits of your own garden. Fresh and in season. I used to think that making jam could be difficult and time consuming, but I have learnt over the years that it can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Through trial and error have come up with this simple easy jam recipe that is pretty much good for any fruit. It does not keep to long but honestly once made it does not stay long in the jar.
Nasturtiums are a culinary and medicinal flower/ herb that is high in vitamin C and have potent anti-viral and antibiotic properties.
They also are also allegedly highly beneficial for nervous depression, constipation, indigestion, sore throats, sinus infections, and eye and skin health. Nasturtium also works as an expectorant and can help break up congestion in the respiratory passages during colds and flu.
Nasturtium is high in sulphur and is especially good at helping to increase energy and prevent brain fog.
Nasturtium leaves have a peppery taste similar to that of Rocket. They can be juiced, chopped and added to salads, or steamed like spinach. The vibrant flowers make a great addition to salads, wraps, smoothies, and soups. Nasturtium leaves and flowers also make a tasty medicinal tea. Fresh or dried leaves can be added to hot water, allowed to steep for at least 20 minutes, sweeten with raw honey if desired.
Crushed leaves and flowers can also work as a natural applied antibiotic for cuts, scrapes, blisters, or wounds. Simply break the flowers and leaves in a little bit of coconut or olive oil and place on the skin. If you wrap lightly with cotton to secure and change twice a day for best results.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow straight from seed indoors or out and are a simple, but effective way to include this healing flower and herb into your diet.
Cabbage white butterflies like to breed on nasturtiums, making the plant as useful in the garden as they are attractive. Plant them in the vegetable patch near your brassica plot, where they should entice the butterflies to lay their eggs away from the vegetables.
While it may seem evident on how to plant a tree, it can make a huge difference long term subject to the way you plant it in the first place - The difference between a tree that lives for 15 years, to a tree that lives to potentially over 200 years (depending on the tree).
First, we need to dig a hole. The size of the whole should roughly be double the size of the pot thee tree comes in. There are lots of discussions on the shape of the hole, but I prefer using a square (click here to discover why).
When we have finished the hole, we need to scarify the edges. When the shovel slides into the soil, it can create a compact layer which can inhibit the roots from spreading beyond that layer, so scarifying will break open that compaction.
We then fill the hole with water and allow it to drain. We do this for several purposes. First is to saturate the surrounding soil so that the roots will not come into contact with dry dirt. The second is to measure how long it takes for the water to drain showing us how often we may need to water the new tree - free-draining potentially more, clay-heavy potentially less.
Once the hole is ready, it is time to see to the needs of the plant. We fill up a 20L bucket with water and add a 'blob' of molasses and liquid fish and liquid kelp. We place the tree, pot and all into this mixture for approx. 20 minutes. The combination will help reduce the shock the tree will go through during transplanting, and the molasses and liquid fish/kelp are bacteria & fungal food, which will aid in its long term resilience.
Now it is time to plant! Well, not quite. One step I always do is I add a small amount of microbial powder to the bottom of the hole before planting. This powder has eight difference fungal strands and four different bacteria and will create an instant microbial relationship with the tree. By something as simple as adding the powder it can increase the root growth relationship by up to 700% in the first three months. This growth will aid in the trees long term resilience and prosperity.
You do not have to add the powder. It is quite expensive but for me with the number of plantings I do makes it well worth the expense.
Now we do put the tree in the hole. A simple process of taking it out of the pot, then gently spreading the tree roots and then back-filling into the hole, without going over to collar of the tree.
Once in the ground, we now use the remaining water/molasses/liquid fish/kelp mix to water the tree.
Using the patterns of a forest, we fertilise from the top down. Applying rock minerals, compost and then finally mulch. Two-year-old aged wood-chip is best, though sugar cane mulch will work well too.
It usually takes me 20 minutes or so to plant a tree. Not a long time in the scheme of things but as I said, in the beginning, can make a difference between a tree living 15 years to much much longer, living a happy and healthy life.
In recent months, after drought, fire and flood, I have had questions from friends and family and clients about wicking beds – What they are and would it be a benefit to them in their context.
Wicking beds are something I use here at home, alongside other growing techniques, that help contribute to the productivity of my home. They are something I recommend to my clients. I have helped build on several occasions in different areas using different materials.
In a nutshell, a wicking bed is an enclosed garden bed that has a water reservoir on the bottom, and that this supplies the water for the plants growing above. The water wicks up through the soil so that it is watered from below rather than over saving time, is very water efficient. I have found it can survive our more extreme summers and still be productive.
Wicking beds were invented by Colin Austin an Australian inventor and entrepreneur who was concerned about the use of one of the worlds most precious resources in the way we grew our food - Water.
After much thought, design and concepts, he ultimately came up with this system that can revolutionise the way we grow food in our home gardens.
The real secret to the success of the wicking bed is to maintain the moisture levels of the beds at a more consistent rate, rather than the ebb and flow that can happen with the watering of our gardens – Too much (flood) or drought (not enough)
Some basic rules of thumb for wicking beds are always remember that the water will only wick up approx. 30cm. You need to have a hole in the side of the container at the reservoir level so that any excess water will overflow rather than build up and drown your soil and plants
There are several methods we can use to construct a wicking bed.
Something as simple as a polystyrene box, garden pots on the bottom, creating the water storage and then a piece of shade cloth, then the soil placed on top. The water wicks up the shade cloth and through the ground providing the plants with the water they need.
One of the most popular is using a 1000L tank (IBC) that can be cut in half and then divide the bottom half between the water storage and the top half soil. You can use river sand, works well though it can restrict the amount of water the reservoir can hold due to the small space between the sand particles. Another popular method is to use 20mm blue metal rock which will have a larger spacing for water. One thing to take into consideration is that sometimes broken up concrete can be mixed in with the blue metal and the lime within it can alter the PH over some time.
The third method I have been using, more so lately than in the past, is a method I was introduced to by Costa and his show ‘Costa’s Gardening Odyssey’ which used to show on SBS in what seems an age ago.
Using an older sealed packing crate, which interestingly enough can hold 9 old milk crates which will create the water storage. Then using geotextile fabric to drape over the top and the side of the milk crates makes the wick and also separates the soil from the water storage. Then place the soil on top
Benefits of a wicking bed
• Uses up to 50% less water than conventional veg gardens
• Less water lost through evaporation
• Low maintenance
• Less risk of under or overwatering
• Plants get the exact amount of water they need, and their roots stay cool
• Soil remains moist most of the time
• Allows for thick mulching which also decreases evaporation
• Improves soil quality through moisture, cycling nutrients
(nothing washes away)
• Can be made cheaply
Click Here for: a great link and download from Brett Cooper from Limestone Permaculture on hints and tips on how to build Wicking beds
I have had a lot of questions about the things we do month by month to help not only maintain but add to our system.
While the best time to have ‘planted a tree’ was 20 years ago, the next best time to start is now.
Each little thing we do can and will help increase our ability to build resilient, regenerative and abundant lives.
Let’s Make It Real -
Here is our May garden to-do list. We hope it helps you in your endeavors
Downloadable file attached at the bottom
To Do List
•Apply compost to your gardens
•Collect fallen leaves form mulch
•Planting of deciduous trees and shrubs
•Trim back deadwood on fruit trees and shape slightly
•Plant large container trees while the weather is mild
•Dead head or cut back summer flowering perennials
•Dig up congested perennial clumps, divide and replant
•Foliar feed the orchard and potager
•Side dress vegetables with compost
•Mulch fruit trees
•Remove old fruit and clean up under fruit trees
•Sow winter beneficial bug attracting plants
•Sow seeds for June planting
•Check over orchard for pests and possible disease
What To Plant
Broad Beans, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Chives, Endive
Florence Fennel, Garlic, Kale, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Mustard greens, Onion
Oregano, Pak Choy, Parsley, Peas, Radish, Rocket, Shallots, Silverbeet,
Snow Peas, Spinach, Strawberries
WHY SHOULD YOU HAVE CHICKENS?
There's a lot to enjoy when you have your own backyard chickens. The eggs are a real treasure—tastier and fresher than anything you can buy at a shop. The chicken manure and crushed eggshells can be thrown into the compost or worm farm. During the day, the birds entertain themselves. Scratching the ground looking for, beetles, bugs and other things that go into making delicious eggs. And with their keen eye for insect pests, chickens make for great gardening companions. Backyard chickens reduce food waste by eating kitchen scraps. Chickens do not need a lot of space and even small backyards can usually have a small flock of chickens. Even smaller spaces can have something. Quail make a great alternative and offer very similar benefits.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE GETTING CHICKENS
First, you will need to check your local council regulations to see what their legal requirements are. There could be a limit to the number of chickens you can keep etc. The last thing you want is to do is invest time, effort and money into setting up for chickens and then find out later that you can't even keep them.
Make sure you have the space for their chicken house. It needs to hold a feeder and water, a roosting area, and a nesting box for the chickens to lay their eggs in. A proper chicken house should be large enough that you have access to gather eggs and clean out the manure. Any housing must be sturdy enough to keep your chickens safe from predators as well
Chickens need food (and water) daily. A good quality layer mash is best for them. It is best to feed the chickens this in the morning and give them access to the green pick of an afternoon. How long the bag lasts depend on the number of chickens that you have. Typically, chickens need approx. 100g to 120g of feed per day. I tend to measure this using a measuring cup rather than weight. I also like to add an equal weight of Copra to their feed as it has extra protein which is good for their health, their eggs and their feathers.
Hens will lay eggs through spring, summer, autumn and slowdown in winter periods. They need to have at least 8 to 10 hours of daylight.
Backyard chickens also need at least 1m square per chicken as a scratching space though I like to give them 3/4m square to provide them with room to move. If you give them your best, they will provide you with theirs!
If you go away on holiday, you will need to find someone reliable to make sure your chickens are safe and well while you are away.
THE CHICKEN HOUSE
Is where the chicken's sleep, lay their eggs, and escape the weather. You can either build one, buy one, or perhaps convert an old shed or cubby house. It must be fox proof. The chicken house must be weatherproof yet well ventilated - dry and cool. Chickens like to perch off the ground at night. You need to allow about 30cm space per bird. Sturdy tree branches (if clean and crack-‐free) are the best – 40-50mm wide is ideal.
You will also need nesting boxes where the chickens can lay their eggs in. they like to do these things in private. Old lawnmower catchers are excellent or wooden crates are good too. Add straw or other bedding to their laying boxes. Allow 1 nesting box for every 3‐4 chickens, though I find that they all tend to lay in the same box.
WORMING YOUR BACKYARD CHICKENS
Regular garlic treatment is the most common method: Place 1‐2 cloves (per bird) of crushed garlic into your chickens drinking water, for several days in a row. Another technique is to add a little apple cider vinegar to the drinking water. You can also grow any of the following on the outside of their pen, so they have access to it when they need it – nasturtiums, wormwood lavender, mustard and rosemary.
WHAT ABOUT MITES?
Mites can live in the cracks of the chicken house. They march out across the perch and up the chickens legs at night to suck their blood. Check periodically at night with a torch, and if you find any treat the inside of the chicken house with boiling water or a paste made from hydrated lime. I also like to make a spray of boiled wormwood and water, strain the liquid and then spray into the corners of the chicken house.
Have you ever tried to make cheese? I have taken several courses over the years, and regardless of the effort made, I just cannot make cheese. just not in my skillset :)
One thing people may not realise is that I am also a medieval enthusiast, especially 11 and 12 century. So many years ago rather than take yet another cheese making course, I started to look back in history.
During this research, I found a simple recipe and decided to give it a go. It was for a 'peasant cheese' or 'fresh green cheese', so I decided to give it a go.
Making peasant cheese is very easy. It only takes very little time and is well worth the effort.
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar for every litre of milk (you can substitute for lemon juice if that is what you have)
Heat the milk on a low heat until it just starts to simmer. Remove from heat. Add the apple cider vinegar and stir gently and let sit for 10 minutes. Strain through a muslin cloth, wrap and squeeze out as much whey as possible. Then hang and allow to drain for approx. An hour. When it is finished, unwrap the cheese and mix with a little salt and olive oil until desired flavour and texture is reached. The cheese can also be flavoured with herbs (rosemary, basil, garlic) and serve with fresh fruit from your trees (figs, olives etc.)
It really is that simple, and it is delicious. A favourite in this house when it is made. Just be awarer that it does not keep for more than a week or so, but if you have a source of milk, then you can make a fresh batch regularly.
The additional functions do not stop there. With the leftover whey, we can use it for several different things as well.
First, it can be used to make a whey and honey drink, though it does have an exotic flavour and not everyone may like it.
Second, it can be used in bread, making to make a fortified bread loaf.
Third, the whey can be used as a foliar spray on your fruit trees to help protect them from certain pests and diseases as well as help feed beneficial fungi.
Fourth, feed it to your chickens, ducks, quail to help keep them healthy
and fifth it can be used to make your own Lactic Acid Bacteria (This will be the subject of a future post)
Rat’s tail grasses are robust, tufted, perennial grasses growing up to 2 m tall. They are difficult to distinguish from other pasture grasses before maturity. However, their leaves are noticeably tougher than those of any other species.
As A Soil Indicator:
Very low Calcium, High Magnesium, Little humus, Low moisture, Low bacterial presence, Sandy soils
Rat’s tail grasses flower and seed in the frost-free period of
the year, with the main seeding in late summer/autumn. It can produce up to 85,000 seeds per square metre in a year, with initial seed viability of about 90%. A significant proportion of seed remains viable for up to 10 years).
Bundaberg Regional Council and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have investigated a naturally occurring crown rot fungi's (Nigrospora oryzae) which has had success on giant Parramatta grass to assist with giant rat’s tail grass management. Biosecurity Queensland is investigating other potential pathogens. To date no agent is proving effective on rat’s tail grasses.
For small infestations, hand-chip, bag and remove tufts then burn them.
Quickly dominates pastures, particularly after overgrazing or soil disturbance. Causes losses in carrying capacity and decreases production by up to 80%. Loosens teeth of cattle and horses that graze on it.
Every time we harvest vegetables and fruits, we are taking nutrients and minerals from the soils, which needs to be replaced or the soil is diminished.
One of the easiest ways we can do this is by applying compost, worm castings or some homemade fertilisers made from things we typically have around our house. By using what we have already, we are reducing the number of inputs we are bringing into our system and helping to create a more closed lopped system - from soil to soil.
Below are 10 of the simple teas and applications I use in and around our gardens to help keep them thriving
1. MANURE TEA
An excellent source of nitrogen. You'll need at least 1 part well-aged manure and 5 parts water, a large bucket (with a lid) and a hessian bag.
Chicken, horse, cattle or sheep are all good to use for a manure tea. But no manure from domestic animals as it can contain pathogens we do not want in our gardens
Add the manure into the hessian bag and place it in the bucket. Fill with water and cover (like a giant teabag).
Let it sit for two weeks. When you're ready to use it, dilute it to the ratio of 1:10.
You can empty the manure-filled hessian bag into your compost afterwards.
2. COMPOST TEA
Use the same ratio, 1 part compost to 5 parts water.
In a bucket, add in 1 part compost and fill it up with 5 parts water. Give it a healthy stir and let it sit for four days.
When it's ready to use, strain it through. Use it straight away and dilute to the ratio of 1:10.
3. SEAWEED LIQUID FERTILISER
Seaweed is full of nutrients for your plants, including potassium, nitrogen, phosphate and magnesium. It also a great help to stop transplant shock when moving plants and seedlings.
Rinse the seaweed thoroughly to remove salt. Then place it in a bucket, cover with water and let it sit. Allow it to sit for about eight weeks in the dark, with a lid on the bucket - this can get a bit stinky if you are not careful. Dilute to a ratio of 1:10.
4. BANANA PEEL LIQUID FERTILISER
Banana are packed with potassium, phosphorus and calcium.
Soak four banana skins in 1 litre of water for a few days. The minerals and nutrients will leach into the water. I always dilute to a 1:10 ratio to keep it consistent and spread the love further. Then I place the remaining skins into my worm farm.
5. WEEDY TEA
This has to be the easiest liquid tea to make.
You use all the weeds from around your garden for this.
using the same 1:5 ratio (1 part weeds, 5 parts water), fill a bucket with your unwanted garden plants. Cover them with water then put a lid on the bucket. Let it brew for about four weeks.
Again sticking with the same ratio of 1:10 for dilution and then use it anywhere in the garden.
Once the weeds have broken down in the bucket, use them in the compost and start again.
6. CITRUS PEEL FERTILISER
Allow peel from citrus that you have eaten or used to dry out and then burn down to ash. This ash will be very high in potassium which can be added to a garden bed or to any compost or worm farm.
7. COFFEE GROUNDS.
Spent coffee grounds have lots of uses. One of their best is as a fertiliser. Lots of plants can benefit from the nutrient-rich resource. There are a couple of ways we can do this— you can sprinkle the used grounds over the surface of the earth, or you can make "coffee tea" to use in our gardens. Soak up to six cups of used coffee grounds for up to a week in 20 litres of water to make garden coffee, then use it to water your acid-loving plants.
8. MOLASSES FERTILISER
Molasses helps to increase the microbes and beneficial bacteria in our soils. This helps all of our plants to grow. To make molasses tea, we just mix approx. 4 tablespoons of molasses into 4 litres of water. Then just add this tea to your plants once a week or so and watch them grow!
9. COOKING WATER
Many different nutrients are released into water we boil our food in. Water that is used to boil our vegetables, eggs, and even pasta or rice can be used as a fertiliser. Always let the water cool before applying it to your soil.
10. EGG SHELLS
Eggshells contain a little nitrogen, phosphoric acid, and other trace elements that help make them a practical fertiliser we can use in our garden. Calcium is also a main component which our plants need to grow happily and healthily. Simply crush them, powder them in a mortar and pestle, and sprinkle them around your garden soil.