Grow your own food

Tips to enjoy delicious, inexpensive, convenient produce that is good for you and the environment

Vegetable patch

 

Why grow your own food?

  • save money and supplement your household food supply
  • save water – home grown food uses less water relative to the amount of food harvested
  • reduce your shopping miles
  • reduce packaging
  • reduce food waste
  • enjoy fresher, more nutritious and more delicious food
  • know exactly what you're eating (e.g. no pesticides)
  • get some exercise and reduce your stress levels

Clare Voitin’s tips for successful food growing

Clare Voitin in the garden

Clare Voitin is a farmer, author, former café owner, mother to three boys and a passionate advocate for honest-to-goodness real food.

As a proud Ambassador for Sustainability Victoria, Clare is excited to help inspire and educate households to grow their own food in a backyard, balcony or even on a windowsill, and reap the benefits along the way.

Clare has fond childhood memories of digging a veggie patch with her father which inspired her lifetime love of growing food and now her children join her in the garden as well.

Watch how Clare grows food at her farm and home, then follow her easy steps below to get started growing your own food. You can choose what vegetables or herbs to grow from Clare’s Summer Growing Chart.

 

View the video transcript
Growing food changes you.

It creates this opportunity for you to actually do something that provides genuine value for you, for your health, and for your family.

You become connected with nature. Connecting with the soil, connecting with the earth. The connection that you will have with that food when you grow it is huge when it becomes part of your daily habits.

My name is Claire Voitin. I'm an author, a farmer, a food grower, and I'm a mother of three boys. And I care where my food comes.

My experience with farming has been over the last 20 years and it's been the most incredible journey.

When people ask me how to start a food garden I usually tell them to start with the easy things. Herbs are something that everybody uses. Lettuce now grows all year round. Kale is easy to grow, carrots, even the cauliflowers and the broccolisare easy to grow as well. 
But just starting with one thing and then building from there.

We also grow food in our front garden in Melbourne. So you actually don't need a farm. You don't even need a huge yard. You can actually just plant food in a box, you can plant it in a balcony or a pot.
Just start with one thing and go from now there.

There's a lot of benefits to growing food. One of them is you're saving money. You're also reducing waste. You're not buying things that are wrapped in plastic or cardboard that you don't actually need.

The nutritional benefits are obvious. You're eating seasonally, and you're actually eating food that is as fresh and organic as it can possibly get.

I've made absolutely every possible mistake you can and I've worked out what you should and you shouldn't do.

Just have a go. You will not be disappointed, you'll enjoy the benefits. You'll love it. Just have a go.

Getting started with growing food at home

1. Preparing your soil

Healthy, nutritious soils produce healthy, nutrient dense food. Take time to prepare your soil correctly and you will nourish the plants and get better results.

  • Mix some well-rotted animal manure into your soil (think chook poop)
  • Add some organic compost (home composted food scraps are ideal but not essential)
  • Lightly sprinkle your soils with Blood & Bone
  • Water in well before sowing your seeds or planting your seedlings

2. Planting

  • Most vegetables and herbs can be grown from either seeds or seedlings
  • Planting seedlings will reduce the time until you can harvest your food
  • The seed packet or punt will have planting directions to follow
  • Allow the recommended spacing between each plant to give your food space to grow.
  • Spread mulch around the plant to keep the soil cool in the warmer months, warm in the cooler months, reduce evaporation and protect your plants.

3. Watering and feeding

  • Rule number one – always water in your seeds or seedlings when first planted
  • You can also add a little diluted liquid feed at planting to give your plants a boost to get them started
  • Repeat the liquid feed every two to three weeks as the plants grow.

Once your plants are established:

  • Water the roots rather than the leaves. Directing water into the soil at the base of the plant is the most efficient way to water
  • In the warmer months, water early in the morning to avoid evaporation
  • If plants are drooping or looking tired, a good watering should rejuvenate them
  • On the other hand – don’t overwater! Use our growing chart as a guide to the amount of water each plant needs
  • Consider installing an automated watering system. It’s well worth the small investment in the initial set up and you’ll be well rewarded in return for your efforts.

4. Harvesting your food

Generally you can harvest your food when it appears ready to eat. If you have any doubt, have a taste straight from the garden – you will quickly get a sense from its size, colour and taste.

  • Don’t leave it too long before harvesting – or birds and wildlife get to your food before you do
  • Regular harvesting of your food increases its vigour and productivity, and ultimately encourages more food growth throughout the season
  • Harvest only what you need, as you need it so that means you will have daily access to fresh produce literally at your doorstep.

Plant care in extreme weather

Extreme weather presents challenges for plants. In very hot conditions, most plants require some shading such as a shade cloth over them. If that’s not possible, ensure they are watered early in the morning and at the end of the day to keep them hydrated during a heat wave.

Plants also struggle with extreme cold and frosts. To protect them, simply cut out plastic bottles around your young plants, or use plastic bags with the bottom cut out with three or four bamboo sticks around them to keep the warmth in and cold out.

Summer Growing Chart

Vegetables

Vegetable Planting position Window, Balcony or Garden Box? Feeding Watering Growing time Good companion plants Harvest Other tips
Beans

☀️☀️☀️

Balcony or garden box Extra feeding not essential

💧


10 to 14 weeks Carrots, corn, lettuce, spinach Regularly Don't kill with kindness – don't let mulch touch the plants.
Capsicum

☀️☀️☀️

Balcony or garden box Liquid feed fortnightly

💧💧

Ongoing Carrot, eggplant, lettuce, onion, oregano, silverbeet, spinach tomato Regularly -
Carrot

☀️☀️

Balcony or garden box Liquid feed after 4 weeks

💧💧

8 to 14 weeks Leeks, lettuce, chives, viola, rosemary Regularly Don't harvest after 18 weeks.
Celery

☀️

Balcony or garden box Liquid feed fortnightly

💧💧💧

Ongoing Beans, tomatoes, leeks, thyme Regularly The paler in colour, the sweeter it is. 2 to 3 weeks before harvest, put a 2L milk container (bottom cut out) around the celery to limit the light
Cucumber

☀️☀️☀️

Balcony or garden box Liquid fertiliser

💧💧

Ongoing Beans, corn, lettuce, kohlrabi Pick frequently The more you harvest, the more you'll grow.
Lettuce

Shade

Window, balcony or garden box Liquid feed at planting

💧💧💧

6 to 10 weeks Strawberries, corn Pick what you need Sprinkle coffee grounds/eggshells around seedlings to keep snails away.
Pumpkin

☀️☀️☀️

Garden box Liquid feed fortnightly

💧💧💧

12 to 16 weeks Corn, citrus When the vine has died Mulch well. Can store for up to 6 months after harvest.
Spinach

☀️☀️

Window, balcony or garden box Liquid feed fortnightly

💧💧💧

6 weeks All rounder Outer leaves Sprinkle coffee grounds/eggshells around seedlings to keep snails away.
Strawberries

☀️☀️

Window, balcony or garden box Liquid feed fortnightly

💧💧

12 to 14 weeks Beans, lettuce, silverbeet, spinach As they ripen Mulch well to prevent fungal disease and pest invasion - beat the birds to your harvest!
Tomatoes

☀️☀️☀️

Balcony or garden box Extra feeding not essential

💧💧

Ongoing Capsicum, chilli, basil You'll know Provide some shelter from wind. Avoid planting tomatoes where tomatoes, potatoes, chillies or eggplants have been the previous year. Also stake your tomato plants.
Zucchini

☀️☀️☀️

Garden box Extra feeding not essential

💧💧

6 to 8 weeks Lettuce, capsicum, corn, silverbeet, spinach, tomatoes, parsley When approx 15-20cm long Kids love seeing the zucchinis grow to huge sizes – sacrifice a few for 'super-growing' and eat the rest.

Herbs

Herbs Planting position Window, Balcony or Garden Box? Feeding Watering Growing time Good companion plants Harvest Other tips
Basil

☀️☀️☀️

Window, balcony or garden box Regular liquid fertiliser

💧💧

Ongoing Carrots, corn, lettuce, spinach Regular - as you need The more you pick, the more you'll get. Regular harvesting encourages more growth – remove any flowers to encourage more growth.
Chives

☀️☀️

Window, balcony or garden box Little to no feeding

💧

4+ weeks ongoing Onion, cabbage, apple, peach Regular - as you need Chives produce gorgeous pinky flowers which are also great for salads.
Dill

☀️☀️

Window, balcony or garden box Little to no feeding

💧

6 to 8 weeks Leeks, lettuce, chives, viola, rosemary Regular - as you need A most versatile herb in the kitchen – loves protection from winds.
Oregano

☀️☀️☀️

Window, balcony or garden box Little to no feeding

💧💧💧

Ongoing Beans, tomatoes, leeks, thyme Immediately Fun fact - oregano is the wild herb form of marjoram (PS  pinch flowers for continued herb growth).
Thyme

☀️☀️☀️

Window, balcony or garden box Little to no feeding

💧

Ongoing Beans, corn, lettuce, kohlrabi Immediately Avoid planting near thirsty plants – great steeped in hot water with honey for sore throats (but avoid if pregnant!).

A sustainable diet

For a variety of reasons, including lifestyle and ethical choices, some people choose to eat a plant rich diet. To find out more visit the Better Health Channel.


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