From Market to Garden. How growing your own can help save the planet.
One of the great things about my local market, Marché Jean Talon is that come Spring, many of the fruit and vegetable vendors use their market stalls to sell young seedlings to be taken home and planted in the hope of harvesting your own bit of market fodder.
My gardening experience started early – most Australian backyards are quite large, so growing up my Dad would plant rows of different fruit and vegetables and then get us kids to help him out with the planting, watering, weeding. There was also a chicken and duck coop, which provided the garden with a steady supply of nutrient-rich manure. Years later, my parents left the suburbs and started a market garden, and would often rely on my siblings and I to help get the harvest ready for market day.
Growing up, I wasn’t always fond of gardening. I couldn’t understand the fuss, considering how much easier it was getting your greens from Woolworths. Then, years later, as I started to work in aid and development and would return home after having spent time with Vietnamese rice farmers struggling to make do, or refugees around the world who had been forced from their homes and were now either growing or raising their dinner in a space as big as my bathroom, I began to appreciate this thing called gardening. My husband and I bought a cottage with a piece of land a few years ago, and I am fortunate not to have to rely on my small garden for my livelihood, but meeting and working with these people has fostered a respect of where our food comes from and more importantly how difficult it is for many people to feed themselves. In the past decade, the effects of climate change have caused havoc with already poor nations, and there are growing numbers of rural persons who are either being forced off the land, or stay and struggle whilst they to try to find and preserve enough water for their needs as drought becomes more of a commonality rather than occurrence, take gambles with alternative food sources, or sell off productive assets when harvests fail.
In many countries, both developing and non-developing, the soil has been so over-worked and depleted that it is no longer arable. In very simple terms, healthy soil comes from alternating what you grow, avoiding pesticides and using compost. Maintaining a garden gives off oxygen, helps reduce erosion and keep temperatures moderate. The average kitchen produces almost 100 kilos of waste each year, by keeping a compost bin, and then adding this to the garden, we create soil that retains water, drains better and provides nutrient-rich plants that can withstand harsher climatic conditions. Plants also attract wildlife, which are threatened because the plant kingdom is failing them, and the plant kingdom is failing because mankind is letting it down. You don’t need a degree in agricultural science or even to be a humanitarian to understand the simple adage of what goes around, comes around, and today, more than ever before, it’s those of us that do have more, who need to be mindful of those who have less, as sadly, our earth cannot sustain us like it has done so in the past.
This doesn’t mean we all have to uproot ourselves and go back to land. Earlier today, I had stepped on my city balcony to bring in some clothes and noticed a neighbor planting cherry tomatoes in an old bucket, another was growing spinach in a plastic recycling bin, and several other balconies were sporting pots full of different herbs. We can all do our bit, whether it’s in a balcony box or on a farm.
Plant your own backyard garden
I used an area of 3 metres long and 1.2 metres wide. I filled it with black earth, about five buckets of compost and some peat moss. It’s amazing how much can grow in a small place. Here I have tomatoes, swiss chard, spinach, fennel, squash, zucchini, radish.
Plants need to be exposed to at least 6 hours of sunshine. I planted taller plants such as tomatoes to the western end, to avoid shading the other plants. Asides from the tomatoes, most of the plants don’t actually need a lot of room, and when the lettuce and radishes (planted to the East of the plot) are picked early in the season, it will leave room for spreaders such as squash and zucchini. Because I eat a lot of salad during the summer, I also have an additional plot just for salads such as chicory, rocket, mesculun, as well as flower pots for herbs and edible flowers.
For some tips on small-space gardening, read my article in Readers Digest, or have a look at the books written by Canadian urban gardener Gayla Trail. Want to know more, but don’t know where to start? I began by reading novelist Barbara Kingsolver’s book Animal Vegetable Mineral about her year spent living off the land, and more recently have got to know the work of maverick farmer Joel Salatin, otherwise known as the High Priest of Pasture who will get you running for cover every time you go near a Coles, IGA and yes even the old Woolworths supermarket.