Urban farming: create a sustainable vegetable garden.

It goes without saying, having fresh fruit and vegetables straight out of your own garden is the best, not in taste alone. Australia has always been a country rich with produce, whether it be harvesting grain in the agriculture centre of the Hunter Valley, tropical fruit in far north Queensland or cattle and sheep farming in the cooler states of Victoria and Tasmania.

Homegrown garden produce

Homegrown garden produce

But, despite our soils riches here in Oz we are increasingly behind the eight ball when it comes to sustaining our agricultural future. I’m not suggesting we need an overnight revolution but there are things we can individually do to create awareness, reduce the cost of fresh produce, support Australian farmers and create tasty, home grown produce. We have an increasing obesity epidemic (created largely from fast food chains and lazy parents) but if we teach children where food comes from and how it is grown, they are more likely to eat it. They are more likely to want to eat it.

The reality for many of us today, is that we live in urban environments which begs the question, how can we substantially grow our own produce in the city?  There are many great examples happening around the world at the moment from:

Brooklyn grange (NYC)

HK Farm (Hong Kong China)

Lufa farms (Montreal)

These rooftop style urban farms are popping up all over the world, and are a further advance on the community garden commons like Veg Out in St Kilda. They are an opportunity for the local community to get involved. Urban farms not only create jobs for agricultural specialists, gardeners, and green thumbs alike, they provide voluntary opportunities for those interested in finding out more.

climate control

climate control

Here are some tips when building your very own garden however, small or large it may be.

Companion planting

Like all living things on Earth, plants grow well next to each other. There are those that work against one another, that is, bad neighbours like a 10-year-old brawl in the schoolyard and there are others that are inseparable friends. Generally, companion planting comes down to helping the ecosystem around you – allowing the fauna to flourish, inviting the right moths, bees, and shade from leaves and avoiding bad insects, rotten roots and shunted growth.

Consider the season and your region

If you are wondering why pineapple isn’t growing in your Melbourne backyard, it is probably because it is not the right climate. Each fruit, vegetable and flower prospers under very specific weather conditions. It is important to consider what will grow best in your garden. Get a hold of a planting chart which will specify what produce is best for your climate and at which part of the year to plant it.

plant produce you will use

plant produce you will use.

Create with the space you have

Many of us are without a large garden to repurpose so how can we use what little space we have? Hanging pots from your windows that you can reach, developing your courtyard space with pot plants or digging up your 1x1metre lawn space to create a veggie patch are just some of the ways any space can become a garden space.

Composting is gold

Bio-diversity and reducing waste is key here. Often, weeding is required when gardening and we always waste cores, skins, leaves and the like when cooking our food. Harvesting a small compost, whether it be in a air-tight container under your sink or a fully fledged composing worm farm in your backyard, putting all degradable waste onto your heap will help heaps. You can add coffee grinds and tea bags too.

Capture an audience

Working together with the people you live near can be a great way to get a vegetable garden off the ground in built up areas. Consider chatting to others in your apartment block about setting up planter boxes in shared spaces around the property. Perhaps you could repurpose your nature strip like Ron Finely in Los Angeles or source local centres like the Collingwood Children’s farm who have established spaces you may be able to rent a plot from.

Make the most of the space you have.

Make the most of the space you have.

For more information there are some groups popping up in Melbourne (amongst other regions) that are happy to provide more information and can help generate ideas on urban farming and sustainable food harvesting in urban environments into the future.

The gate to secrets

The gate to secrets

Melbourne urban farmers

Urban farming oz

Collingwood Children’s farm

There are some great sources to consider when planting your own garden. Here are some of my favourites.

Stephanie Alexander – Kitchen Garden companion

ABC Gardening Australia