I (Mark) grew up in a family that grew a lot of our food. So, I absorbed a lot of knowledge and skills from my father. There was a clear gender divide between food (dad) and flowers (mum). We had a large vegetable garden, fruit trees and chickens. The old quarter acre section was like a small suburban market garden. Nowadays with housing intensification our properties are getting much smaller. So, we need to do things differently.
In our household we are sacrificing lawn for food production. The first European settlers in our valley were market gardeners and orchardists. So, it’s good land for growing things. Apparently, those early settlers were self-sufficient for food. Maybe this is something we need to be aiming for as much as possible again. Growing and eating locally.
My biggest encouragement to anyone who doesn’t grow their own food is to give it a go. Just start. Make small steps. Keep building. That’s how we’re doing it on this small ex-rental property.
When we bought this bungalow exactly five years ago it had an extremely limited garden. All that was food-producing was a lemon tree, grapevine and blackcurrant bush. Each year we have added to this. It has been a slow conversion from lawn to food production, but we are making steady progress. A step at a time, add more capacity, grow slowly. This way it never feels onerous and burdensome, but something you are growing into.
Our conversion process now sees us with two-raised beds for vegetables, and a third for strawberries. The first one was built by a friend from recycled timber. This spring we will add a third vegetable raised bed. Our orchard is forever expanding. We have added feijoa, raspberry, blackboy peach, blueberry, nectarine and apple.
Canterbury Community Gardens
Reduced Food Waste #3
A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions. Reducing Food Waste
Regenerative Agriculture #11
Conventional wisdom has long held that the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Evidence points to a new wisdom: The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture.
Regenerative agricultural practices include: no tillage, diverse cover crops, no external nutrients, no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, multiple crop rotations. Regenerative Annual Cropping and Conservation Agriculture
Tree Intercropping #17
Like all regenerative land-use practices, tree intercropping—intermingling trees and crops—increases the carbon content of the soil and productivity of the land. The arrangement of trees and crops varies with topography, culture, climate, and crop value, but there are common benefits:
Windbreaks reduce erosion and create habitat for birds and pollinators. Fast-growing annuals, susceptible to being flattened by wind and rain, can be protected. Deep-rooted plants can draw up minerals and nutrients for shallow-rooted ones. Light-sensitive crops can be protected from excess sunlight. Tree Intercropping and Agroforestry #28
Nearly half of the solid waste produced globally is organic or biodegradable. Much of it ends up in landfills; there, it decomposes in the absence of oxygen and produces the greenhouse gas methane, which is up to 34 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a century. Composting and Biochar #72
Growing you own food covers a few of Project Drawdown's 100 solutions to reverse global warming, including:
#2 Grow Your Own Food
How far has your food travelled?
If you grow or buy locally, you can greatly reduce the emissions from your food travelling to you, avoid all the plastic packaging and the unknown pesticides put directly on our fruit and vegetables.
We are also growing more herbs in the garden and in pots. Most summers we also grow tomatoes and other edibles this way. This stretches our capacity and is fun. We always leave some “weeds” that are also edible. E.g. stinging nettle and plantain that make medicinally useful teas. Nettle also attracts the beautiful native red admiral butterfly. These beautiful creatures are often in our backyard.
We always have plans! We are by no means finished with our vision of producing more and more of our own food. To supplement our three-stage compost system we will start a worm farm. I am going to learn the art of growing kumara in the south from a colleague who has become an expert. We will acquire a shredder so we can recycle back into the land all of our green waste. In time we will reduce our front and back lawn to a mere grass strip as we plant more fruit trees and add further vegetable garden beds.
Work with your Neighbours Another option might be to make a proposal with a neighbour to develop a garden on their section if they don’t have one. You might be able to do it together or they might be happy for you to have a garden there if they can share the produce. I once took over a section of an elderly widow’s vegetable patch because it had got too big for her. It created a win-win situation for us both. She was even happy for me to take a small group of school children there through a summer to learn gardening skills.
One way or another you can practice or support local food production. If you have too many zucchinis, swap some for your neighbour’s lettuces, pop in a community fridge/pantry or join a community exchange. There is always a way. Flourish is supporting a Community Exchange starting up in Waikuku. If you live there you’re welcome to join in https://www.facebook.com/groups/waikukucommunityexchange
Community Gardens If you can’t develop a food garden at your place because of your circumstances, join your local community garden to learn, share and have fun. Canterbury Community Gardens Assoc. have a list of 30 Community Gardens to look up and join https://www.ccga.org.nz/.
Foraging Another increasing food movement is foraging, especially in the Christchurch Red Zone and around the coast. The Christchurch City Council has Fruit & Nut Trees Map for the Red Zone https://smartview.ccc.govt.nz/#map/layer/trees/ Be kind and only take what you need. Learn about edible weeds and seaweeds too – free food and highly nutritional. We love local man Peter Langlands’ foraging tours which we promote on Facebook. We can organise a tour too if you are interested. http://wild-capture.blogspot.com/
Go Natural It is easier and cheaper to go organic in your own garden too by not buying nasty pesticides and chemicals. Google is great to find natural solutions for bug and mould problems. Working with nature is the best way for you and the planet. Simple solutions to snails can be as easy as crushed egg shells around your plants and for aphids spray a detergent, vinegar and water mix.
If you have time and passion, permaculture is the ultimate way to garden. There are great groups on Facebook to join and learn and plenty of education on line.
Help is out there Yates and Tui puts out a free seasonal guide of what to plant when with lots of tips to get started https://www.yates.co.nz/ideas-plans/garden-calendar/seasonal/spring/ and https://tuigarden.co.nz/planting-calendar/ . Teach what you learn and share resources. Create a new generation of home-based food producers. Our son started to show interest so we helped to set him up for vegetable gardening at his student-flat. He is already talking expansion!
To conclude, just start, even if it’s one planter pot of strawberries (yum). Don’t try to do everything at once. Add, grow, learn, connect, share, teach, evolve, enjoy!