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Get on the bandwagon: grow your own produce at home

Revolutionary urban gardener Mat Pember of The Little Veggie Patch Co in Melbourne has all the tips you need for getting started with fruit and veg growing at home. You don’t need a big space, loads of experience, or green fingers to grow yourself an abundance of produce and edible goodies – just get creative and give it a go.

Start as small as possible

The best advice I can give is to start small and don’t let your fear of failure stand in the way of ultimate vegetable domination. Take a small bite, and if you like it, take another. Start with a window planter, or even a pot.

Forget cheap and nasty, buy the good stuff

Potting mix will make or break the small-space garden, so I always recommend using the highest quality organic mix available. Unfortunately the quality of potting mix is completely correlated to its price, so you’ll have to lash out a little. The next time you’re about to order another glass of wine, refrain, and go and buy a bag of organic potting mix instead.

Keep your plants hydrated

Be sure to water your potted plants daily. Potting mix is designed to hold the perfect amount of moisture and let the excess drain through (don’t ask me how they worked this out, but we’re told it was conducted in a laboratory and they were wearing white coats). It’s almost impossible to over water, yet so easy to underwater. Ninety five percent of bad growing experiences comes from lack of water.

Pick your food and eat it

It seems ridiculous to have to say this, but for some reason people will grow the perfect bean or lettuce and then watch it spoil. Picking food helps free up energy for the plant to produce more, and is ultimately why you’re growing food. It’s clearly in everyone’s best interest.

Instant gratification

There is something called ‘instant gratification’ that we can’t value highly enough, and for a novice gardener, results will keep them entertained and coming back for more. Early success is crucial. For that reason, salads and herbs are always recommended.

Grow oldschool varieties

Grow heirloom varieties for two reasons:

1) because you are growing vegetables that have evolved to suit your climate, and;
2) because the food spectrum is so diverse and the only way to see its true colours is to begin growing these more interesting varieties yourself. 

Don’t get too obsessed with ‘organic’

Grow organically, but don’t become obsessed about it. I say this because it is very, very, very, very hard to find good organic seedlings and seeds. Because for little plants to survive in little pots for longer than a day or two, they will need some inorganic fertiliser. But from that point on, there is no reason to use inorganic methods. Nature, along with a logical mind has a reasonable solution for every gardening challenge.

Keep up with trends

Look into more progressive ways of growing. Traditionally, growing food has been based around the way farmers do it, which is why urban growers all have beards and wear checkered shirts. There are now more progressive ways of doing it and they are more suited to small spaces. Look into wicking beds, aquaponics and hydroponics. It all sounds pretty hi-brow, but it’s simple, efficient, fool proof gardening.

Little Veggie Patch Co

Dedicate your time to stuff that WILL grow

Always do your research and find out what varieties of fruit and veg grow the best in your area. If you’re in Melbourne (where I am), you’re spoilt for choice. Try lettuces, tomatoes, perennial herbs, figs, lemons, shiso, plums, apples, loquat, strawberries … pretty much anything. I’ve seen a banana tree down my local laneway in Northcote. It’s still taking a little time for people to realise that there’s so much we can grow, and literally all year round too.

Are you an avid food grower at home? Tell us in the comments below what works best where you are.

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Read Khoollect’s interview with Mat.

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Photos by Phoebe Powell