Plant catalogues! They have magical powers that force me to get my credit card out and order enough seed varieties to plant out my yard and all the neighbours’ as well! Sadly though, remorse usually arrives a few months later as I survey my underwhelming results, having overcommitted and failed to plan for the best productivity.
I now know I have to control myself and I’ve put all the lessons I’ve learned into 12 Top Tips, which I hope may be helpful to you too. The tips combine strategic selection, growing, storage and preservation (freezing) to maximise productivity and minimise waste.
But first, I’ll explain the conditions that I’m working with. If your conditions are very different, my Top Tips may not be quite so relevant to you.
- I have limited garden space, time and energy.
My veggie garden- about 4m x 4m, squeezed into the top right corner of this shot behind the garden seat- the only sunny spot available
- The climate where I live (Mudgee, in central western New South Wales, Australia) is quite extreme, very hot summers and quite cold winters with many frosts.
- Our rainfall is relatively low, approximately 600mm (24 inches) annually. I don’t have a water bore or access to a river- I rely on “town” water which is expensive.
- My garden has limited sunlight (shade trees are essential due to our scorching summers).
The foremost consideration in my Mudgee garden is shade in summer.
- These days I mostly cook for one, so my consumption is relatively modest.
- I hate wasting the beautiful produce that I have lovingly grown…
Here are my 12 Top Tips, together with some practical examples from my Mudgee garden.
1. Grow what will give a high density harvest per square metre.
2. Grow things that crop over an extended harvest period.
Surplus chillies and limes, destined for the freezer
Example: a square metre of chilli plants will provide me with a year’s worth of chillies. Small varieties freeze well, popped into a ziplock bag straight from the plant. Easy to take a few out at a time to thaw and use in cooking.
3. Save space and avoid waste by staggering plantings of tender things just a few at a time, repeated over the season.
Example: Lettuce. A dedicated row, sown in batches of about 50cm at a time, a few weeks between plantings.
4. Grow what will store long term in the fridge or freezer.
Example: Onions (store well in a paper bag in the crisper or a dark cupboard), celery. A couple of celery plants provide a huge quantity- dice, lightly saute and freeze the surplus for soups and stews. Onion can be chopped and frozen raw. Frozen, these both last many months. Tomatoes- the surplus can be sauteed or slow roasted with balsamic vinegar and garlic, then frozen in portions. Lemons and limes freeze very well, either whole or cut in half- can be taken out as needed, thawed and juiced.
5. Grow what’s expensive or potentially wasted if I buy it at the supermarket (eg: things that are sold in bunches and won’t keep).
Example: Parsley, coriander, mint- taste best when picked fresh, and there’s nothing worse than throwing away a slimy bunch of expensive supermarket herbs that was always going to be much more than I needed.
6. Grow things that taste best when freshly picked, or tastier than supermarket varieties.
Tender baby turnips- you can’t buy these in the supermarket.
Example: Tomatoes, of course. Braised baby turnips mashed with butter, garlic and potatoes. New potatoes- freshly dug, steamed in their delicate jackets with butter and fresh herbs. Nothing more to be said!
7. Grow plants that can be self-propagating.
Example: Potatoes, garlic, spring onions. Immediately cut about 1 cm off the base of supermarket spring onions with the roots attached and plant them anywhere you have a spare space. Cut up and plant potatoes that have begun to sprout “eyes” (one eye per piece). Plant garlic cloves that have sprouted in my cupboard. Bonus crops await at the end of summer!
Bonus potato crop from cut up sprouted potatoes, planted rather than composted in a spare space in my garden
8. Grow what suits the microclimate of my veggie patch.
Example: Tried and true in my garden- eggplant, turnips, asparagus, lettuce, sorrel, tomatoes, silver beet.
Mouthwatering silver beet- I feel healthy just looking at it!
9. Share seeds/seedlings with friends to avoid waste.
Example: Cucumbers, zucchinis, brassicas. A single person doesn’t need 6 cucumber plants!
10. Give up on things that just don’t work.
Example: Rockmelon, watermelon, zucchini- I’ve tried and tried, but no more…can’t bear the heartache!
11. Use every spare space in your garden to pop in some veggies- among the flowers is fine!
Example: a lettuce plant doesn’t take up much space, nor do spring onions and garlic (see Tip 7, above). The latter may even deter pests (I expect I’ll get hate mail, but I have to say that I’m yet to be convinced that “companion planting” isn’t just a bix hoax…).
12. Grow things I just love to see in my garden.
Example: Cabbages. My grandfather was a great cabbage grower. I’m not, but I’ll keep trying…
Do you have any tips to share? Please let me know by leaving a comment so that we can all learn from your experience!