Why do you dream of growing your own?

Ah, the lifestyle dream. Everyone, it seems, wants to move to the country and grow their own food these days.
But why? What’s at the bottom of this passion that drives people to want to make the “tree change”?
For years I’ve been interested in the reasons for this, but have struggled to articulate them. It’s something I’ve also felt for most of my life, so I totally get it, but how do you describe that deep, yearning desire to grow your own food, let alone the incredible satisfaction and pride you feel when it works, and you harvest, cook and eat it?
We often comment when we sit down to a meal about how much of the meal we grew ourselves, or came from neighbours, friends or family.
We’re in the incredibly fortunate position of having lived on a farm for 20 years now (and growing up here as well), so we’ve had plenty of time to get the systems in place and the skills to grow a large part of what we eat.
We mainly eat meat from our farm or other farms in the district and have practised home butchery for years; we grow about 50% of our veggies (including the ones we preserve in summer to eat in winter), or get them from the Gung Hoes, and of course we have all the fruit we could possibly want for eating, preserving and cooking.
Occasionally a meal will also include our own nuts (we grow almonds), honey from a neighbour or eggs from a family member (we don’t currently have chickens but are planning to remedy that soon!).
This little ritual is not only a way of expressing gratitude and appreciation for the earth, but also interesting for making you think about the foods you don’t grow yourself, and whether (a) you could, or (b) they’re replaceable with something else you could grow.
To try to get to the bottom of this collective passion for food growing, we recently asked a bunch of people what they thought of the idea of being self-sufficient, growing organic food, and producing a surplus to sell. Here’s what they said:
  • It’s the best dream I’ve ever had
  • In my dreams
  • Amazing…yes!
  • To be self-sufficient, to take care of nature and to supply for my community with the surplus, that is what permaculture is about – it all appeals to me!
  • I love the idea of this! Good for the whole world! Good for people, the Earth and our fellow Tellurians, fantastic!
  • Love this!!!
  • My total dream: to be able to be as self-sufficient as possible with food, plus to be environmentally friendly
  • Totally love the idea of being self-sufficient, not having to rely on supermarkets. To know where my food comes from and how it was grown as well as being able to get children involved so they understand the importance of fresh healthy food.
  • Food is all important, to nourish and repair
  • Being sustainable, knowing where and how my food is grown, feeling proud of my produce
  • To be able to go out the back door to the garden and pick food that is free from chemicals that tastes amazing that would be just perfect.
  • Sure is my dream! A few reasons: sustainability and environment, a changing climate and food security, and because I love growing things!
Enjoying the abundance of the Gung Hoe market garden outside our back door
The urge to grow your own seems innate—and of course, that absolutely makes sense. The drive to feed yourself and your family is primal—it’s key to staying alive and making sure your genes are passed on to the next generation.
But these comments show that it’s so much more as well. We’re not just driven by primal desires (as important as they are), people are also drawn to growing their own food for ideals of health, teaching children, eating food with no chemicals, looking after the environment and, well, just living simply.
Bring it on, we say.

Renewing the nursery with green manure

It might seem a bit late to be putting in a spring green manure, but better late than never, right?

Sas figured out what seed we would need and how much, and I ordered it, and we were hoping it would arrive before all the lovely rain, but alas I was a bit late getting the order in, and we missed the boat.

The rain came and went, and the weather  seems to have settled into being consistently hot and dry now, but our soil desperately needs some love and attention, so we decided to go ahead and plant it anyway and rely on irrigation rather than rainfall to make sure it grows.

Here’s what’s in the green manure mix:

  • buckwheat
  • mung bean
  • French white millet
  • kidney bean

To make the seed easier to spread, Sas put it all in a bucket that was half full of clean sand…

and gave it a really good mix…

before spreading it. The area had previously been dug up with the rotary hoe and raked, and then Sas used the back of the rake to make a series of ridges down the rows to catch the seed as she distributed it. This method makes it a bit easier to lightly rake the soil back over the seed.

So, why a green manure? The nursery has three separate patches on the farm, and because of the nature of how a nursery works, each patch can stay in production for up to three years. But also, each year we need somewhere to plant seed and cuttings to grow new rootstocks.

To stop the soil becoming more and more depleted, we need to put some organic matter back into it, because the only input we routinely use is a bit of compost.

Unlike the orchard where ground cover is encouraged, the nursery is kept free of weeds to reduce competition for the baby trees, so it’s really important to keep the soil fertile by adding extra organic matter.

A green manure is the perfect way to do it—even if mid-summer is not the perfect time! Our seed mix included mung beans to add nitrogen to the soil and build organic matter, buckwheat for fast growing bulk and phosphorus accumulation,  French millet because it’s a fast-growing grass that combines well with legumes, and kidney bean because it’s another nitrogen fixing legume.

Luckily we have the benefit of an irrigation system already in place, so we’ll use a bit of water to get the seeds up and established, before we turn them back into the soil to work their magic in autumn, ready for planting next winter.

How much water is enough?

In our part of the world (central Victoria, Australia) we experience hot, dry summers, and they seem to be getting worse.  When we first came home on the farm in the late 1990s we’d have the odd day here or there over 40°C, but in recent years it’s not uncommon to have stretches of a week or more at a time with extremely high temps.

Hot conditions always beg the question…how much water is enough for fruit trees?

The rough rule of thumb we use is that a mature fruit tree, with a full crop, in the height of summer, will need about 200 litres of water per week, and if you’re installing an irrigation system we recommend that it has enough capacity to provide that much water to each tree in your garden.

However, the true answer actually depends on lots of different factors, like how old the tree is, how much fruit it has on it (if any), the soil type, what ground cover you have, and the weather, particularly the temperature and the amount of wind.

You’ll also be able to give your trees less water if you install an irrigation system, because it’s much more efficient to slowly deliver a small amount of water through drippers (for example), than you can manage with a hose or bucket.

It's important to test all the drippers at the start of the season
It’s important to test all the drippers at the start of the season

Watering your trees with either hose or bucket will inevitably lead to some water wastage through run-off, and it can also be hard to make sure the water gets down to the root zone where it’s really needed. It’s also time consuming, and can be physically hard for some people—can you tell we’re big fans of irrigation systems?

Here’s the steps to making irrigation simple and effective:

  1. Figure out how much water each of your trees will need at peak production, in hot conditions.
  2. Work out what and where your best water source is.
  3. Design and install a hose or pipe system to get the water the trees as efficiently as possible.
  4. Decide on which type of drippers and/or sprinklers you’ll use, and install them.
  5. And lastly (but importantly), add a timer or programmer to your irrigation system so it will turn itself off (and even on) automatically!

Happy watering!

(Details for how to set up a drip irrigation system are included in the Be a Wise Water Warrior short course.)