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.

Treasure from the storm

The concept of “no waste” is one of the permaculture principles that makes the most sense to us, because it’s how we’ve always tended to live on the farm.

It seems obvious to us (and probably to you, too), so it’s absolutely staggering that according to the “Foodwise” website, the average household rubbish bin still contains 60% organic material—40% food and 20% garden waste!

The idea of garden ‘waste’ seems decidedly odd to us, even when we get a bit more organic matter to deal with than we’re expecting.  Storms seem to be becoming more frequent, and more violent.  Last year  we had two huge storms in as many weeks – so violent they were like mini-tornadoes.

The second storm in particular brought lots of almost-ripe plums down in the orchard, and also caused a bit of hail damage in some of the fruit—again, mainly the plums. Poor plums, and poor customers, who (again) graciously tolerated a bit of hail-damaged fruit at markets. We reckon we’ve done a great job educating our customers over the years what “real” fruit looks like!

We also lost plenty of tree branches, both in the orchard and the paddocks, including this rather large branch that came down from the gum tree outside the farm shop, but luckily missed anything crucial (like the shed, or Ant’s caravan), causing only relatively minor damage to one of our beautiful tank garden beds.

Half an hour with the chainsaw and Hugh had turned it into a rather attractive garden chair that has seen the addition of a cushion and many passing bottoms ever since. Every storm has a silver lining!

Often people either don’t realise the damage they cause to the environment by putting organic matter in the garbage, or don’t know what else to do, so we’ve captured a lot of the ways that the permaculture principles can easily be put into place in a typical garden in our online short course Permaculture in Action.

Fallen branches become firewood and furniture, fallen fruit and garden waste become compost, and so the cycle goes around.

When should you pick your fruit?

Fruit tastes better when allowed to ripen on the tree – don’t you agree? It can be tricky to get the timing of your picking quite right though, because it’s also a good idea not to let it get too ripe.

It’s apricot season at the moment, and they’re a good case in point, because if they’re a bit ripe when you pick them, it’s really easy to damage them.

Ideally when you pick your apricots they’ll come away with the stem, like this…

Or no stem, but a neat little scar where the fruit has pulled off the stem, like this…

One of the risks of letting fruit get too ripe is that you’ll get a picking injury at the stem end, as you can see in the following photo. The fruit has pulled away from the stem when it’s been picked, and made a little tear in the fruit.

Unfortunately this may make the fruit continue to ripen too quickly off the tree as it is likely to soften quickly at the scar site, and it can quickly go mushy.

The injury can also make the fruit vulnerable to brown rot, particularly if you’re growing organically (and we hope you are!).  Brown rot is much more likely to start if the fruit is injured, particularly if you’ve had a rainy season before the fruit was picked (because there’s likely to be more brown rot spores on the fruit).

If your fruit is a bit overripe when you pick, use it as quickly as possible, or get it into the fridge to keep it in good condition. But mainly, try to avoid picking injuries when you harvest!

It can be complicated getting the details right, so we’ve developed Fruit to be Proud Of to help home growers know how to choose the perfect time to pick fruit, learn great technique and proper storage practices to make the most of their precious fruit.