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.

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.