24 October 2014

Becoming a City Farmer

The huge bottlebrush that not only shades the back verandah but brings beautiful birds and bees to the backyard
It hadn't occurred to me, but it did to my 11 year old niece, that our backyard is like a little farm in the city.

The words "I wish" almost popped out of my mouth when she told me, because to me it's just our backyard. I've seen other backyards and they really are little farms in the city. Ours has a long way to go compared to some, but it feeds us almost all year round and is self-sufficient in it's way with rain barrel water and homemade compost and worm castings along with bokashi and worm teas for fertiliser.

I forget that it's full of vegetable gardens and fruit trees and a real clothesline, a worm bin and a compost heap. That there are seeds germinating in the MOO mini greenhouse. That there are strawberries in guttering along the fence and  herbs in hanging pots on the verandah. That the long side of the house is being converted into a chicken run and there are rain barrels under the downpipes to collect water and a grey water system for watering what's left of the grass using the water from the washing machine. There's a wheelbarrow with a rake and a spade resting against the back wall of the house and bundles of sugar cane mulch waiting to be spread around the garden. There are marigolds and daisies in amongst the vegetables as bug repellent and a bird feeder hanging off the side fence in the hope they'll enjoy the ease of eating there and leave my garden alone (I can only dream).

In our backyard at the moment the last of the winter veggies are waiting to be harvested. There are cauliflowers and cabbages, broccoli and the last of the celery, along with some red onions.
Tiny tomato plant in a supporting frame growing in one of the smaller raised beds

The first round of summer veggies have been planted:
18 tomato bushes (6 x Mortgage Lifter, 12 x Amish Paste)
12 bush beans
6 capsicums
6 eggplants
12 lettuce
4 cucumbers
4 zucchinis
4 Queensland Blue pumpkins
2 sweet potato (this is the first year we've tried to grow sweet potato, can't wait to see how they do in our Melbourne soil and climate)
6 mini cabbage
6 mini cauliflower
Spring onions
6 x sweet basil (enough to use fresh and to make pesto, yum!)
12 beetroot

In a couple of weeks I'll be planting out more lettuce, radishes, cabbages, cauliflowers, beetroot, zucchini and cucumbers.

Staggering the plantings helps us cope with the ripe vegetables and ensures we have fresh, ready-to-pick food in the backyard all summer and autumn and well into winter. This year we were still picking tomatoes in July, although that worries me a little. Our winters aren't meant to be so mild that tomatoes will continue to bloom and fruit half-way through winter; a sign of the changing seasons that just confuses gardeners and plants alike.
Lettuce growing in a raised bed. I've been picking around a dozen leaves a day for our salads and they just keep on growing, love plants that give and then give some more

This year the garden is a little higgeldy-piggeldy with plantings all over the place. I always rotate the beds, never planting the same thing in the bed two years in a row. I also try to leave one bed fallow, or resting, each year. It worked in biblical times and I know many a modern-day farmer who still leaves paddocks fallow as they rotate crops and stock around their properties.

Fallow beds are simply beds (or paddocks on big farms) that have been harvested, ploughed and then left to rest to regain soil fertility. My fallow bed is composted and mulched and then left to enjoy the rest so it can replenish what constant cropping has taken out of it. I have no idea of the science behind it, although I know a certain uncle who would love to tell me about it, but I know I need a rest every now and then so it makes sense that the soil I demand so much of needs a rest too.
Early Marigolds to keep the pests away. They are spread every 2 metres or so throughout the garden. I love them not just for their pest control properties but that gorgeous, vibrant summer orange.

There's still a lot to be done. The compost needs to be turned and the compost that's ready can be dug into the garden. The worm farm needs to be emptied too, it's over-full and I've been finding some escapees as I've been feeding them this week. It also needs to be moved to its summer spot under the verandah so it doesn't get too hot.

Then of course there is the usual weeding, watering, feeding, mowing, pruning and mulching that gets done all the time.

I suppose my garden is a bit like a (very) little farm in the city - there's always something waiting to be done and something waiting to be picked.

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  1. To leave suburbia behind and head to the hills would be my dream but back to reality my backyard sounds like your except I mainly rely on luck not good gardening knowledge} Yes I need to get the old cabbage plants out and whack some spring veggjes in or the season will be over with nothing planted.

  2. Yes, it's our goal to retire to the country - or at least the very edge of suburbia, but preferably the country, way out in the boondocks. We've finally decided that this isn't our "forever" home. House is too big, too old and will cost too much to renovate to make it sustainable and EF, and we have the absolute bare minimum of yard at the back and front, we're right on the boundary on both sides. We'd like less house, more land so we can become as self-sufficient as possible. And I rely a lot on luck and the blessings of nature with my garden too, I'm still learning as I plant and pick ;)


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