Winter is here, and this winter is especially difficult with rising costs everywhere we look. Those costs include fresh vegetables, which are an essential part of any balanced diet, both for ourselves and our little ones. What can we do to help? If we have room, a vegetable garden might be the way to go – and even if you don’t have a large backyard to use as a garden, there are still options available! Growing vegetables at home is not only a potentially cheaper option – it can also be an amazing bonding opportunity with your kids, as well as teaching them where their food comes from. It sometimes even means they might be more willing to eat the vegetables they helped to grow themselves! Of course, gardening isn’t a quick-fix solution. Anything you plan now will take time to prepare and then grow, but it’s always a good time to get started – yes, even in winter.
The first thing to remember when gardening, whether you’re planning to grow in your backyard or start some container planting, is that your garden will only be as good as the soil it’s grown in. Gardens are a fairly complex ecosystem all of their own, and that starts with the base – in much the same way your house can’t stay standing without good foundations, a garden can’t thrive without a good foundation beneath it. Worms, those heroes of the garden, are important, but if you’re planning to container plant (or even if you think your garden space could use the boost!), worm castings can be bought instead. What are worm castings? They are, essentially, worm poo – they are the processed nutrients from organic matter that have passed through the worm’s body. Worm castings are a natural fertiliser that won’t burn your plants and contain high levels of humus, the substance that gives soil its dark, rich colour (not to be confused with hummus!). Humus is rich in nutrients and retains the moisture in your soil.
If compost is more your speed, you can start your own compost bin. You can pick up a bin from your local garden centre or DIY store, or if you’re feeling really motivated, you can build your own! It’s important that your bin is put somewhere out of the way, with plenty of sun, but still easy for you to reach to add your ingredients and give it a good mix from time to time. Leave the bottom of the bin open so the compost builds up on the existing soil – this will help your garden’s natural microbes and nutrients to mix through. Compost is more than just your kitchen scraps – a general rule (especially at the beginning) is a ratio of 40% food waste (vegetable scraps etc.) to 60% brown waste (leaves, sticks, general garden waste). Don’t add meat or dairy products as these attract pests, though eggshells are a welcome addition to a compost mix. Layer the two types of waste – one layer of garden waste to each layer of kitchen waste. You can mix a little store-bought compost into each layer to give the whole thing a bit of a kick start. Make sure you mix the layers together every few additions, then put a lid on top once you’re done – the lid will help the mix decompose more quickly. Continue to mix the compost regularly. Once it is dark brown and has that rich, earthy scent (usually around 6-8 weeks, though this can vary, especially depending on temperature), you have compost! Continue to add to it to feed it. Composting is a fantastic way to cut down on how often you have to put your rubbish out, and once it gets going, it’s a free way to feed your garden. If you want to use compost but don’t have the space to make your own, plant centres and DIY stores carry bags of it for only a small cost – it’s possible to get a 40L bag for under $10. When using compost, it should be dug into the soil. It’s not recommended to plant directly into compost, as it can potentially burn the roots of your plants.
So you’ve got your compost or worm castings ready to go – but where do you put them? Generally speaking, vegetable gardens like to have sun, so a patch of garden that gets a good amount of sun is your best bet. Raised beds are something to think about – they certainly have their pros and cons, however. They will need to be filled with soil, which you might end up having to buy if you don’t have enough in your yard. They also have the disadvantage that come summer, the soil can dry out. If mobility issues are a factor, or your soil is high in clay, then raised beds will be a good choice. They are also useful for winter vegetable gardens as they can help the (often much damper) soil drain more easily. Raised bed or not, you might want to separate your garden from the rest of the lawn. Building a border can be quick and easy – use low timber or concrete blocks. This will help delineate your growing area from the rest of the yard and will help keep all that lovely soil you’re going to build up nicely contained. Make sure wherever you’re planning to plant, you leave yourself a good, wide working area – you might need to get a wheelbarrow in there, so take that into account. Being close to a water supply is handy, too – unless, of course, you don’t mind lugging your watering can backwards and forwards!
Once you’ve marked out where you want to plant (and built your border, if that’s what you prefer), it’s time to dig that lovely compost through the soil! Once you’ve got your garden going, it’s easy to ‘trench’ – that is, dig your kitchen and garden waste directly into the soil between crops to compost directly into the earth. Which form of composting you go with once things are established is entirely up to you! Worm castings, if you’re using them, can be dug in, or they can be spread on top – even if you already have things planted.
If space is an issue, or you just don’t want to build a vegetable patch, then container planting is for you! You can buy small planters or, if you have access to them, use old baths, troughs or wine barrels – the only limit is what you can plant in smaller spaces. Herbs and salad greens are perfect options if you’re restricted to what you can fit on a small deck or patio, or alongside the driveway or path.
Finally, did you know that your old Haakaa products can make ideal propagation tools? If you find you have cuttings that need to be grown, a Haakaa Breast Pump you no longer use can be absolutely perfect for growing roots! What is propagation? For this purpose, what it means is taking a cutting and encouraging it to grow roots so you can replant it as a whole new plant! You start by snipping a stem below its root node. The root nodes are the little bumps you'll find down the stem of a branch, and you'll need to try and grab a couple of them. For our propagation example today, we're going to be using an old Gen. 2 Breast Pump. Snip the cutting with a clean, sharp knife or scissors roughly 5-6mm below a node. Pop the cutting inside your old breast pump, and fill it with enough room temperature water to cover the nodes. Change the water every 3-5 days with fresh water – again, this should be room temperature. Watch as the new roots sprout! How long this will take will depend on the plant you are propagating – it could take as little as a few weeks, or it could take a few months. Your brand new plant will be ready to plant in the soil once the roots are around 7-12cm long. It's that simple! If you want a very quick video demonstration of how it works, check out our handy Instagram video where we propagate some lucky bamboo!
Next week we’ll look in more detail about what you can plant once your garden bed is prepared. No matter what time of the year it is, there are vegetables able to be sown, giving you the chance to eat fresh, natural, organic food straight from your own backyard.