If you have been following my blog, or my Facebook page for a little while, you may have noticed that I often pop up a few photos of my vegetable patch, or some home-grown goodies.
As a naturopath, I am passionate about seeing people make positive changes in their life to improve their energy levels, reduce stress, and achieve optimal health and wellbeing. I firmly believe that one of the best things we can do to help ourselves feel better is to take more control over where our food is coming from, and become more involved in what happens before our food reaches our plate, and to pass this knowledge and awareness on to our children.
Here is how my love of growing food began…
I had always wanted to know how to grow my own vegetables and herbs, starting from when my twin boys were toddlers. There is something about having your own kids that makes you start thinking about how you can make sure they are as healthy and happy as possible. At the time, we were living in Brisbane on a typical suburban block, I was busy from sunup to sundown (and beyond) with the boys, and I was also only at the very beginning of my naturopathic studies, so at the time I didn’t fully understand the importance of eating organically where possible.
A few years later we decided to move our family to Toowoomba, so that we could experience fresher air, more space, and a more relaxed lifestyle. We decided we would rent a house before buying, just in case we decided we wanted to move back to Brisbane. The universe must have been on our side that day, because we ended up signing for a house sight unseen; one that turned out to be on 5 acres with the most amazing country views. This gave me the opportunity, and a bit of space, to finally start a small vegetable patch. Money was a bit tight at the time, so I decided I would spend a bit of time learning all I could about how to successfully grow vegetables, herbs and raise seedlings. The City Library and 2nd-hand bookstores were my resource, and I read up on the topic as much as I could. One of the things I still love about food production gardening is that very little changes – you can buy a 2nd-hand book or magazine and the information will still be relevant (incidentally, this is one of my favourite things about herbal medicine as well!). And once Spring came around, I decided to put what I had learnt into practice.
We cordoned off a section of the garden, and as luck (again!) would have it, the previous tenants had added plenty of horse manure to that section of the yard before we moved in. I started off with a few easy-to-grow plants such as tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers and zucchinis, and decided to view the whole process as an adventure – if things didn’t work out, well, it wouldn’t have broken the bank, and if we did manage to grow a few things, then that would be a bonus. Well, I needn’t have worried, because that lovely Toowoomba soil and horse manure worked a treat, and we ended up with a glut of home-grown produce – I really couldn’t believe how much food we managed to get out of a few plants, and how easy and satisfying the whole experience was.
Now, we are living in town, so our garden is slightly different, and after much hassling, I persuaded my husband to build me 4 sturdy raised garden beds, and this is what I use now. Most summers I try to grow beans, zucchini, tomatoes, and I have converted 1 of the beds to serve as a dedicated herb garden. During winter I grow garlic, snow peas, broccoli, and throughout the year leafy greens, radishes, coriander and spring onions can always be found in the garden. I don’t always have a great crop – this year my broccoli was a disaster due to the dry weather, but our chooks appreciated being fed the somewhat stunted plants, so there was still an upside. And hey, I’m still having fun doing it!
Thinking about starting your own food-producing garden? Here’s a few reasons why that is a brilliant idea:
- It’s good for us! Starting a vegie patch means that you are getting out in the fresh air and sunshine, and getting back in tune with nature. In our fast-paced 21stCentury lives, this is one of the reasons why most of us are suffering with high stress levels, burnout, and all the things that come with a lack of R&R. Gardening is unique in that it is both relaxing and energising at the same time.
- To teach our kids how to grow food. This is one area that I am passionate about – we need to ensure that our children understand the value of knowing exactly where their food comes from, and how the quality of their food plays a part in how they feel. Kids usually love gardening, and will often be far more interested in eating food that they have had a hand in producing themselves. They also love harvesting and showing off their crop. It is great to see so many schools implementing ‘kitchen garden’ schemes and small growing plots, but you can also do your own version at home.
- To reduce our chemical load. Like it or not, chemical contamination of our food, air, water and soil is real and extremely concerning. Some 2000-3000 new-to-nature chemicals are released into the environment each year, and I never cease to be amazed that someone at some stage decided that spraying our food with chemicals was going to be a good idea. Current research has revealed that babies’ umbilical cord blood contains disturbing levels of environmental chemicals, as does human breastmilk. We can’t live in a bubble and escape all pollutants, but at least growing some of our own organic produce can help reduce our overall toxic burden.
- Ensure good nutrition for optimal health. In my clinic, I see many people who are showing signs of nutrient deficiencies, many of which could be avoided by improving the quality of foods that are being eaten. Studies have shown that most people don’t obtain enough of the minerals magnesium, zinc, iron and iodine, and when you are under stress, drinking alcohol, or taking medications, your demand for certain nutrients increases. Growing fresh vegies in nutrient-rich soil and eating them without having had them travel potentially hundreds of ‘food miles’ or spend time in storage where they lose their nutrients, means that you are going to be getting the most out of your food.
If there is one thing I would like people to take away from this article, it is that even just growing a few easy crops is still worthwhile. You don’t have to have huge garden beds, spend lots of money, or invest lots of time in growing your own food – if you don’t have space or a lot of spare time, try just growing a few herbs and leafy greens in a pot in a sunny position. It is very easy to do and I promise you, it will be completely worthwhile.