We’re in an unprecedented time; one that’s causing a lot of anxiety and panic for many people. I’m not going to tell you that everything’s great and we’ll all be fine, but I do want to open up the conversation about finding silver linings during hard times.
I’m discovering that these days, after talking to friends, we unanimously agreed that even though times are hard and restrictive, some of the positives that have come out of the corona virus lockdown is that we do have more time to spend with family.
We've also noticed an increased enjoyment for at-home yoga practices and exercise, and we've had time to slow down a little with more time to appreciate nature and the natural world.
Having time to communicate, reflect, rest and connect back to our roots is definitely a silver lining; one that has been calling us for a while now.
So, what do I mean by connecting to your roots? Well old fashioned gardening, of course! What better time than right now to unleash your green thumb and become more self-sufficient by growing your own produce. It’s an activity you can do alone or by getting the kids involved too, cause let's face it they love to get their hands dirty.
A few years ago, I made the decision to swap out regular big grocery shops for more bounty from my kitchen garden and to try and support more local small grocers for items that I can’t grow myself. While this can sound extremely intimidating to some, with extra time on your hands, gardening is a useful and fun skill to learn and one that can save you money in the long run. And you don't need a traditional garden space to start gardening, but more on that later.
Gardening is hard work but it's also therapeutic, it gives you a greater appreciation for your food, and it has the bonus benefit of getting you out into some sunlight for some immunity charging Vitamin D.
I'd love to share some of my favourite things to grow, the ones that may not be worth your time, some ideas for herbs and vegetables that are perfect for small spaces and also what I’m growing in real time and why. You can also read more on setting up a kitchen garden here.
I’m in Sydney, which means we enjoy long summers and hot weather, and so do my home-grown veggies and fruits. When you start growing your own it's best to take your climate and soil into consideration, and see what best suits your climate and the area that you're using for your kitchen garden. When does it get sunlight, what times of the day etc.
Depending upon your space and climate, first things first it's good to prepare your soil, as a good garden starts with good soil. I compost at home so I'm constantly amending the soil to gradually build up a productive soil. If you don't have compost you can use shredded leaves. Or you might be keen to try the no gardening approach, where you throw your kitchen scraps, leaves and clippings straight onto the garden to bring more nutrients and diversity to the soil.
I've created two garden beds and a herb wall to separate what I'm growing. I use the herb wall to germinate seeds and then replant them into the raised beds. If you don't have space, portable mini greenhouses and grow bags are good to experiment with too. I also had a tree which was dying and I needed to let more light in so used The Local Tree Experts.
This is the herb wall I transported from my old house and now use to grow herbs from seed.
Since I started growing Lettuce, I hardly buy any from the grocer in summer. Lettuce leaves are summer babies, but they can’t stay in the heat all day as they are partial to a bit of shade too. I plant them in partial shade in the summer and move them around in other months of the year so that they have full sun exposure. Soft and tender lettuces proliferate and need a ready supply of seedlings to keep up salad demands (especially for a family like mine!). You can grow lots of lettuce in a small space, even in a container so its a good one to start with.
Silverbeet, kale, bok choy and rainbow chard are other great greens to grow and are mostly pickable throughout the year. They take about 8-10 weeks to grow, which is a quick reward. You can keep harvesting greens as you need them, as long as you show them enough love and water. You can plant about six plants in a small space.
My favourite way to use greens is in my Super Seeded Spring Salad!
If you’re up for a challenge, try growing carrots. They’re not the easiest to grow in Australia, but you can get a serious bang for your buck. I plant around 2-3 each year and get about six months of carrots. For best results, seed the carrots according to specific instructions. I also tie them with a cable tie to stop the leaves bending over.
Another colourful and vibrant vegetable to grow is beetroot. Place it in about 30 in 1m2, water them well and end up with home-grown beetroots that are a thousand times better than store-bought ones. To get better cropping, plant beetroots individually and pull them apart as they grow.
Spring onion is a flavour provider that is a great companion to many crops. They start slow, but when you plant them monthly, there’s still something to harvest. You can plant at least 50 spring onions in a 1m2 space, and they love the sun for eight months of the year. Over summer, plant them in partial shade.
Leeks may be slow growers, but they’re in the garden for about eight months of the year. They require a reasonable amount of soil and enough moisture to keep them growing. You’ll get around 50 leeks each plant, and you can plant about 20-30 per metre2.
Tomatoes take about 20-30 days to reach maturity from the time they first appear and begin producing fruits at about day 40-50. They’re compact plants, which means they grow a lot of fruit for their space. They’re like the kid who always stood at the back of the photos because they had a growth spurt younger than all the other kids. A recently picked juicy and ripe tomato provides a flavour explosion like no other.
Eggplants and Capsicums are relatively easy to grow in a place with long and warm summers. They crop heavily and are compact plants. Eggplants grow in a tall and angular fashion and take about 100-120 days to reach maturity. Capsicums take about three months to mature. Try adding them to this delicious Bohemian Baked Vegetable Bowl.
Too hard basket
While I love root veggies, I tend to leave the parsnips for my local grocer. They take up a lot of space and take a more extended time to grow. Similarly, regular onions take up a substantial amount of space and time.
Unfortunately, cabbage is another no-no as, taking up a lot of valuable space in the garden without any reward for months.
If you’re reading this and thinking, Lee, all of this is too hard because I don’t have a backyard, it’s time to get creative. You can use a balcony or smaller outside area and have just a few pots. The best plants for a balcony are herbs.
While some spread their herbs around their garden, I prefer to have a dedicated herb wall. My favourite herbs to grow are turmeric, garlic, fennel, dill, basil, oregano, chilli, and rosemary. For only a small amount of space, you can get a diverse range of herbs and spices!
What am I growing?
I’m currently paying special attention to a few specific veggies and herbs.
Celery has always been one of my favourite veggies to grow, even before celery juice became trendy! Celery requires lots of water and rich soil, otherwise it’ll dry out and become bitter and tough (I wouldn’t want to mess with that!). It takes about 3-4 months for the anti-inflammatory stalks to rise. If you’re totally over celery juice, sip on celery in my Lockdown Gut Immunity Smoothie.
Rocket is easily one of my favourite greens, maybe because it’s one of the fastest-growing ones! Rocket works best in spring and autumn and takes only 6-7 weeks to be ready for harvesting. Rocket is bitter, making it beneficial for our liver health. Rocket’s the perfect topper to my Supercharged Fish Tortillas.
I don’t mean to be biased, but my basil is the greatest basil I’ve ever seen – for real! Basil grows well in warm environments and take only 8-14 days to germinate and emerge from the soil. After germination, it takes about 4-6 weeks for leaves to emerge. I love adding basil to pasta, or making it the star of the show in my Red Capsicum and Hazelnut Pesto or this winning Basil Pesto with a twist.
Mint is a digestive aid, loved by all. It grows year-round in warmer climates and takes about 90 days to grow. I used to overwater my mint, which was a big mint-stake! If you’re planting mint in the ground, water it every 7-10 days. If it’s staying in a pot, it requires water every 3-5 days. Get out of the toothpaste tube and into your creative thinking. I love the way mint adds freshness to my Pan-fried Pineapple with Mint and Coconut Yoghurt.
Broccoli is a cool season crop that needs to be grown in full sun. Broccoli’s are heavy feeders, so be sure to feed them accordingly! I love broccoli because it’s great for our livers, and it offers a great source of vitamin K and vitamin C. it takes around 100-150 days for broccoli to grow. If you’re looking for a way to jazz up your broccoli, try my Oven-Baked Broccoli Steaks.
To add some flavour and antioxidants to my diet, I love growing turmeric, ginger and garlic. While these flavour providers take some time, they’re worth the wait. Turmeric takes around 7-10 months to grow and can be used in a myriad of dishes. Garlic takes around 9 months to grow and is a big fan of the sun! Growing ginger usually takes 8-10 months to grow and can be planted in a pot. You can choose to harvest the roots after several months.
I strive for self-sufficiency in my garden, and I’d love to see you do the same! Remember, just like the people in your life; plants require lots of love, attention and water. Act accordingly.
So what to do with your home grown produce? For the Rolls-Royce of nutrient-dense salads, look no further than my Gardener’s Bounty Salad. Overflowing with garden goodness, this salad is better than any multivitamin pill. This is your secret weapon against ill health, fatigue and lacklustre skin.
Let me know what you are growing in the comments section below.
The Gardener’s Bounty Salad
- 1 cup english spinach leaves
- 1 cup chopped kale, stem removed
- 1 cup rocket (arugula)
- 1 cup sugar snap peas
- 1 red capsicum (pepper), seeds and membrane removed, sliced
- 3 baby (pattypan) squash, quartered
- 1 small zucchini (courgette), thinly sliced
- 150 g (51/2 oz/1 cup) cherry tomatoes
- 1 cucumber, cubed
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/1/4 cup) apple cider vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, sliced
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1 Tsp Love Your Gut powder (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
- 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
Assemble all the salad ingredients in a bowl.
Place all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and use a handheld blender to blend until smooth.
Pour the dressing over the salad and enjoy.