As the year and the Yates Veggie Growing Challenge draws to a close, I thought this might be a good time to write a little report of my achievements and set backs around the garden for 2018, as well as setting some goals for next year.
Since reading about Lynda Hallinan’s self-sufficiency exercise in the NZ Gardener magazine some years ago, I became enchanted by the concept of urban homesteading - the process from plot to pot to plate on a suburban-sized section. Why go to all this effort, you may ask? After all, New Zealand is a first world country, where food is readily accessible. Countdown and Pak n Save are 10 minutes by foot from our house, not to mention more green grocers than I could possibly count. If ever there was a need for self-sufficiency, it would be at our bach at Tauranga Bay in the far north, where the nearest decent supermarket is a 40 minute drive away in Kerikeri. The reasons for my fascination with homesteading are simple. I enjoy gardening, which became very therapeutic in light of some health issues which surfaced in my early 30s. After I started veggie gardening, we started to eat more veggies. This helps both of us to control Type 2 diabetes without medication. What is important to me is that I know how the veggies I eat were grown and what has gone into them. I’m conscious that growing our own food has reduced our carbon footprint and is my small contribution towards protecting the environment. I also think we take the supply of food for granted. There have been issues in recent years which resulted in the unavailability of some items in supermarkets – a shortage of potatoes a few years ago and shipping problems with bananas more recently, as well as diseases such as listeria in bagged lettuce and the finding of needles in punnets of strawberries imported from Australia. Growing your own veggies ensures a safer food supply.
We have had the garden for five years now. In that time, I have learnt the basics of seed sowing, raising seedlings and caring for plants as our garden kept expanding in size. It was only in 2018 that my vision of self-sufficiency crystallised. Just to be clear, the goal was never complete self-sufficiency, which would be difficult to achieve on a plot our size and with limited manpower (just me working in the garden, now that we no longer host wwoofers). But just because you are unable to attain 100%, it shouldn’t deter you from striving for 90% and being satisfied with that, especially if that’s the best you can do in the circumstances. Despite having a relapse in February and being sick for two months, we still managed to have a highly productive winter garden. I was unwell at the critical time for sowing and raising seedlings, but the plants I purchased and planted in April after cleaning up the summer garden did very well indeed, supplying us with most of our veggie needs in the cooler months. We only needed to purchase potatoes in winter. Now that I have discovered that it is possible to grow potatoes during winter and will experiment whether it is also possible to grow them in autumn, we may be able to rely on our own crop for most of the year which is an exciting development for us. In previous years, I noticed that there was always a gap in early spring, when the winter veggies had all been harvested but the spring and summer veggies were not yet ready for picking. I tried to rectify this problem by planting a second round of cabbages and broccoli in June and July. They matured in September and October, supplying us with veggies at a time when the garden had previously been quite sparse. Early in the year, I dreamt of having a mini strawberry farm on our front lawn, so we didn’t need to drive to the one near the airport. I needed a large quantity of plants for my project, so I sourced 120 bare-rooted runners from a commercial grower in Katikati. Since September, we have been harvesting the juiciest, sweetest strawberries ever grown in our garden. For the first time, we have had a place to raise seedlings in spring, after our old spa pool room was converted into a greenhouse by my uncle. I’m pleased that even though the garden is crammed with plants (some of which are probably too close together), there is a better layout this year. I had a plan for where I was going to put different veggies which I stuck to, rather than planting in a hotchpotch fashion as in previous years. I also decided to enter the Yates Veggie Growing Challenge for the first time, having previously put it into the “too hard basket”. Spring is an incredibly busy time for gardeners. Blogging regularly and maintaining the garden by myself has been hard work, but the rewards have been real. As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a strong sense of community here. I have learnt so much from other participants and Sarah. Being able to see the challenge through to the end has been an achievement in itself. I was lucky that I didn’t have a relapse, which would have meant having to drop out part way through. What has surprised me is how despite being so busy with the garden this year, I finally managed to shift some of the excess weight I have been carrying. Over the past 5 months, I have lost nearly 24 kilos and am participating in the YMCA 10k Summer Series every week. Greater productivity from the garden and an increased consumption of veggies, not to mention all the activity in the garden, has no doubt played a major part in this.
I will continue this post tomorrow. Today’s photo is of our café au Lait dahlia, which is now flowering. The lovely team at Bulbs Direct kindly gave me this tuber and I will be following up on its progress throughout the summer on my blog and social media.