Go Green: A Beginners Guide
In recognition of Green Week at UON, Sarah James shows you how sustainable living is easier than you think.
I have never been a green thumb. I’m the furthest shade from green that you could imagine. I’m a black thumb, because everything I grow has a tendency to meet the same fate: death.
But nevertheless, I was determined to grow my own produce, even if it was just so I’d stop buying so many premade salads. Growing your own fruit and veggies is a long-term investment, but on the whole it is very affordable, plus on most accounts it tastes better too. Here is what I’ve learnt after spending a considerable amount of time researching and getting my hands dirty.
1. Know what is in season.
If you’re keen on growing something for a superfood salad, Autumn is the perfect time to get started. Salad ingredients that are in season include all varieties of lettuce, rocket, spinach and kale.
Root vegetables such as beetroots, carrots and broccoli thrive at this time of year, along with a variety of beans and peas. Even the worst of gardeners (i.e. me) are meant to have minimal troubles growing herbs, with coriander, oregano, parsley and rosemary recommended for beginners.
While most commonly planted in Spring, citrus trees can also be planted in early Autumn as the weather is still warm enough to allow the tree to establish before the onset of cold Winter temperatures.
A way to get a head start on your garden is to buy the seedlings as opposed to the seeds. With the majority of seedlings costing under $5, not only do you have regular fresh food, but for a fraction of the price of going to the supermarket.
My Experience: At the moment I have rocket, cos lettuce, dutch carrots, baby spinach, rosemary and an orange tree! I would definitely recommend trying your hand at rocket and cos lettuce as I’ve found them simple to manage (just water regularly), and mature quickly.
2. You don’t need a large yard.
A lack of space is a common reason people put off growing their own produce. The term ‘veggie patch’ conjures images of a huge amount of land. However you don’t need a much space, or even any soil, to start growing your own fruit and veggies. Many of the plants listed above can easily be grown in containers, the perfect option for those living in apartments or units. Once you have the container, all you need is a high quality potting mix and you’re good to start planting.
In recent years dwarf citrus plants have also been developed by the horticulture industry. Dwarf citrus plants (lemon, lime, oranges) still produce the same size fruit, but the tree only grows to a maximum of two metres high. This makes them ideal to grow in containers, and easy to make room for.
Still not keen on the idea of your own garden? UON has a community garden, tucked away behind Oval 4 near the Wollotuka Institute. This is a great way to reap the benefits of gardening without having to lay down the groundwork. For more information see the UON Community Garden Facebook group.
My experience: All of my plants are in self-watering containers due to having limited space. Self-watering containers are fantastic as it means you don’t have to be constantly watering the plant. Simply fill up the reservoir at the bottom of the container, and the magic of nature does the rest.
3. However what you do need is patience.
Unfortunately if you want to successfully grow your own fruit and vegetables, you will need to be in it for the long haul. Fruits such as strawberries take at least six months before bearing actual fruit, while blueberries are upwards of two years. However if you get started now, come Spring you won’t regret the amount of effort that went into it. For those looking for a quicker alternative though, rocket and kale can be ready to eat within 4-6 weeks of planting the seedling.
My experience: As someone who gets antsy after waiting 15 minutes for a meal when eating out, finding out it will take a minimum of 15 MONTHS for my citrus tree to develop fruit was shattering.
4. Gardening is good for your health
Growing your own fruit and vegetables is a great way to get outside more often and in touch with nature. Depending on how much effort you put into it, gardening is actually considered a form of physical activity. It has been deemed a moderate intensity exercise, equivalent to that of playing doubles tennis or a brisk walk. Also when growing your own produce, it has been proven you are more likely to increase your consumption of fruit and vegetables, resulting in better nutrition.
Nutrition and Exercise Science lecturer at the University of Westminster, Carly Wood, has written articles on how gardening can also be of benefit to our mental health. “Research has shown that gardeners generally have greater life satisfaction, enhanced self-esteem and fewer feelings of depression and fatigue than non-gardeners,” writes Wood on academic website The Conversation.
My experience: I’ve found that by spending just five minutes outside each morning watering my plants is a relaxing way to start my day, and that I’m much less stressed about upcoming assessment tasks. Plus it is so rewarding seeing what you’ve planted begin to grow!
If you’ve decided being fifty shades of green just isn’t for you, for $20 a week NUSA offers boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables. For more information please visit NUSA Fruit & Vegetable Co-op.
Curious about what’s happening across UON as a part of Green Week? Check out http://www.newcastle.edu.au/events/current-students/green-week2 and the Student Central Facebook page.
Feature Image courtesy of the University of Newcastle.