This post is part of the Natural Living Series. Guest Juliet shares principles for growing your own food uses a permaculture approach. For more information about Juliet, be sure to check out the bottom of this post and for more posts on Eating Naturally, check out our week of Eating Naturally posts.
Local eating is great – and it doesn’t get more local than growing your own. Even if all you have is a patio, balcony, or windowsill, you can grow a little of your food in containers – and it needn’t be a huge effort.
Permaculture is a sustainable approach to gardening (and life in general, but let’s stick with gardening for now) that can help you find a way to grow even just a little of your own food that is joyous, sustainable in all ways, and adds to your life. Read on for some tips on applying permaculture principles to growing food in a busy family.
Decide what you value the most
Rocket is easy to grow; but if no one in your family likes salad leaves then it’s no use to you. Most people use loads of onions; but onions don’t taste that much better home-grown and they’re available for pennies at the farmers’ market.
Look at what your family eats, think about what would taste better absolutely fresh, and find out what’s easy to grow in your climate.
Tomatoes, peas, and strawberries or raspberries are often good contenders in all categories, and conveniently, they’re all also easy for children to pick and eat raw, which makes them a really lovely part of a family garden. All of them will grow in containers, too (though raspberries do need a really big pot).
(Permaculture principle: Obtain a Yield.)
Learn your space
It pays off big to do a little observing of your space before you put the plants in. Is it sunny? Shady? Is there a damp patch? A really windy bit? Where does your cat like to sit, or your toddler like to play with a bowl of water? Spending even a couple of hours outside looking at what you have can save loads of time and help you arrange a space that you love.
For example: if you get lots of sun, tomatoes or strawberries will do great. If it’s shady, you can try mint, or chard, both of which will tolerate shade. If your toddler has a favourite part of your patio, plant up a couple of containers of mint and dill or fennel to make a mini sensory garden. They smell lovely; dill and fennel have lovely feathery fronds to rub against your face; and you can eat them too! My son Leon loves munching on mint leaves. And if your cat likes to sit just there, don’t even bother putting a container there unless you’re planting catnip.
(Permaculture principle: Observe and Interact.)
Get the kids involved
Your toddler can throw dirt around, or help you put dirt into pots. Your older child can have their very own bed, or can help you make a little map of your space, and decide what to put where. Make gardening time fun family time as well, not another chore for parents. (PC principle: stacking!)
(Permaculture principle: Integrate rather than Segregate.)
You don’t have to go out and buy lots of pots to get started. Anything that can hold earth and have a hole drilled in the bottom to drain water is perfectly good for holding plants. Keep an eye on what the neighbours are throwing out, or try Freecycle or Craigslist. I’ve grown plants in florists’ tubs (particularly good for tomatoes), in big plastic restaurant-sized sauce containers, and even in a pair of old boots!
(Permaculture principle: Produce No Waste.)
On the subject of freebies, about the best freebie going is compost. Turn your kitchen scraps and plant waste into plant food – less stuff goes to landfill, and you get healthy tasty plants. If you have limited space, a wormery can fit onto a small balcony or patio (be careful it’s not too warm for them), or even indoors under the sink as they don’t smell. If you have a bit more room, you can get self-contained composters to go on hard standing outside; and of course if you have some dirt, you can just make an old-fashioned compost heap.
However, you probably will need to get some compost to get started with. Go for peat-free compost (peat is not a renewable resource), and if budget is an issue, start with just a few containers until you’ve had a chance to start making your own free compost.
(Permaculture principle: Use and Value Renewable Resources and Services.)
Juliet Kemp lives in London, UK, with her partners, baby Leon, and dog Sidney. She works from home as a freelance writer, and balances that with parenting, gardening, crafting, and a great many other things that catch her interest. She blogs at Twisting Vines about making things and growing things, and is passionate about sustainability, environmental issues, and respectful parenting.