Watching something you planted as a seed become part of a nourishing meal is nothing short of wondrous. It serves that innate sense we have to connect with the world in a cycle of validating reciprocity.
For those who have been meaning to get their thumbs green and hands dirty but have needed a little jumpstart, we’ve asked Adelaide farming guru Nathanael Wiseman to share his tips and tricks for creating a prosperous garden at home.
Alongside Steven Hoepfner and Brett Young, Wiseman established Wagtail Farm – a tiny suburban allotment in the backstreets of Adelaide’s south. The concept was “maximum growth in a small area” with crops planted in tight rows for a high yield.
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At 200 square metres, Wagtail Farm is no bigger than an average backyard. In fact, that’s precisely what it is, leased to the trio by an accommodating neighbour. The micro-farm supplies The Market Shed on Holland, food co-ops and friends.
In 2014 Wiseman broke ground on his own small-scale market garden a little further south. Village Greens of Willunga Creek trades locally and supplies a handful of venues including Coriole, Fino at Seppeltsfield and Chianti.
According to Wiseman, urban farming can begin as simply as maintaining a square-metre garden bed – and anyone can do it. He’s shared with us seven key tips for creating and managing your own kitchen garden.
Wiseman’s fascination with farming developed from tending a few potted herbs while living in a rental during his early twenties. He was charmed by the flavours and freedom of growing his own produce. “It’s amazing what can be grown in one square metre,” he says. “Start with a small space and pack heaps into it.”
Plan your plot
“You need somewhere that gets good sun, all year round,” advises Wiseman. “Sometimes that’s in the middle of your lawn, so you have to be a bit creative about where you set out your plot.”
Compost is key
Most suburban soil in Australia is hard clay or very sandy, but can be revived with a nutrient-rich compost. Check your soil composition to find out what type of compost is required and source it locally. Wagtail Farm sells a custom mix blended for Adelaide gardens, and similar products can be found in most cities.
A good helping of blood and bone (an organic, nitrogen-rich fertiliser that veggies love) is never a bad idea either. Water it well and let it mellow for a couple of weeks.
Once your plot is established, start making your own compost from food waste. “Homemade is always going to be better than bought,” says Wiseman. “It will be fresh and living and have worms in it,” which he says is all the good stuff for stimulating growth.
Plant what you eat
One of Wiseman’s foolproof crops is cherry tomatoes. “They’re super prolific,” he says. “Then plant some basil and you’ve got a pizza!”
Leafy salad greens are also winners. “Often you only need a handful, so pick them fresh rather than buying a big bunch at the supermarket and watching it wither in the fridge.”
Sweetcorn is another favourite. There’s a rule that you should have a pot boiling on the stove before you pick your corn. “When you snap off a cob, the sugars convert into starch almost instantly. You’ve never tasted anything like truly fresh corn.”
Pick a few plants that can be grown on a trellis – like tomatoes, beans or cucumbers – to maximise your space.
Plant often, harvest often
“Be patient,” advises Wiseman. “Sow one quarter of your plot, wait a fortnight, then plant another quarter, and so on. That way you’ll avoid a ‘boom or bust’ harvest cycle.”
Don’t be too hard on yourself
“People blame themselves when something doesn’t grow – but most often it’s not their fault.” Wiseman says it’s important to stay positive and live with the fact that there are a lot of factors in play, most of which are out of our control. And when your plot does yield results? Invite some friends over. Make a salad. Beam with pride.