Learning how to garden has brought so much happiness to my life. Growing my own food is so rewarding - it teaches me how to be patient, how to nurture, how to let go, and how to start again.
I started developing a keen interest in gardening after I began reading The Ringing Cedars book series, recommended to me by my naturopath. Soon after I started reading them I was told the contents of these books would change my life and while I didn't believe it at the time, I totally agree now. I don't think I would be about to launch a plant-based food business if I hadn't read this book series all those years ago.
The easiest way to start growing vegetables is to plant seedlings. It's so much fun planting things from seed but if you're green (pardon the pun) I'd stick with seedlings for your first season. I prefer to buy seedlings from a local nursery where I can, although I'm also a fan of Diggers varieties. I recently planted some cos lettuce in my autumn vegetable bed and have put together a few steps on how to go about doing this yourself.
1. Preparation should start at least two weeks before you actually plant your seedlings. I'm a fan of the 'no dig' garden method, which is all about layering materials on top of the earth rather than digging into it. Whenever I'm preparing to plant new seedlings, I always add fresh compost, cow manure and mulch (I like lucerne hay or sugar cane mulch, both available from Bunnings), and leave this to sit for a couple of weeks.
2. When you're ready to plant, water your seedlings while you loosen the area of soil you're going to plant in. Remove the seedlings from their tray and carefully separate each individual seedling, making sure you leave some of its root structure intact.
3. I then place each seedling directly on top of the area I want to plant it in. This helps me work out spacing across the entire vegetable bed.
4. Clear away the mulch and dig a hole around 15cm deep. Position the seedling into the hole, adding some fresh compost around the base to secure it. I should point out I always take off my gloves at this point and use my hands (or even sometimes my feet) to make the holes in the soil, and I also spit into the hole before the seedling is planted. I got this tip from Anastasia, the woman that The Ringing Cedars book series is based around. She believes it is important for the plant to take in information about the person who plants it, and then, as the fruit or vegetable grows, it will enable its harvest to counteract diseases as well as "increasing his mental abilities and giving him a sense of inner peace."
5. I then loosely add some mulch back around the plant, but not too much so that I avoid suffocating them. Water in your seedlings immediately. I use a watering can because I find it's more gentle than a hose. Check the soil daily over the next couple of weeks, making sure it's moist. You don't need to water everyday if it's been raining so just keep an eye on them and show them that you care. Seriously! That's another tip from Anastasia.
This may sound way too 'new age', but there are countless studies showing the connection between the health of a plant and how much love and attention the owner gives to it. I recently read an interview in the amazing book Indoor Green - Living with Plants, with a plant lover from Japan. His special tip for taking care of plants was this: "Caring for and talking to them. When I give them water or look after them I always think positive thoughts from the bottom of my heart. Our plants normally grow very big. When I am busy and don't have time to talk to them they lose energy straight away."
The same book interviewed a Melbourne-based home gardener Georgina Nagy, who believes "...everyone needs to garden. I feel unwell if I have not been able to garden for a very long time. Even if I am very tired, I need to work with the soil and work with plants. After this I will come in bone tired physically, but my mother always said the same thing - 'You've now got colour in your face.' I just need that connection."
So try it and see for yourself. Love your plants and garden and it will love you right back.