Grow food.

From the zine How to have an amazingly adventurous life for zero dollars a day.

Growing your food gives you a sense of harmony with nature.  You become a part of the life cycle, planting seeds, nurturing plants, eating your own produce and saving seeds so the process can continue.  Your work yields tangible results, and you can be creative and learn as you go.  Your food is right there by the back door, there’s no need to go out for food.  You have access to a wide range of foods that aren’t available in shops.  There’s no infrastructure required.  Anyone can do it.

You don’t need to buy anything to grow food.  Everything you need is produced freely by nature, just look around.

Seeds.

collect from plants growing in friends and neighbours’ gardens, or around the neighbourhood.  Plants that grow well nearby are adapted to local conditions, so their seed will do better than from plants far away.  Plants give seeds away for free, and they really like it when you take some to plant somewhere else.  Local Seedsavers groups share seeds from each others’ gardens, and organise seed swap events.  If you come across a particularly tasty piece of fruit, grab a seed out and stick it in the ground somewhere.  Quite often it will germinate and you’ll have lovely shady tree and fruit for many years to come.  The Seed Savers’ Handbook by Michel and Jude Fanton has everything you need to know about harvesting, treating, storing and germinating seed from a large range of food plants.

Plants.

Lots of plants grow from cuttings.  Just cut of a small branch, remove all the leaves apart from 3-5 at the top, and stick it in a cup of water for a few weeks until it produces a few roots, then stick it in the ground.

Other sources of plants: many fruit trees produce suckers from their roots, which can be dug up and replanted elsewhere.  Seedlings sprout up from under plants that have gone to seed, and can be transplanted.  Garden centres and nurseries may be prepared to give away plants that have outgrown their pots, and I’ve found punnets of seedlings in dumpsters.

Mulch and compost.

All plant and animal material can be composted.  Composting prevents valuable nutrients from going to landfill where they produce polluting methane gas, it creates amazing organic fertiliser, and connects you with the vital process of dead matter becoming new life.  Here’s a recipe: collect animal carcasses and manures, weeds, prunings, food scraps, lawn clippings and your own urine, mix together into a pile about a metre high, add water so it’s damp but not soaking, cover and leave for a couple of weeks.  Spread it around your garden beds, and add a bit when planting new seedlings and trees.  By doing this you are literally saving the earth.

The recipe can be adapted to whatever is around you, the more diversity the better.  When I was living in the desert the only organic matter available was roadkill kangaroos (lots of them), horse manure from the racecourse, and lawn clippings from the school oval.  At a house in the suburbs with very little garden, the compost was food scraps, seaweed and long grass that I had raked up from along the railway line, and brought home in my bike panniers.  That one needed lots of pee to get it going.  Animal manures definitely improve a compost.

Apartment dwellers can use bokashi composting or worm farms, which are both effective if the only organic matter you have is food scraps.  The resulting fertiliser can be given to a friend with a garden, who will thank you for it.

Mulch can be found wherever long grass is cut: roadsides, railway reserves, parks, empty blocks. Neighbours can give you lawn clippings and weeds.  Extra food scraps can be gathered from produce markets at closing time, fruit and veg shops, and supermarket dumpsters.

Animal manures: dog and cat manures are not recommended for compost that’s destined for a vegie garden, as they contain pathogens that can spread disease.  See composting toilet page for a way to recycle these manures.  Other manures can be found, well, wherever there are animals.  Racecourses, stables, shearing sheds, dairy farms, chicken farms.  In an urban setting, gather from pet animals such as rabbits and birds, and pigeon manure builds up under bridges.  Carcasses of birds, mice, and fish can be thrown in, as can meat scraps.

Potting mix is nothing more than sand and compost mixed together.  It’s really easy to make it yourself.

Tools are sometimes in hard rubbish, but they tend to be broken.  Some can be easily repaired, or might just need cleaning and sharpening.  Good quality tools are so much better than bad ones, so this is one thing that might be worth buying.  Secondhand tools are often at flea markets, salvage yards, garage sales and rural auctions.  Borrowing makes the most sense for tools that you use infrequently.  A small garden really only needs a hand trowel, secateurs and a bucket once it is established.  A shovel, rake and fork might be useful to build garden beds initially, depending on the condition of the site.  Being on good terms with the neighbours can lead to a tool-sharing arrangement, in which everyone has a small number of tools that everyone involved can make use of, so between the group there is a wide range of tools available.

Planting containers. Plastic pots are easy to find – look around or ask around.  Seedling trays are thrown out by nurseries, just ask and they’ll give them to you.  Other options are polystyrene boxes from fruit and veg shops, recycling crates that have been superseded by wheelie bins, bathtubs, and clam shells (the big green plastic ones that are in almost every backyard serving no useful purpose).  If you want to get creative try old boots, handbags, baskets, coconuts…

Land. You don’t need a big block of land to grow your own.  Food can be grown in pots on the windowsill, and sprouts in a jar on the dishrack.  If you’re after a bit more space, here’s a few options.

Share a backyard with a neighbour.  The design of our suburbs creates the problem for many people of a large block of land that they don’t have any use for, and it becomes a chore to maintain.  Lots of people would love to have someone else make use of their backyard space.

Community gardens. Have your own plot, meet other local people, and learn about all kinds of things.  Share your produce, your skills, your tools, and your day while building a self-reliant community.

Guerrilla gardening. Plenty of public space is unused – parks, verges, railway corridors, roadsides and those spaces that no-one ever notices.  Add some fruit trees, perennial vegetables and herbs that are adapted to the conditions, and let them grow to provide food for everyone.

Guerrilla grafting. There are plenty of ornamental trees around that are similar to fruit-bearing trees, and can be grafted onto.

Forest garden design. If we observe patterns in nature, and learn how a native forest functions, we can apply these patterns to the design of a food garden.  No work needs to be done to maintain a forest, as all the natural systems interact in a way that makes the whole thing self-maintaining.  If we choose food-producing plants that are suited to the climate, and design them into a forest ecosystem, we can create a garden that needs minimal human intervention, and can keep producing food for us for years to come.

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