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Getting started with growing your own - Gavin Webber

Today I'm continuing my series of interviews with bloggers who grow their own with an interview with Gavin Webber who writes over at The Greening of Gavin. Gavin grows fruit and veges in Melton, Victoria, just south of the Great Dividing Ranges, on his suburban house block. Gavin also keeps chickens, has two worm farms, and many compost bins. His blog was recently awarded ReNew Magazine 2012 Blog of the Year, where he writes about his sustainable journey and lifestyle that was brought on by a green epiphany.

Attracting over 1 million page views, and containing over 1200 posts, The Greening of Gavin has been published nearly every day for the past 4½ years, and is a treasure trove of sustainable living advice and gardening tips. Gavin has also written four sustainable living eBooks that are available from all good eBook retailers. 


here's Gavin planing corn 
 Farmer Liz: Tell me about your garden and climate. 

Gavin Webber: My food garden is located in my average suburban yard in Melton, Victoria, Australia. I would say that the climate is roughly Mediterranean temperate, and our area to the west of Melbourne always seems to get about 250mm (10 Inches) of rain less than the east side of the city. Over there it is green and lush, but on my side, it is dry and barren.

The actual growing areas take up most of my spare land. We have about a 779 sqm block, with about 100 sqm under food production. That includes my 8 main raised garden beds, and my entire front yard which has 13 fruit trees in the ground. I also have 12 more fruit trees growing in large pots.

We also have seven chickens, which provide us with eggs, who also give us fertilizer for the garden, and keep insect pests under control. They are an integral part of the food growing system. On average, the chooks lay about 2 dozen eggs a week.

I water all of my food garden beds with rainwater, and I have two medium slim-line water tanks that hold 4500 litres. I have these tanks interconnected, and water the garden via a drip irrigation system serviced by a 12-volt pump connected to a small solar power system.

I produce about 40% of all our fruit and vegetable requirements, and when there is surplus, I preserve it using our fowlers-vacola kit.

FL: When and why did you start growing your own?

GW: Well, I suppose I first started to grow food when I lived on a dairy farm as a child. I used to help my Father around the farm, milk the cows, and help him in his orchard and veggie patch.

However, I took up the challenge of growing my own food in earnest in March 2007, after seeing a TV show called “It isn’t easy being green”, staring Dick Strawbridge and his family in the UK. It was a truly inspirational show. After watching the first series, I knew that I could also learn to grow my own food around my back yard. I really wanted to taste real food again, just like when I was a kid, with a second objective of lowering food miles.

So I started small, cleared some lawn and ornamental shrubs, and built five large raised veggie patches on the west side of my yard. The first year was very experimental, and I tried to grow far too much. However I did read as much as I could about organic gardening, and have stuck to those principles ever since. I stick to basic crops of wholesome vegetables, and manage to grow something all year round.

Gavin even fits hens into his yard
FL: From your experience, what’s the best way to start growing your own?

GW: I believe that the best way to start growing your own food is firstly to observe the lay of the land, even on a suburban block. See which part of the yard gets full sun for most of the day, where the soil is good, or even where there is part shade. Then draw a plan of what you want it to look like. I did this for about a month before I built anything and I am glad I did. All of my main garden beds receive full sun for about 7 hours in Summer, and around 4 hours in Winter. Then once you have allocated a plot, build up the soil if needs be, and go for it.

FL: What are your top 5 favourite easy and productive plants for beginners to grow?

GW: Tomatoes, Pumpkins, Garlic, Zucchini, and Onions. All of these vegetables have been staples in my garden since I began growing food in 2007. Onions and Garlic and basically plant and forget in winter, and the others are prolific if you take a little bit of care and water well.

Look how many potatoes Gavin grew!
FL: How do you grow so much in a suburban backyard?

GW: Well it is quite easy actually. The first rule is dig up the lawn. It is useless and serves little purpose, unless you want to keep some for your chickens or ducks on which to graze. Once the lawn is gone, you will have so much space to grow productive crops that you will not know where to start!

The second rule is use vertical space as well as horizontal. Any fence can be used to grow climbing beans, chokos, or even pumpkins. Grape vines can be grown above on an arbor over a walkway. Use fruit trees in pots to expand productivity upwards.

My third rule is that even the smallest space can be used to grow something. I have a 50cm wide space either side of the garden path which I have populated with herb pots like common mint, peppermint, spearmint, sage, basil, thyme, curly leaf parsley, Italian parsley, and rosemary. I even have a few tomato and sweet corn plants in pots growing well. You just have to use your imagination and be creative.

Gavin's suburban yard
FL: What’s your favourite thing about growing your own?

GW: The taste of homegrown food cannot be beaten. Supermarkets have forced farmers to grow produce that survives long transportation, but think little of the taste when it arrives at the store. Most supermarket produce is not fresh and has been kept in storage for many months. That is not a definition of fresh in my books.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as walking 5 metres out of your own backdoor and harvesting the freshest ingredients for your dinner.

Gavin, thanks so much for providing such excellent advice for new growers.  What do you think? Do you need to know more? Head over to The Greening of Gavin to comment on this post and let us know your advice to new growers. Next week I'll be chatting with Ohio Farmgirl of Adventures in the Good Land.

The other interviews:
Linda of Witch's Kitchen
Ohio Farmgirl from Adventures in the Goodland
Emma from Craving Fresh
Tanya of Lovely Greens
and myself

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