Ed Lagzdin has been involved with the LETS community at CERES for many years. He recently contributed this article to a local paper and it has some great info about edible gardens.

It’s essentially a book review of Edible Gardens – A Practical Guide by Craig Castree, but Ed has useful pointers for backyard growers.

I suppose we have had edible gardens forever.

Not just old fashioned full on gardening/farming , but gardens that are attractive but edible as well. Your mother may have had a window box with flowering herbs. Looks good, smells good, fresh and handy. Or that Italian guy next door who pulled out the roses in the front garden and put in tomatoes, corn and basil. Or even the people who grow edible stuff on the nature strip…  And then there are the “sharers” who plant big and small and invite you to help yourself. And the ultimate: the gorgeous display in five huge boxes I saw outside the Melbourne town hall recently. Variegated leaves, many colours, lettuces, cabbages, everything, all carefully planted to look like huge displays of real flowers.

These days we have smaller gardens or no real garden at all.  So to some it has to be boxes or a community garden. All in all its getting to be a big subject.   SOMEONE should write a book… and HERE IT IS…   Edible Gardens: a Practical Guide by  Craig Castree.

I went to the book launch  a month ago.

Craig does his thing near Werribee at his home and yard of 500 square metres. “The wife wanted flowers” but Craig was an “eater” and their journey began. He had to get away from row upon row of single crops of past generations. He went for a bit of everything including bees and chickens. Over forty years he has learnt a lot and now is practically self sufficient.

Here are some points he made at the launch:

  • We are disconnected from our food. Chemicals and forced methods mean our produce is compromised.
  • Food can be three or four weeks old at the supermarket. It’s not jumping on your plate from the back yard.
  • Choice is limited as well.  There were hundred of apple varieties for instance but the supermarkets carry four or five. They want thick skins and longevity. That’s why they are hybridized. Taste and flavour might be on the list somewhere.
  • We don’t eat seasonally any more. Produce is seasonal. Don’t fight it.
  • Eco diversity works. Soils have bugs and critters in them.  Get to know them.
  • The shape of produce can give you a hint as to what it’s good for,  viz-  tomato for the heart, celery for the bones, and walnut for the brain.
  • The backyard is always there. There is no food miles problem.
  • Food “swaps” help out if you have too much.
  • Keep fruit trees espaliered or low. No higher than you can reach is a good idea. And you can have ten apple varieties on one tree.
  • Chooks give you eggs and fertilizer.
  • He has two bee hives. We need bees and other pollinators. The honey is nice as well.
  • With pests, find a predator. Marigolds for example bring in hover flies that eat the aphids. So its not all vegetables, you need other plants to sort out the predators.
  • Fit plants survive. Pests leave stuff that’s healthy alone. Seasol and similar feeds strengthen them.
  • Do mulch. He likes cane mulch, not too much mulch or compost.  Let the air through.
  • Micro climates?  Work it out. Think.

The Q and A session was long and useful. We learnt lots more.

And the future… What else is possible with edible gardens?  A  New York Times article I recently read points the way.  A photo showed huge crates of herbs and vegetables on the roof above Terminal 5 of Kennedy airport. The food is distributed to a food bank.  The soil comes from composted food scraps from the terminal next door.  Bees are included as well. “We live in concrete, people want access to that green,”  said a spokesperson. Airports in recent years have also erected enormous indoor “living” walls composed of plants and greenery. A local example covers the office at the entrance to Moonee Valley transfer station.

Edible gardens.  Its a good story. sensible and tasty.