Establishing an Organic Vegetable Garden (Progress in Pictures)
It’s no secret that I love food, and I love growing my own food even more. There’s nothing more satisfying than eating something freshly picked; there’s no unnecessary single-use plastic packaging when we grow our own; and we can’t get more local than our own back yards.
Not everyone has a garden, true. When I moved to Perth from the UK, I swapped my beautiful and much-loved allotment for an upstairs apartment with a dark balcony. That didn’t stop me having a few pots outside the front door with herbs, though. Then we moved to another upstairs apartment with a bigger balcony, and I got a few more things growing.
Even the darkest, smallest balcony can grow microherbs!
Now I’ve moved to a development with 7 dwellings and a community garden, I finally have the space and the opportunity to plant more. And believe me, I’m making the most of it!
We’ve lived here for just over a year, and I thought I’d share how our garden has evolved over the time. Although there are 7 dwellings, some are still empty and others have been rented to tenants with no interest in gardening. To date, my husband and I have had the garden pretty much to ourselves. Two sets of neighbours have their own garden bed spaces, but other than that, we have free reign.
Honestly, we love having the space to ourselves, but we’re looking forward to more garden enthusiasts moving in. There’s so much wasted opportunity as we don’t have the time to turn over the beds as quickly as we should, or succession plant as regularly as we could. There are plenty of other tasks that get neglected, too.
Whilst the garden produces a lot of food, it could be so much more productive with just a little extra work.
Take the tour of my organic veggie patch (and permaculture garden in the making), Perth Australia
We own and occupy the ground floor flat, and the communal garden backs straight onto our home. We have two sets of big sliding doors, so the garden is an extension of our living space.
This is what it looked like when we moved in:
For 1 household, it’s a lot of space, but for 7 households it will be quite small. There’s also a huge amount of wasted space/growing potential, so we’ve been working hard to develop this and improve the soil and increase productivity.
We’ve also added a lot of pots, which is a great way to decide which things work best where before digging them into the ground. The two wine barrels contain the citrus trees we had on our balcony in our previous place. All the other pots are new additions.
Creating New Veggie Beds
If you’re thinking that the soil looks really sandy, you’d be right. It is really sandy. The grey sands of the Perth Swan coastal plain (where I live) are considered to be the worst in the world. I don’t mean by disgruntled Perth gardeners, either. It’s a fact.
It means that we’ve dug in heaps of compost, veggie concentrate and clay into the sand to create soil. It might not look like it, but we have! The wood chip mulch breaks down over time to add carbon to the soil, too.
We bought a cubic metre of veggie concentrate from our soil yard and it was delivered via a tipping truck, so without packaging. It isn’t the cheapest option (we could have built up nitrogen using nitrogen-fixing plants or green manures, carbon using mulch and the soil web over time), but it meant we could plant veggies in the sand straightaway rather than waiting several months. It contains all the nutrients and minerals needed to grow veggies.
Creating Our Own Compost
We have four compost bins and create as much of our own compost as we can. We don’t turn it as often as we should so it isn’t breaking down as quickly as it could be.
If the whole complex got involved we’d have compost coming out of our ears! The reality is, many of the tenants live on a diet of junk food (fried chicken and other fast food is delivered almost daily – I kid you not) and they don’t even compost the paper food packaging – it goes in the landfill bin. Sigh.
To top up our compost my husband brings food scraps home from his work every week (in a big 20 litre bucket), and we collect coffee grounds from a local cafe every month or so.
It’s pretty amazing that we can add stinky food scraps and a few handfuls of dried leaves to a compost bin and be rewarded with beautiful soil-like compost!
Planting in Pots (and Wicking Pots)
To maximise the use of the patio area without ripping out the paving, we’ve planted a lot of things in pots. Our garden is north-facing, and the patio is one of the best spots to grow (we’re in the southern hemisphere – its the opposite for those in the north). The space is sheltered by the house by the hot summer afternoon sun, and gets full winter sun because the sun is lower in the sky.
To ignore this is a missed opportunity!
Wicking beds are self-watering pots. Not something I needed to worry about in the UK, but in Perth it is a different story. We’ve used old olive export barrels to make wicking beds – they have a hole at the side rather than at the bottom, so a reservoir can hold water for the plants.
Greening the Garden: Progress in the First Year
I’ve taken a few images from the same spots over time, and I’ve included a few below so you can see how things have changed in the first year.
The View from the Office Window:
The Patio Space:
The Ground Dug-In Beds:
The Veggie Beds:
The Raised Garden Beds:
A Glimpse of the Harvest
We definitely aren’t growing all our own vegetables, but I do think we have the space. Unfortunately space isn’t the only constraint; the other is time! We did manage to produce a lot of our own vegetables over summer. Here’s a glimpse:
Perth has a warm enough climate to garden all year round, and in many ways summer presents more challenges than winter. We’re currently in the process of planting our winter veggies. By the start of next summer we’re expecting to have new neighbours, so it will be interesting to find out how the garden evolves. I’m looking forward to more hands!
Now I’d love to hear from you! Did you enjoy the garden tour? Did you have any questions? Is there anything you’d like me to write about in more detail? Do you have your own garden, and what tips do you have to share? Anything else you’d like to add? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Looks bloody beautiful Linny!
We’ve planted herbs, with rainbow chard, bok choi, carrots… but the rats have eaten all the veggies, although strangely only eaten the parsley from the herbs.
It’s so so frustrating!!! Sydney has BEAUTIFUL soil, but is an absolute shit when it comes to city pests!
I want to make it as organic as possible, and I can’t kill every rat in the suburb, so any interesting tips you’ve come across I would love to hear.
ALSO! We just got a worm farm on the weekend! Karl and my first pet is 1500 worms! Hahah so far so good, although they’re only 4 days in their new home at the back of our garden.
Your worms will be your best friends. I have two farms, got one for free,owners went o/seas! So easy as pets.
So true Geraldine! :)
Thanks Charlotte! Sorry to hear about the rat problem. :/ I guess the two things that come to mind is build a physical barrier. I don’t know whether that’s practical, but some wooden poles in the corners and flywire mesh to create a kind of “cage” to keep them out. Or if they aren’t eating some of the herbs, what about choosing the ones they don’t like and interplanting more closely with the veggies. The smell might deter them (I have no idea if that will work – depends how persistent they are.) I bet a quick google search would come up with some herbs that rats particularly dislike. Worth a shot?!
Yay for worm farms! They are pretty easy to look after and will cope with a bit of neglect too. They don’t like freezing temps (cos they will freeze!) and boiling hot summer days in direct heat needs a bit of management. This time of year is the absolute easiest!
Look forward to hearing more! Send me some pics!
Not sure if this in helpful, but in Brisbane I used to have the same issue with possums. They ate everything, even chili peppers. I ended up putting a crop cage in my garden. First, I covered it with the mesh that came with it (bought it at Bunnings), but they gnawed through and ate my entire harvest. So I covered the crop cage with chicken wire. That did the trick.
Great tip Meri! I would imagine you’d need some kind of sturdy physical barrier. Glad you saved your veggies!
Wow! You and your partner are to be highly commended. we have always had an organic garden and despite what most say they are a lot of work to stay “organic”. Chili spray and home made white oil are one thing but rats and mice are another and then there is the rain and then you need to spray again, and again, and again… especially when you live in tropical or sub-tropical QLD.
The reward is worth it when you sit down to a fresh green salad and know how fresh and full of nutrients it is. Pots are amazing for restricted spaces but the wicking gardens – our main greens supply comes fro this type of garden- are a real time saver.
All of these benefits considered there is nothing that takes the place of the moments of mindfulness as you watch the water drop lightly from the hose spray onto the leaves and you can almost her them whisper ‘Thank-you”.
Pot, raised garden or large in ground bed- ENJOY!
Thanks Wendy! Yes, being organic does mean being a lot more hands-on – checking for pests before they become a problem, and sometimes removing by hand! We haven’t really had an issue with rats/mice yet although there was one little fellow hanging out in the garden over summer, who kept stealing our tomatoes!
That is so true nothing beats eating your own food. And I love how therapeutic gardening is. I love the magic of watching things grow (seeds germinating get my every time!) and also there is something so satisfying about a day of hard work!
Oh I will enjoy Wendy, don’t doubt it!
what resources did you use to find out how to grow things in the pesky perth soils? i don’t know where to start.
All the time I was living in the apartment, I went to every single free gardening workshop, composting workshop, waterwise workshop and built up my knowledge ready to go when I had the chance. There are so many great places to look! The Forever Project and Beyond Gardens run great (usually free) workshops run by various councils so get on both their mailing lists/websites. Plus councils run their own – the City of Swan Thinking Green series always has some great opportunities and is in June every year. Perth City Farm runs some good workshops too.
A lot of the community gardens will run workshops so check out their Facebook pages for those. Green Life Soil Company runs others. Earthwise in Subiaco is another, and Environment House in Bayswater. Plus all the regional councils run composting workshops – WMRC have one coming up in May, and Peg Davies from MRC is always running workshops.
I should write a blog post on this! Hope it helps. Honestly, once you begin to look, you’ll find there are almost too many options!
That is so amazing! You have mace such great progress. I hope you inspire your neighbors to get off the junk food!
Thank you Sam! Ha, I’d like to inspire them to actually compost and recycle properly too. I think they are meat and no veg kinda households, so it will be an uphill battle. And drink-energy-drinks-for-breakfast-from-a-can-using-a-disposable-plastic-straw kinda households too. Honestly, I’m not sure where to begin. We can just keep on doing what we do…
I love seeing how your garden space transformed in just a short amount of time. And I’m so happy that I stumbled upon your site, it’s becoming a great resource for me as I am embarking on my own journey of being much more ecologically responsible. Quick question…when you did live in smaller spaces/apartments did you compost? I’ve been researching using red worms in soil for my veggie waste but wanted to know if you recommend a compost product for apartment needs.
Thank you Cara – it is amazing what you can get done in a year! I actually found this post quite motivating personally as I realised what we’d achieved. I also realised we didn’t start creating the new beds until June, which means we are ahead on last year in terms of winter veggie planting! So even though I know I’m behind where I could be with winter plantings, I know that we can still do more than last year – which was a big motivation boost to get out there!
We used to use worm farms, and I had a bokashi bucket too. We ended up with a couple of worm farms and kept the castings in boxes until we moved. I wrote this about composting so you may find it useful: https://treadingmyownpath.com/2016/12/15/compost-for-zero-waste-living/
Please let me know if you have any more questions Cara!
Just finished reading link you provided. Thank you :)
Great work! I remember living in my parents home (for three years, in the end, to save for a house deposit) and I had a tiny little veggie patch. I’d come home and water it after work. It was awesome. When the sweet peas (not the edible type) went to seed, and I didn’t tidy it up quick enough, the hurricane mother dug it all out :( Many years later, there’s a pool where it used to be, but would you believe it, somehow there’s a wild (ish) cherry tomato plant. Eating sun warmed tomatoes from the pool is cool! I’m in an apartment with a loggia, which isn’t a balcony – hard to explain, so I’ve nixed growing things for now. I’m like your neighbours, not deliveries, but frozen microwave meals…
Thanks Sarah! I’m sad that your mother dug out the veggie bed! And extra sad she stuck a pool there instead! But good for the rogue tomatoes sneaking themselves back in ;)
Frozen microwave meals?! Really?! But homecooked food is so delicious! I’d feel completely ripped off eating one of those. And I am one of those tin hat-wearing microwave skeptics, I never microwave anything. Don’t trust those microwaves ;)
I wish you a speedy transition to a house with a garden and a veggie patch! ;) (I don’t know if that’s your goal even, but I wish it anyway!!!) Think of those sun-warmed homegrown tomatoes!
Yeah I know – I will NOT microwave/reheat a meal in plastic, and then throw it all away (ha! Pun) by buying frozen meals. I just can’t be bothered home cooking for one, every night. It’s one of the negatives of being single. Who knows, I feel like it’s a season of my life, it will pass, and not to ‘force’ myself with guilt etc.
Hi again Sarah, now I know I shouldn’t snoop but – since when were you single?! (Feel completely free to tell me it’s none of my business. I did go and snoop on your blog to see if you said anything about it, but I don’t think you did. Hence the ask.) I only ask as you’d often share your boyfriends’ misgivings about zero waste with me in the comments!
Ha! So BF runs/has access to my blog, so I never blogged about it, but emailed some regular commenters after a long silence to explain we split in Sept 2016. We’re amicable now, touch base etc, but yeah… single now. And he used to do a lot of our cooking
Ah. Thanks for the update and hope you’re okay. Glad everything’s amicable. Sorry that you’re resorting to microwave meals ;)
You’re welcome to come cook for me ;) Actually just spent 3 nights with a Perth gal (for a wedding) and she’s cealiac, and made a great dinner last night for me. Shame she prefers to live alone (oh and we live in diff sides of Australia!)
Let me know if you move over this side and I’ll turn the oven on to warm it, ready ;)
Well done! I have a few things, and my worms, and compost bins. Get my mum’s scraps, so that s good.
You know your compost system is going well when you’re eyeing up other people’s food scraps to take home, Geraldine! Love it!
I’ve been composting for years and still think it’s amazing that our waste makes our soil healthier. The miracles of nature :)
Great to see what you’ve achieved in a small space. Our community garden is the same – heaps of room, not enough time to grow more stuff!
There’s several miracles of nature that get me every time Rebecca. One – seeds germinating. Two – compost!
It’s a interesting conundrum I find Rebecca – on one hand disappointment that there’s so much more unrealised opportunity; but at the same time awe, inspiration and motivation that there’s so much more opportunity and potential! So whilst I find it frustrating, I also find it surprisingly heartening!
I love your garden. Where do you get the olive barrels from?
Hi Marie, I got mine from a Gumtree seller called WA Barrels, but any olive importer should have them.
Your garden is inspiring. For my 55th birthday, my husband gave me 2 big round raised garden beds. Before that I had mainly grown herbs. We have had a great year growing lots of different veggies. It’s also a joy to take our granddaughter out into the garden to pick strawberries and tomatoes. Growing food makes you appreciate how valuable it is and how lucky we are to have access to fresh, high quality vegetables.
Thanks Judy! Oooh what a perfect birthday present! Isn’t growing your own food a joy?! I’m so glad you’ve been able to get your granddaughter involved. Sounds wonderful!
I’m very jealous of your garden Lindsay! Our rental property has a small garden that if full of palms trees that block most of the sun. We are growing mint, shallots, basil and passionfruit (that’s really our neighbours- it grew through the fence) but that’s it. I dream of having fruit trees, a veggie patch and chickens and growing as much of my own food as possible. One day!
It is a dream garden for us Sarah, but I spent many years wistfully wanting somewhere to grow stuff that wasn’t a concrete balcony. You’ll get there! One day indeed!
I loved having a little look at your veggie garden – it’s looking great!
Thank you Susie!
I live in Melbourne & have had rat problems also . I have tried crop cages on top of raised beds (its the only way I can grow Tuscan kale) I have angle iron at the base of my back fence & where the rats dig under it I fill in with Rocks & chicken wire.I have 4 outdoor rat traps that I keep baited. I dont find crop cages that effective – if there is a weak point they will find it. Am,having some success with keeping their favorites by the house where there is a motion sensor light. I also have cheap solar lights in the other beds to keep a little light on the beds. Lastly when planting seedlings I create a pryamid structure around each seedling with bamboo or other straight twigs / sticks & I have some success with this. I know people dont like using rat baits but in inner city Melbourne with derelict properties in close proximity I really dont have much choice as my council dont consider rats to be their problem.
Thank you for letting me see yoyr garden its great to look vicariously at gardens belonging to others
Hi Jill, thanks so much for sharing your experiences. Pests can be a challenge, for sure. We don’t have problems at the moment, but when word gets out that there’s basically a free buffet at our place, I suspect we will have to start thinking about this more.
Glad you enjoyed the garden tour! :)
’m very jealous of your garden Lindsay! Our rental property has a small garden that if full of palms trees that block most of the sun. We are growing mint, shallots, basil and passionfruit (that’s really our neighbours- it grew through the fence) but that’s it. I dream of having fruit trees, a veggie patch and chickens and growing as much of my own food as possible. One day!
One day! I lived in an upstairs apartment for 4 years after having my own allotment for years – that was tough, but I knew it wouldn’t be forever. Just do what you can and soak up all the knowledge you can, so when things change you can hit the ground running :)
I am very happy to read your post. Thanks for your post. Your Vegetable Garden Progress is very lovely. I have a tomato garden so I shall follow your system.
Thanks Emily! :)
Woww, thanks for sharing. I also have my own orgnaic vegetable garden. Keep up good work.
Thanks Laura and my pleasure :)
Hi Lindsay. I really enjoy your blogs and posts and I’m trying to live a waste free, plastic free life myself. I am curious about how you converted the olive barrels into wicking pots. There seems to be so much plastic used in creating wicking beds that I often find it a bit off-putting. Did you use a layer of geo plastic fabric? Do you have a feeder pipe to water from the top, or have you found a simpler way of creating them?
Lindsay, your garden looks amazing! I have in the past grown a few things, but my garden has gone to rack and ruin through lack of time and inspiration. I need a low maintenance garden, one where the plants don’t need daily attention. Please tell me, what are your least time consuming plants that you grow?
Hey Lindsay, great garden! I’d love to be your neighbour! Could you please tell me about your wooden raised beds? What wood and what lining have you used?