We're about a week away from the official start of spring in Melbourne, but the weather for the last month has been what the indigenous people of this area consider "pre-spring": "warming, first flowers, birds begin nesting". It's definitely a different season from the "true winter" of June. The wattle is blooming, the front lawn is quickly getting out of control, and I'm starting to get the first tickles of seasonal allergies.
In the garden, we still have winter veg like kale and chard growing. We have some really nice cos lettuce that I've been using in a lot of salads. There's heaps of parsley. The nasturtiums, which have been triffid-ing all over the place since autumn, are starting to flower. The first purple buds are appearing on our lavender bushes. The temperature's becoming milder, but it's blustery: the strong winds knocked down branches all over the neighbourhood, as well as the rather precarious bamboo tripods I was using to grow snow peas. As a result, I've pulled down all the peas and tossed them into a bit of garden I'm mulching in preparation for growing zucchini in the summer.
So I'm planning for spring. I love gardening, but it's also important to me this year as I'm short of cash, and saving even $10 or $20 a week on groceries makes a difference. This year, I'm hoping to pick a significant proportion of our vegetables from the garden. In fact, I hope that between now and autumn we can grow all, or nearly all, of our own:
- salad greens (lettuce, thinnings/microgreens of various kinds, herbs)
- cooking greens (chard, warrigal greens, asian greens)
- salad tomatoes (we'll still buy bulk quantities for preserving)
- salad cucumbers (might buy some for pickling)
- green beans
- peppers (chillis, capsicums/bell peppers, etc -- though we'll only be growing mini capsicums so might still buy some)
- herbs (especially basil, mint, parsley, rosemary, thyme)
I'll also be planting some things which I haven't had much luck with before, or haven't tried before, but I'm hopeful we can get a crop out of them:
- zucchini (not very successful growing in large tubs over last 2 years, going to try putting them in the ground in the front garden and plant more bee-attractors nearby)
- squash (butternut and spaghetti, I think)
- eggplant (first time, will plant in large containers as we do with tomatoes and see how it goes)
- tomatillos (unsuccessful last year but let's have a second shot)
This leaves our vegetable shopping needs as:
- alliums (onions/garlic)
- potatoes, carrots, and other root veg
- coriander (cilantro), which we use frequently but which bolts rapidly in these parts
- fruit for eating (all we have is a mulberry tree)
- gap-filling if the stuff we're planning isn't productive (eg. zucchini, eggplant)
And of course bulk fruit/veg for preserving, which will probably be a box or two of tomatoes in the late summer, and a few kilos at a time of whatever stone fruit is priced around $2/kg.
I emailed my housemates with a summary of what I hoped me might harvest in a typical week in high summer, and it looked like this (with retail prices given for conventionally grown produce, from the Preston Market or Psarakos on High St where we usually shop):
- 2 meals worth of cooking greens, eg. a bunch of chard and some asian greens (retail: $3)
- 2 salads worth of salad greens ($2)
- 2 small cucumbers (retail: $2)
- 1 zucchini (retail: $1)
- 3 small bowlfuls tomatoes for salads (retail: $4)
- 1 bunch basil (retail: $2)
- 1 meal worth of green beans (retail: $2)
- handful chillis/peppers of various kinds (retail: $2)
That's $18 worth for the week. I did a rough calculation and said if we get $16/week worth of produce in the 4 "high summer" months, and half that in the 4 less-productive months surrounding it, we'll come out of it with about $400 of produce. And I reckon we can do it for about $200 in investment: pea and bean netting up the back fence, a bit of lumber (possibly scavenged) for a cucumber frame, a couple of bales of lucerne hay, some netting for protection against birds, and a lot of potting mix for the tomatoes and peppers and all that stuff that's going in currently-empty pots (unsure yet whether to buy it pre-made or mix it from parts; probably the former for now.)
So that's the plan. I've got seedlings coming along (I planted a lot of tomatoes/peppers from seed over the last month or so), and I'm starting to order netting etc from the internets. On September 1st my housemates and I are going to have a working bee to get everything set up, and plant the first beans. Wish us luck!