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Cooking with your home-grown produce


Gardening has an array of benefits, but most notably fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs are just a short walk away. With more time being spent at home, and the instability of our supermarket shelves, the sale of herb and vegetable plants shot up over lockdown. Across Australia, green-thumbed home cooks took up the domestic hobby and started creating their own edible gardens1.

This comes as no surprise to permaculture gardener, Bridget. For the past 11 years, Bridget has been nurturing her garden to encourage a healthier lifestyle for her family. Today, she is planting and harvesting fresh produce in her front and back garden and sharing a thriving verge garden with her neighbours. Over time, Bridget has helped establish an incredible range of fish, eggs, chickens and over 150 different edible plants. Spoilt for choice, she jokes about how she never needs to go to the shops as she has all the ingredients in her garden.

When speaking about cooking with her produce, Bridget explains how tending to her garden has transformed her diet and wellbeing. Growing fresh produce has dramatically shifted her attitude towards cooking, instead of working around what is available in her fridge, Bridget will go straight to her garden for inspiration. With Bridget’s experience, here are five key steps to help you have a healthy body, mind, and garden.

Be a Herb-ivore

Herbs are a great way to build confidence as a gardener and were the first thing Bridget grew. What’s exciting about herbs is you can observe the full lifecycle of the plant– from seedling, harvesting, cooking, and eating. Herbaceous perennials have roots that survive winter below ground and then regrow in spring. You can enjoy perennials like oregano, thyme, rhubarb, mint, rosemary, sage for years after planting them. These herbs are low maintenance and don’t require pruning, as Bridget puts it you can simply “set and forget.”

Having grown an array of different perennial herbs, Bridget’s tip is to give the seeds plenty of sunlight and water. The best way to check if the soil is healthy is to dip your finger in (healthy soil will stick to your finger, while dry soil won’t). To grow healthy herbs, you can’t treat your soil.

Grow Sacrificial Plants

Ditch the toxic chemicals in bug spray. Instead, start growing sacrificial plants to protect your plants organically. Sacrificial plants, also known as “trap crops”, are deliberately planted to attract any nasty bugs including aphids, slugs, mites, and moths away from your precious greens. Make sure to position the sacrificial plants as a border around your garden to create a natural barrier to any pests or infections.

Sacrificial plants can also attract ladybirds and bees. Bridget shares how she leaves her trap crops long enough so the ladybirds will come and eat aphids. Similarly, bees will help the plants that require pollination (e.g., pumpkins, zucchini, avocados, and cucumbers.) Ladybirds and bees are your garden’s little helpers.

Sow what you like to serve

You don’t need a farm to start growing and cooking your own produce. It’s important to do your research into the fruits and vegetables that are suited to home-grown cooking: leafy greens, berries, and Bridget's favourite, figs. While figs are expensive to purchase in supermarkets, they are more delicious when they are picked directly from the tree. Figs are great for homegrown cooking as they can be used in salads, on charcuterie boards and in desserts. A great tip for the off seasons is to set aside some fruit during a big harvest. The unused fruit can be made into sauces, relishes and jams that can easily be enjoyed all the way into the next season. Fruit is not the only thing worth setting aside, herbs can be made into pesto’s and salsa verdes and can be frozen for future use. Preserving food is a great way to reduce waste and ensure you maximise your harvest all year round.

Count on your Chickens

If you have the space, there are amazing benefits to keeping chickens in your garden. Not only are they fun pets to own, but their litter makes for a rich soil fertiliser. They also protect your plants by eating a range of pesky insects including beetles, ants, mosquitoes, and flies.

Another benefit is the constant supply of free-range eggs. The freshly laid eggs from your backyard are better for you than store-bought ones — they have more Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Omega-3, Beta Carotene, and less saturated fat. Keep in mind, hens must be at least 18 weeks old before they start laying eggs. For people like Bridget, having eggs and a veggie patch opens opportunities to cook more with ingredients from home.

Growing on the Verge

The verge is the strip of garden between the footpath, grass, and kerb. For Bridget, the verge is the sunniest area available and was ideal for growing fresh produce. Another benefit for starting her verge garden was it connected Bridget with the local children, educating them on how tomatoes grow and inviting them to pick their own strawberries on the way past.

Check with your local council if verge gardens are permitted. Council guidelines vary but common requirements are to avoid any weeds, prickly or poisonous plants. Bridget suggests elevating your edible plants with planter boxes or building a mesh frame around the garden. If the area hasn’t been well kept, make sure you improve the soil with regular watering and composting. Many verge gardens in Australian cities include a mix of flowers and vegetables — flowers look great and provide a barrier to keep the dogs, and their urine, away from your edibles. 

There’s a myriad of benefits to nurturing fresh produce in your garden and with Bridget’s helpful advice, all you need to do is give it a go yourself. Make a start, grab some gloves and soon, you’ll be enjoying your own produce. to boot!

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1The blooming great garden trends set to take seed in 2022 | smh.com.au

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