Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

After years growing stuff in different backyards I reckon the great quest is to synchronise your vegetable and herb patch activities with you kitchen needs.

Not absolutely as if  ruled by some hippiefied 'self sufficiency' dogma...but fulfilling enough  in the sense of having freshly harvested  comestibles on hand as a daily option.

I know we all say that's what we aspire to do, but allowing the garden to be ruled by the kitchen is a culinary and horticultural art. The more I relate to this challenge the more I respect its complexity and nuances...and the hard yards.

It's not agriculture. I don't want to grow heaps of stuff so that I drown in a succession of surpluses or spend my indoor time preserving.

I want what I eat when I want to eat it while deferring to the seasons.

I don't want to grow too much -- nor do I want to grow too little -- of what my kitchen needs. The soil and the weather may be  fickle -- even brutal -- but kitchen gardening isn't just about growing food,  so much about what and when.

I find that deciding what to plant to harvest when I need it is the baseline challenge.

Some stuff I eat daily. Other foods I cook with occasionally. Others are an exotic delight. Starchy foods keep. Greens don't.

My take is that a kitchen garden has to be absolutely polycultural and layered with successive plantings of a huge array of different herbs and vegetables. Rather than relying only a few  veg you need to cultivate many. Not one green to be had but several.  More than one starch. Optional herbs.The cook -- c'est moi -- has to have choices.

While there is no substituting a tomato...there are, after all, many types of tomatoes.

..and you can make do, too. 

Tail wagging the dog.

With all due respect to the chefs of this world the tyranny of THE RECIPE must now and then bow to reality. The cook book that matters is the one whose ingredients can be grown outback in your own dirt. 

It's a case of the tail wagging the dog. 

"What shall we eat today?" is best answered by walking  through your own vegey patch.

And therein rests one of the great delights of living and gardening in South East Queensland. The sub tropics are not always kind to  ye ole temperate fair. Our climatic 'zoning' encourages us to look to other cuisines because we can grow more of what they eat than what has been the European tradition.

Indeed, if we were to try to define the Brisbane Kitchen Garden it surely would differ greatly from those down south. We have a much longer growing season for so many vegetables. The seasons impact less on our choices. We may suffer from heat and humidity but we do have our work arounds. 

Our kitchen gardens -- if we want to indulge ourselves -- could be unique. 

We've got all this locally bred Permaculture lore bearing down on us. Our urban context is rich in multicultural flavours. We are pulled hither and yon by the traditional horticultures of South East Asia, Melanesia and Polynesia. We can grow -- hypothetically -- almost any type of annual. Generally, we are more aggressively experimental than local industrial agriculture in the stuff we plant out and harvest.

We are exploring a huge range of plants and learning how to grow and cook them. 

If you go explore 'kitchen gardens'  country by country -- and Kitchen Gardens International does this as does the FAO-- you'd be surprised how much of niche we occupy.

While I think we are a tad bullied by the Permaculture template with its deference to perennial plants and 'food forests' -- i reckon our kitchen gardens are fostering  a dynamic that has yet to mature. 

Just consider what's available in the supermarket to what you could be growing outback...Sure their tubers may  be bigger than yours, their celery crisper, their lettuces cleaner..but you may be growing stuff that they don't even know about.

And it's all fresh. 

Cost

But is it cheaper? 

Once upon a time folk 'kitchen gardened' to save money and feed themselves. Today, that sort of 'dig-for-victory' approach may seem dated. I mean Australian agriculture is so efficient  and the produce is so cheap  -- why grow your own?

Of course there is the no sprays and organic argument. Given the price and availability  of organic produce it is indeed cheaper to grow your own...But what about more generally? Is feeding yourself from what you grow set to reduce your food bill significantly?

I've wondered about that, and this is certainly another  conundrum.  If I can get a veg for $4/kgm can I indeed actually grow it cheaper?

While every thing may be relative, my experience has been that if you reduce your inputs -- ie: stay away from Bunnings -- and 'fertilise' organically, your  outback balance sheet will be ahead of  optional supermarket outlays.

That is so long as you don't give your self a day labouring wage. Your hours of toil don't count. 

That's the irony. When you grow most of your own stuff you don't have to go shopping.

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Comment by Phil on October 16, 2015 at 20:53

Exactly. You can't put a price on health be it body or mind.

Comment by Susan on October 16, 2015 at 20:48

Cost?  Like you Andrew, I can't say that financially I'm better off.  Maybe in a few years time when my garden is mature and I have fruit trees that are well established and productive enough that I no longer buy fruit (With over 37 different fruiting trees/vines on my property now, I will hopefully get there in the next 3 yrs or so).  I'm slowly getting there.  A month of oranges from the valencia (with a cara cara and washington navel newly planted) and cumquats,  never buy lemons anymore, banana gluts every 4 months or so with that gap shortening soon, nectarine/peaches in nov/dec, lychees and mangoes in Jan, mulberries sept/oct and a never ending supply of pawpaws, I'm not doing too badly.  But the COST of all my fruit trees - Whew!! The ones mentioned have paid for themselves, but the rest, not yet.  Then it comes to my vegie patch.  I have become enamoured with wicking beds, pots etc.  2 years ago, I started my transformation and while the expenses associated have slowed, my vegetable production has not PAID for itself.  But, I can pick basil, chilli's, rosemary, thyme, parsely, lemongrass, mint and shallots whenever I need it.  I sometimes feel absolutely extravagant in my use of mint - don't like drinking plain water so I use it by the handful each week in drinks.  Zucchini's when they are going well is enough to feed my family in vegies & DESERT (I don't feel so bad about making chocolate cake if there is a vegetable in it).  Tomatos! Eggplants! Greens!  Every meal that we eat for dinner now includes at least 1 thing from the garden.  And the variety that you can grow!! My seed bill from heirloom places is not to be sneezed at though.  While saving your own seed is viable, I find that I don't grow enough to maintain genetic diversity of my seeds and so failure to thrive sets in after one or two rounds. I'd much prefer to restock every few years.  My latest buy was the Diggers heirloom melon pack - $20 for 5 different packs of melons.  So no - cost effective at this stage, it is not.  What it does for me cannot have a price though.  I know exactly what chemicals my kids are eating because I CHOOSE what gets used in my garden! The exercise and value to my health is great.  I spend at least 4 hours a week in my garden moving.  It is my relaxation, my destressing, my communing with nature - a therapist would cost a lot more surely.  My property is more beautiful.  To me, these advantages far outweigh the costs.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on October 16, 2015 at 0:00

I'm not finding it cheaper.  However, I am finding it tastes better.  I love that my diet and cooking changes with the seasons now.  The year is no longer one big amorphous menu.  I love that a lot of the stuff that used to be waste is now a valuable resource.  Most of all, I love that I have found so many uses for so many things that I would never even have given a second glance before... and it is all what a lot of people would call "gourmet."  

Comment by Dave Riley on October 10, 2015 at 10:51

Just on the Nitrogen question :

Although, in contrast to the video, there is some debate about how essential the Haber/Nitrogen process was to human existence as 'organic' practices were consciously sabotaged with the brutal onset of the green revolution. Afterall, the green revolution was commodity -- & market -- rather than food -- driven.

My view, perhaps eccentric,  is that any future without dependence on  'factory' Nitrogen has to presume a reliance on animal and human manures. Kind of sabotages the Vegan argument for sustainability -- unless we can institute universally applicable green manure protocols.

 We also need  a small-farm model based on agroecological technology. But like the slow food movement folk,

Agroecologists do not unanimously oppose technology or inputs in agriculture but instead assess how, when, and if technology can be used in conjunction with natural, social and human assets. Agroecology proposes a context- or site-specific manner of studying agroecosystems, and as such, it recognizes that there is no universal formula or recipe for the success and maximum well-being of an agroecosystem. Thus, agroecology is not defined by certain management practices, such as the use of natural enemies in place of insecticides, or polyculture in place of monoculture.

Comment by Dave Riley on October 10, 2015 at 9:21

Sure, organic foods deliver greater nutrients but to grow all your nutritional  needs outback is a very hard ask. I tend to embrace no sprays/organic as a production -- rather than a consumption -- challenge  in line with the POV of the  Slow Food Movement: 

Although Slow Food supports the principles behind organic agriculture, such as promoting methods that have a low impact on the environment and reducing the use of pesticides, it also argues that organic agriculture, when practiced extensively, is similar to conventional monoculture cropping. Organic certification alone should therefore not be considered a sure sign that a product is grown sustainably. Most of the Slow Food Presidia practice organic techniques, however very few are officially certified on account of the high costs of certification

The advantage with kitchen gardening is that it is so much easier to go no sprays/organic. It's almost a default perspective if you want to keep your gardening costs down and grow a wide range of vegetables and herbs. 

The axis of many of the small farmer campaigns in India is protest against being forced to pay so much money to  the huge agribusinesses for seed and fertiliser inputs in the wake of the brutal principles of the 'green revolution' .

However, that wasn't my primary point. I think a backyard 'organic' movement  is a tad more exotic than one focused on kitchen gardening. It more or less amounts to the same thing but the principles in play have a different emphasis.

For instance if you decide to start a kitchen garden in pots on a patio, you are likely to rely on commercial potting mixes which are likely to not be organic.Maybe your seed raising mix has additives or your seed is sprayed with  fungicide or your manure you can get is full of antibiotics and hormones...Maybe your house -- or your neighbour's -- is sprayed for termites...

I think it is preferable to get gardening rather than obsess over the details under a regime of self imposed certification. I see myself as a 'no-sprays' person --rather than 'organic'  -- and because I don't use 'chemical' sprays  a certain gardening  logic unfolds. 

Indeed, since I'm never going to grow all my food needs -- I'm still going to buy supermarket produce. I can get 'no sprays' produce direct from growers at the Caboolture Mkts but I'm not so ruled by organic that I'm going to pay the surcharge for certification. Nor am I going to purchase ratty old produce just because its wearing an organic tag. 

I think people forget what 'sprays' mean in industrial agriculture. The relentless routine. The volume deployed. The huge arsenal  of inorganic cocktails relied upon.  The savage dependence on additives, herbicides and pesticides. A 'kitchen garden' in comparison -- even if some sprays are used -- is sure to be almost benign, soil to table. 

Millions of farmers on this planet grow stuff organically without realising that they qualify for a marketing niche. Non  organic agriculture is primarily a product of the last 100 years -- in the wake of the invention of the Haber-Bosch process.

The impact of the Haber-Bosch process on the nitrogen cycle can be seen in the nitrogen isotopes in sediments in fresh-water lakes. Humans began to affect the nitrogen cycle during the industrial revolution, through nitrogen oxides released by burning fossil fuels.
But the main change has been in the last 50 years since the green revolution in agriculture. Nitrogen fixed by the Haber-Bosch process now makes up almost half as much nitrogen input to the biosphere as natural inputs (100 Mt N/year from Haber-Bosch versus 230 Mt N/year from natural sources). Pretty much all of this has been added since the 1950s.
--Agriculture’s hunger for nitrogen oversteps planetary boundaries

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on October 9, 2015 at 20:17

Regardless of hard cash cost, there is the argument that organic foods deliver greater nutrients. Long-term that could mean less sickness. I believe it does but do not have the figures or expertise to back it up.

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