A recent study by the Australian Institute found that 52 per cent of Australian households grew something edible in their backyards, with another 13 per cent intending to start planting in the next 12 months.
This equates to two-thirds of Australians interested in urban food production – welcome to the rise and rise in demand for edible landscaping!
Greater Flexibility Equals Greater Demand
Since the new millennium, I’ve been caught up in this movement, being involved in projects as diverse as building a series of wheelchair friendly, edible beds for a retirement village to creating a vegetable garden and orchard to complement the outdoor kitchen of two keen ‘foodies’.
Vegetable gardening has progressed from the olden days when long rows were simply cut out of the lawn down the back behind the shed. Nowadays, there is so much that can be done in landscape construction to make these practical areas not only highly efficient, but also a beautiful addition to the overall landscape.
If space allows, a group of three to four beds will enable crop rotation. Rotating crops from year to year will ensure the long-term success of the garden by helping to retain soil fertility (heavy feeder crops are followed by light feeders or legumes). Crop rotation also reduces the reoccurrence of pests and diseases, which tend to attack if the same crop is planted in the same place season upon season.
Vegetables require a minimum of four to five hours of sunlight. All is not lost for the client desperate for backyard veg in the shade of the ‘burbs – suitable crops for lower light levels include: rocket, rhubarb, spinach, silver beet, chard, radish, kale, pak choy, sweet potato, parsley and coriander.
Edible crops all need some protection from prevailing winds – cold winds slow down growth, while hot, dry winds cause excessive evapotranspiration. In temperate to cool temperate climes, constructing a solid brick or rock wall to the south will also trap the sun’s warmth, creating a warmer micro-climate.
Garden beds should be designed so that they can be easily tended without having to climb in (no wider than 1m from any side). Building raised beds makes working and harvesting the beds even easier. So, after getting your levels right, building windbreaks and paving the area, it’s time to build the beds. If you want a series of uniform, raised beds in a high standard of finish, there are now so many kits and flat packs out there!
Raised Bed Kits
Vegepod supplies complete garden kits made from UV stabilised and completely safe food-grade polypropylene. A unique wicking reservoir in the base reduces watering by up to 80 per cent. Raise the garden beds to waist height with optional galvanised and powder coated steel stands, or trolleys – allowing them to be wheeled around as light levels change during the seasons. The real game changer is their pest-control, micro-climate canopies that come complete with an overhead misting system.
Pest free, organic gardening made easy! ModBOX are able to supply over 140 shapes and sizes of raised beds made from cypress. Their Capitano living furniture incorporates a seat into a series of raised beds – just brilliant design! ModBOX also have the option of supplying a wicking system for any of their designs.
The Little Veggie Patch Co. have developed a non-treated pine, raised bed complete with plastic liner and styrofoam base, which they deliver throughout Melbourne.
Veg Trug’s unique design makes access easy – an important consideration for the elderly or wheelchair users. The importer, Takasho, also have the smaller metal Poppy range for balcony gardening.
Biofilta can supply either a ‘Food Wall’ system or a fully raised wicking bed that does not require traditional materials such as scoria, plastic liners and geo textiles. Wicking beds are very on trend in our thirsty, time-poor towns and cities. These beds have a water reservoir below the level of the soil. Water is drawn up by a capillary or wicking action, which means less watering and less wastage of a precious resource!
If the beds aren’t wicking, consider constructing an irrigation system. The problem with setting up an irrigation system to an edible garden is that the beds need to be dug over once or twice a year. One solution is to run a 19mm feeder line along the edge of the bed and then attach a series of dripper lines that can be laid out in rows across the bed or lifted out of the way when the soil needs to be worked.
Paths also need to be serviceable, particularly in the bigger urban farms because the area around the beds can be considered high pedestrian traffic areas that will also get the occasional heavy barrow. No matter how tidy the gardener, the paths will also receive spills of soil and manures – compacted, crushed aggregates are okay but lawn and pebble paths are not. Concrete or paving are the most practical, serviceable materials for paths in the edible garden.
High-rise balcony gardens, kitchen gardens, potagers and permaculture gardens featuring up-cycled materials are all on trend as edible design options.
Brick or stone garden beds give that look of permanence as well as allowing interesting curves and round shapes. I have seen some beautiful work in stone raised beds made as the slices of a cake with paths running into a central feature pot.
Unless the existing is a dark loam with good tilth, the site will need the addition of an organic soil mix usually sold as a ‘premium’ or ‘veggie mix’. These mixes have the highest levels of added organic matter but ensure that the organics have fully composted and not been added to the mix ‘hot’ as demand outstrips supply in spring.
A few years ago, I had a none-too-happy supplier asked to take back a load of steaming ‘premium mix’ full of partially composted materials that had a pH of nine! Edible gardens require pH in the range of six to seven. The soil also needs high moisture retention with an open structure that is free draining while resisting compaction.
Australians with even a small backyard or a balcony can still have some fruit production. Citrus grafted onto dwarfing Flying Dragon rootstock mean that almost everyone can at least have a lemon tree either in-ground or pot. Dwarf stone and pome fruits (peaches, nectarines, cherries as well as apples and pears) are also readily available in the Trixzie® range growing to between 1.5m and 2.5m.
Another way to gain greater variety in the smaller backyard plot is to plant multi-grafted fruit trees. The Fruit Salad Tree Company graft up to six different fruit, from the same family, onto the one tree. Multi-grafted citrus, stone and pome fruits can be delivered Australia wide.
Yet, the biggest asset to the edible landscaper are columnar apple trees. The Ballerina® range grows up to 3.5m high by only 600mm wide! These slender beauties make a great edible windbreak around the patch, but can also be used as a structural feature.
More and more Australians are giving up their smashed avocado and using the money saved to build a garden and grow their own. There are now landscape companies who specialise in edible landscaping as well as a growing number of companies producing edible garden beds and dwarf fruit trees – maybe it’s time to have your avocado and eat it too!