Feature

Conditional Vegies

G Magazine

Picking the right plants to suit your garden conditions can save you water and a trip to the supermarket.

Tomatoes

Credit: iStockphoto

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Growing food was something my grandparents took for granted. Planting and harvesting were routines - like washing laundry or cooking dinner - and half of their block in suburban Adelaide was under crop. Eggplant and olives weren't part of their Dutch heritage, but local Italian families grew these 'exotic' foods. Down the road, German friends grew kale in laser-precise beds.

Water was not considered an issue then. But yards are shrinking as houses grow. Water restrictions rule. Surely thirsty edible plants are irresponsibly extravagant when native gardens are so water-wise?

Well, not necessarily. Although vegetables are shallow-rooted and require regular water to crop well, they needn't be as demanding as you think depending on what, when, where and how you cultivate.

Choosing your plants
Exotic or native, plants that are compatible with your own garden's microclimate grow better than ones adapted to different conditions. A rainforest fern may be native, but that doesn’t make it water-wise in Marree. And for micro-micro climate: I'd never grow root crops in this spot, but blackcurrants love the bog below my septic trench!

Edible plants also thrive in hand-watered containers. I have citrus in well-mulched large tubs, while my daughter grows herbs and lettuces on her balcony. This saves money and the environmental cost of transporting, storing and packaging supermarket herbs.

Actually, many common Mediterranean herbs are so drought-tolerant they need little artificial irrigation once established. Edible plants that grow during the wettest season locally and mature before the dry use less water, or plant ornamental fruit trees: in good years they'll fruit, in lean times they're shady and beautiful.

Looking after your vegies
Thorough soil preparation with bulky manure or compost creates a deep, friable, absorbent medium for less frequent watering. Appropriate sprinklers help too: fine sprays lose vast amounts to drift and evaporation, overhead knockers lose less. Drippers, soakers and underground irrigation lose least. If permitted by government regulations, use environment-friendly detergents and recycle grey water onto soil below fruit crops.

Water-wise possibilities are more complex than a simple comparison between natives and vegies. Besides, home-grown food tastes delicious and most children love fresh vegies, and even offspring who refuse anything green at the table will scour snow-pea vines of pods more efficiently than a locust plague!

Growing food appropriate to each garden's microclimate is neither wasteful nor rocket science. Start small with a few hardy herbs and enjoy the literal fruits of your labour!