There is a place for a vegetable patch in any suburban garden, including wildlife-friendly gardens. Letting nature back in can include growing food plants and letting nature into your kitchen. In keeping with my rather laissez-faire attitude to gardening, we stick with herbs and vegetables that are relatively easy to grow and suited to the local climate and soils.
We have found that cherry tomatoes happily self-seed themselves from year to year and so we have given up trying to grow the larger varieties as they suddenly succumb to mildew and other diseases in our hot and humid summers.
Herbs can be good starter plants in a new vegetable patch as most are hardy and resistant to insects and unappealing to other animals, such as (in our area) monkeys. When we decided to be a bit more adventurous and grow plants such as marrows, we built a monkey-proof enclosure for our vegetables. By building an enclosure, our vegetables and any visiting monkeys or other animals can cohabit separately with no need for stress or hostility. We put up some poles and used weldmesh for the sides and “roof” of the enclosure and used a monkey-proof latch on the gate. Whatever veg-loving critters are in your area, make sure the mesh is small enough that they do not squeeze through!
Our plants grow in a fairly haphazard mixture and being influenced by companion planting we are in the habit of letting flowers, herbs and vegetables intermingle.
We used to grow low-growing ground covers as living mulch but found that the snails really liked this habitat. When we started using only clippings and leaves as mulch very few snails turned up amongst the vegetables. I hope that there is not a more sinister reason for the decline in snails in the garden, especially as we do not use snail bait or any other poisons or even deterrents.
In one corner of the vegetable garden we have a rainwater tank installed to collect rain water from the roof via the roof guttering. It stores enough water for our vegetable garden even during the driest months of the year.
As we are not purists in our vegetable garden, we allow self-seeded pansies to come up every year to brighten the garden, and the flowers can be used in salads. We also encourage nasturtiums as they too are edible and the plants make a good aphid trap. We just pull them out and remove them should they become infested with aphids. Nasturtiums, alongside pansies, rank among the most cheering of plants and they brighten up the veggie garden even in lean times. Other flowering plants such as marigolds are also useful and bright companions in the veggie patch. We use no pesticides or fertilisers, we just add compost at planting times and choose the hardier and easier plants to grow.
In many cultures, traditionally, wild greens were and are gathered for food, so that is an interesting avenue to explore. But if you haven’t grown herbs and veggies before, start with a few easy-to-grow favourites.
Parsley, perennial basil and Greek origanum are our mainstay herbs, and, of course, chillies. Our favourite lettuce is the Cos lettuce as outer leaves can be harvested as the plant continues to grow so that each lettuce plant continues contributing to the salad bowl over several weeks. Rocket, living up to its name, is also easy to grow and makes an excellent contribution to the food table.
Many of these plants will grow in a sunny places in pots or in window boxes, so one can let a bit of nature back in even in small spaces and have something fresh to bring to the table. ★
Posted by Carol at letting nature back in