Growing food in small spaces has taken off across the North-West | The Advocate

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Whether they’ve got a jar on the windowsill, a pot on the balcony or a box layered with cardboard, hay and compost, droves of Coasters are starting their own mini food gardens. The pandemic, it seems, has got people back to the soil. A Tasmanian seed supply shop has reported a 20-fold increase in orders for vegetable and herb seeds, and local nurseries are struggling to keep up with demand. Kelly Milikins runs Live Well Tasmania, a community garden in Wynyard, and she says she has noticed a big surge in interest from people wanting to raise food at home. “Since the virus, there’s been a lot more talk about growing your own food and how are we going to survive if we’re at home and can’t go out. What can we do?” She said two main things were pushing people into exploring backyard or indoor gardening – food security and health. “They want fresher vegetables, and are looking at how to grow their own veggies for nutrition, and they’re scared because things might vanish. “They want fresh produce, and secondly veggies and fruit with no chemicals and sprays – food that’s not going to harm them and their families.” Ms Milikins used to teach horticulture, after running a landscaping business on the mainland. Years of designing native gardens along the Murray River during a ten year drought, prompted her, her partner and two children to move to Tasmania in 2009. “We were climate refugees.” Now she was seeing a huge boom in the popularity of growing it at home. “There is a massive influx of people heading towards growing what they can do themselves.” Where once it was mainly the elderly who pottered in the garden, now it’s a new generation wanting those skills in self-reliance. “People are reaching out to each other to help share all these resources. “We feel safe, and there’s something we can do – we can grow our own veggies and that is very empowering.” Ms Milkins said there were many ways people could start, and it didn’t have to be costly. The main thing was to grow vegetables that liked the local climate. “You could have some pots inside as long as they are near a window and near warmth. “All your leafy greens like a lettuce and salad pot, rocket, lettuce, radishes come up in 10 days. “You can get styrofoam trays for free from the local shop, fill them with soil and put in leafy greens, turnips, and carrots.” She said a nice sunny sunroom, or a little hot house worked well. “We’re in a cool climate so you need to get lots and lots of sun. If it’s outside, the garden plot needs to be north-facing.” The return to home-grown produce would have other benefits, she believed, with people connecting more with their neighbours. “People who grow veggies love to share their knowledge. “If someone’s driving down the road and they see someone growing something, they would love to help with advice and share seedlings. “Just ask them,” was her advice. Ms Milikins has also seen a big rise in school gardens and people wanting to set them up. “Even an early learning centre, where each room has a little vegetable garden or plot where they can contribute to learning where food comes from, and food security, and how they can think about growing food for community members.” She said children were far more likely to eat food they had helped to grow, recalling her early years helping her parents and grandmother in the garden. “I started with my Nan and my Mum and Dad. They have a self-sufficient garden in Victoria and they’re in their 70s and they share with their neighbours. Someone will prune, and they will swap produce. “It’s about connecting again in communities.” Live Well Tasmania is a sustainable agriculture community in itself. It is based on a model of food production and distribution between the farmers who grow it and the people who eat it. “We have veggie boxes every week, with food from the community garden and the farm down the road. “Families offer weekly subscriptions and we give them veggies and a newsletter with handy hints so they don’t waste produce.” Over in Penguin, part-time permaculture teacher Nick Towle tends an orchard at the RESEED Centre, and runs courses for people wanting to learn more. As a former acute medicine specialist, he also teaches acute care and global health perspectives to students at the Rural Clinical School. He agrees there is a definite resurgence of interest in home-grown food. “Maybe that interest will translate into some practical change, like growing food in pots or growing sprouts on the bench.” He said while many people had grown up with the skills to grow their own food, there was a whole sector of the community who had never had to think about it. “The supermarkets have always been there. We’ve not been through any period of hardship or rationing of food. “We’ve given it over to long supply chains and a global food system. “But food is one area where we can have sense of control.” He said his message was to ‘give it a go’. “If you have a bit of grass or a balcony, that is how you start. “Begin with what you can manage, and you can keep going after you’ve had a bit of success.” He said growing food inside could be a first step. “If you had a windowsill you could grow sprouts or micro greens. “Use the seed raising trays and put a salad mix into that, then grow them to a small height, then clip them and use them – especially if you’re pressed for time.” He, too, said fruit and vegetable shops threw out styrofoam boxes every week, which were ideal growing trays. “It can be very, very simple. “Fill it with soil, or if you don’t have soil, layer it like a lasagne with cardboard, then newspaper and a bit of straw, then add a layer of manure or compost and another layer of hay. “That will get you started very quickly. Then put little pockets into the top layer of straw or soil and put your seed in that. “Over the months, the rest will break down.” He advised new gardeners to look for heirloom or locally grown seeds, as they were the hardiest and the most likely to succeed. Both Ms Milikins and Dr Towle said there were numerous online resources, like the Good Life Permaculture video on what you can grow in eight weeks. So whether it’s sprouts or carrots, growing your own food during a pandemic will give you a boost in more ways than one. While you’re with us, did you know that you can now sign up to receive breaking news updates and daily headlines direct to your inbox? Sign up here.

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