Growing your own – Texas edition

It’s the most glorious day here in Austin. Our garden has been gradually progressing over the last of winter as I’ve hauled out acres of weeds and started mulching with grass clippings, but I feel confident that it’s now warm enough to start actually planting and I’m really, really excited.

We tried to grow some vegetables last summer when we first arrived. I took such good care of the tomatoes, peppers and basil for a handful of atrocious, 100-plus degree days before the plants suddenly started disappearing. One day there was a thriving tomato plant, the next day there was a thriving half of a tomato plant and the day after, there was no evidence that there had ever been a tomato plant at all. It took a while, but I eventually discovered the culprit. Squirrels. I was heartbroken. I love squirrels! I didn’t want to think ill of them! But the evidence pointed fairly and squarely at squirrels, and as a dumb Australian, I wasn’t quite sure what to do.

This is what we’ve done:

You can barely see the netting - it's really fine, which means it's not the eyesore we'd anticipated.

You can barely see the netting – it’s really fine, which means it’s not the eyesore we’d anticipated.

We’re still not 100% sure how well it will work, but it feels relatively squirrel-proof. Basically, we went down to Home Depot last weekend and bought a bunch of tall stakes and deer-proof netting. We’ve wrapped three sides in the netting, with the fourth attached to an additional stake, which we can lift out as needed, kind of like a gate. We’ve also covered over the top of the garden, because if you’re going to do a job, you may as well do it properly. Now we just need to create some tent-peg-style things to hold down the netting at the bottom – and once that’s done, we can get everything into the ground.

So, what’s everything? Well, this season we’ve got two different types of heirloom tomatoes, one hot and one mild red pepper, the tiniest wee snow pea (a gift from Ronin Cooking at Foodways), lots of sweet basil and an Italian parsley (already planted, since it’s less appealing to squirrels). We’ve still got crazy thickets of oregano and mint left from last season too – somehow they survived the intense heat of August and September, and then the severe frosts of December and January (I’m pretty sure they could handle the apocalypse at this stage). We should hopefully have everything in the garden and thriving by the end of the weekend.

Please excuse our insanely lush grass - we only mowed two weeks ago! It's crazy!

Please excuse our insanely lush grass – we only mowed two weeks ago! It’s crazy!

I really can’t wait until harvest time. Leaving behind our garden in Sydney was one of the tough parts of moving overseas. Making basil pesto is one of my favourite things, and there’s a certain special pleasure that comes from growing, harvesting, prepping and cooking things from your own garden. Not only does it usually taste a thousand-fold better, I love that sense of connection to the earth, and that sense of achievement when you’ve done something yourself, right from the start.

What are you planning to grow this spring? Those of you in the southern hemisphere, what did you grow over summer?


TEDx Manhattan: Food, Race, Class

Once again, I’ve been terrible at getting to blogging lately. Life can be so distracting, especially when the chaos of SXSW is on all around you and it’s your first time with your entire city turned inside out and upside down by music and people and then more music.

About two weeks ago though, I went to a viewing of the TEDx Manhattan conference at the Sustainable Food Center. It was a really relaxed afternoon, but it was also an opportunity for me to really stretch my own understanding of food systems and food justice in America in particular. Hearing about day to day life as a Black woman living in New York and the food challenges associated with race and class in that area that was something entirely new to me, and really thought-provoking. The talk I’m mainly referring to here was by Dr. Regina Bernard-Carreno (although another really noteworthy and fantastic talk on race and food was by Nikki Silvestri who did one of my favourite talks of the day).

You can watch Dr Bernard-Carreno’s talk here (NB: It seems to be incorrectly named, but this is definitely the talk!):

Part of what I found so fascinating about Dr Bernard-Carreno’s talk was the divide that also exists, not just in food access, but between those working to ensure food access.

‘Everyone here too, was young [and] white’

Dr Bernard-Carreno describes her journey around New York with her students, trying to find a good, local, city-gardening model that they could replicate on their own small plot in Queens. The first three or so gardens that they visited sound as though they were run by young-white-hipster types with absolutely zero idea of how to engage with and understand their local community. To be honest, some sounded like they weren’t even that interested in working with their neighbours either, charging exorbitant fees for tours and/or setting visitors to work hard in their garden while sitting down to enjoy their own lunch. There was a social gulf between the farmers and the visitors that should not have been there. Hearing this story really bothered me. On the one level, it bothered me because to me, urban gardening is about community and sharing and engagement and equality.  On another level, it bothered me because food access isn’t just about food on shelves, it’s about sharing the knowledge and skills to grow and provide food. None of these things were provided by these young urban farmers and this concerns me. Changing our food system to ensure equitable food access cannot be an exclusive venture. It can’t be the privileged handing out food to the underprivileged. It needs to be an inclusive action, a sharing of ideas, a development of the strengths of the whole community, whatever their circumstances.

The good thing is, there are groups who recognise this. Eventually, Dr Bernard-Carreno and her students found an urban farm that operated on those principles. This article on NPR’s website about JuJu Harris was absolutely inspirational – a real joy to read. It also shows what is so, so important: that sharing of knowledge and skill with everyone, no matter their race or socioeconomic status.

We can change the food system for the better, but not if we’re letting our social circumstances divide us.

Update on the veggie patch

You guys may remember our veggie patch back in late October from this post. I thought I’d just share with you how the garden is going…

PicMonkey Collage

Our tomato plants are trying to take over the entire garden. We have hundreds more tiny green ones still on the bush – the top right hand corner is part of the first harvest (we ate some before I took this photo). Everything apart from the capsicums is thriving like crazy and I get excited every time I walk out the back door. Even better, I’ll hopefully be able to keep the edible garden going all year round – David gave me the Little Veggie Patch Co’s Guide to Backyard Farming for Christmas, which recommends fruits and vegetables for planting and harvesting all year round.
For now though, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that everything will bounce back okay after today’s heat – it’s been 43 degrees Celsius in Sydney…

Exciting news and a garden sneak peek!

I mentioned the other day that we have been on a bit of a plant collecting rampage lately, so I thought it was about time I shared some photos of our tiny, crowded and very well loved garden.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s pretty hard to opt out of the industrial food system and one of the only ways to do so is to grow-your-own.  Not always easy when you’re living on a square poofteenth of an acre.  That said, in the bottom left photo, you can see our wee vegie patch, where we are growing three types of tomato, capsicums, oregano, rosemary and two titchy kale plants.  On the other side of the garden we also have a struggling parsley plant, basil and mint.

We’re also growing some trees – in pots at this stage.  Check out my gingko!  And my maple!

The pots you can see around the back of the garden bed (and the garden bed itself) mainly contain Australian natives – Grevilleas, Kangaroo Paws, Pink and Black Tea Trees, Emu Paw and Banksia.  There are a gazillion more pots on the roof of the house, where Dave’s stage one bonsai farm is growing merrily – you can’t waste space when you barely have any!  I’ll try to get some shots soon.

And finally for the day (and totally unrelated to our garden), I have exciting news.  I have officially been offered a place in the Masters of Science in Environmental Health!  I had previously been enrolled in the Postgrad Diploma in Environmental Studies – the slightly shorter program and the breadth of subjects offered suited me better when I first went back to uni.  Now that I know the direction I want to go in, I’m thrilled that I can actually move forward in it!

I am so excited!


But there’s no such thing as climate change!

I beg to differ.

This was last Friday.  Mid-October, mid-spring in Australia:

Yes, that is snow.

Last weekend, we traveled up to David’s parents place in Central Western NSW for his sister’s graduation party.  We were almost unable to get there due to crazy, unseasonable weather that saw both of the roads west out of Sydney closed until about 4pm.

The next day though?  Blazingly sunny and about 30 degrees.


Other than the travel problems though, we had a really great time out there.  The party was lovely.  We hit up the Dubbo Forestry Commission and bought about 20 new plants super cheaply – eucalypts and banksias and tea trees and gingkos and bottlebrushes and…

We have lots of planting to do this weekend as a result, so I’ll share some photos of that soon.  It’s brilliant having a garden again, albeit still a small one.

Anyway, here are a few other photos from the weekend.  One of my favourite things about travelling even just a little way inland is the big-ness and blue-ness of the sky.  When I lived overseas, the Australian sky was what I missed the most.

(Please excuse the photo quality – these were all taken with an iPhone, some from a moving car):


We are moving house again!  As of this coming weekend, we will finally have a backyard, after 9 months of apartment living.  Spring is here now, so this is very, very exciting.

Recently though, we have had some new adventures in apartment gardening, in the form of a mushroom box.  The hot water system cupboard under our kitchen sink has become the dark, warm home to some enthusiastically growing mushrooms.

Exhibit A:

Arty mushroom shot thanks to David

Exhibit B:

Yes, the mushroom is nearly as big as my head. Yes, I’m wearing a super daggy, oversized hoodie :]


wandering for sanity

Over the last few weeks, as the weather has got warmer and my workload has increased, I’ve been wandering across to the Royal Botanical Gardens during my lunchbreaks or later in the afternoon – it’s like a little sanity interlude. So I thought I’d share a few photos of my favourite section – the herb garden.

It may seem like an odd choice – most people I know are more in love with the rose garden (which I find both gaudy and barren at the same time – I effing HATE roses) or just walking along near the harbour (which admittedly is spectacular). But there is something really un-ostentatious and peaceful about the herb garden. There’s also something about the practicality of a herb garden vs. the aesthetics of a botanic gardens that really appeals to me. So, without further ado, here are some pictures:

I think this is a type of dogbane:


White lavender:


If someone can identify this, that would be awesome. It looks a tiny bit like feverfew but I’m not sure:


the first hints of spring

I’ve just about finished a ghastly essay on stakeholder analysis in environmental decision making.  It has utterly fried my brain all weekend – somehow, it’s a thousand times more complex than it sounds- so I thought I’d share a few photos of the first signs of spring that are showing in our garden (and of a few of my favourite succulents).  Apologies, my camera is on the blink once again, so you’re stuck with the iPhone and instagram edits (the weather is bleak and washed out a lot of the colour)


And my favourite indoor succulent that is growing like crazy and didn’t need editing:

plant rescue weekends

Surprise, surprise…we’ve bought more plants.  I know, I know…we are nothing if not predictable.  But these plants are a little more special than usual. These are rescue plants. These are the plants that may change my gardening habits a lot.

Firstly. last weekend we were out at Bunnings Warehouse again.  In the spirit of restraint, I only bought two new succulents (!) and two plants from the ‘Discount Table’ which is more of a ‘We-Have-Totally-Given-Up-On-These-Plants-But-Don’t-Want-To-Lose-Profit’ table.  It’s a sad little corner – I want to save everything, even the roses.  And I freakin’ hate roses.

One was a ridiculously sickly lavender marked down to $2.  I’ve since transplanted it into a window box which gets lots of sun and light and loaded it up with fresh compost.  I’m not holding out much hope though.

The other was this incredible, shaggy mess of a geranium, marked down to $3.50.  It was practically exploding from its pot, just one quite lovely flower in bloom.  I couldn’t leave it behind.

I got to transplanting it this weekend – it was obviously far too big for its pot.  I was pretty horrified to see just how much too big it was though:

It was completely pot-bound.  The roots had actually started growing up, back into the leaves and branches of the plant.  I was borderline furious.  I know Bunnings is a hardware.  I know it’s all about the bottom line in terms of price.  But plants completely outgrowing their pots is such an easy problem to prevent.  Combined with the number of bugs and flying things I’ve seen at Bunnings at Alexandria, I think I’ll be going elsewhere for plants in future.  Denial eh?  Hell of a thing.

Luckily, we found this brilliant garden centre, also in Alexandria.  Pre-Loved Roots (insert 14-year-old-boy giggle here) is basically like the Salvo’s for plants.  People who move to apartments, people who can no longer look after their plants and people who just lack the time and inclination can call PLR, who will come and pick them up and tend them until they are sold on.  As such, there was a huge and really interesting range of established plants for super cheap prices.  We came home with some enormous buxus trees for Dave to bonsai, a jade plant, an crazy little cactus and a pretty wee succulent for about $30.


Yes, Dave is trying to give the Jade bunny-ears


Sorry, this is appallingly blurry!

It’s good to know that some places actually care about the plants that they sell.  PLR was an incredible place – I would really recommend it, particularly for cacti, succulents and bromeliads – the selection of those plants was really huge.