Indira's seven tips to growing your own vegies from seeds
ANYONE who's ever grown their own food knows the incredible flavour and reward that come with it - from nurturing the seed, feeding and watering it to maturity, then your first harvest.
One that sticks out for me was a small crop of rocket I had sewed in a sawn-in-half water tank one spring. The peppery explosion of flavour was out of this world and the crunch, well, it was like nothing you'd ever get in a bag.
There's a growing fascination and yearning for knowledge about the provenance of the food we eat that is fuelling a grow-your-own food movement. Not just in backyards granted the space, but inner city apartment blocks and urban spaces. One of the urban gardeners leading the quiet revolution rolling through our cities and turning concrete into crops is media personality and foodie Indira Naidoo.
On her small 20sq m balcony on the 13th floor of an inner-city Sydney apartment, Indira tends a micro oasis from which she grows 43 different herbs and vegetables a year. In the first year alone, Indira grew more than 70kg of produce on the side of her building, which she documented in her first book, The Edible Balcony.
Her book, a bestseller, has taken her around the world to Hong Kong, London and New York. She came to realise that gardening spaces in cities are limited only by the imagination.
She charts the successes of some of Australia's most innovative kitchen gardens and the green guerrillas behind them in her latest book, The Edible City.
"I was in shock as anyone else is - I really believed that this (growing your own food) was a hard thing to do and I didn't have the skillset; I'd never been a gardener and I wasn't a horticulturist," Indira tells Weekend. "There was a lot of trial and error, but it really wasn't that difficult.
Indira's latest book aims to inspire people to do just that - to dig up the verge on the street or the playground at the school no one uses anymore and convert it into a vegetable garden to feed their communities.
The best way to maximise a small space, she says, is to assess your space for what your plants will need.
"I was lucky my balcony was north-facing, which means I get the maximum sunlight," Indira explains. "Plants need about six to seven hours of sunlight per day to grow, so whatever space you find, make sure you get really good light because that is going to increase your productivity.
"People often think that having a garden can take up a lot of time. Most little gardens like my balcony garden take as little as 10 minutes a day."
The key is to start small. "Put in things like herbs - mints, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint - that are quite easy to grow. Once you master that and get good results, then move on to lettuces, leafy greens and kale, which is popular at the moment. Then when you are comfortable you can move on to tomatoes, eggplants and capsicums etc," Indira says.
"Even if you only have a window sill, with a bit of sun you can grow your own herbs. It honestly just lifts and changes the taste of every meal. And it changes the way you cook. Sometimes I grate some radishes and carrot with my lettuces and have it with a boiled egg for lunch.
"You are reducing the chemicals in your diet and you'll be surprised how much you save.
When we spoke, Indira was about to start tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants and greens for the summer. One of the greatest pleasures of gardening, she says, is sharing the fruits of your labour.
"When you are growing in a small place 'glut' isn't usually a problem because you eat everything you grow," Indira explains.
"Other people are now growing food in my block and we'll share and exchange our produce. Someone will call and they are making spaghetti and need oregano, so I'll pop some oregano in the lift and send it up to their floor.
"It's quite beautiful; the bartering, sharing and exchange system that comes out of gardening."
Starting today we'll be giving away a free packet of seeds every day for three weeks, while stocks last.
The seeds will include a great selection of fruit and vegetables, herbs and flowers, allowing you to start planting a backyard patch bursting with flavour and colour.
All you need to do is cut out your daily coupon from this newspaper and take it to your local participating news-agent.
As well as giving you a great start to your garden, we're also giving one lucky reader the chance to win a day with outdoors guru Costa Georgiadis, who will help you plan and create your ideal vegie patch.
Indira's tips for starting a vegie garden from seed:
CHOOSE ORGANIC SEEDS.
Even if you grow in organic soil and don't use pesticide, the plant is going be contaminated as they are generally sprayed with pesticide.
ESTABLISH PLANTS IN SEED TRAYS.
At this time of year it can still get quite cold, so it's best to start your seedlings in a warm place indoors. Transport to pots outside once they reach 3-4cm in height.
START WITH A GOOD QUALITY SOIL.
If you are growing in pots, use a good organic potting mix and add some manure and compost. Vegetables need lots of nutrients, they are very hungry feeders.
MULCHING IS IMPORTANT.
Put down some lucerne, hay or even pebbles - something that covers the soil to reduce the evaporation of water from pots.
KEEP YOUR VEGIES WELL WATERED.
The biggest thing for people is they forget to water their plants. You only need to water a little bit every day, especially those first few weeks while your seeds are growing. One of the first things I do in the morning is go out and water the plants while I'm having a coffee. Then they look after themselves.
FEED PLANTS EVERY SIX WEEKS.
Simply add a seaweed fertiliser or fish emulsion into your watering can to strengthen the plants.
Store your seeds in a cool, dry place, or preferably the refrigerator in food-storage bags or a mason jar. Humidity and warmth shorten a seed's shelf-life
When you're ready to plant, remove the container from the fridge and allow to reach room temperature before opening. This will prevent seeds from clumping.