grown & gathered
Get your hands dirty and discover your inner farmer with this simple guide to growing, gathering and rearing produce in your own backyard – it’s easier than you think!
MANY OF US DREAM of throwing in the towel and living off the land, but what if you could do it all already, in your own backyard, whether it’s in the city, the ’burbs or the country? Authors of Grown & Gathered Matt and Lentil Purbrick are passionate about a traditional, pre-industrial food system that they believe is a mindful, sustainable, balanced and nourishing way to eat and live. Here, they pay it forward by sharing their small-scale farming knowledge so anyone can have a go.
We have multiple chicken houses and each bird has its chosen perch in its chosen home. They go into their houses on their own at dusk – we just lock the door behind them and open it in the morning. Our bird houses have floors so that foxes can’t dig under them, and they can also be moved around. Chickens love a high place to roost, whereas ducks will sleep on the floor. In the wild, fowl don’t normally form groups larger than 20 birds, so we provide enough pens for them to replicate this behaviour. It is thought that they can’t easily remember more “faces” than this, so when more than 20 birds are forced to roost in one space the pecking order breaks down, causing stress and fighting. Please choose poultry and eggs that have been raised on small farms – look for the terms “pastured”, “pasture-raised” or “biodynamic”.
To keep them healthy, happy and producing abundantly, all poultry require free access to: grain, pulse and seed mix; seaweed meal and unrefined salt; clean, fresh water; water for water birds (ducks, geese); food scraps.
A place to lay This has to be large enough for them to quietly hang out in, have nice thick, clean straw on the bottom, and be a little private – something with a top and sides and a small entrance is perfect – so that they feel comfortable and safe. Twenty birds will happily share one laying nest; in fact, they usually do in the wild. If they don’t seem to be getting the point, leave a golf ball in the laying box to encourage them to lay in that spot. A
We keep bees more for the pleasure of the experience than the bonus of honey and bee pollen. Bees pollinate nearly every vegetable and fruit that we grow, so ensuring they’re around is common sense. Bee populations are under threat from chemical-based agriculture, so keeping them to maintain the health of the species is important.
Try an old-style hive We have a top bar hive which is easy to work with. We’ve seen the best results when the bees are initially given an inch or so of foundation comb on each bar to build off, to ensure they build straight. The top-bar hive is intuitively designed to support the natural behaviours of the honey bee, rather than to maximise honey production. We’d prefer the happiest bees, than the biggest honey harvest.
Location is everything Set your bees up in the shade with a clear take-off and landing path ensuring the most efficient flight path, and therefore the most energy for honey and pollen collection. Avoid facing the entrance towards well-used paths, or you’re likely to end up with unnecessary contact. Also avoid facing your hive due south in the Southern Hemisphere or due north in the Northern Hemisphere. East facing is best as the morning light gets your bees buzzing early. Collect bee pollen, but not too much We collect bee pollen by leaving a pollen catcher at the hive entrance for a day and collect enough to last a couple of weeks.
Don’t harvest too frequently or too
late Sometimes we rob the honey stores – but never take more than a third – between summer and early autumn, and then we leave the bees alone with plenty of time to stock up for winter. When we rob the hive, we’re always very careful not to break the honeycomb or expose any honey, because bees will stick to it and that’s that. Done right, harvesting honey causes zero deaths. As soon as we have finished harvesting, the bees just get straight back to work as if nothing has happened. Happy hive, happy keepers.
We don’t believe everyone should be a farmer. But we do believe everyone should grow
something, no matter how small. Growing things is one of the most satisfying and grounding human activities there is. It reminds us that we can actually feed ourselves. And that’s a wonderful realisation to experience. Sun, soil, water: The rule of three For plants to grow, three things need to be right: sun, soil and water. The three interact and support each other, and you simply can’t have a thriving garden without perfecting all three. If you give your plants an optimal environment, they will grow faster, produce more and produce for longer. Master sun, soil and water and you’re most of the way there.
1. Sun – lots of it Most vegetables and flowers love full sun. The more sun they get, the more energy they have to metabolise the nutrients in the soil and grow. Not only that, but the temperature of the soil has an enormous impact on the speed and vigour with which your plants grow. Therefore, where you locate your growing area is probably the most important decision of them all. You want to identify the area that gets the most sun: a north-facing site is ideal in the Southern Hemisphere. If the sunniest spot is right in the middle of your yard, then that is where you want to locate your growing area. Don’t expect things to grow if they’re stuck in the shade.
2. Soil – closing the loop A good soil is teeming with life, nutrient dense, deep and free draining. Luckily, with the addition of just three ingredients you can turn any soil into a living, breathing home for your plants, rich enough to feed them and structurally strong enough to support them and allow for rapid growth. Those three things are manure, worms and compost. Like sun, soil and water, manure, worms and compost are an interrelated family, and it is only together that their true value is fully realised. 3. Water – plants drink when you drink When was the last time you drank no water all day and instead spent two hours drinking in your sleep? Plants aren’t so dissimilar to us in their needs and our philosophy is to treat them like we treat ourselves. We eat, they eat. We grow, they grow. We drink, they drink. Because, just like us, if our plants get stressed, they have a far greater chance of getting sick, and that means reduced yields. In our garden, the plants drink when we drink: nothing overnight and little bits lots of times throughout the day, creating a moisture zone right around their roots – right where they need it, when they want it. As a guide, in our vegie patch in the absolute peak of summer, we water every hour on the hour from 8am until 5pm in three-minute bursts. How you achieve the “little bits of water lots of times” effect is up to you. We use automatic timers. R
A new leaf on life Passionate about seasonal eating and sustainable living, Matt & Lentil share their tried and tested techniques for producing diverse wholefoods, like grains, meat, dairy, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and vegetables in your own garden – whatever the size.
Space to roam Our birds eat less of the grain we offer them when they have more space to self feed, choosing instead to forage and scratch across the land for green plants, wild seeds and insects. In a backyard situation, just let them roam as much as possible.
Dust for land birds (chickens, turkeys) If these birds don’t have access to dry earth to bathe in, it is impossible for them to groom and you will surely end up with lice and mite problems. Again, it doesn’t need to be a huge space, just ensure they have access to dry earth throughout the day – this is often forgotten for backyard chickens!
The fear factor
Matt and Lentil say that unless you’re taking away their honey, bees are quite docile, so don’t fear them and observe their behaviour before harvesting.
You’re good to grow… These are just the basics to get you started in your own yard, for more – like how to build your garden, what to grow when, plus more on animal food, worm farms and gathering food from the wild – buy Grown & Gathered by Matt & Lentil, $45, Pan Macmillan Australia. It also includes yummy recipes to try with your bumper crops!
Reaping the rewards
Matt & Lentil plan and manage their yearly plantings so that they always have something ready to harvest now and always have something growing up to harvest next.