Grow your own water-wise backyard vegie garden
DUBBO is suffering from a lack of rain like much of Australia’s eastern states, and it’s not just lawns that will suffer under tightening water restrictions.
The humble vegetable garden out the back is surging in popularity as people move away from processed food, and those tired supermarket vegetables that may have travelled from the ends of the earth and then been stored for months, according to local grower John Cook.
He’s found a water-wise way of growing his own fresh produce to cope with the extraordinary drought conditions.
It’s a hydroponic method called the Kratky method, named after a professor in Hawaii.
“(Kratky) basically worked out from his research that you could grow your vegetables just in water, without soil. The water has to have nutrients in it,” he explained.
“You never water them during the day, you never put a hose on them, and they drink the water from below which gives them the nutrients they need. The nutrient level drops and the plants grow air-roots out of the side of them at the top, just underneath where they’re planted, and that’s how they breathe,” Mr Cook told
“You can grow lettuce for, say, up to eight or nine months without having to water them, you just pick the leaves and the plant keeps producing.
“I love doing it.
“I could see there was going to be a problem with water restrictions in this area, which has since occurred. (Using this method) basically means that I can grow my vegetables without having to water by a hand-held hose. All I need to do is top up the container with just a few litres of water when it gets too low.”
Mr Cook says he usually only needs to add water back in every two or three months, and even then only a minimal amount of water is required. “It’s just a tiny fraction of what you need for a traditional vegie garden,” he said.
The Cooks are now providing vegies to their kids, neighbours, and the neighbours’ friends with half of their dozen vegie boxes growing lettuce.
“I reckon I’m providing lettuce for about six families out of those six boxes,” he said, pointing to the healthy looking crop nearby.
“One lady asked me the other day what variety lettuce I was growing because she has never tasted lettuce with the flavour these ones have. Certainly they don’t have the transport miles of the lettuce in the supermarket, so they’re full of flavour and not bland at all,” Mr Cook said.
“The taste of all the vegies is absolutely brilliant. You just walk out your back door, pick fresh spinach and cook it straight away for your meal – you just won’t get food that tastes like that out of a supermarket.
“We’ve got a lot of spinach growing, all sorts of things, strawberries and you can grow root crops like carrots and potatoes which I haven’t tried yet.
“Lots of people grow tomatoes in this system and you don’t have to give them a daily water during summer,” he said.
Mr Cook says he may not be a hunter of food, out spearing wild animals, but he certainly takes plenty of pleasure out of growing and gathering his fresh vegies.
“It’s terrific, (my wife) Maureen comes home and tells me we need some sage leaves and thymes for tea, and some spinach, and I just go out the back door, pick it and bring them in. You don’t have to buy a packet of herbs from the supermarket, use a tenth of them and throw the rest away, you just pick what you need as you need it,” Mr Cook said.
This system uses little space and it doesn’t need soil so it’s very handy for people who may have downsized to a unit and don’t have a backyard.
He believes you can grow almost anything on the verandah of a unit using the Kratky method. Mr Cook has watched online videos showing city people with these water-wise gardens on their highrise balconies, where they don’t have the space for a conventional garden. “It really is a plant-andwatch system,” Mr Cook said.
“The nutrients are cheap, I pay $30 a kilo and that lasts me about 12 months. The only other cost is a tiny amount of water, the plastic bins I bought for about $6 each. The cups I use are one cent each and you support the plants in the growing cups with clay pebbles, rocks or gravel, anything that doesn’t form a hard surface.
“I think plenty of people in Dubbo would benefit from this. I think the clue is to start off small, work out how to do it, and then you can expand your operations later on.
“I’m giving the in-ground gardening away and just going to this,” he said.
Mr Cook said it’s like aquaponics without having to worry about keeping fish alive and healthy.
The concept is not a new one. Some South American indigenous peoples used nutrient-rich lakes for their agriculture prior to colonisation, making rafts from bamboo and placing the plants so the roots drew moisture and nutrients from the water.
John Cook highly recommends the low-water Kratky method of growing fresh vegetables. PHOTOS: DUBBO PHOTO NEWS