Grow your own wa­ter-wise back­yard vegie gar­den

Dubbo Photo News - - News Extra - By JOHN RYAN

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

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