Grow your own food

I was very fortunate to grow up in an environment where my family taught me how to farm and to grow our own food. In the end, we are what we eat and we live in the environment we create. So what if the environment we live in could be our own garden, with fruits and vegetables with a taste that we have long forgotten after years of buying processed food or vegetables wrapped in plastic from the “convenient” supermarket? 

The time you invest getting your supplies from the supermarket, those hours spent finding parking and impatiently waiting in the long rush hour queue could be invested in something much better than simply getting plastic wrapped food supplies

What if this process would ground you? What if this process would leave you happy every day? What if it would keep you fit, healthy, and calm

And of course: supply you with the freshest, healthiest and tastiest fruits and vegetables you have ever eaten in your life? The more we look after our land, the more it will look after us. We are what we eat, what we do and who we associate with.

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The secret of a beautiful and efficient outcome when creating your own garden ist the design. The more effort and thought you put in the design before you start transforming your garden, the better the outcome will be. We suggest you to take a seat in your garden to sketch out your area on a paper, with the following in mind: 

A decision on fruits & vegetables
First of all you should have an idea of which fruits and vegetables you would preferably like to grow. They all have specific needs in regard to temperature, soil and (sun)light. Please consider if your weather and garden conditions will be able to meet their needs. 
Sunlight, shade & wind
Sunlight plays the most important role when growing your own food. Without sunlight nothing will grow. But keep in mind: Some plants do not like to be in full sun the whole day. You might have to build a shady area. Inform yourself before you make your design what conditions the plants you are aiming to grow require. Your garden beds should not be placed in an area of constant high wind. 
Waterflow, water source & irrigation system
The best is to organise your new garden that way, that the plants requiring the most water, are closest to the water source. This will safe you time and energy in the future. The water source needs to be able to be connected with the irrigation system later so that the entire garden can be reached and watered comfortably. 
Garden bed width
Each graden bed should not be wider than 150 cm in width, when accessible from both sides. The length can be as long as your garden allows. It is most important to always keep in mind that you have to be able to access it at all times. Working from the edge of the bed, keep in mind that you can not reach out more than 75 cm (in average) with your arms to work comfortably. Therefore, if your garden bed is not accessible from all sides, make sure the width of the beds is not wider than 75 cm. t
Garden bed edging
Think about how you would like to have the edges of your garden bed and what you would prefer here. We suggest to recycle and reuse materials that are not longer needed in other places. Rocks, bricks and wood are common forms used for garden bed edging. In Australia it is possible to get free wood on webpages such as Gumtree from people, that are urgently looking for someone to take it off them and recycle it. 
Retain walls
Not every garden is flat, so some gardens might require a retain wall, which can be built from rocks or wood. When using rocks, build the retain wall slightly tilted towards the garden bed and not fully straight. Place the bigger rocks at the bottom and the smaller ones at the top. When building a retain wall with timber, make sure to place enough pillars to hold the timber and the pressure of the soil of the garden bed. Depending on the length of your timber you might have to put 2-3 extra pillars. 

Access path and width
A path that is a step wide, is a good path. It is enough space to walk around and work on the beds but at the same time gives you the ability to use your space to grow your fruits and vegetables efficiently. Personally I would always recommend to design the paths curvy, as it will add character to your garden, but of course it depends on the space you have available. Then think about how you want your path to look like: would you like to fill it with wood chips, rocks, pebbles, bricks oder even wood (be careful wood can be very slippery when wet!). See which colours of rocks, bricks or pebbles you would like and how it would fit in your surrounding and make a decision accordingly. In any case to receive a good outcome the path should be clearly visible and the added material should stop grass and weeds from growing on the path. 

Depending on your area, you might want to build a fence around your fruit and veggie beds to prevent them from animals enjoying your homegrown food too (e.g. deer). It is important that the pillars are distanced symmetrical. 1/4 of each pillar has to be inside the ground, it is important to make sure the fence structure is really strong. The beams should be nailed on the structure from the outside of the fence. Make sure you leave space for a gate. 
While making your design you should keep the calculation of the arising cost in mind. Be realistic and think of available free recycling options. In Australia there is lots of free material available (such as wood), advertised on Gumtree to just pick up and reuse. Once you have the final sum calculated it might sound like quite a bit of money that needs to be invested. Keep in mind the money you will safe in the long run by growing your own food. The money invested now will give you back more than just cheaper vegetables, it is a whole experience that will increase your life's quality significantly.
Ask yourself how long it will take you to build the garden in accordance to your design. Make a realistic plan and see how much manpower is needed. In accordance to the plan, if you want to grow from the seed directly, it might be a good idea to start sowing seeds in a tray, so they can grow while you are building. Keep in mind that your soil needs to be prepared before planting (mixed with compost or compost tea) and then rest a week or two. 

If you do not have enough manpower or you would like some inexpensive help from someone experienced, advertise for one or a few volunteers online. Many young people are travelling the world and are looking for options to stay a few nights for free in a locals’ house including joining their meals in exchange for a few hours of work daily and a good cultural experience where they can share their skills (wwoofing and workaway).

Make sure you have the tools ready needed for your project and organise a way to rent them or purchase them early enough to get yourself familiar with them.

Step 2: Transformation

Once the design is ready, the area should be cleared.

The most important thing is to always be safe at any time. Wear safety boots, gloves, sun protection and drink enough water. Take breaks and do not push yourself too much.

Weed, grass  and other bush should be removed to be able to start building the beds and paths. I recommend to clear everything first and then double check once more with your design before you purchase the material. Sometimes seeing the area cleared  might bring a few more ideas and changes to your mind and it would be sad if you have already purchased something and then realise you would have liked it differently. Measure everything accurately before you make any purchase to make sure ending up not to having too much or too little. 

If everything looks as you wish and in accordance to your plan, start the building process. Purchase your material, dig up the beds, prepare the soil (mix with compost or compost tea and turn it multiple times, then let it rest a week or two). Start install the edges of the garden beds, filling the paths with the chosen material and fence the garden if necessary. Most important: make sure you have access to a water source and install an irrigation system

I personally would recommend to work bed by bed from the beginning to the end, to see how you are going with your time, manpower and resources. Otherwise if it is just yourself working on it, you might end up not being fast enough to finalise the cleared areas and you might have to clear them a second time, which can be avoided. Expand bigger with the experience you gain

The more neat and clean you work, the more you will be satisfied in your own work and achievement later. 

Now your transformed garden can be filled with life. Make sure your soil is well prepared and start planting the vegetables in their suitable areas, water them regularly and watch them growing.

The right spot
Make sure you are growing your plants in the right area. A plant that loves light should be planted in the section of the garden that receives most sunlight. 
A shade-loving plant should go in a darker corner that receives less sunlight. 
It is always helpful, to check how long the sun will be in that particular spot you have chosen. Just because it has morning sun, it might not be enough for a plant that requires sun all day.

How to water
Even though rain does the same, simply holding the hose over the plant and letting the water drizzle on all the leaves is not the best way. If you have to water by hand, it means you are living in sunny, dry conditions with not enough rain. When the rain waters the plants, the sky is covered with clouds. The clouds are protecting the earth from the sun so the plant, its fruits and leaves are all safe to get wet.

Mulching around your plants is never a bad idea. In hot areas it prevents the soil from drying out too fast and stops the weeds from growing. For mulch, you can use a variety of things. Many people use straw, i often use old leaves of my garden plants, or you could even use wood chips. It is just a matter of applying it to the soil so that it is fully covered and can protect your beds.

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Projects & experience

The gardens you see in the pictures below belong to a yoga retreat center in otford, south of Sydney, Australia, called Govinda Valley.
Govinda valley is host to over 80 yoga groups per year providing two large yoga halls, 18 rooms as accomodation and a dining hall that fits 75 people. I lived and worked on the premises for 5 years and built and maintained these gardens to make the project self sustainable.

With a team of international volunteers we created several gardens where there was just bush before. Govinda valley is now able to provide plenty of organically home grown food to its retreat guests, volunteers, staff members and its own retreat market all year around. The majority of the materials are reused and recycled. The aim was to keep the building costs as low as possible which was significantly successfull by working with volunteers from all over the world and recycling recourses from other places that were giving materials away for free advertised through online platforms such as gumtree or ebay.

During my time in Govinda Valley I was very fortunate to work all these years together with Milkwood, a project in australia specialised in teaching and sharing permaculture skills. Milkwood hosts their courses several times a year at Govinda valley. Being very fortunate I was able to attend the program myself and since 2017 I am holding a permaculture design certificate.

Still looking for some more inspiration?

Grow your own Future!

"Grow your own future"  is an inspirational talk about the urban agricultural movement. Our friend paul proposes the idea of how we need to eliminate Sydney's obsession with lawn and golf courses and start converting these spaces into urban community farms a term called "agrihoods". This can be applied for any other city in the world. By converting our cities lawn spaces and golf courses to areas of food production we can drastically reduce our reliance on oil, increase public health and bring a sense of community back to our cities.

Watch now: 

A life changing movie: Living the Change!

Living the Change explores solutions to the global crises we face today – solutions any one of us can be part of – through the inspiring stories of people pioneering change in their own lives and in their communities in order to live in a sustainable and regenerative way.

Watch now here.

No idea what to do with your harvest? 

Join SoultoSouls diverse world of taste with our cookbook "Yoga food by SoultoSoul Kitchen".

On 274  pages you will find a modern approach to  a yogic vegetarian and vegan diet supporting our aim to create awareness about vegetarianism and the diversity of its taste.