Gardening for Beginners
By Dani & Michelle
Whether you are after a new hobby or dreaming of that farm-to-table life, now is the perfect time to start a garden! Gardening allows you to slow down, immerse in nature, and feel the rhythm of the seasons. It also gives you yummy food to eat and gorgeous flowers to smell. Win-win!
To learn more about the basics of gardening, I reached out to Michelle, my older sister and a keen gardener. Michelle lives down in South Gippsland in a humble weatherboard nestled amongst the hills. Whenever I visit, the kids are normally outside playing and Michelle is in the garden wearing her very dirty Merry People boots. After hugs and hellos, Michelle often jumps into excitedly showing me what she is growing. And she should be excited! I may embarrass her now, but this year she entered some of her vegetables into the local Korumburra Show and - to her surprise - she won Best Zucchini! (I think for Christmas this year I’m going to get her a plaque to put up on her mailbox!)
Michelle has always been very passionate about the role food plays in our lives, from how it is grown to the social aspects of mealtime. Her cookbooks are like well-studied textbooks, full of post-its, dog-eared pages, and handwritten notes and she is always seeking to learn more about gardening. She believes deeply in the value of creating a joyful meal that brings the family together and gives everyone something to look forward to each night.
Harkening back to our childhood, Michelle is in her gumboots doing what makes her happy. As her sister, that is just the best thing to see and I can’t wait to visit her again (and sneak my niece and nephews a Kinder surprise!). Until then, I’m happy to share her gardening journey and hopefully inspire any newbie green thumbs out there to connect to their garden and food. Enjoy!
Hi Sis! Thanks for chatting with me! Can you tell our Merry community a bit about your background?
I (we) ;) grew up on a farm in Gippsland and always loved being outdoors - making mud pies or daisy chains in the garden with you! In my twenties, I moved to the Gold Coast and stayed there for 12 years. While I loved the Gold Coast and its many outdoor opportunities, part of me yearned to live a simpler life without the cars and traffic and be closer to family in Victoria. So, a year ago, my little family and I moved back to rural living.
How have you found the change in pace back to South Gippsland?
In full honesty - it was hard to adapt! Random power outages, relying on tank water, plus our first real winter in 12 years! That said, despite the shock and adjustment, it was also an adventure and without a doubt, gardening played a pivotal role in connecting us into our new community.
How have you connected back into the community?
After we moved, I joined the local Community Garden and I haven’t looked back. I am so thankful to all the Leongatha Community Garden members. Importantly, the Community Garden helped me navigate a new and uncertain time in my life – something I’m sure a lot of us can relate to right now in our lives.
I love that! I can see that the Leongatha Community Garden and gardening gives you so much happiness! ❤️
It really has. Gardening and its wider community has given me so much joy over the years, and I hope it can give others just as much joy.
From those experiences, what would you advise a novice gardener getting started on their gardening journey?
Probably the most important advice I can give is to treat the whole process as one big experiment and have fun with it. Plant in the rain, rejoice when you see your seeds sprout, and have a celebratory meal with your first harvest - or every harvest! Gardening can be like parenting sometimes – some things will work, some things won’t, but you learn from the process and that makes you better next time.
Besides having fun, here are some more practical tips to get going:
- Start small before you get bigger. Herbs and edible flowers are a great start, especially if space is limited. Joining a community garden is another option to ease yourself into growing your own food and building confidence if you do not have space at home, or you’re new to growing your own food
- Check your soil pH. Invest in a pH Soil Testing kit from your local hardware store. Knowing your soil pH is the difference between your plants thriving, not just surviving. Most things grow well in neutral soil (pH between 6.5-7.5). Anything outside this range hinders the availability of nutrients for your plants to grow. Some exceptions are berries (blueberries, strawberries), which prefer acidic soils.
- Flowers are just as important as your veggies. They will attract good bugs, repel the bad ones, promote pollination, and as an added bonus, they also look pretty in your patch. Some great examples (which are also edible) are Marigold, Nasturtium, Calendula, Cornflowers, and Viola.
- Start composting. Composting is like making lasagna: you need a good balance in your layers for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. Without getting too sciency, the 4 main components of a good compost are:
- Carbon (Browns) – Dry autumn leaves, hay, straw, shredded newspaper, rice hulls.
- Nitrogen (Greens) – Grass clippings after you’ve mowed your lawn or fruit and veggie scraps.
- Air and Water – We need oxygen and water to live. The same applies to the microbes in your compost which are responsible for breaking all this matter down into compost for you.
- Microbes – I’m a huge fan of Millie Ross, especially her resourcefulness and thrifty tips. Her mantra on composting is “If you build it, they will come”; so if you build your compost with a common compost bin (lid on top, open bottom that sits on top of soil), the good bugs will be attracted to your pile and work their way through. If you have an enclosed setup, you can add a good quality compost from your hardware store to get things going. Bokashi bins are very convenient for apartment living if you have no backyard and come with a ‘microbe’ spray to inoculate your compost to get things going.
Thanks Sis xx