Growing food on your own quarter-acre block is a “pipedream” for many aspiring gardeners.
But the key is to start small, as Edith Chow and her partner Shannon did at their apartment block on Bidjigal Country, in Coogee in Sydney’s east.
Edith started eyeing off “the patch of dirt” behind her building after successfully growing herbs and other plants on their balcony.
“We ran out of space,” Edith told Gardening Australia host Costa Georgiadis.
“We had one plant, two plants, then we acquired some veggie beds.”
Edith and Shannon approached the Strata committee for approval to set up two garden beds in a common area of the block.
“We had that for about one or two months, and naturally, it wasn’t enough.”
There’s now 15 beds — all filled with fruit and vegetables during the warmer months.
Edith found the recycled garden beds through online marketplaces and bought several tons of soil to fill them up.
Crops now include spinach, silverbeet, rocket, lettuce, Asian greens, cabbage, kale and broccoli.
In spring and summer they also have pumpkin, peas, eggplant, cucumber, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes and various herbs.
Edith’s advice for people looking to grow in a shared space is to gather a few supportive neighbors “before taking it to the overall strata community”.
“Have some designs in your head already that you can pitch and really make sure you take responsibility,” she says.
She says it’s about putting the subject on the agenda for discussion, so that it is included in minutes of committee meetings or even made into a by-law.
“We’re lucky and unique that there are only six units in the block,” Edith says.
While Edith owns the unit she lives in, the same approach applies if you are renting.
“The strata committee would need to know who is responsible, and what would happen if the renter leaves,” she says.
Challenges with the space
In the cooler months, considerable shade is cast over the garden from a neighbor building.
This is a common dilemma for gardeners in higher density areas.
Even in summer Edith and Shannon experiment with the “light situation.”
She visits the garden at different times of the day and marks out where there is full sun and observes how the light and shady areas change.
Edith recommends starting small with some strawberries or herbs, or a few pots in a sunny area, then build up to one garden bed.
Shannon also says to start with herbs then work your way to fruit and veggies.
He says things like brassicas take up a bit of space, so go for leafy greens, tomatoes, chillies and capsicums.
Creating a community
The garden is a space where the neighbors can talk to each other and perhaps pick a few herbs for dinner.
Edith lets the neighbors know if there is left over produce through the building’s WhatsApp group.
She’s keen to learn more about gardening and connects with other gardeners both online and in person.
“There’s a huge community out there for advice, swaps, chats and that was helpful, because none of my friends were interested,” Edith says.
She’s been involved with Grow it local — a grass roots community gardening organisation, and did an eight-week course on permaculture at a local community centre.
While she works as a lawyer by day, Edith’s dream is to one day own a hobby farm.
“I would love to be completely self sustainable. I want to practice the permaculture principals I learned, to create a habitat and land for insects and animals.”
Watch Edith’s story on Gardening Australia, on Friday May 13.
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