You don’t have to be a green thumb or a veggie garden geek to put The Little Veggie Patch Co’s Guide to Backyard Farming to good use. The authors, Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember (referred to hereon as the Veggie Boys), explain the intricacies of backyard edible gardening step-by-step, month-by-month.
The book is divided into 12 chapters, one for each month of the year. Each chapter explains what to plant, what to harvest, and what to cook using each month’s seasonal stash (a recipe is provided). An activity is included in each chapter and sometimes a “how-to” guide for a particular task, such as how to organise the tool shed. (At our place it’s called the Man Shed and unfortunately the Veggie Boys don’t give tips on how to reclaim real estate rights if you’re female, so i skimmed this part.)
The Veggie Boys have built a business — The Little Veggie Patch Co — on advising people how to grow their own food, so they know their stuff. The book’s launch was perfectly timed to coincide with spring, when green thumbs, brown thumbs, and those who are plain old fingers and thumbs, transition from winter couch potatoes into wannabe backyard blitzers.
I flicked through the book on the way to our nearest DIY emporium — Bunnings. The bloke wanted to find things with which to fill his Man Shed and I, inspired by Sydney’s spring-time burst of sunshine, wanted to stock up on seedlings.
I found little inspiration in the September chapter’s “what to plant” section. Of the seven suggested plants — asparagus, lemon, lime, olive, orange, passionfruit and rhubarb — only the latter was sufficiently fast growing and compact to be practical for my small plot.
Then I found the two-page chart at the back of the book that lists over 50 fruit and vegetables by month and climatic zone, which gave me a much bigger shopping list. After battling man, woman and (an annoyingly precocious) child, i left Bunnings with green beans, butter beans, red gem lettuce, cherry tomato, and carrots — purple ones to be precise.
The book is a touch formulaic, but it’s fun and an excellent source of information.
Right up the front is a page titled “Where am I?” and a map of the four climatic zones of Australia: cool, temperate, subtropical, tropical. I nearly skipped this section in my haste to move onto something i didn’t already know. “I know where i am, stupid,” I scoffed. “In the bath with a beer.” (I was, at the time, as it happens). I actually thought i was in “temperate” Sydney. On further reading i stood corrected (not literally, i was in the bath swigging beer after all, so it could have been dangerous). Sydney is actually classified as subtropical. That could explain why some of my veggie gardening is a failure. Take my Brussels sprouts. I’ve just yanked out the plants. Great foliage, nice height, but not a sprout in sight. It turns out they need frost. Subtropical Sydney doesn’t get cold enough.
The 12 activities, with step-by-step photography, are a nice touch but some of them are a bit ‘Tara Dennis’ (the domestic goddess on Better Homes and Gardens who shows people with too much time on their hands how to make handicraft crap — like candle holders from shells and junk you can find in the Man Shed). Take, for example, the Veggie Boys’ idea of stenciling the name of plants on pots, or their pointy ended herb markers, which you make from plywood, coat in blackboard paint, and emblazon with the name of individual herbs in white pen paint. You’re supposed to stick them in the garden to identify plants.
Caught up in spring fever and with the smell of sawdust in the air at Bunnings, I considered taking a crack at this particular task. How much plywood did the activity call for? What were the measurements? Why did I leave the damn book in the car? Then I saw a pack of 50 white plastic markers for $2.98 and returned to reality (and practicality).
Other tasks are potentially much more rewarding, such as how to make cider. Now, that sounds like my kind of activity! Others provide practical advice for novice gardeners, such as how to graft a fruit tree, sow seeds, or grow rosemary from a cutting.
I wish i’d known rosemary cuttings could be transplanted when I flogged my house a few months ago. I begrudgingly left behind a mature rosemary plant — not to mention a BBQ, and a gorgeous sandstone Buddha water feature, and a dish washer (i’m back to scrubbing dishes by hand), and countless other add-ons — for the b*st*rds who bought the joint. (I’m sure they’re lovely people really, but it was hard parting with that pad.)
But that’s what The Little Veggie Patch Co’s Guide to Backyard Farming is all about: having someone to show you the ropes and turn those brown thumbs into green thumbs. Best of luck with that!
The Little Veggie Patch Co’s Guide to Backyard Farming