Food gardening

Food gardening: an overview

Looking for a way to save money? Through savvy food gardening – seed saving and swapping, wasting less food, and only using what you need when you need it – you can get fresh, organic veggies cheaper.

Homegrown food is also tasty and nutritious and comes bundled with pride and satisfaction. It’s a great activity to do with kids too – they’ll learn a new skill, as well as explore plants, soil, bugs and the seasons, just to name a few things. AND it’s a small way you can help look after the environment and green your neighbourhood.

Best of all, growing food isn’t too hard. It takes enthusiasm, a bit of experimentation and a willingness to try and try again. Failing is normal when it comes to food gardening, but with persistence – and our handy tips – your results will be so worth it.

strawberries in a raised garden bed
Start small with a single pot or garden bed.

Start small and easy

Start small with a single pot or garden bed that you can manage. Growing food is about nourishment, not stress.

Next, choose edibles that are easy to grow and will give you confidence.

capsicums in a raised garden bed
Start with things you like to eat.

Seeds are the cheapest option – you will get more in a packet than in a punnet of seedlings. Some vegetables are better grown from seed too because they don’t like to be replanted. Staples like carrots, corn and zucchini all prefer to be grown from seed.

Seedlings can be a great way to get a head start though, allowing you to enjoy homegrown food sooner. If you want to plant seedlings, don’t be fooled by availability – garden centres often sell them out of season, so it’s best to check before you buy.

Share the start-up costs

Team up with family, friends or neighbours and share the cost of seeds or seedlings.

Most people will find one or 2 plants provides enough for their household, so you could split a packet of seeds between many!

Seedlings come in punnets of 6 plants, so that could be enough for 3 to 6 households especially with something like eggplants which produce a lot of fruit.

You could even coordinate buying different veggies and herbs and swap the seeds, to give you a broad range of delicious produce.

Grow what you like to eat

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But growing what you and your family love to eat makes it all the more fun.

If there’s a specific veggie that your kids love, consider getting them to help plant it so they can see the full cycle from seed through to plate!

Learn the basics

When it comes to growing food, there are a few golden rules for healthy and delicious crops:

  • start with soil that’s full of organic matter and nutrients to help your plants thrive
  • buy or build soil that’s free-draining, crumbly and moist
  • plant in the full sun wherever possible
  • water regularly
  • mulch to keep moisture in the soil.

Know what to grow, when

You’ll need to know the right time of year to plant things. Check out our handy guide.

Grow local native plants

Local native plants are a great addition to a food garden.

Flowering native plants can attract beneficial insects that help keep your veggies and herbs safe from predators – aka the bad bugs.

Native plants, especially those that are from your local area, are best suited to your climate and are more likely to thrive with less TLC in the form of water, herbicides and pesticides.

There are also many edible native plants like river mint, sea celery and muntries.

To learn First Nations’ use of native plants, visit Provenance Indigenous Plants or the Living Kaurna Cultural Centre, or watch Clem Newchurch’s free online talk through our Grow It Local food gardening resource.

Plant in pots

If you’ve got a small yard, live in a rental property or only have a balcony, pots will be your best friend.

Herbs like coriander, basil, mint and chives thrive in pots and most veggies will take to them too provided the soil is rich, they’ve got good drainage and the pot is big enough – be careful not too cram too many plants into one pot!

raised garden beds
Raised garden beds are a great option.

Build raised beds

Raised garden beds are an open-bottomed box filled with soil. They are space efficient and great for growing smaller crops. They give you control over soil quality, especially if you suspect your soil may be contaminated. Plus, their height is a bonus for anyone with back issues or in a wheelchair.

Raised garden beds are an easy DIY project.

Consider wicking beds or raingardens

Wicking beds are heroes in a hot, dry climate. They hold water in the bottom of the bed, allowing plants to drink continuously and helping them to thrive.

Moisture is drawn up through the soil via a process called ‘wicking’, which means your thirsty veggies water themselves. You can build a wicking bed from mostly reclaimed materials and online help.

Raingardens – a garden specially-designed to maximise rain capture – are another great option, especially if you tend to forget to water your plants. Check out Melbourne Water’s fact sheet on building a vegetable raingarden to get started.

Buy bulk compost

Buying compost in bulk from a garden centre or directly from the people who make it, is a lot cheaper than the small plastic bags you’ll find readily available at a hardware store.

Find others keen to split the cost of a trailer of compost or a large amount delivered to your home and you’re likely to have 10 times the compost for the same amount as those little bags. What a hack!

Community garden communal garden bed
Community gardens are a great place to learn new skills.

Attend workshops

Workshops provide hands-on practical advice from experts, and are full of like-minded people who might become food-growing friends. Check out the Adelaide Sustainability Centre, Port Environment Centre, Sustainable Communities and SA Urban Food Network for their programs.

Join or visit a local community garden

Community gardens are a great way to gain support from experienced gardeners, access communal tools and perhaps a more diverse range of fresh produce, and give you extra space if you don’t have the room at home – you can generally rent a raised garden bed for super cheap!

Search online to find one near you or start by joining the SA Community Garden Network Facebook group.