Growing your own food can be a rewarding way to use your backyard or balcony.
For Lou Ridsdale, it’s also a therapeutic way to remember her late mother.
“She was a marvellous gardener herself, so it was a great way to connect with her through nature,” Lou says.
The Ballarat music promoter often grows so much produce that there’s plenty to give away.
The laneway beside her house has become a place where neighbours can share their surplus produce, and help those in need.
As part of our 7 Tips series, where passionate folks help you learn something new (or lift your game), Lou shares her tips for helping homegrown fruit and vegetables thrive.
Start with rich soil
Lou says having the best nutrients in your soil will improve the quality of what you grow.
She makes her own rich compost by combining her kitchen and garden scraps with manure from her chickens.
“Concentrate on all the organic matter you can pop in your compost and you will be rewarded,” she says.
Plants need plenty of hydration, so don’t neglect your watering regime.
That might mean organising someone to look after your plants when you’re away or installing irrigation drips before the weather heats up.
Position for light
Lou says north-facing light is the best, and recommends observing how the sun travels over your garden during the day, which will change with the seasons.
“Crops need a maximum of eight hours of sunlight per day,” she says.
“But be mindful that some produce needs shade, like lettuce.”
Use banana peels for citrus plants
To give your citrus trees a boost in growth, Lou let slip on this trick:
“Peel a banana skin and put that skin in the soil at the base of the plant and it will really thrive,” she says.
“An Italian nonna taught me that trick.”
Let your plants go to seed
Around 80 per cent of Lou’s garden is planted from seeds she’s kept from previous years.
On top of saving money on seeds or seedlings, Lou says there’s an added benefit of allowing your produce to go to seed.
“It brings in beneficial insects which act as a natural organic pest control system,” she says.
Use egg shells to defend against snails and slugs
Lou uses crushed egg shells to deter leaf-munching snails and slugs.
“Scatter them onto the soil and the snails will turn away because they don’t like walking on crushed surfaces.”
Don’t give up
Lou says the golden rule of gardening is nature will tell you if it doesn’t want to grow something somewhere.
“There’s nothing wrong with a crop failure. It teaches you something and it makes next time easier,” she says.
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