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The myth of the black thumb
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Pass it on
I'm reading
The myth of the black thumb
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
The myth of the black thumb
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
8 August 2013

The myth of the black thumb

We can all be gardeners with the right recipe…

Written by Natasha Grogan

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

I have always been surprised by the number of people who have told me that they have a “black thumb”. Apparently these people kill everything they touch. Brutal. I don’t believe in black thumbs. When I was a kid my Mum used to say, “If you can read a recipe, you can cook”. This adage can also be applied to gardening. If you follow the recipe you can grow food and, just as with cooking, to grow your own food you need to follow the rules. So for all those people out there who have been defeated by dirt in the past, I’m going to give you my simple recipe for growing your own vegetable garden.

When I teach kindergarten kids, the first question I ask them is, “What is needed for plants to grow?”  They always know the answer: sun, rain, dirt and seeds.

Sunlight is vital to your garden. I often find my husband sitting on the couch with his face to the sun. He tells me he is photosynthesising. Plants, like my husband, convert light into a chemical energy that is fuel for growth. You need from six to eight hours of sunlight a day to have happy plants. Before you choose where to plant, spend a few days paying attention to where the sun falls in your yard. Planning before you plant will save you time and potential disappointment in the future.

Everyone knows that it is essential to water their garden, but “how much water should I apply?” and “how often?” are questions that I am asked a lot. A vegetable garden needs from three to five centimetres of water a week. As I am based in Melbourne, where the weather is an unpredictable beast, I have lived with the simple rule of watering by touch and sight. On a dry day, if you make a little hole in the soil with your finger and discover that the soil is dry, then water. I am a huge advocate of irrigation, especially drip lines for vegetable gardens. They are surprisingly easy to install and worth the money. However, I also very much enjoy watering by hand. My advice is to stand still and water well, thereby encouraging the roots to search deep into the soil.

Dirt! “We are gardeners now,” I tell the children. So we will call it soil. Your soil has many roles in your plants’ lives. It is the anchor, the food and the water holder. The health of your plants depends on the health of your soil. You want your soil to be a rich brown colour. You want to be able to squeeze it into a ball and for it to easily break apart in your fingers. You want little friends like worms to live there. To get your soil on track, add manure (I suggest cow manure and a little poultry) and organic compost. A vital part of your soil is the top layer of mulch that you use to surround the plants. I use lucerne mulch at a thickness of about five centimetres. Make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the base of the plants.

When you are considering what to plant, head to your local nursery and see what seedlings are being sold. They will always be selling plants that are in keeping with the season. Don’t be scared to ask questions and always plant the vegetables that you enjoy eating. Buying seeds is a cheaper option and food like carrots, beetroots and lettuce grow better from seeds. Read the information on the packets–it tells you everything from when to plant to how to sow the seed.

Planting the right seeds/seedlings at the right time is vitally important when it comes to growing your own food. Recently, a friend told me how disappointed she and her children were when their attempts to grow a home garden were unsuccessful. Upon further investigation I discovered that they had planted seeds that were out of season. It reminded me how easy it is for simple mistakes to result in disappointment, which can lead to a reluctance to persevere.

I know as well as you do that when following a recipe the results aren’t always perfect. That’s often because the essential ingredients of intuition, creativity and passion can’t be written down. Each garden will be different, but I promise you: if you follow this recipe, you will grow food and that black thumb you think you have will turn your own shade of green.

Natasha Grogan

Natasha Grogan runs The Sage Garden, a business that educates and encourages children and their families to grow through gardening.

Feature image by Natasha Grogan

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