growing your own food. mat pember tells us how.

I grow a fair whack of my own food and can tell you that the health benefits, enjoyment and simplicity it affords is pretty rad. I don’t do it to make some pious point, I do it because it’s simply better for me! It’s also more economical, I might add.

Burping my zucchini baby.

Back in the day, growing at least some edibles was the norm. As our lives got busier and more stressful, we started caring more about the quality of our TV screens than that of our food. Food-growing dropped off the mainstream agenda. But hold on to your popsicles, it’s creeping back!

I’m really fired up to get everyone around me inspired to join the movement. It’s a Movement I tell you, taking back our food production! If you don’t want to do it for the environmental benefits (less food transporting, zero chemicals etc), then do it for the health benefits. Food plucked from the soil the minute before you’re going to eat it has 858305583030397 times more nutritional value than food bought at a store. If you don’t want to do it for the health benefits, do it for the savings. Half the vegetables I eat I’ve plucked for free from my patch, which means I spend half as much as I used to on bought vegetables.

Chatting with Mat. P.S I'd shortened an old pair of jeans into shorts the night before.

Lucky food growing doesn’t have to be complicated then, and to prove the point I chatted with Mat Pember, one half of The Little Veggie Patch Co. Mat’s a believer in keeping things simple and beautiful so that you may feel inspired and energised by your little patch, not overwhelmed and over it. I’ve paraphrased a few of Mat’s best tips here:

Don’t let lack of sunlight hold you back
Don’t have a north-facing block? Neither do I! Simply grow varieties that can take less sunlight. Mat says that as a general rule, flowering varieties such as capsicums, zucchini, tomatoes and cucumbers need 4 – 6 hours of filtered (doesn’t have to be direct) sunlight a day. Non-flowering varieties like herbs, lettuces, leafy greens (silverbeet, spinach, kale etc) and root veggies need only 2 – 4 hours a day. You can also do things to boost light in the area, for instance by painting an adjoining wall in white to reflect as much light as possible back on to the vegetables.

Start small
Don’t go out and buy 35 different varieties to plant. If you’ve never done this veg-growing thing before, start with a small handful of varieties as an experiment. The key is to not plant so much that you end up overwhelmed. Start small, build up as you succeed.

Use the best soil you can afford
For beginners, Mat recommends starting out with container gardening. Grab yourself some pots or any receptacle you can find (styrofoam boxes from greengrocers are good and free) and purchase the best quality potting mix you can afford. Plants thrive in rich, alive soil, so don’t just use soil from your garden unless you’ve been composting, as this won’t be rich enough.

Mat's kindly shared this short clip on selecting the right-sized pot for the job:

If you’re confident and want to plant out in your garden, enliven your soil by mixing through quality compost before you plant out, and mulch with pea straw. I’ll be posting on how to compost soon.

Grow things you like to eat often
Generally it’ll be things like herbs, lettuces and leafy greens such as silverbeet, rainbow chard, kale, spinach etc. These edibles grow easily and even more vigorously when they are picked. By picking and eating regularly, you’ll be encouraging more growth. Win win!

Buy heirloom (yes heirloom) seeds
Not just for wanky types. Conventional seeds - which you’ll find in most nurseries and giant hardware stores - are produced and packed overseas. Check the packet. They are pretty much all packed in the UK! These seeds are produced in a way that renders them unable to be saved for use the following year, which means you have to keep buying new seeds every year.

Heirloom seeds, in contrast, have been handed down by food growers over generations. There’s much more variety, they are able to be saved and they perform better because they’ve been raised in and have become accustomed to the local environment. The Little Veggie Patch Co sell them, as do The Diggers Club. You can also find heirloom seeds on ebay (buy as local as you can find).

Use seedlings if you’re impatient
If you want results sooner, purchase seedlings rather than seeds. They’re also easier if you’re only just starting out. Herbs are much easier to grow from seedlings.

Prevent rather than manage pests
There are many cheap and organic pest control concoctions you can make up, but Mat suggests the best thing to do is avoid pest problems to begin with. Using local heirloom seeds is a good start – these are generally more resistant to pests. Other tricks include watering your plants in the morning rather than the evening. Pests come out to play at night and are attracted by water. Finally, keep the area under the plants clean of fallen rotting leaves.

Always mix in a few flowers too
80% of the vegetables we eat are pollinated by bees. Planting flowers such as marigold or flowering herbs (thyme) in amongst your veggies attracts more bees and hopefully results in more vegetables on your plate.

From my mum's backyard!

Mat’s quick tips
  • Just do it, just plant stuff right now.
  • Start small. Don’t get too excited and then get overwhelmed.
  • Grow things you’ll eat often.
  • Use bigger pots... the bigger the pot the longer the plant will last.
  • Make your patch look beautiful. You’ll be more likely to gravitate towards it and it’ll make you happy.

What to grow now?
Right now is the time to plant:
  • Peas
  • Broadbeans
  • Kale
  • Silverbeet
  • Lettuces
  • Herbs – coriander, parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary
  • Root vegetables – carrots, beetroot, radishes, potatoes

Beautiful seed packets from The Little Veggie Patch Co.

If you're in the Melbourne area, pop into the Little Veggie Patch Co's pop-up patch on the roof of the Fed Square car park and visit their gorgeous nursery in St Kilda East.

Do you grow any edibles? Got any cool tips to share?


  1. My tip is grow something that keeps on giving and you don't have to do much. If you have space in your garden and a temperate climate - stick an organic sweetpotato in the ground at the beginning of spring and it will grow and grow and grow. Free Sweet potatoes for ever.

    1. Awesome tip, haven't planted sweet potato before but have been wanting to. Thanks Kim!

  2. Hi Maria -do you have tips on dealing with pests? I am new to growing stuff and planted oregano, thyme, and rosemary seedlings. My oregano is being attacked by something, but I haven't seen the culprit. The leaf is only being partially eaten with the remaining leaf transparent. Cheers Mel

    1. Hi Mel, mmm, sounds like a little aphid or leafminer issue or something... pretty rare, oregano is usually a pest deterrant! You can try mixing your own white oil spray, that should work. There's a recipe for it here:

      I'll be doing a post on organic pest control shortly, so stay tuned.

      Good luck!

    2. thanks Maria - look forward to your pest control segment.



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