Matt's green fingers

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Q1. Matt, you grow your own vegetables. How did you get started with this?

“About 5 years ago now, the house we were having built was nearing completion. We needed a landscaping plan for final sign-off and to get an occupancy certificate (to prove it was fit to live in).  We contacted a small number of landscapers, and the quotes were as high as 6-digit numbers!  As a result, we decided we’d slowly do most of it ourselves.”

“Also: I don’t like mowing, but I am certainly a fan of food!  So, my wife came up with a plan where the front yard would become a vegetable garden instead of just being grass. The front yard faces north - the equivalent of facing south in the northern hemisphere - so that was the most suitable place for a vegetable garden. Conventional landscaping wisdom says that you can’t have a vegetable garden in an un-enclosed front yard because it’s too unattractive, but we forged ahead regardless.”

“Apart from one experiment with planting some tomatoes that I had left in the fridge for too long, I’d never done any ‘gardening’ beyond mowing lawns & line-trimming lawn edges.”

Conventional landscaping wisdom says that you can’t have a vegetable garden in an un-enclosed front yard because it’s too unattractive, but we forged ahead regardless.

Matt Cremer

Q2. For you, autumn starts this month. What tasks lay ahead in preparation? Do you grow indoors as well?

“Autumn and winter in Sydney are still ‘growing season’, you just have to plant different things. The most wintery event we get at our place (about a half-hour walk from the Sofico office) is a light frost overnight maybe 30 times a winter on average. The frosts do get heavier and more frequent as you head further inland towards the mountains.”

“If I plant seedlings in the middle of winter, I usually put them in punnets under a plastic lid to protect them overnight, but that isn’t needed for the ones I started planting last weekend: butter-beans and snow peas and leeks.  Other things I’ll consider planting soon are kale, spinach or silverbeet, beetroot, and broccoli … as it is a bit late for Brussels sprouts.”

“Unfortunately, there seem to be a lot of aphids and other pests around, which are all too willing to feast on the likes of my broccoli.  I try to encourage the lady beetles (which eat them), and I only use organic pest-controls (and as sparingly as possible), but I still find it best not to plant too many of the things that the pests like to eat.”

“It’s in August, at the end of winter when I’m usually looking at adding compost and soil to the garden beds, turning soil over, etc.  Although some of the fruit on my eggplants have been a bit small this year, so I think that garden-bed may need to lay fallow over the winter this year.”

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Autumn and winter in Sydney are still ‘growing season’, you just have to plant different things.

Matt Cremer

Q3. We were told you are self-sufficient. How many vegetables are we talking about?

“Someone has been exaggerating! (laughs) It’s only a small garden, approximately 40m2.  We have four wicking beds which are 800mm tall and 1m x 2m (these have a plastic liner to retain water), 4 half wine-barrels, half a dozen large pots, and the “front fence” is also about 8m of raised garden-bed.”

We have some miniature citrus, but volumes are only about 50 blood oranges and 25 ruby red grapefruit per year, maybe 50 lemonades and about 50 limes.

Currently, we’re getting maybe three small capsicums a week, a dozen eggplants, 3-4 zucchini tromboncino and I just picked a dozen delicate squashes (which are small, sweet pumpkins – each is about the size of two hamburger buns).  Apart from that, we do get plenty of herbs such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic chives, and lots of parsley. These generally grow year-round.  We did have a couple of dozen lettuce plants, but we ate most of those and I’m growing the next batch in punnets now.

So, it’s not enough to be self-sufficient, although we do have too much of some things from time to time.  I still have 4 yellow beetroots (all the taste of purple beetroot without the purple mess!) slowly growing since this time last year because I haven’t yet had a chance to pick and cook them.”

I wasn’t aware that zucchini is sweet until we grew them.

Matt Cremer

Q4. Do you specialize in certain vegetables? Some specials one can’t find in regular stores?

“We tend to concentrate on things which grow well and taste good, more than we do on varieties that can’t be easily obtained. However, we also tend not to grow things that are very cheap or which you use a lot of because in my experience it’s not cheaper to grow most things than it is to buy them.  So, things like onions & carrots we don’t bother growing.”

“I guess I should at this point say that we’re not growing the fruit and veggies because it’s cheaper.  With as little space as we have, I can’t see it ever getting any more financially viable than ‘breaking even’. We’re really only doing it for the taste and admittedly, also for the novelty. Plus, for some reason, there’s just that little bit more enjoyment in eating something you went to the effort of growing yourself.”

“We do find that most of what we grow tastes that little bit better than what you can buy.  Or even more so.  For example, I wasn’t aware that zucchini is sweet until we grew them.”

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Q5. Can you give us some insights in how to organize a garden? Some vegetables don’t do so well when they are close together, no?

“I’m not an expert!  My two most used gardening tools are Google and YouTube. (laughs) The things I’ve been growing seem to generally play nicely with each other, and the biggest problems I’ve had with plantings are when I have neglected to research the size of the adult plant, hence planting them too close to each other.”

“There are some things I know to do, such as not putting the same plants in the same soil year-after-year (‘rotating crops’), the fact that basil and tomatoes grow well together and to have flowering plants around, to encourage the native and imported honeybees which pollinate your fruit.”

My two most used gardening tools are Google and YouTube.

Matt Cremer

Q6. Do you also give vegetables to colleagues?

“I must admit that I’m fairly greedy with my produce, as it does take some effort to grow it. (laughs) But when we have an over-supply, and it’s something that’s relatively transportable, it has been known to come into the office to be taken on a first-come-first-serve basis.” ?

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