Feel-good gardening: How edible gardening can benefit your mental health.

If you think that edible gardening is all about the delicious end-product, think again! Research shows us that it can also be great for our mental health, in many different ways. Natalie from the FFH team looks at some of the ways that we can benefit mentally from edible gardening.

I spent much of last weekend researching cucumber recipes. Is it too much to have cucumber in an entrée and a main? What about a cucumber dessert, is that pushing it? I had finally managed to grow a vegetable to a great size for eating, and I wanted to showcase it in everything! As it turns out, I am not alone in feeling proud of my small gardening feat. Prior to the Food from Home campaign launch, the team at enliven surveyed South East Melbournians and found that almost 80% found that a sense of achievement is one of the most appealing parts of growing food at home.

My enjoyment from growing my cucumber didn’t just come from being able to eat it. Joy also came from the process of growing; spending time each day in the garden, asking my neighbour for her growing tips and finally inviting family over to share my 3-course cucumber dinner. Similarly, the mental health benefits of edible gardening don’t only come from eating the fruits and vegetables that you grow. The process of gardening itself supports mental health and can provide benefits to your mental health. Indeed, for the locals in the South East who were already edible gardeners, almost 65% nominated mental health/wellbeing as the one of the main reasons why they grow food at home.

“My veggie patch is in my front yard and I engage with heaps of passers-by. From there I share produce, seeds, knowledge, joy and plants.”

South East Melbourne Growing Food at Home Survey

Defining Mental Health
Mental health can be a difficult concept to define. Often, it is used as a substitute term for mental health conditions (such an anxiety or depression), but mental health is an important part of our overall health. The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of wellbeing that allows individuals to realise their own abilities, cope with normal stresses in life, work or study productively and contribute to their community.

Edible gardening can benefit people with mental health conditions, as well as helping to promote mental health for all people.

Gardening to promote mental health
There are many different aspects of edible gardening that are beneficial. Below are some examples of how edible gardening can help us to maintain or improve our mental health.

Connection to nature:

Before you even get your hands into the soil, just being in a garden can benefit your mental health! Research has shown that everything from looking at a view of nature through a window, to having green areas nearby can benefit aspects of your mental health. These include improved mood, wellbeing by reducing the impact of stressors.

Here are some ways to immerse yourself in the benefits of nature during your edible gardening journey:

  • Consider including non-edible elements that might encourage you to spend more time in your garden. These could include trees for shade, a bench, chair, or table.
  • If you do not have a yard or garden at home think about the way you can transform other spaces, such as your balcony or windowsill to a green space. Alternatively, think about visiting a local public park or community garden to spend some time in nature.
  • If there are activities that you love doing to relax or unwind, consider doing these in the garden. The next time you want to do a puzzle, read a book or play cards, think about doing this in your garden.

Social interaction:

The act of developing a garden, as well as enjoying the produce that you grow, can help you to form social connections in your local community and develop a sense of belonging and inclusion. Research has demonstrated that social connectedness can benefit mental health and reduce distress. Specific research into gardening has also shown that involvement in at-home or community gardening can reduce loneliness, improve social connection and benefit wellbeing.

Here are some ways to encourage social contact during your edible gardening journey:

  • Taking part in a community garden is also a great way to connect with people in your neighbourhood, and can offer opportunities for social connection and knowledge exchange. A Community Garden Directory is coming soon! Subscribe here to our newsletter to stay updated.
  • Try gardening in the front yard. One of the FFH survey respondents found this a great conversation starter with their neighbours: “My veggie patch is in my front yard and I engage with heaps of passers-by. From there I share produce, seeds, knowledge, joy and plants.”
  • Consider involving others in growing, harvesting, or eating the produce that you grow. You could have a working bee with friends to help you establish your edible garden, have your kids help with harvesting, or organise a meal with family to enjoy and showcase the delicious food that you have grown.
  • The Food from Home Community Facebook group is a great way to connect with local edible gardeners and share your gardening tips or questions.

Eating fruit and vegetables:

What you grow in your edible garden can also benefit your mental health. Research has shown that fruit and vegetable intake can support good mental health.

Here are some ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake in your edible garden:

  • Grow what you like to eat and what you eat most often.
  • One survey participant found that their edible garden also led them to find new things that they loved to eat. “I can grow things that are never available in stores (like Jerusalem artichokes) and try some new things. [My] favourite herb [that I] only tried since growing, is lovage.”
  • Consider growing different produce than your friends and family. This way, you can share what you grow and try a variety of fruits and vegetables. You can also attend local crop-swaps to try and learn about what other locals are growing in their garden.

The next time you’re in your garden, relax and stay a little longer. Do not underestimate the benefits of having an edible garden. Not only are you doing your bit to help the environment, but you are helping to take care of your own mental health.

– Natalie (FFH team) 🌱

More than just food: How edible gardening benefits our environment.

People decide to garden for a variety of reasons. Many enjoy edible gardening because of the mental, physical and social health benefits it provides. What you may be unaware of, is that edible gardening can also positively impact the environment and help to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Here are some reasons how edible gardening can benefit the environment, and how you can become a more sustainable edible gardener:

Reducing CO2 emissions: Plants as natural cleaners

Plants and green spaces can act has highly effective air and ground cleaners. Plants absorb many air pollutants including carbon dioxide, while releasing clean oxygen that we breathe in.

Roots uptake much of what they come into contact with, such as chemicals and metals found in the soil. This may not always be best for your plant, but this can help alert you to poor soil quality and problems that lie below the surface.

Reducing food miles

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Food miles is a measure of carbon-based fuel used to get food to you. On average, fruit and vegetables in Australian supermarkets travel an average 745km from farm gate to shop. This creates an average of 49g of CO2 emissions per kilo of fruit (CERES, 2007).

If you grow your own fruit and vegetables, even just a few on a balcony or courtyard, you are reducing food miles as well as reducing time, energy and waste.

  • Tip #1: Grow from seed using seeds you saved from previous harvests to reduce your carbon emissions even further (resource coming soon to our website about seed saving!). Selecting heirloom and heritage seeds can also promote plant biodiversity.
  • Tip #2: To maximise benefits, choose to grow something that you and your family eat a lot of and/or that is expensive to buy in mainstream supermarkets. For example, herbs are easy to grow in small spaces, they do not need too much watering and there is something to grow all-year round. Choosing to grow foods that are often packaged in single use plastics (like herbs and berries etc.) at supermarkets, will further reduce your carbon footprint.  
  • Tip #3: Supplement or diversify your own home-grown produce by coordinating different crop varieties to swap with neighbours and friends, or attending local ‘crop swaps’ to keep our food local and environmental impact low.

Reduce use of chemical pesticides

Using natural pest management, organic gardening techniques, and companion planting are changes you can make in your garden to help further reduce carbon emissions. Many chemical pesticides require a high amount of energy and emit carbon dioxide in their production and transportation. In addition, the chemicals used in these products can also be harmful to your soil and plant quality and can kill off the ‘good’ bugs we need in our garden. Make sure to keep an eye out on our Resource page for a new resource coming soon all about Natural Pest Remedies.

Reducing waste: composting

Reducing the amount of organic waste (i.e. food scraps and edible garden waste) we send to landfill can reduce the amount of methane produced, which is a harmful greenhouse gas. Although your compost heap at home produces some carbon dioxide, applying it to your soil helps to increase you soil quality, helping it to retain more carbon. Some local councils also offer rebates to residents buying compost bins, bokashi systems and worm farms! If you don’t have the space or equipment to compost, try looking into community composting schemes like Share Waste, where you can drop your organic waste to your neighbours who may have chickens, worm farms, or compost bins!

Click links below to learn more:
Casey rebate system
Cardinia rebate system

Reducing waste: thrifty gardening

Get creative! There are lots of clever ideas for reusing and recycling in your edible garden which means less waste and plastics going to landfill.

Here’s some crafty ideas to get you started:

  • Using newspaper seedling pots instead of plastic ones,
  • Planting out old wheelbarrows, furniture or kitchen appliances (bowls etc),
  • Using old chicken wire as a trellis for vertical plants,
  • Shopping at local op-shops to find terracotta pots and other old furniture you can transform to garden material.

Local plant/produce swaps or ‘Buy Nothing‘ groups are also a great way to give away old or unwanted tools, pots and plants without them going to landfill – you might find one or two recycled treasures yourself!

Take home messages:

  • Do not underestimate the collective impact of individuals in taking action at a household and community level.
  • Do what you can – you don’t have to have a large backyard to grow food at home – transforming any space to a green space is a step towards a greener and brighter world.

    Cheers to sustainable living! 🌱
    – Georgia (FFH team)

Fast food: How to get from seed to feed in less time!

Does a lack of patience hold you back from growing food at home? You’re not alone. But edible gardening doesn’t have to be time-consuming, nor do you have to wait months on end to actually harvest something (despite this process being incredibly satisfying for some)! 

With the right plants and set-up, you can create a productive and fast-growing edible garden with minimal time and energy. Selecting seeds and plants that are quick to grow can keep you motivated, keep young children interested, and means you’ll get to experience the rewards of your home-grown produce sooner. 

Your fast food menu… 
The following plants are notorious for producing fast and plentiful harvests that are sure to satisfy the most impatient edible gardener. Coincidentally, many of these crops are also among the ‘easiest’ to grow, making them perfect for beginners and those wanting to build their confidence. 

Radish
Time from sowing to harvest: Approximately 21 days 
Where to grow: Sow direct into pots, containers, or garden beds 
When to grow: All year round


Top tip: Radishes are completely edible – enjoy the leaves and roots to really maximise your harvest! Learn how to store and prepare radishes here.
 
Lettuce 
Time from sowing to harvest: Approximately 21-28 days 
Where to grow: Sow direct into pots, containers, or garden beds 
When to grow: All year round 


Top tip: Choose a ‘cut-and-come-again variety’ for an ongoing supply and to prolong your harvest! Harvest from the outside leaves first. Learn more about how to plant and maintain your lettuce crops here

Spinach 
Time from sowing to harvest: Approximately 30-40 days 
Where to grow: Sow direct into pots, containers, or garden beds 
When to grow: Autumn – Winter


Top tip: From about three weeks, you can harvest the small leaves first and use them for salads! Learn more about the different varieties of spinach you can grow here.

Microgreens
Time from sowing to harvest: Approximately 7-10 days 
Where to grow: Inside on a windowsill, in seed trays 
When to grow: All year round 


Top tip: Microgreens are ready to harvest as soon as they have their first set of ‘baby leaves’. Learn more here in this video from Gardening Australia.  

Some other ‘fast food’ options
Asian greens, turnips, peas, baby carrots, rocket, cress, spring onions, and green beans. 

Additional things to consider:

  • Soil quality will affect how quickly things grow, so buy the best soil/ potting mix you can afford! 
  • Utilise fertilisers such as compost and worm tea for a nutrient boost and to speed things up.
  • Keep in mind there are many other factors that can influence the growth rate of your veggies like humidity, moisture, sunlight, and pests. 
  • Most plants will grow quicker in the warmer months 
  • Purchase seedlings instead of seeds if you’re wanting a head start! 

In summary
Not all food from home needs to be fast, however starting out with some quick growing varieties might help some of us develop the skills, confidence, and motivation we need to embark on a longer-term edible gardening journey. Talk to any edible gardener and you’ll commonly hear about the immense satisfaction and appreciation that can come from growing slower crops such as pumpkins, avocadoes, and brussels sprouts. Edible gardening can even be a valuable lesson in patience and persistence! Head to our resources page for more information and fact-sheets to help get you started.

Remember, we’re all in this together. Share your edible gardening photos and experiences with us on Instagram and Facebook by using the hashtag #FoodFromHome.

Happy growing 🌱
– Kate (FFH team)

    

Bugs, bugs, bugs!

At this time of year, we have lots of bugs coming and going in the garden. It’s a great time to observe nature and experience the ebbs and flows of pest predator interactions.  

It’s important we can identify the good from the bad, especially if you are new to edible gardening. The FFH team have put together a list of some creepy crawlies you might find in your garden this summer, and some tips on how to manage the particularly pesty ones! 

Traditional “Bad” Bugs

Earwigs 

Earwigs chew holes in leaves, especially those fresh young leaves of your bean, lettuce or broad bean seedlings! They only come out to feed at night. However, earwigs are great at decomposing and breaking down our composts.

How to control: Baited Jars! simply put 1cm of soy sauce, linseed oil or other oil concoctions in an old glass jar, and bury in soil so that the top of the jar is level with the soil. The earwigs will be attracted to the smell, fall into the jar and drown in the liquid.

Slugs & Snails

Slugs and snails often emerge to feast on young seedlings during and after rain. They tend to be attracted to sugar cane mulch which is full of sugar and yeasts. 

How to control: Beer traps similar to the earwigs, put a container of beer in or around your seedlings. The sugar and yeast from the beer will attract snails and slugs and keep them away from your seedlings.

Whitefly

You may find every time you move in the garden you are greeted with a flutter of little white insects. Don’t be worried, many gardeners across Melbourne have this problem! Whitefly is a type of aphid, causing speckled damage to leaves of your veggies, leaving the leaves with scribbly white lines, white blotches, curling, or wilting. 

How to control: Trap crops (or also known as sacrificial crops) are plants you add to your garden to attract pests away from your edible garden. Different insects prefer different trap crops. Nasturtiums, Nettles and French Marigolds can attract (and distract!) aphids such as Whitefly.  

The Good Guys!

Lacewings

Lacewings control whitefly, aphids, mites and other sap suckers. They can be difficult to spot as they use debris to cover their back as a disguise.  

Ladybirds 

There are many different varieties of ladybirds you may find in your garden. Most eat anything, including whitefly and fungus. On top of their pest-control duties, ladybirds are also pollinators!

Praying Mantis

These guys will eat any other arthropod they can reach! They stay still until their prey comes within reach and then they strike.

Hoverfly

Hoverflies are often mistaken for bees or wasps, you’ll find them buzzing around your garden this Summer. They prey on aphids. 

Predatory Wasps 

Predatory wasps target all types of ‘bad’ bugs including caterpillars, whitefly and even other wasps. 

It is important to begin seeing your outdoor space as an ecosystem. All bugs (good and bad) create a rich diversity and interact with one another to achieve a balance. Next time you spot a pest in the garden, try to relax and witness nature take care of the imbalance for you! 

Sign up to our newsletter to ensure you don’t miss out on an upcoming resource all about natural pest remedies.  

– Georgia, FFH team 🌱

Growing knowledge.

In a recent survey of over 300 community members, we learnt that 50% of individuals either ‘don’t know how to start an edible garden’ and that 56% of individuals ‘don’t know how to maintain an edible garden’. We believe that everyone should have access to knowledge and simple information to enable more people in our community grow food at home.

One of our strategies to support this has been to team up with Casey Cardinia Library Service to increase opportunities to learn about edible gardening. CCL staff have put together their top book recommendations in three resources to grow your knowledge around:

Creating an Edible Garden
Edible Gardening with Children
Growing & Cooking Food at Home

When you borrow a book from the recommended list from one of the library services listed below, you’ll also receive a free packet of vegetable seeds!

  • Bunjil Place
  • Cranbourne Library
  • Doveton Library
  • Emerald Library
  • Endeavour Hills Library
  • Hampton Park Library
  • Pakenham Library

You can head straight into your nearest library, or register your interest in our ‘Free Seeds’ initiative here.

And the learning doesn’t have to stop there. Let’s connect and grow together!

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Facebook @foodfromh0me
Food from Home Community (online group)

Happy growing 🌱
– The FFH team

Let’s Grow! Introducing ‘Food from Home’

Join us in celebrating the launch of enliven Victoria’s latest campaign,
Food from Home’, designed to promote edible gardening in Melbourne’s South East!

The first of its kind in our region, ‘Food from Home’ aims to grow a vibrant, inspired, and connected community of edible gardeners.  

Food from Home: Launch Video

For many of us, food carries a strong association with our family and cultures. Growing, making, and sharing food can keep us healthy and connected, but we acknowledge that for some of us it can be difficult to know how to start. Enliven’s Health Promotion team want to change this.  

“We know from extensive surveys and conversations with our South East community, that a lack of knowledge around edible gardening was highlighted as the main barrier preventing people from growing food at home. We also know that there is a significant number of people not currently growing food at home, who want to start. 

With this in mind, we’ve worked with a range of project partners and community members to design a campaign to reduce and remove these barriers. We want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the significant health, community, and climate co-benefits of growing food at home.” 

– Enliven Victoria

Food from Home will provide ongoing and free support with:  

  • Helpful resources and step-by-step guides to show you how to grow your food from home.  
  • Access to free seeds to reduce costs and make it easier to start growing.  
  • Support from locals who have gardening experience and can share their knowledge about growing food from home.   
  • Encouragement to share your ‘Food from Home’ stories, especially about what growing food from home means to you, your family, and culture.   

Growing food at home is about so much more than just fresh fruit and vegetables. It helps us to stay physically and mentally healthy, sustains the environment and saves us money. Join the movement today! 

Get social with us and share your Food from Home stories and photos using the hashtag #FoodfromHome  

Facebook: @foodfromh0me 
Instagram: @foodfromh0me

Don’t miss out on updates on free seeds, new growing resources, events and local happenings! Subscribe to our Food from Home newsletter below.

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Happy Growing! 🌱🌱🌱  
– the FFH team