What could be more exciting than turning a much loved hobby in to a thriving business? That's what Diana Barnes from Growing Vegetables Down Under did, transforming herself from self-taught Canberra community gardener supplying her family with all the veggies they need, to now creating a growing range of planting guides for all of Australia and New Zealand, and encouraging fellow gardening enthusiasts to reduce their carbon footprint. We really love that Diana's planting guides are available on Sustainable Marketplace and were keen to hear her story.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you started Growing Vegetables Down Under?
Until September 2020 I had been running my local community garden and sharing my knowledge of gardening in Canberra's unique climate with my fellow gardeners. I am equally passionate about reducing my carbon footprint and we do our best to reduce the potential waste coming into our home and what leaves it in the wheelie bin. Growing our own vegetables went a significant way to reducing our waste because we reduced the packaging coming into our home, and composted anything that was waste. I realised that I had a lot of knowledge and with it had the ability to encourage people to garden and reduce their carbon footprint. So I set up the GVDU Facebook page in an attempt to reach other Canberrans. But I have been very fortunate to go well beyond Canberra, and have virtual friends all over the world.
We really admire that you are a self-taught gardener and your family is self-sufficient for vegetables. What are your best tips for someone looking to start gardening and what are your favourite things to grow in your own garden?
Follow me ;-) I'm joking, but I do cover a lot of tips to help people get started
Being a touch more serious, set yourself up for success, and invest money in your set up. To me, this means, wicking beds, good quality soil, seeds (not seedlings) and a knowledge of what grows at what time of year in your area.
Wicking beds are self-watering beds. I think that lack of water is the number one reason that beginner gardeners fail. They are an expensive upfront cost but you save on water and grow so much more food. In summer, I fill my Biofilta Foodcubes once a week. This winter I didn't fill them at all, thanks to the rain.
Soil health is very important too and it's probably the last thing that newbie gardeners think about. But with great healthy soil, a thick layer of mulch and water your crops will have no choice but to thrive.
Lastly, I encourage people to grow from seeds and direct sow them. Raising seedlings is something you can experiment with later, and store bought seedlings (don't get me started!) are best avoided, especially at the beginning. New gardeners need to learn their climate zone and the planting instructions for that zone. It often doesn't reflect what's on the packet!
As for my favourite thing to grow... well it really depends on what I feel like eating. But if I moved house and hard to start again, I think rhubarb would be one of the first things I planted.
Can you tell us a bit more about your guides and what sort of delicious veggies we can expect to grow at home?
My planting guides are designed to show a person what to grow, when to grow, where to plant, how to plant, how to fertilise and manage pests organically, and how to harvest. They teach the principles of crop rotation, companion planting and succession planting. The guides focus on a cool climate zone but are adaptable for all areas of Australia and New Zealand. The guides have visual diagrams and simple instructions so that anybody or any experience level can follow them.
I have a wide variety of guides including ones for beginners, kids, stir fry lovers, berry lovers, pizza lovers, juice lovers, and my most recent one is a gourmet guide of vegetables you won't find in the supermarket, like yellow beetroot, green cauliflower and purple broccoli!
What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating Growing Vegetables Down Under?
The kids and I have spent a lot more time in the garden. We were already out there a lot, but because I am often shooting videos or planning planting guides, we have spent a lot more time together outdoors. Those are memories I am banking for when my children will only grunt at me!
Another rewarding aspect is how much my kids love to eat what they grow. We get to avoid all those dinner table drama about eating Dinosaur Trees (broccoli) because they have sown and grown it, watered it, harvested it and want to eat it.
What does the future hold for Growing Vegetables Down Under?
Wowzers! Who knows! But that's exciting. I started as a small Facebook group. Now I have 6K friends on Facebook, 3K on Instagram, a podcast, a website, affiliate relationships, my planting guides being sold by others and even people selling their creations through me. I would never have expected to be here eleven months on, but I'm looking forward to our 1st birthday and beyond with baited breath.
Banner image: Tania Malrechauffe, Unsplash