Looking for some extra space to grow your edibles? Maybe it's time to consider your nature strip. That expanse of grass in front of your home between the footpath and the road could be an ideal place to grow herbs and vegies, if of course, it's permitted by your local council.
While you have to mow your nature strip, technically this land is council property. Not all councils will allow you to plant out your nature strip so you must check with your council before you start. Even if they do permit nature strip plantings, they may have a list of allowed plants and this may not include edibles. The last thing you want is for council to come along and remove your lovely plants if they consider them to be unsuitable.
Our local council requires you to apply for the relevant permit and adhere to strict guidelines to ensure public safety and meet council liability requirements. A council officer also needs to conduct an inspection and give their okay. It's also worth running your plans by your neighbours. Complaints to council may be averted if people understand exactly what you are planning to do. Making it look attractive and keeping it well maintained and weed-free should also help to cut down on complaints.
Moreland council, also in Melbourne, permits edibles to be planted on natures strips. Below is a great example. These photos were taken at Karen Sutherland's inspiring urban food garden, 'Gunyah', in Pascoe Vale South. This fantastic garden was open to the public as part of the Open Gardens Australia program last weekend.
And here's a nature strip of herbs in Hahndorf, spotted on our travels to South Australia:
One well-known and attractive-looking edible nature strip planting is The Verge, featured on Gardening Australia (ABC TV). Viewers of this show will have watched the evolution of this edible streetscape created by Costa Georgiadis and his neighbours on the nature strips in his Sydney street.
Nature strip plantings must consider the following points:
Clear access - In general, footpaths must be 1.5 m wide and clear of tripping hazards or overhanging vegetation. People also need to be able to get in and out of cars parked on the adjacent road. For The Verge, Costa created mulched paths long the curb to allow easy access to and from parked cars:
Clear line of sight - Your plantings must not obscure peoples' line of sight and contribute to traffic accidents or other traffic problems. Keeping the plantings to low growing herbs and vegies will assist in this. You'll also have to be prepared for possible vandalism and the stealth harvesting of your produce by others. When this happens try to remember that sharing the harvest is an important principle of the permaculture movement!
If this idea appeals to you, get the okay from your council and then you can start designing your very own edible nature strip. The Gardening Australia website provides a step by step guide to help you get started.
What's a weed? Well one definition of a weed is a plant that's growing in the wrong place. Like the olive trees we saw growing by the sides of the road when we travelling to South Australia. I see them as a bonus (free olives anyone?), others see them as a weed. It's all a matter of perspective. For example, weeds growing in worn out soils are a good sign that the land is regenerating.
Using a lot of mulch in your garden like we do, definitely cuts down on the amount of weeding that's required. Unfortunately it doesn't quite remove the need to weed altogether. Unlike most Melbourne households we don't have a green waste bin. Instead we compost all the lawn clippings, tree prunings, leaves .......and weeds onsite.
So what do we do with our 'weeds'?
The first stop is our pet guinea pigs. These little guys had all been looking for homes when they came to us and we make a point of providing them with a high quality of life. Too many guinea pigs out there are not being cared for properly and have terrible lives, but that's another issue altogether. Anyway, these little guys love to eat a variety of the weeds that grow in a typical suburban garden. And they turn it all into nice little pellets that are great fertiliser for the garden. Plus they're cute. Big tick for those little weed eaters.
For the weeds they don't eat, we turn into a weed tea. We add the weeds to a black plastic garbage bin and top up with water, making sure the weeds are completely submerged (using bricks to weigh them down). The lid goes on and the bin is left to sit in a sunny spot in the garden for a few weeks. The sun heating up the bin and the water both act to kill the weeds. After a few weeks you can fork the dead weeds into the compost bin to break down further. This leaves you with a nutrient rich (and sometimes rather pungent) water solution which you can then dilute 1:10 and add to the garden. This is a great way to recycle nutrients in your garden - nothing is wasted.
Of course some weeds are edible so you may want to think about incorporating them in your meals. Ben Shewry, chef of the Melbourne restaurant Attica, is well known for his love of foraging for edible weeds and their inclusion in his menu. The Worlds 50 Best Restaurants list for 2013 had Attica listed at number 21 which is pretty darn impressive. Looks like interest in foraging for edible weeds could be on the rise! If edible weeds interest you, then there is plenty of information available. The Australian book "Useful Weeds At Our Doorstep" by Pat Cardigan contains clear pictures to aid in plant identification and describes all uses of common Australian weeds, including medicinal. Another one we have at home that that gives us a chuckle is "101 Uses for Stinging Nettles" by Piers Warren. Yep, it really does contain 101 uses for stinging nettles. There are lots more books on the subject out there.
Lastly, a word of caution - if you aren't foraging with someone experienced, take care to make sure you've correctly identified the plant you intend eating - that way you'll avoid any potential nasty suprises.
So next time you see what you consider to be a weed, try thinking of it more as an opportunity.......