VICE Weekends Presented by Weis

How To Grow Herbs and Treat Your Plants Like Kings

"Know there will be lots of mistakes and lots of dead plants in your wake, but that's totally cool."

by Ariel Katz
27 November 2016, 12:00am

This article is part of our VICE Weekends summer series, presented by Weis

We all get stuck in patterns of taking everything too seriously and not making time for the simple things. Matt and Lentil Purbrick of Grown & Gathered decided not to do that anymore. After falling into growing produce after falling in love with the gardens of people they met while travelling, Matt decided to switch up his life. Less computer, more gardening.

A few years on and he and Lentil are certified farmers, authors, and educators on the mastery of life's fundamentals. They're recapturing traditional living on their farm in Tabilk, which is about an hour and a half north of Melbourne, and they've got some tips for how you can too. Even if you live in the city in a five bedroom sharehouse with seven other people, growing some herbs on the windowsill can become a calming force. Staring at screens all day can be demanding mentally and finding some quiet time in and around nature, or just making time to get offline can be a huge boost. You can even post about it later.

VICE: Can anyone grow things?
Matt Purbrick: Of course! This is in us all. The most important thing about growing things is just beginning. You've just got to start. Know there will be lots of mistakes and lots of dead plants in your wake, but that's totally cool. It's not about the harvest, but the whole experience. Don't be afraid to screw up.

What's a way I can start out if I live in the city and don't have heaps of space?
Grow your herbs! Herbs are super simple and fun to grow, they take up minimal space and offer a huge reward for the effort you need to put in when you get to put a little of your own produce on your dinner every night.

What are some good flowers, vegetables, or herbs to plant during summer?No matter where you are, the most fun and rewarding thing to grow will always be tomatoes, there is nothing like a homegrown tomato. Also zucchinis and some soft herbs like basil, dill, and coriander. And of course some lovely flowers like cosmos, Queen Anne's lace, and nasturtiums. No matter where you live, these plants will do well, they are all tasty–except the Queen Anne's lace and cosmos–and beautiful, and importantly, fun to grow.

Does where I am in Australia affect what I can grow?
Massively. Your climate has a huge effect on if you can grow certain plants and when you can grow them. We talk about climates generally as temperate, which is most of Australia from a little north of Sydney down; sub-tropical, a little north of Sydney to a little north of Brisbane; and tropical, a little north of Brisbane and up. This is only a rough guide, there is obviously a lot of desert out there, plus the west coast behaves way different to the east and it depends on your altitude, other geographic features—the list is endless.

Are there any safe bets for certain climates?
There are plants, like apple and pear trees, that must have colder temperatures during winter, as in a temperate climate, to do their thing, and there are others, like mangoes, that require sustained heat and consistently long day lengths, as in a tropical climate, to do their thing. But there are loads of plants that grow in almost any climate too. The key is getting to know the seasons where you live and taking it from there. It's all about beginning and seeing what works, but it also helps to find a seasonal vegetable chart for your local area.

How do I keep pests and possums off my produce?
Possums can be relentless. The only thing that definitely works is netting your garden, but this isn't always practical. Other pests shouldn't be such a problem. A balanced, diverse garden will rarely run into serious problems, because it should have a balance of good insects and bad insects.

What makes for good balance?
A garden that has flowers and vegetables will always be healthier and more pest free. And our number one tip is to attract small bird life to your garden by planting the appropriate native shrubs for them to hide in from the bigger birds. They will constantly pick your garden clean of slugs, snails, and grubs. Best helpers.

If I've got limited time, what are some small things I can do at home to lead a more sustainable life?
Composting your food scraps is for sure the biggest thing any of us can do. Food scraps shouldn't be going anywhere near landfill, so start your own little composting operation. Also, begin to really get to know where your food is coming from. We can all make a huge difference to the world by supporting local, well-grown produce and respectfully raised animal products.

What's the number one secret to successfully growing produce?
Sun, soil, and water. All vegetables and nearly all flowering plants love full sun, your soil needs to be rich with compost and manures and alive with worm life, and then you have to water them all regularly and consistently. Oh, and love your plants. Treat your plants like kings so they are never stressed and then they will love you back by having all their energy to grow stronger, yield higher and for longer, and be much, much tastier.

This article is presented by Weis