Fabian Capomolla and Mat Pember of The Little Veggie Patch Co. are reinventing the way we approach edible gardening. Busting stereotypes of gardeners as “old, hippies or farmers”, they’re giving the trowels to the people and telling them to get digging.
Their latest book, 1-Minute Gardener, breaks down the mysteries of gardening into 70 illustrated guides that span all the stages, from preparing your patch to composting. Here, Mat Pember puts down his tools to tell us a little more about growing your own fruit and veggies.
This is your fourth book. What do you enjoy about writing and sharing what you love?
I hope this won’t offend gardeners but I really enjoy writing about gardening as a completely normal human being, not as a gardener. Gardening done by gardeners is complicated, but gardening done by normal people is actually quite simple and a lot of fun.
How have attitudes towards home gardening changed since you started The Veggie Patch Co?
Certainly when we started out edible gardening was just something done by a hippy, an ethnic or a farmer. It had a stigma to it and an edible garden was a messy garden, so why bother, I’ll just go down to the supermarket and buy my vegetables.
How things have changed. Every man, woman and their cat are now growing vegetables. I’m not kidding when I say we had members at our Pop Up Patch who rented two patches and solely grew spinach for their cat. We all felt for that animal…
Your new book has some great ‘themed patches’ like the Sunday roast or summer beverage plot. What do you recommend in your ‘Mexican’ themed patch?
Well it’s not only about the vegetables, it’s the about the experience of the Mexican patch, so a piñata is essential. But alongside that, we’d see a range of chillies, capsicums, tomatoes, spring onions and a little salad for topping. Dig up a worm, or if you’re lucky a scorpion, pop it in a bottle of tequila and you have yourself a fully-fledged fiesta.
Five easy-to-grow essentials to keep the motivation levels high?
1. Only grow things you will eat. Provide.
2. Feel the part any time you step into the garden. Wear proper footwear.
3. Start small and resist whatever urge you have to be self-sufficient from an apartment balcony. It may be a pot of herbs or a bunch of lettuce, but if you experience success early, it will spur you on.
4. Don’t read books about permaculture until you buy a farm and move to Tasmania.
5. Involve friends and family.
You’re big fans of finding a solution to any space challenges. What are your top tips for vertical gardens?
Growing things in shallow vessels means that plants will only look good for a small period of time and then get tired. So choose plants wisely – for us lettuces are perfect. Herbs will also work quite well but be prepared to repot and reinvigorate every six months.
Watering is also super-critical as the vessels dry out quickly. When possible install a simple irrigation system to pick up your slack.
What mistakes have you learnt from in the garden?
The first mistake was not catching the difference between the globe and Jerusalem artichoke. Now this was very early Little Veggie Patch Co. days and an artichoke was something that grew on a thorny looking plant and gave many beautiful hearts – not a strange looking sunflower that sent tubers wild throughout the patch (that actually tasted quite amazing).
So many gardening faux pas. Another, and this is not mine, but the idea that to grow one head of garlic you bury one head of garlic and then wait nine months.
Let’s just say that there will be a time when everyone has a garlic or artichoke moment, and the only right reaction is to laugh at yourself (hopefully no one else is around laughing too) and learn.
The Little Veggie Patch Co’s new book, 1-Minute Gardener, is available now. For more information visit littleveggiepatchco.com.au