A Bit About Me …
Hi, my name is Anne and I live on the Sunshine Coast, Australia with my beautiful family. I haven’t always gardened in small spaces … I grew up in suburban Sydney on a quarter acre block at a time when Woollies and Coles did not exist and major shopping centres had not been invented yet!
Food came from the veggie garden and fruit trees in our backyard and trips to local farmers for fruit and fresh goat’s milk. Pets were a flock of clucky chooks who provided eggs, chicks and plenty of manure as free fertiliser for the fruit trees.
Mum’s pantry was full of home preserves from the garden surplus and the food budget was minimal because our family grew most of its own needs. Dad was big on composting all our fireplace ash, garden and food waste. So we had a very healthy garden with all those nutrients being returned to the soil. Nothing went to waste – everything was repaired, reused and recycled – or composted!
Spending so much time outdoors as a child with fresh air, safe food and in tune with the sounds and tastes of nature, had a strong influence on me – I learned to taste and enjoy a wide variety of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs because I was exposed to them at a young age. I was also encouraged to actively and creatively play outdoors every day as a child – delighting in nature crafts, picking flowers, caring for pets and enjoying the garden.
We were brought up to care about our environment, be resourceful, live simply and have an appreciation for the benefits of alternative health therapies. Mum’s knowledge about many aspects of healthy living and wellbeing percolated through my formative years and was reinforced with regular trips to my grandparents’ farm. Whilst I took these influences for granted as a child, many years later I’ve realized not everyone has had this same opportunity. As a parent, I now realise the skills and inspiration we share with our children (and grandchildren) can be like nuggets of gold – often they lie buried until later in life when we have an opportunity to discover and value their treasure.
After leaving home, the lure of the first major shopping centre with a ‘one-stop shop’ message was a step in the direction of becoming a ‘convenience consumer.’ Not appreciating my heritage and getting distracted gradually with the busyness of life, the endless variety of food and time saving pre-packaged products on offer, and little time to think about the choices being made, meant that sooner or later there would be consequences.
In 2004, with a young family of my own, I was diagnosed with cancer. Having taken perfect health for granted for a long time, it was a wake up call that changed my paradigm on everything. With a young family and a determination to regain my health, it was a time to reflect on the choices I had been making about where our food came from, our lifestyle, home environment and products we were using.
‘We all have a choice about what we consume, what we eat and how we live – and the consequences may include sickness or well-being.’
I began researching ways to make more informed decisions for our family and decided to get back to my sustainable organic heritage by growing safe healthy food in our own backyard. I started diligently reading the fine print on groceries items, asking questions about food, talking to farmers, producers, value-adders and retailers. I subscribed to health and natural news sources to learn more about the links to various diseases and ways I could support my body and immune system with organic food, herbs and natural remedies. I learned about organic and biological farming methods and how different they are to conventionally grown food. I also realised the importance of creating an outdoor sanctuary to reduce stress and promote healing.
‘A sensory edible garden is healing to the body and soul.’
It has been an empowering and enlightening journey and as my health returned, I knew I’d made the right decisions. I am now convinced of the medicinal value of herbs in our everyday life and making sure we eat food that has been grown in soil with ALL the nutrients needed for plant and human health. Depleted soils grow sick plants and produce diseased people. If that’s the kind of food we eat, then our bodies won’t be nourished with all the minerals and trace elements we need to prevent illness. I wish I’d been taught this sort of life-saving information at school. This has in part, driven my passion to educate children, teachers and parents through school garden programs and talks.
This journey led me to completing a Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture and a Certificate in Horticulture to understand more about biological farming methods and the impact of the soil on how we grow our food and human health. Over the years I’ve connected with many farmers who grow a diverse range of crops for consumers. This has opened my eyes to not only the challenges they experience but also the diverse methods used and the impact this has. When I learned how non-certified organic food is commonly grown – with a toxic cocktail of chemicals that affect not only the produce but also human health and the environment – I knew I had to share this information and inspire people to take back some control over their food choices. I was surprised to hear firsthand how many conventional farmers grow commercial crops on their land (with chemicals and poisons) to sell to the public but grow food for their family in a separate plot organically for their own needs. I realised I had delegated responsibility for growing our family’s food to people I didn’t know and our health had been impacted as a result. Things had to change!
Having completed workshops and courses in Biodynamic Agriculture, Permaculture, Composting, Worm Farming, Pest & Disease Management, Bee Keeping, Seed Saving, Organic Gardening, Tropical Vegetables and a Diploma in Australian Interior Design have enabled me to become a lot more self-sufficient, save money and make more informed and healthier choices. I hope my experiences will help you realise you can change how and what you eat and where you source your fresh ingredients – just like I have.
I have also learned the value in extending our harvest with storage and preservation techniques. One of my favourite ways to maintain nutrients is with our food dehydrator. It allows me to preserve a surplus of fruit, herbs and vegetables when they are in season so we can enjoy them for longer and provides us with an ‘insurance policy’ – a survival supply of food for the pantry! Dried foods also take up less room so for those with limited space, I’ve found this to be a practical investment.
Click below for resources on dehydrating your food
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During this time I began to realise with the globalisation of our food systems and ‘convenience consumer’ mentality, just how disconnected many people have become to the source of their food. I started to ask questions: If I’m not growing this myself, then who is and what methods have they used? Has this produce been grown with chemicals? How far has it travelled (food miles)? How have the animals been treated? Is it contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMO’s)? Environmentally friendly packaging? And so my research and journey began …
I’ll be frank – I didn’t like a lot of what I found out and some of the food choices I had been making for years changed at that point and continue to do so. Supermarket so-called “fresh” produce has been transported and then stored for months … farmers paid a pittance for their efforts … vegetables pumped full of nitrates and sprayed with chemicals instead of nutrients; imported produce radiated + a whole lot more. Just read my article on why you should grow your own garlic and you’ll see what I mean.
I now grow the majority of our family’s food needs and subsidise with seasonal local organic or biodynamic produce from farmers who can tell me the story behind our food.
Thankfully this change in lifestyle and choices plus eating homegrown nutrient dense food has helped me regain my health and wellbeing. This is a strong motivator to share what I’ve learned on my journey with others.
It’s never too late to change or make more informed choices – and no space is too small to get started!
Having moved 16 times, living on several acreage properties as well as very small garden spaces, I have learned that ‘micro gardens’ can be just as productive, much easier to maintain and are less time-intensive if we approach them the right way. I have lived in units and apartments, a townhouse, on small and large suburban blocks, a flower & foliage farm and rented in places with limited space. Each of these situations presents their own challenges and opportunities and what I share with you at The Micro Gardener is what I’ve learned from my experiences, including tips and tricks, money saving ideas and I hope a little inspiration with some ‘how to’ projects and photos of what you can achieve. Although I’ve had experience with growing beautiful flowers, natives, tropical plants and ornamental gardens, my passion is growing nutrient rich food and helping you do the same.
We now try to live a more sustainable lifestyle growing a diverse range of plants for culinary and medicinal uses. I’ve learned some productive techniques for growing nutrient-dense food using Permaculture design principles and biological farming methods (not just growing without chemicals but a holistic approach to soil, biodiversity, biodynamics and the environment). I’ve grown healthy high yield crops on a farm and when you have lots of space, this is easily achievable. However, I’ve taken my experiences with organic farming and down-scaled the information here for people who are wanting great results in a micro or urban garden – essentially intensive cropping in containers with loads of creative ideas for maximising space! Even for people on the move – like renters, those in caravans or travelling – or renting plots in allotments or community gardens.
Highly productive, beautiful and functional gardens are achievable in small spaces – and you can create your own backyard or balcony supermarket with some simple techniques.
I now work part-time as a consultant helping people learn how to be more self-reliant and productive by establishing sustainable gardens at home and school. I’m a member of Eudlo Seed Savers, Permaculture Noosa and Biodynamics Agriculture Australia. I write, edit and publish an award winning e-publication called Green Journey relating to growing and sourcing healthy local food, sustainability, farmers markets, a wide range of environmental and garden events and helping people learn to tread a little lighter on the planet. I am also the Garden Editor for Junkies Magazine and contributing writer for Garden Culture Magazine and Lorna Jane’s Move Nourish Believe blog. Other online and print publications I have contributed to include MyApricotHill, Clean Earth Living Magazine (Urban Organic Gardening’ Feature Writer) and Permaculture Noosa’s newsletter. Contact me if you’re interested in a feature article for a publication, website or blog.
I present workshops for community education through local community gardens, schools, garden clubs and libraries and am currently writing a book. Contact me if you would like a personalised garden or phone consultation. Follow my journal, plantings and garden adventures on MyFolia – a great place to learn; pick up loads of tips and inspiration on Pinterest boards; and check out my photo albums on Flickr.
I’m in the garden daily (every morning or late afternoons) – most likely with dirty fingernails, muddy gumboots, a basket and secateurs and often one of my dogs … it’s a place to get in touch with nature, learn, dig in the soil for hidden treasure and have loads of fun harvesting edibles, fragrant flowers and observing the wildlife.
The Micro Gardener site is a community of like-minded urban gardeners who enjoy sharing ideas, tips and experiences – please share yours here too by leaving comments and questions. Grab a copy of my free eBook by joining my newsletter – packed with design ideas, recipes for making your own potting mix and free organic fertilisers, a list of easy plants to grow and much more. Take a look around and explore the categories packed with how-to information, projects and inspiring photos. I invite you to share the journey with me.
“Grow what you love. The love will keep it growing.” – Emilie Barnes
Happy gardening and thanks for stopping by, Anne
© Copyright Anne Gibson, The Micro Gardener 2011-2013 – http://www.themicrogardener.com. All rights reserved.