River Cottage Australia celebrity chef Paul West talks vegetable gardens

GET INTO THE GARDEN: Celebrity chef Paul West.
GET INTO THE GARDEN: Celebrity chef Paul West.

Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty in a small backyard, celebrity chef Paul West says.

The River Cottage Australia host says suburbia is the perfect ground to preserve the future of agriculture, and there’s no time like now to get started.

With the amount of farm land decreasing, the suburban backyard has become prime real estate for fruit and vegetable crops.

“There’s a huge amount of people out there who have an interest in the providence of their food and they want better food sovereignty and food security, but on the same hand, they’re not about to run out and become full-time commercial farmers,”

Mr West said.

“In Australia we’re fortunate that we’ve got a bit of urban space, we’re a pretty sparce urban society so that gives us a lot of scope for producing.”

But don’t feel like you have to dig up all the yard and feed the city. 

Mr West says starting small will give you longevity. 

But he warns once you start it won’t be long before you become addicted. 

“Once you start the tendrils get into you even though you might only be starting with a tomato plant, herbs or some lettuce,” he said. 

WARNING: DON’T DO THIS ….. in one weekend

Picture: Julian Smith

Picture: Julian Smith

1.Start small 

“I see it all the time, people say I’m going to grow all of my own food and they spend a huge weekend turning their whole backyard into beds and at the end of it they’re stuffed and they’ve spent a fortune on seedlings – and because they are exhausted from that initial effort the garden falls into wrack and ruin,”

Paul West

Planting everything at once and starting with a huge area is a recipe for disaster.

Start with one plant.

“I don’t think the significance of growing a couple of plants yourself can be under-rated,” Mr West said.

2.Grow something easy 

Start with a small pot of parsley.

“It’s one of those herbs that can be used for pretty much any savory dish to enliven it with a fresh herbaceous flavour,” Mr West says.

“It’s very hardy so it keeps going. 

“Give it a tiny little bit of natural feed every now and again.”​

3.Move onto perennial herbs

Choose herbs like thyme and mint.

“Once you get the taste of produce that you have grown yourself, it really lights a fire and you want to grow more and more,” Mr West said. 

“It’s an addiction of the best kind.”

4.Try leafy greens

TIP: “Pots are perfect, keep them around the back door where you’re going to go past them all the time so you can see if they are dry, and it’s not a huge thing to water them,”

Mr West says

5.Go for lettuce, rocket, spinach and kale

“Make sure you build it in little steps,” Mr West said. 

“The idea of everyone growing their entire vegetable bill in a year is a bit lofty, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

“The way that people engage in farming is by growing a bit of their own – whether it be only herbs on a window sill.”