Kyabram family makes the most of their bountiful garden

By Sharon Wright

All available space in the pantry of the Fenn family home in Kyabram is dedicated to storing the excess produce from their bountiful garden.

Rows of pickled vegetables, jars of preserved fruit, bottles of sauces, jams and relishes and containers of dehydrated fruits and vegetables represent a year’s supply of food.

Sophie, Malcolm and eight-year-old daughter Harlee have developed the garden, on a 0.5 ha block of land, since they built their new home two years ago.

Room for a large vegetable garden, hot house and small orchard of fruit trees was a prerequisite when hunting for a suitable house site, and gradually the land is being turned into a productive space.

Malcolm’s garden interest stems from when he was young, growing up on a farm with a vegetable garden and taking inspiration from his dad’s cousin who owned a nursery, while Sophie’s passion for growing her own food began about 12 years ago, when the couple moved in together.

They acknowledge growing your own food is hard work, takes commitment and is not necessarily cheaper — but their philosophy is simple.

“The food you grow yourself tastes better,” Malcolm said.

“And people like to know what they are eating, and how it was grown.”

Sophie said they were developing a self-sufficient lifestyle and aimed to grow enough food to preserve what they needed for the entire year.

She inherited Malcolm’s mother’s and grandmother’s Fowlers Vacola preserving units, have two dehydrators and a spacious kitchen and walk-in pantry to support a production line of manufacturing.

Nothing is wasted. What they don’t consume when the produce is fresh is preserved, given away to family and friends, exchanged at the monthly Kyabram Food Swap or added to the compost.

Four raised garden beds are home to edible flowers and medicinal plants, such as nasturtium, borage, catmint and German chamomile, strawberries, sunflowers, fennel, mixed herbs such as oregano and lemon thyme, and potatoes and spaghetti squash.

In another section, flourishing rows of watermelon, zucchini, pumpkin, asparagus and carrots are alongside the remnants of winter-grown onions and cabbages.

Berries, kiwi fruit and an orchard of orange, mandarin, lemon, lime, cumquat, pomegranate, apple, pear, plum, feijoa, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach and avocado satisfy the sweet cravings.

A large hothouse allows some plants to be grown out of season.

The workable space houses neat plantings of varieties of tomatoes, capsicum and chillies and tubs of mint, bananas and rhubarb rounding out an almost A to Z list of garden produce.

Sophie said she allowed many plants to flower and self-seed to attract bees for pollination and to enjoy the new plants that germinate the following year.

They make their own compost from house and garden scraps, coffee grounds from a local business, cow manure and gypsum, and mulch heavily with straw to reduce weeds and conserve moisture.

“Sometimes we end up with a pop-up garden from the seeds that are in the compost,” Malcolm said.

“That’s not a bad thing though,” Sophie said.

“We added compost to the potato crop and by accident grew spaghetti squash, which has actually protected the potatoes from the hot sun.”

Trading places

Kyabram Food Swap gives an opportunity for like-minded people to exchange surplus produce, create new networks and eliminate waste.

Secretary Sophie Fenn said the monthly gatherings often saw fruit, vegetables, citrus, eggs, jams, preserves, plant seedlings and cuttings change hands. But one thing that doesn’t is money.

“The day starts with everything available for swap laid out on tables, and then you go around and take what you think to be of the same value as what you contributed,” Sophie said.

“We have some members that want to trade but don’t have any produce, so they might bring baked goods or flowers along to swap.”

Guest speakers offer their expertise on various garden-related topics and any leftover food is used by the Kyabram Community and Learning Centre for its regular community meal program.

The food swap is held at the Kyabram Community and Learning Centre on the fourth Sunday of the month. For information, visit the Kyabram Food Swap Facebook page.