28 March 2014

My anti-cancer garden

I wrote last month about the anti-cancer approach I'm taking to eating. But am I having to buy all those vegetables and fruit? No. A heap of them come from the back garden, especially since it's early autumn and we are laden with grapes, zucchini, tomatoes, lettuce, silverbeet and beans. The feijoas are starting now too, and the few capsicums I grew are turning red.

Thank goodness. I would hate to have to buy all that! But since all this stuff grows mainly from seed, there's a whole lot of prep work that needs doing to ensure a continuing supply for the coming winter.

This post is about growing a consistent supply of vegetables that are nutrient-dense - a great anti-cancer way of eating. It includes a few tricks you might be able to use, both to get the veges growing and to increase the amount of nutrients in them.

Here's part of our garden now. Wierd, eh?

The old mosquito net in the top photo is to keep white butterflies off kale and broccoli seedlings. It has been a huge battle to grow any seedlings at all, because the white butterfly eggs hatch into hungry green caterpillars that have decimated a third of my seedlings. The seedlings I've been growing are broccoli, kale, cabbage, red multiplying onions (to be used similarly to spring onions) and leeks. I've also been direct-sowing green and red mizuna and rocket. These salad greens thrive in frost, unlike lettuce. I'm trying out mustard leaves for the first time. Plus carrot and beetroot are already poking their heads out, and there is always always self-seeded silverbeet, parsnips and parsley.

Here are some uses for those stylish old net curtains. This one is also keeping off white butterflies.It's propped up by wire hoops, and I want more. (Here is a link to buy some lovely looking bamboo ones - I haven't tried them yet but will order some when they're back in stock.)

I know it's not beautiful, but what it creates is. With a peek underneath, you can see that the broccoli plants underneath seem extremely pleased with their cloak. These plants have only been in about a month, and they're huge. As you can see from the little holes in the leaves, the odd white butterfly has made it under the curtain. I find them and feed them to the chooks.

This one is keeping the soil moist during our current hot days so that carrot, rocket and beetroot seeds spring to life. They're starting. I water them every evening while the mozzies get a good feed from me.

This is sheet mulching. It's a permaculture concept which is basically building a sandwich-like compost heap in situ on a garden bed. There are layers of animal manure, blood and bone, cardboard, straw, leaves and green waste (old plants, weeds etc). Kitchen scraps could go in there too. You can imagine what great vege-growing stuff it will decompose into.(I built it on a very windy day, that's why there are mesh and branches on top. We've had barely a puff of wind since.)

Why the heck am I building such a strange sandwich?

Because in spite of full plates of veges, there could still be something lacking. Something invisible.

Vegetables need three minerals to grow: nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Their symbols are N, P and K, which is why you get NPK fertilisers to add to the soil. The many other nutrients we and other mammals need - for example selenium, zinc, copper etc etc - are optional when it comes to plant growth.

They are not, however, optional for full human health, especially when it comes to critical things like blitzing potential cancer tumours, which we all have to do frequently, without knowing it. If those nutrient are not in the soil, they're not in the food, and they're not in you.

The way plants grow in nature generally keeps all these minerals in the soil. They circulate - the leaves and old fruit drop, the animals poo, wee and die, and the goodness goes back into the soil. In commercial growing systems, of course, this never happens - the horticulturalists take plants from the soil, and give back only NPK so that more plants will grow. They generally don't add back the other 'optional' nutrients.

So the sheet mulching above is:
1) my way of adding those other nutrients.

2) getting scores of soil microorganisms going, as well as the bigger creepy crawlies so beloved by chickens. Those creepy crawlies are why my chickens do this to mulch - that path was tidy this morning!

The little soil creatures do great things for soil. So many things I can't begin to describe them, but the wikipedia page on soil microorganisms is here. Notably, one group of them produce antibiotics widely used in medicine - to treat tuberculosis and bladder infections, for starters. Spend one minute reading that page and you will be doing all you can to get these guys in your soil, too. That means MULCH.

Oh, and mulch holds water in the soil, as does the organic matter that the sheet mulching will produce when it decomposes. Anyone living in these parts right now knows how this REALLY matters in a drought.We are so, so dry here.

Hey, this is not a biology class, but the bolded words above remind me of one! I thought they might help untangle my words, though.

So if you are keen on this approach to food, get out there! In the evenings, you could watch telly. Or - for the week or two more that it's still light after dinner - you could garden up your future dinners.


  1. This year I have decided to compost in situ and it certainly makes cleaning up the garden easier. I can't see the point in lugging it all to the compost heap and then barrowing it back again when it is composted. The leaf mulch I make in autumn will be added and next spring there will be beautiful friable soil full of worms. That is the plan. Our courgettes were a complete flop this year. They are usually our most prolific crop. However it is the best passion fruit season we have ever had. Love reading your blog. You make me feel lazy!

  2. Hi Bev
    Well, here we are just a few kms away with heaps of courgettes and about 5 passionfruit in total! I have a few sites I'm planning to plant with fruit trees and the like, so they are next in line to be composted on-site. Our clay soil REALLY needs transforming. Remember to add some green stuff as well as the brown leaves (grass clippings?).


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