The ideal Kitchen Garden design for maximum food production

February 11, 2022


This is my version of the ultimate space efficient ideal kitchen garden design for maximum food production. It can be used in a variety of spaces where it is necessary to get maximum production from minimal area. This plan is specifically for an enclosed garden.

Over the 40 years of having a productive garden, birds are what has limited my harvest the most. They scratch up seeds, eat seedlings, plants and fruits or just enjoy destroying the plant for no reason (Sulfur-crested cockatoos are the worst at this).

I assume in many climates kangaroos, deer, wombats, possums and flying foxes would also be an issue.

I struggled with netting for many years, trialing all sorts of support systems (see my blog article here) until eventually, I went with a permanent welded metal enclosure. You can read about that process here.

I am still marveling at how easy is to work in an enclosure and how much protection it gives my plants, resulting in bumper harvests.

If I had had the insight to know an enclosure was going to be necessary to get a decent harvest when I first started my current productive garden, then this how I would have planned it.

The idea is to keep the size of the garden as compact as possible to reduce the construction cost of an enclosure, whilst still giving sufficient space to grow what you want.

This is also a great layout for anyone with limited space wanting to grow their own food.

This example (see diagram below) is a 20 x 15 m enclosure.

The following is what I would grow given my family’s food preferences and the fact that I am growing in a cool climate. You can adjust this plan to suit your climate, the amount of food you wish to grow and your food preferences.

With this system, you will be producing fresh fruit and vegetables all year. You may have to supplement in the cooler months, but during summer and autumn, most of the fruit and vegetable needs for a household of 4-5 people could be met.


Chicken run

I have incorporated this into the system as the construction of a chicken run can be similar to a vegetable garden/orchard enclosure and having them close to your productive garden makes a lot of sense. I would discourage you from free-ranging your chickens in your productive space as they dig up seedlings, scatter mulch and dig under the roots of trees to create dust baths. Chickens can be very destructive in a garden.

Annual Garden Beds.

This plan space allows for four 1.5m x 8m annual garden beds. These can either be at ground level or raised depending on which system suits you better. As I get older a raised bed is much more appealing then working at ground level. Again, thinking of the future and planning appropriately is essential.

The 1.5 width makes it easy to be able to reach the middle of the bed from either side without treading onto the garden which can cause soil compaction and plant damage.

These annual garden beds are the heart of my food production system with space to grow all the annual vegetables I need to feed my family. With successive planting of seasonal crops, I can be harvesting vegetables all year.


A Perennial vegetable and herb bed will contain all the perennial vegetables I like to grow as well as any non-invasive herbs. Perennial vegetables and herbs are best planted separately to annual vegetables, so their roots are not disturbed with cultivation or the continual planting of annuals.

What I would include are 2 x rhubarb plant, 10 x asparagus plants, 3 x globe artichokes, 2 x sorrel, 1 x rosemary, 3 x thyme, 1 x sage and 3 x chive plants. The front of these beds also can grow strawberries though I do get better crops from my hanging baskets.


Fruit trees.

In beds surrounding the annual garden beds, I have selected a variety of fruit trees that grow well in my climate and that I like to eat and preserve. Larger trees and climbers are placed on the southern sides of the enclosure (Southern hemisphere), so they do not shade the annual garden beds.


Included in these are:

3 apples (gala, and granny smith espaliered on the chicken run fence and one pink lady pillar apple in a garden bed) For good pollination at least three different apple varieties are needed.

1 x nashi pear

1 x miniature peach

1 x miniature nectarine

4 x dwarf citrus – 2 x lemon (Meyer and Eureka) 2 x mandarin (Imperial and Ellendale), 2 x orange (Navel and Valencia)

10 x blueberry bushes (various varieties planted in front of the espaliered apples and pergola) Again there is better pollination if you have a several different varieties.

2 x thornless Blackberries (Trained up the enclosure side)

1 x cherry (espaliered onto the enclosure side)

5 x raspberry

3 x current bushes (black, red and white)

1 x gooseberry


In containers.

10 x hanging baskets of strawberries. This utilises unused space, increases air flow around the plants reducing fungal infection and prevents soil dwelling bugs eating the fruit.

1x finger lime (so I can move it into the glasshouse in winter)

1x Tahitian lime (so I can move it into the glasshouse in winter)

1x Kaffir lime (so I can move it into the glasshouse in winter)

1 x Bay tree (Bay tends to sucker and develop into a large thicket, I have a chance of  controlling it in a container)

Spreading Herbs.

I like to grow the extra vigorous herds such as mint, peppermint, lemon balm, oregano, and marjoram in pots. All these herbs will very quickly take over a garden bed if not contained. I would place these in the pots below the various containerised trees.

Options on the southern side of the enclosure- pergola or glass house/garden shed.

In my ideal garden I have used this pace for a glass house/garden shed/ potting area for growing seedling and propagating plants. I move my frost ender potted plants into the glasshouse during winter.

This area could be used for a pergola to train climbers such as passionfruit, grapes, or Kiwi fruit on, or for more garden beds.


Why I have excluded climbers from my system.

All climbing plants require maintenance. They tend to be very vigorous and need constant cutting back to keep them under control. They can take over both structures and other plants quickly, so they are not my favorite food-bearing plants.

Passionfruit are frost tender so will not grow in my garden and are far too vigorous for a pot so have been excluded from this system.

I have tried kiwi fruit and found them extremely vigorous. You must plant both a male and a female plant for pollination reasons. As a result, the two plants soon overwhelmed and eventually destroyed, my first chicken enclosure. When they cropped, we were literally picking buckets of fruit every day and really after the first 50 or so we got a bit sick of them. It was not a hard decision to remove them from my garden. But that does not mean they may not work in your system.

Grapevines can also be very vigorous. I have grown one over a chicken enclosure and the tendrils twined into the mesh, making it very difficult to remove the stem when pruning them, especially on the roof. I needed to work on a tall ladder, and I am not good at working at heights. Grapes need to be pruned to get a decent crop so leaving them unpruned was not an option. They may work on a free-standing trellis system like you see in vineyards, but I did not have the space for this within my garden. We also had constant mildew issues living in an area that always has rain in February, when the fruit is ripening. Again, in the right climate grapes could be included.

A garden shed and compost bins can be either incorporated into the enclosure or placed outside but with easy access to the garden. Putting these items outside will maximise the area of productive plants that need the protection of the enclosure.

This system can be adjusted to fit your space and your selection of food plants. It is a system that provides for maximum production from minimum space and as such is ideal for most backyard situations or where you need to build an enclosure to protect your plants from the many ever hungry birds and animals that are local to your area.

We’re all obsessed with making our gardens LOOK good, but the outcomes may be better if we spent more time thinking about how they FEEL.

Interested in mastering the balance of a garden that looks great and feels fabulous to be in as well?  Come along to our one day masterclass on April 7 to totally reframe the way you think of home garden design.  Details at

Or check out the masterclass video here

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I missed the Sydney launch of my first book.  I had pneumonia, and I couldn’t lift my head off the pillow.  My pillow was in Woodend, Australia.

But what I’m eternally grateful for is that Brodee Myers-Cooke – the then editor of the garden section of Better Homes and Gardens – organised for the launch to be videoed, and got hold of a copy of the book, and had a heap of the attendees sign it, with messages of support, love and encouragement.

But then that copy went missing.

Three years after publication, the ABC requested that I record Michael McCoy’s Garden as an audiobook, so I spent a few days in a voice-over booth, reading it, with several copies open in front of me, so as to not have to audibly turn the pages.  I left one or two copies with the audio-technician – a really good friend of mine – for reference, and must have forgotten to retrieve them before packing up all our belongings and heading overseas for a year.

It must have been about five years later than I realised that my precious, multiply-signed copy was missing, and after some head-scratching, thought that it was possibly amongst the copies I’d left with the technician.  I contacted her, and she claimed that she neither had it, nor had ever had it.

The beaten up lost copy

At least another five years later, I was really mourning the loss of the book, thinking that it was probably sitting in the book shelf of someone for whom it was entirely meaningless.  Then, apropos of nothing, a nephew of mine showed me a YouTube clip about people who’d prayed for the return of precious lost items.  In that moment, I was filled with belief, and simply prayed ‘I want my book back!’

This occurred just days before leading an OS garden tour, so I was thoroughly distracted for several weeks, but not long after getting back, I received an email from someone in Tasmania.

It said something like this 

‘The strangest thing just happened.  My daughter and I decided that we were going to overhaul a part of our garden, so dragged our two garden books off the bookshelf for reference, one of which was Michael McCoy’s Garden.  The front two pages had always been stuck together, and such is the inquisitiveness of my ten year old, that she had to try and peel them apart.  When she did, we found that those pages were covered in signatures and messages to you!  It was clear that it was of much greater value to you than to us, so if you send me your postal address, I’ll send it back to you.’

The emailer was herself an author, and threw in one of her books, as a bonus.  Turns out the audio technician had given it to her, years and years before. Of course, I sent a new, fresh copy of Michael McCoy’s Garden back to her.

But how about that?

The audio technicians sticky notes!

Michael McCoy’s Garden is still available from me, at $29-95 + p&h.  Contact me on [email protected] if you’re interested.  I also read it onto YouTube as a lockdown project this year.  You can watch those videos at


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You avoid spraying pesticides that are necessary for over-bred, highly-strung varieties of fruits and vegetables. Moreover, your efforts may become the start of a seed swap adventure with other gardeners (or in your local seed network), whether with neighbours, family and friends, in a community gardens or in a school.

Having met farmers and gardeners in more than forty countries Jude and Michel Fanton, the directors of The Seed Savers’ Network, appreciate that it is gardeners and small land-holders who caretake the food diversity of the world. They are leaving us the living legacy of home-saved seeds that ultimately belong to all of us, and are the responsibility of all of us.Seed saving peasants, rural and urban gardeners worldwide keep their seed within a friendly active network, and regrow them in their fields and gardens as a living seed bank evolving within culture, and within climate. Institutionalised frozen gene-banks are inaccessible to gardeners and farmers. Increasingly even small seed companies are relying on large corporations for their seed supply.To remain independent of Big Seed, an increasing number of gardeners and peasant farmers, urban gardeners, small rural landholders are saving their own and gifting and exchanging their seeds with other who also do. No amount of rethoric will change anything. However educating ourselves with other seedsavers in Local Seed Networks do.Start by letting a few plant run to seeds in your seedsaving garden, learn from observations even mistakes, and consult the classic The Seed Savers’ Handbook.

Why do gardeners continue to produce their own seeds for a life time and even often generations?

Here are thirteen benefits of saving seeds that we have experienced:

1. Home-saved Seeds are for free

When you produce your own seeds you avoid the recurring expense each year. One gram of corporate hybrid tomatoes cost around $30 upwards. Home-saved seeds are totally free! Seed prices have been rising steadily since 2000 because the cost of breeding seeds for corporations has risen. Now they are bred with traits or genes that have to be bought or leased from gene-tech companies who experiment in high tech super labs, then in glass houses and multiplied in open fields: they are genetically engineered. The costs of commercialising them worldwide with international legal protection has help huge price rise in seeds. (Please google UPOV the international agency based in Switzerland who grants licences and protect the so called intellectual property on seeds to plant breeders, most countries have signed the agreements apart of the GATT protocols).
Saving seeds is still free in Australia however it is not in the EU with stringent laws to protect the copyrights owners of seeds!

2. It is Easy to Produce Seeds

What could be more easy than letting your italian parsley, thai corianders, chicory salads, asian cabbages, japanese mustards run to seed. Let your beans mature on the bush so they are ready to re-plant. Just some staking, a little patience and appreciation for the beauty of plants flowering will yield your very own seed that are getting adapted to your local climate. Find out how to save seeds of hundreds of garden vegetables, how to avoid diseases and grow natually the organic way. Some of the seed to start with, you can access from your local seed network. check the google map for finding out. if there is none or if they are too far to travel to start one in your area.
Let plants go full cycle!3. You Have an Abundance to ShareHome seed saving produces extra seeds that you can give away to others. One single lettuce head can produce 100,000 seeds, three Italian purple broccoli more than one kg of seed. That’s 120 grams which is more than you need to exchange in your Local Seed Network for seeds you want.
Share your excess seeds!

4. Self Seeding Saves Time

This abundance means there are enough seeds for broadcasting in the garden. Just move seed heads to self-seed in other beds in the gardens. That way you have a kind of rotation system.
Save on time and effort!

5. You Eat Better

Traditional varieties are generally more nutrient-dense than commercial varieties. Local seed stocks produce gourmet ingredients. Corporate seed companies breed for yield and high response to chemical fertilisers at the expense of taste and nutrition. That way you have to eat more to feel satisfied, hence the increase in obesity.
Eat nutrient-dense food!

6. You Eat attractive vegetables and fruit

Local varieties come in rainbow colours. Different pigmentations indicate antioxidants best for optimum health.
Save on commercial vitamins and minerals!

7. Home-saved Seeds Germinate Better

Fresh seeds germinate at a higher percentage and are more vigorous, i.e., they are quicker to-emerge from the soil and more likely to thrive.
Watch them pop up!

8. Local Adaptations Suit your Climate and Conditions

Saving seeds is all based on careful observation in the gardens. Co-create or tailor-make your own varieties of vegetable by skillfully selecting for desirable characteristics and saving them each year.
They will adapt to your local conditions in a few short generations. (If they don’t show sign of adaptation and easy-care replace them with another variety. Feel free to use the seed exchange provided in this site. Visit the Seed Exchange in the Community Forums.
Create your own local adaptations!

9. Local Varieties are Resilient and Rustic

Your home-saved seeds will adapt to resist your local pest and diseases and over time become more hardy.
Avoid sprays and fertilisers!

10. You Avoid GE Crops

Corporations and foreign governments are investing in millions of acres to plant them with genetically engineered crops. Far from an estimated 8 000 plant species once eaten by man, processed non-foods are largely made from maize, canola, soy, potatoes and cotton seed as oils and fillers, the five main GE crops. Humanity is now being condemned to consume fattening and often allergenic GMOs.
By saving your own seeds and improving your skills you can avoid growing and consuming GE food!

11. Home-saved Seeds are Climate Ready

Local varieties have a rich genetic past as they had to evolve in farmers’ hands with changing climates over thousands of years. They will remain adaptable to future changes compared to uniform highly bred hybrids and genetically modified seeds that are derived from seeds in frozen gene banks.
Let your seeds evolve with the changing climate!

12. You Remain Independent from Big Money

Bypass corporate monsters such as Monsanto, Bayer and Dupont that sell seed, GE seed, pesticides, fungicides, fertilisers and pharmaceuticals who serve industrial monocultures that aim at global markets.
Save your seeds at home!

13. You Preserve the Diversity of Food Crops for Future Generations

We can’t drop the ball on this one and cause a break in the chain of seeds handed to us by our ancestors. They put so much work into them and our descendants need them and will appreciate them.
Leave something good and tasty for your great grandchildren and their friends!


Why is a red tomato red? And much more.
Tomatoes are not just red, they can be almost white or green, maroon, indigo, purple, brown, yellow, orange and red (or combinations of these). Their colour is determined by a combination of skin colour and flesh colour. Skins can be yellow or colourless, while the flesh can be all the colours above.

Red: The classic scarlet red tomatoes have red flesh with yellow skin over the top. The red pigment is derived from the phytochemical antioxidant lycopene, and during ripening there is a 500-fold increase in the level of lycopene within fruits. But lycopene production is reduced once the air temperature rises above 32ºC, so fruits may be paler in hot weather.  Red tomatoes contain large amounts of lycopene and lesser amounts of beta-carotene.
Examples of red tomatoes include Amish Paste, Australian Red, Early Annie, Grosse Lisse, Moneymaker, Red Fig and Tommy Toe.

Pink: These tomatoes have red flesh with white skin. There are fewer pink tomatoes because white skin is a recessive characteristic. Although pink is the description used, the colour often ranges through different shades of pink to crimson. These tomatoes are high in the antioxidant lycopene when ripe, and they also contain beta-carotene.
Examples of pink tomatoes include Anna Russian, Brandywine Pink, Eva Purple Ball, Pink Ping Pong, Ponderosa Pink and Thai Pink Egg.

Orange: These vary from pale yellow-orange to butternut pumpkin orange. They have less lycopene than other tomatoes but are high in beta-carotene and also contain prolycopene. There are also some orange tomatoes that are orange because of a different form of lycopene, known as cis-lycopene. This lycopene is 8 times more absorbable than the lycopene (it’s a trans-lycopene) that makes red tomatoes red.
Examples of orange tomatoes with high beta-carotene include Jaune Flamme, Kellogg’s Breakfast, Orange Banana and Verna Orange. Examples of orange tomatoes with cis-lycopene include Small Sweet Orange, Alice Brewer and Tangella

Yellow: Tomatoes with clear skins range from bright lemon yellow all the way through to pale ivory, while yellow tomatoes with yellow skins can be soft to butter yellow. When cut, the flesh is often paler in colour than the skin. Many yellow tomatoes with either colourless or yellow skin become more orange as they ripen. Yellow tomatoes have less lycopene than red varieties, but they have other carotenoids such as delta-carotene and lutein.
Examples of yellow tomatoes include Azoychka, Banana Legs, Banksia Queen, Barry’s Crazy Cherry, Limmony, Tasmanian Yellow and Yellow Pear.

White: Some tomatoes are so pale that they seem to be white, especially when not fully ripe. The flesh is almost white, and the skin is clear. They turn pale yellow when completely ripe. These tomatoes are generally delicate and mild in flavour.
Examples of white tomatoes include Snow White and White Beauty.

Green: Tomatoes with green flesh when ripe can have either yellow or clear skin. Green tomatoes with yellow skin will usually turn a rich yellow when ripe, but when cut the flesh is disconcertingly bright green. Those with clear skins will remain green when ripe; as the colour change indicating ripeness is very subtle, the fruits need to be gently squeezed in order to detect the slight ‘give’ of a ripe fruit. Green in tomatoes comes from chlorophyll.
Examples of green tomatoes include Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Evergreen, Green Grape and Moldovan Green.

Purple and Brown: These tomatoes have a green flesh gene, which prevents the chlorophyll breakdown that would usually happen in ripening tomatoes. This results in the formation of a brown compound known as pheophytin. When this compound combines with the pink or red of lycopene, you get a brown- or purple-coloured tomato, depending on the skin colour. The combination of lycopene, pheophytin, less beta-carotene and some chlorophyll provides a range of colours. When these tomatoes have clear skin, the colour looks purple; when the skin is yellow, the colour is perceived as maroon/brown. Flesh colour is substantially purple/brown with a greenish pigment, especially in the gel that surrounds the seeds. Many of these tomatoes confusingly have ‘black’ in their names, when they are really not at all black, either in the skin or flesh.
Examples of purple tomatoes include Black Cherry, Black from Tula, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Purple Calabash. Examples of brown tomatoes include Black Plum, Black Russian and Japanese Black Trifele.

Blue/black/indigo: These tomatoes started with Indigo Rose, which gets its indigo/black/ blue colour from anthocyanin in the skin. Since the development of this tomato in 2011, many other blue/black tomatoes have been bred by crossing with either this tomato or varieties that were derived from the first cross. The area of blue/indigo skin is determined by how much sunlight hits the tomato as it develops. Usually the anthocyanin is only in the skin, but sometimes it can occur in the flesh just below the skin. The flesh can be green, yellow, pink, orange or red. Anthocyanin is essentially tasteless, so it doesn’t add to the flavour profile.
Examples of blue/black/indigo tomatoes include Blue Beauty, Blue Berries, Green and Black, Red and Black.

Stripes, blushing and swirls: Some tomatoes feature combinations of colours. Stripes generally occur only on the skin, while blushing and swirls can be seen both on the skin and in the flesh. The classic Tigerella and Green Zebra are two of the first striped varieties. Tomatoes with yellow flesh and red blushing and swirls have been around for a while, but modern breeding programs have seen many more combinations of all colours becoming available.

Examples of striped tomatoes include Green Zebra, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye, Pink Bumblebee, Sunrise Bumblebee and Tigerella. Examples of blushed and swirled tomatoes include Ananas Noire, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Big Rainbow, Hillbilly, Jade Beauty, Pineapple and Tasmanian Blushing Yellow.

By: Penny Woodward

First published: September 2021

Fresh herbs are a great starting point if new to gardening, and growing them in a vertical herb spiral using pots is a fun way to do it.

native herb spiral
Photo: Leonie Shanahan

Fresh herbs are a great addition to any garden, especially as you don't need a lot of space to get started. In our August/September 2021 issue (OG 127), Penny Woodward has written all about growing this culinary must-have in pots.  "Herbs don't take up much space, are used over and over again, and in many cases all of the plant is used in some way, so there is no waste," Penny writes. There's heaps more information, of course, but we thought this idea from Leonie Shanahan might be a good starting point.

You will need:

3 different-sized pots

3 bricks (or similar)

Potting mix

Assorted herbs


1. Pre-water herbs with seaweed solution to reduce transplant shock.

2. Position pots in full sun, north facing.

3. Add bricks (or similar) to centre of largest pot, as a platform, to support middle-sized pot.

4. Backfill pot with potting mix and trace elements.

5. Add next pot. Half fill with potting mix, add another support in the centre and place final pot on top.

6. Before planting herbs, place them in a spiral to see if you are satisfied with the final look. Keep in mind that herbs planted at the top will need to like hot and dry conditions and as you go down each tier choose herbs that prefer more moisture.

7. Plant. Mulch. Water well with seaweed solution.

Herbs to repel pests by Penny Woodward

Some useful pest-repellent herbs can be grown in pots and pieces picked as needed, or the pots can be moved around to help keep pests away. Try the following:
• Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (below) repels both flies and ants. Grow in a pot by frequently used doors, break off leafy branches and spread on shelves to keep ants away.

127 Tansy by Gap Photos Ernie James

• Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) leaves help to keep mosquitoes away and if you have chooks, cuttings added to nesting boxes will repel pests.
• Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) will also repel mosquitoes, rub the pleasantly scented leaves on exposed sections of skin, and spread leaves inside or outside to repel ants.
• English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) also repels mosquitoes, brush against it or crush leaves to release the scent into the air.
• Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) repels flies and fleas.

You can read Penny's full article about growing herbs in pots in our August/September 2021 issue (OG 127) – purchase a copy today and have it delivered!

Leonie Shanahan contributed her potting idea to the OG website in April 2017.

By: Leonie Shanahan

First published: August 2021

One hundred pounds of tomatoes from just 100 square feet. Twenty pounds of carrots from 24 square feet. Delicious vegetables from a 15-by-20-foot plot. Believe it or not, it's not impossible to grow your own vegetable garden with yields of this nature. All that's required is some patience and smart tactics to get the most out of your garden space. Follow these tips and tricks to plan the vegetable gardening of your dreams.

Develop a practical plan.

The first step to growing a healthy garden is marking off exactly where you want the beds to go. Consider the size, shape, and location of your garden to figure out the best set-up for you. Keep in mind that it can always be changed over time if necessary.

Expert gardeners agree that building up the soil is the single most important factor in pumping up yields. A deep, organically rich soil encourages the growth of healthy, extensive roots able to reach more nutrients and water. The result: extra-lush, extra-productive growth above ground.

The fastest way to get that deep layer of fertile soil is to make raised beds. Raised beds yield up to four times more than the same amount of space planted in rows. That’s due not only to their loose, fertile soil but also to efficient spacing. By using less space for paths, you have more room to grow plants. RELATED STORYYour 3-Step Guide to Building a Raised Garden Bed

Raised beds save you time, too. One researcher tracked the time it took to plant and maintain a 30-by-30-foot garden planted in beds, and found that he needed to spend just 27 hours in the garden from mid-May to mid-October. Yet he was able to harvest 1,900 pounds of fresh vegetables. That’s a year’s supply of food for three people from about three total days of work!

How do raised beds save so much time? Plants grow close enough together to crowd out competing weeds so you spend less time weeding. The close spacing also makes watering and harvesting more efficient.

Round out the soil in your beds.


The shape of your beds can make a difference, too. Raised beds become more space-efficient by gently rounding the soil to form an arc. A rounded bed that is 5 feet wide across its base, for instance, could give you a 6-foot-wide arc above it. That foot might not seem like much, but multiply it by the length of your bed and you’ll see that it can make a big difference in total planting area.

from the Spruce

Best Pruners: FELCO 2 One-Hand Pruning Shear at AmazonSlice through branches up to an inch thick without jamming or dulling the blade.READ REVIEW

Best Garden Knife: Nisaku Hori-Hori Tomita Weeding Knife at AmazonDurable, 6 1/2-inch stainless steel blade that slices through the soil with ease.READ REVIEW

Best Trowel: Wilcox All-Pro Heavy-Duty Digging Trowel at AmazonNearly indestructible, even after years of potting, planting, and light digging.READ REVIEW

Best Shovel: Bully Tools 82515 14-Gauge Round Point Shovel at Home DepotStands up to even heavy-duty tasks like moving large boulders, removing stumps and digging deep trenches.READ REVIEW

Best Spade: Fiskars 46-Inch Garden Spade Shovel at Acmetools.comThe large handle and teardrop-shape shaft are both easy to grip.READ REVIEW

Best Rain Gauge: Stratus Precision Rain Gauge at AmazonGuaranteed accurate to 1/100th of an inch.READ REVIEW

Best Garden Rake: Razorback Fiberglass Handle Steel Rake at Home DepotFlexible coil keep your garden ready to be home for the holidays spring enables a smooth raking action, so you won’t be struggling as you clean up your yard.READ REVIEW

Best Gardening Gloves: Magid Glove & Safety Bella Comfort Flex Coated at AmazonThe glove's water-resistant nylon helps keep hands dry during messy gardening tasks.READ REVIEW

Whether you're cultivating a small collection of potted herbs on your balcony or you're planning an epic victory garden, we've got tried and true tips from experts to make your efforts bear fruit.

By Steph Coelho published on

Gardening involves a lot of trial and error. It's a big undertaking, after all, and it's nearly impossible to pass from year to year without at least a few mishaps. To help you lower your error count this year, we've compiled a series of little-known veggie gardening tips from experts. Here's to a bountiful harvest this season!

Armor Up

Are you struggling with squash vine borer year after year? The nasty larvae burrow into the stems of squash plants and decimate them from the inside out. Once they've gotten in, it's nearly impossible to extricate them. Kathy Jentz of Washington Gardener Magazine suggests wrapping foil around squash stems to keep out the grubs. She adds that it's particularly important to wrap the foil around a portion of the stem beneath the soil—1/4 inch deep should do it.

Protect Your Fruit

A juicy red apple isn't so appealing once it's been attacked by pesky pests. To prevent an assault on your fruit trees, Sarah Cook of Sustainable Cooks suggests using the "footie" ends of pantyhose to cover vulnerable fruits, gently tying the ends to branches. She adds, "[they're] super stretchy, so they grow with the apples and create a barrier that prevents pests from burrowing into the fruit." They're also reusable, so there's no need to toss them at the end of the season.

Lean on Me

Farmer Stanley Miklis of Caliper Farm to Market has shared his secret for growing cucumbers: sunflowers. The tall, sturdy blooms act as a DIY trellis for vining cukes. Stanley explains that the sunflowers aren’t just practical supports, it's also a source of income. He sells both flowers and cucumbers at the farmer’s market.

Extra-Early Harvest

While most gardeners wait patiently for crops to mature before cutting, picking, and harvesting, Andrew Neves swears by microgreens, extra-early crops consisting of highly nutritious greenery. They're incredibly easy to cultivate, and they're perfect for indoor growing. In the gardening world, sometimes it's worth going small instead of big.

Cover Crops

Elle Meager of Outdoor Happens swears by comfrey. She grows it among her vegetables and fruit trees because of its ability to break down heavy soils and increase the bioavailability of nutrients for shallow-rooted plants. "The beautiful thing about comfrey is that the more leaves you cut for green manure and animal feed, the more they grow. Comfrey is easy to propagate from a root piece as small as 2 inches. This gives you the potential to fill your garden with nitrogen-fixing plants; an unlimited supply, for free," says Meager.

Rip and Reuse


Have a pile of ratty t-shirts lying around? Jerry Gorchels, a spokesperson for PanAmerican Seed in West Chicago, Illinois, explains that you can deter annoying, hungry pests like birds and rabbits by tying up strips of fabric cut from an old shirt. He explains that "When the wind flaps the 'flag,' the unpredictable movement will scare away bunnies and keep most birds at bay. Even placing a few posts with rag shards on the end of them can be a natural deterrent."


Employ Plastic


Shelby DeVore of Farminence has more than two decades of gardening experience and a master's degree in agriculture. Her secret to vegetable gardening success? Plasticulture. Plastic mulch has a slew of benefits. It conserves water, warms the soil, deters pests, and keeps down weeds. Why choose plastic over traditional mulches? "Plastic can be cut to fit containers, or it can be bought in large sheets to cover entire garden beds. It's extremely durable and can last for up to ten years, making the cost [very] manageable," says DeVore.

Garden Outside of the Box


Traditional rectangular beds and neat garden rows aren't a prerequisite for a successful garden, according to Susannah Shmurak, who is a proponent of permaculture. Shmurak encourages people to seek out uncommon spots for growing food: "Herbs can be tucked into flowerbeds and pots…You can grow fruit trees and shrubs on your parking strip…Trees can be underplanted with berry shrubs, fruiting vines like grapes can twine up sturdy trees, herbs can serve as groundcovers. Need shade on your porch? Grapevines offer fruit AND edible leaves as well as providing energy savings and privacy."

Intensive Planting

Make the most of the space you have by using intensive planting methods like interplanting, says Troy-Bilt Brand Garden Expert Erin Schanen. The master gardener and creator of The Impatient Gardener suggests sowing quick-growing veggies between slow-growing ones. She offers the example of radishes and potatoes. The potatoes only really get going once the radishes are plump and ready for harvesting. She also recommends tucking in plants anywhere possible: "For instance, if you grow beans up an A-frame style trellis, sow some leaf lettuce under the A-frame. The lettuce will appreciate a bit of protection from the sun as it gets hotter, and you'll be taking advantage of every inch of space in the garden."

Tanner Sagouspe of Rise is a Permaculture Designer with a master's degree in environmental management. To make your garden more hospitable to friendly neighborhood pollinators, he recommends adding a dish with water and marbles for bees to land on. He also says that it's important to ensure there are a variety of blooms in your garden throughout the season to entice and feed pollinators. He goes so far as to recommend that gardens should have "flowers in bloom every week of the growing season."

Mark with Milk

Keeping things neat and tidy during the planting portion of the gardening season is easier said than done. To ensure everything gets planted where it should, Mindy S. McIntosh-Shetter, author of Outlander Botanist, uses powdered milk to mark rows and planting spots. The powder isn't just for keeping track of where things go, though. It also adds calcium to the soil, a micronutrient required for the optimal growth of many plants.

Layer a Little Foil


To keep her peppers happy and increase their fruit yield, Mindy uses aluminum foil as a cheap, easy-to-find household mulch solution. The reflective foil provides peppers with the sunlight they crave, and all you need to do is poke a few holes here and there to allow moisture to seep through to the plant roots.

Often when we are thinking about sustainable food production, we can become focused on the annual vegetable garden, and although I believe it is an integral part of any productive backyard, I also feel that we should not neglect those perennial plants that will produce year after year.

Do you like the sound of planting something once, spending a few hours a year on maintaining that plant and it rewarding you with produce year after year?

If the answer is yes, then perennial food plants are what you need to cultivate.

Though I would never forsake my annual vegetable garden, as I love the taste of home-grown carrots, beans, potatoes and all the other annual plants I can grow, I do love the practicality and reduced workload of growing perennial food producers.

Plant once, harvest every year, year after year, with truly little input. Nothing is more sustainable than that.

Asparagus can take a few years to establish but will crop for 20 to 30 years.

So whether you want to pick a lemon to add the juice to a salad dressing, grab an apple to eat raw or experience the joyful anticipation of picking fresh asparagus in spring, the inclusion of perennial food-producing plants in your productive backyard is a must.

Perennial plants are those that live for more than 2 years and generally produce a harvest each year.

Some of these perennials may be short-lived such as Tamarillo, which often needs to be replaced after 5 or 6 years or Thyme which will become woody and unproductive after a few years. However, there are some plants like nut trees that will go on producing for hundreds of years.

Many perennials are very easy to grow once established, they are more tolerant of drought and need less fertilising, as they have larger well-developed root systems. They generally need little more than a yearly mulching of compost and some supplementary water occasionally. Some perennials will need a bit more time and maintenance but are generally less work than the annual vegetable garden.

The greatest advantage is that they are purchased/propagated once, planted, and will produce a food crop year after year.

They can be expensive to purchase, but given a lifetime of produce, the initial expense is worth it.

The most important thing to consider when you are looking at planting perennial food plants is to plan. Remember they may (depending on the species) live and produce for 20 or 30 years – so consider where they will grow best, ensure it is space that won’t be needed for something else in the future and allow enough space for the plant to mature.

Consider, plan then plant.

The other great thing about most perennials is that they can be incorporated into your garden in an aesthetically pleasing way. They can become part of the landscape, regardless of what type of garden you have.

With the diminishing size of backyards, it is important to have plants that look good as well as being productive.


There is a food producing plant for every landscaping situation:

Need a small deciduous shade tree? Why not plant an almond or an apple tree!

Need an evergreen flowing tree? Take your pick of the citrus varieties – lush green foliage, beautifully perfumed flowers, and bright coloured fruit.

Need a deciduous climber? What about grapes!

Need a ground cover? Consider delicious strawberries!

The possibilities are endless.


Perennial food producers can be trees, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials or ground covers and we can eat the fruit, the nut, the berry, the stems, leaves, flowers or tubers.

These include perennial vegetables, herbs (both medicinal and culinary), berry-producing plants, fruit and nut trees from temperate climates such as apples. They can be from Mediterranean climates such as citrus, figs and olives; or from tropical and subtropical climates, such as Bananas and avocado; and lets not forget to include Australian native bush tucker foods.

What and how many perennial food producing plants you plant in your backyard is a personal thing based on what food you like to eat and how you want your backyard to look.

Imagine a pergola dripping with crisp, ripe grapes or groaning under the weight of a fully laden Kiwifruit or passionfruit vine. Imagine hanging baskets full of luscious strawberries or a screening hedge of pomegranates.

For the purposes of this blog, I am going to concentrate on fruiting plants as I have covered vegetables and herbs in other blogs.

Growing herbs:

Growing Perennial vegetables


Why Grow Perennial vegetables.


Here are some hints for maximising the number of perennial fruiting plants you can have in your backyard.

My espaliered apple trees cropping beautifully

  • Espalier fruit trees along your fence or other vertical spaces.
  • Grow dwarf and multi-grafted varieties of fruit trees.
  • Grow things in pots so they can be moved to favourable conditions ie to get more sun at different times of the year. Able to be moved under cover to prevent frost damage. etc
  • Hedge your avocado or hazel nuts, many plants can be hedged, it is a great way to reduce the height and size of something that would otherwise be too big or shade something else.
  • Grow vines on pergolas, up fences and over sheds.
  • Grow things in hanging baskets from the eaves or on frames on the sides of sheds or off the house walls.
  • Try vertical gardens.
  • Plant your trees close together.
  • Try a different growing system like a “Layered food producing system”, that not only uses space efficiently but also effectively uses available sunlight, water and nutrients.
  • Extend your harvest by planting a selection of varieties –early, mid and late season ripening-a navel orange for winter harvest and a Valencia for summer harvest.

Planning your plant selection.

Fruit and nut trees and berry plants are often expensive so a little bit of planning can save you a lot of time, money, and effort. By working out exactly what you want to grow and what you can grow in your space is the first step in planning.

Here is an activity to go through to help you work out exactly what fruit, nut and berries you could grow.

Activity: Deciding what plants to grow.

Make a list of all the fruit, nut and berries you purchase/eat each week and those you want to grow.

For example:

Bananas, Lemons, oranges, mandarins, apples, pears, nashi pear, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, blueberries, bramble berries (blackberry, loganberry etc) and raspberries.

Now consider the following points and tick or cross out plants as you go.

  • Do some research to find out what will grow well in your soil and climate.
    Use the internet, books and magazines. Try and find information specific to your local area. Walk around your local neighbourhood and see what is growing well, talk to your neighbours, they will be more than happy to share their gardening knowledge with you. See if there is a local community garden, again they are always happy to share information.
  • Which of these plants could you not do without ie lemons- I use at least one a day and grow have several varieties (Myer, Eureka and Lisbon) so I have fruit all year long?
    Find a space for these! This is where you will save money and really feel you are contributing to your food production in a big way.
  • Are there plants on the list that you would normally purchase every week? – these are also the plants you need to concentrate on and find a space for. Ie strawberries These are much better grown organically. Commercially grown fruit can have loads of chemical residue. In a temperate climate, by planting a range of varieties, you should be able to produce some fruit most of the year and gluts at other times which can be preserved into jams and sauces.
  • Which of these plants do you enjoy eating or would eat? No point in planting a passionfruit vine if you do not like them.
  • Which of these plants do you have the space for? Whilst you may be able to grow a Walnut tree, they can reach 18 to 20 meters in height and spread, not many backyards can accommodate this.
  • Prioritise your list so that you have plants cropping at different times of the year. If you only have space for 6-7 trees don’t make them all apples or you will have excess fruit in the autumn but nothing for the rest of the year. By planting a peach, a nectarine, a couple of apples, a mandarin and a couple of oranges you could be harvesting fresh fruit all year.
  • Which of these plants can occupy otherwise unused spaces? ie Espalier in narrow areas, blueberries in cool semi-shaded areas, strawberries in hanging baskets etc
  • Do you have any particular microclimates that can be used for specific fruits? ie Paw Paw will do best in a warm moist situation- North easterly aspect. Whereas olives and citrus need as much heat as they can get, a north westerly aspect against a brick wall.

After considering all these things you should have a list of plants that:

  • Will grow well in your area.
  • That you have the space and situation (microclimate) to grow them in.
  • That you will eat.

Now put all these plants into a rough plan of your backyard.

Then prioritise your purchases, taking into consideration initial purchase cost and any costs for structures needed to support the plants.

  1. Build structure if necessary.
  2. Buy and Plant your plants.
  3. Plan a maintenance schedule – which can be as simple as fertilise spring and autumn and water during extended dry periods.
  4. Then sit back and enjoy a lifetime of delicious home-grown fruit.

Here are some further references that you might find interesting:

Perennial Farming Systems

Food from Perennial(ising) Plants in Temperate Climate Australia, for February 2013

I have found the following books useful:

‘Organic Fruit Growing’ by Annette McFarlane

Organic Gardener ‘Essential Guide to Fruit’

‘Growing Fruit in Australia’ by Paul Baxter

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