Our latest interview in our series exploring frugal options from different influencers in the space is with Anthony from Sydney Backyard Veggies, home gardening enthusiast. Sharing with us how he sustainably grows his own food as well as raises chickens. Exploring the benefits of growing your own to live a more sustainable life. All whilst still working through the covid lockdowns. You can find Anthony on his instagram page where he shares his journey growing veggies for his family.

Tell us a little about yourself, kids/family? How did you first become interested in gardening and growing your own food? 

Married with 3 children under 10 and I work as an engineer. I have always been around people growing vegetables. I grew up in a family where dad always had an extensive vegetable garden. In summer, Dad would grow tomatoes, cucumbers, purslane and beans and we would have our daily salads with dinner all provided from the garden. In winter dad would grow a lot of chicory, endive and silverbeet and we would have a constant supply of broad beans and peas. As a kid we would take the vegetable garden for granted but as I got older I started to appreciate more the value of growing your own food.

How has growing your own food affected you financially, do you save a lot on your grocery bills?

I find that if you are happy to eat what’s in season you can save a lot of money. I try to grow what the family likes to eat so in the cooler months I grow a lot of lettuce, broccoli, peas and broad beans. In the summer months I grow a lot of cucumbers, beans and tomatoes. I plant a lot of one plant to make sure I get a glut at harvest. All our excess food is either preserved (we have a large stash of homemade passata at the moment), frozen for use later or given to family and friends.

We tailor our dinners to what is growing in the garden. At the moment we have a glut of eggplants so most dinners have an eggplant dish such as baba ganoush etc

A real cost saver has been growing herbs. We grow herbs that we use regularly such as mint, parsley, rosemary and coriander. They are quite easy to grow and are far better than what can be bought from the grocers.

Follow Anthony for some fantastic gardening tips

Being more knowledgeable in regards to gardening, has this improved your lifestyle? 

I find that being able to work in the veggie patch gives me the chance to get away from the stresses of work. Also giving me a chance to wind down and concentrate on the task at hand. In summer, it’s nice to be able to get out in the garden after work and do a bit of weeding or do some watering. This is especially important now that I have spent the last year working from home due to COVID. Having a space that I can go to get away from the home office and the computer screen is really important for your mental health  

What’s your best gardening tip for growing vegetables in suburban yards? 

My best gardening tip is invest in your soil. Make sure you are constantly adding organic matter to your soil before you plant out your new crops. Over the years the improvements to your soil will add up and your soil will be more friable and more productive. I will always add cow manure or composted bedding from my chicken run before I plant my new season crops.

What is a recent purchase you made that saved you money on home gardening and how did you do it?

My recent purchase that saved me money (and time) was my irrigation system. My vegetable garden is quite big and it could take up to an hour to water every day. I invested in a soaker hose irrigation system which delivers the water straight to the roots so I am using less water overall and saving time.

I also try to buy gardening seeds and soil amendments in bulk. My local animal produce store sells blood and bone and pelletised chicken manure by the 25kg bag and is much cheaper than buying these in 2 kg bags.

I also keep a look out during council clean ups for any steel mesh which I use as trellises for my beans, peas and cucumbers.

What is the process for housing and keeping chickens, do you need a lot of prior knowledge beforehand? 

I was always interested in keeping chickens as a teen and kept a few birds growing up. The key to keeping chickens is that you provide them with weatherproof housing that will keep the chickens safe and dry. it also needs to be large enough to accommodate the number of birds you have. And provide them with the right feed to keep them healthy producing eggs. I built a custom chicken coop with an internal weatherproof run that is large enough to give the chickens some roaming space. My chicken run doubles up as a compost system.

All food scraps and leftovers along with all garden waste (incl. grass clipping and spent plants) are put in the chickens run. There they eat through the scraps and mix the left over waste with their manure and feathers. Every 6 months, the run is cleaned out and the waste is hot composted for 6 weeks. After which it is added to the garden beds. I like this system as nothing goes to waste and what is seen as a waste stream is turned into chicken feed and garden compost.

My flock is made up of commercial hybrid breeds( Australorp crosses, ISA Browns and Rhode Island Whites), which I find are a good fit for the backyard garden as they are good layers and are fairly disease resistant. They need to be provided with commercial layer pellets to ensure they are getting enough protein and calcium, but their feed can be supplemented with food scraps and grains. Having access to fresh water is also as important.

Although you don’t need to have much experience to raise chickens, I do recommend that you read up on the housing and feeding needs for your chickens and have everything set up and ready before you purchase your chickens. Facebook, youtube and Instagram have  plenty of resources available that you can watch and learn from. Pullet suppliers will also be able to provide you with advice on general chicken raising.

Do you have any home gardening resources you recommend?

I read a lot on vegetable gardening and use the internet to research the techniques on growing different plants. Especially when I am going to grow something new for the first time. There is a lot of trial and error with my gardening. Paying attention to what went wrong the last time and trying to not repeat the mistakes the next season.

I also like talking to other gardeners and asking for their advice on specific items. I find vegetable gardeners love to share tips about their gardens and so don’t be scared to ask for advice. Facebook and Instagram gardening groups are a great resource to use to ask questions 

Do you have any advice for someone just beginning their home gardening/vegie patch journey?

Just enjoy it. Give it a go and don’t let setbacks (and there will be plenty 😊) hold you back. For beginners, try planting a herb garden and build your experience from there.  Don’t hesitate to ask other gardeners questions for advice.