After I killed THREE potted trees, I called for my friend Nova for help. I should have asked for help from the beginning. But we live, kill and learn. Nova came over, spent the day with me in my balcony garden, and I had a big… oh, now I get it moment!

I knew you had to meet her too!

Nova from Cultivate Central

Nova is an urban gardener and  founder of Cultivate Central. She helps people grow food in small spaces. I’m lucky to call her my friend. She grew up alongside her father’s composting business in the 70’s, with her hands deep in the soil. She has an uncanny ability to find worms in any grassy patch and inspire confidence and enthusiasm to grow your own food.

If you’re feeling a bit guilty about the state of your herbs, don’t. Nova has some great tips and gardening philosophy to re-inspire you:

Gardening with Nova

Easiest Plant to Grow

From cuttings – herbs such as basil, mint, dill, indian borage, malabar spinach.

From seed – okra, amaranth, bak choy, beans.

Biggest Newbie Mistakes

  • Not spending enough time observing the space before starting the garden.
  • Not getting soil right according to the needs of the plant.
  • Buying older seedlings from the nursery. Especially annuals which have a shorter lifespan.
  • Not pruning.
  • Not looking underneath the leaves of plants enough, that is where pests mostly settle. Aphids, milibugs, mildew and much more. So when watering spray underneath the leaves too.

My Recipe for Healthy Soil

All my kitchen waste gets composted and that compost is then used to build healthy soil. I also keep all my eggshells so that I have a source of calcium for my soil. I crush them and sometimes pound them before adding it to my soil mix. I also add worms to my containers.

Worms play such an important role. Think of them as soil builders and processors. All that burrowing helps aerate soil, improves water holding capacity keeping your soil from becoming compact. Worms are an amazing organism breaking down nutrients for your plants and pruning roots too. Plus their worm poop is your fertiliser!

When I’m Buying a Plant, I Look For…

  • Health of the leaves, making sure to look underneath the leaves for any pests. And ensuring you are not also bringing back ants, sometimes ant nests are in the pot.
    Ensuring the leaves are not yellowish, a sign of nitrogen deficit.
  • For annual edibles I also try and buy younger seedlings and plants so that I get to enjoy the growth of the plant for longer.
  • Look for young shoots, flowers showing.
  • Make sure roots have not overgrown underneath the pot to minimise transplanting shock and which will make transplanting harder.

My Urban Gardening Philosophy is:

Try, fail, try again. Don’t be afraid you might kill plants. Grow a thick skin and carry on.

  • Create diversity in small spaces. Grow food for your family and flowers for the bees and butterflies.
  • Compost! It can be done in various ways. Find out what would work best for your environment.
  • Welcome the worms, bees, butterflies and dragonflies.
  • Design a space that is inspiring.

At Least Once a Week, I…

Prune my plants.  Harvest some herbs. Send my kitchen waste to my compost pile.

Simplest Way to Improve Your Garden?

Observation. This will lead to you asking questions and seeking better solutions.

If I Could Only Give One Piece of Advice About Urban Gardening, It Would Be…

Observe, plan then plant.

Get to know more about Nova and her amazing projects though her site, Cultivate Central.

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