“Are you sure?” friends asked when we announced we were moving, “How can you leave your garden? It’s your happy place!” And so it has been.

A peaceful, sheltered little microclimate with year-round spring water. The bush, the river, the birds, the night sky – everything we sought, we found there. Mine were the only feet most days to crack the surface of the road to the river. Heavenly.

But change is sneaky, is it not? In it comes, around the edges. I knew the kids would grow up and leave – of course they would! And yet I continued every year to increase the food gardens to keep up with growing appetites. Then, six, five, four, three and we were down to two mouths – Matt and me, buried beneath piles of pumpkins and apples and leafy greens.

We had no succession plan. I hadn’t stopped to consider where I was going with this bulging garden of mine. And without the mouths to feed, the “oomph” to carry on left me.

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Kath Irvine is passionate about the value of homegrown food. The organic gardener has been growing all the veges to feed her family for the past 20 years. She is the author of The Edible Backyard and Pruning Fruit Trees: A Beginners Guide.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Kath Irvine is passionate about the value of homegrown food. The organic gardener has been growing all the veges to feed her family for the past 20 years. She is the author of The Edible Backyard and Pruning Fruit Trees: A Beginners Guide.

And so, there we stood, one fork in the road pointing to stay and the other, go; me imagining a beachside cottage with a dinky garden, and Matt, a debt-free, low maintenance life. The thought of starting again glittered – carpe diem and all that. Yes, we said, “Let’s choose go!”

And that’s how, after 16 wonderful years at Florida Road, we let go our epic gardens and headed out the gate in a house-truck for a life on the road.

Chickens are the ultimate labour force. I use them to clean up and fertilise finished beds by containing them within birdnet pegged to wires.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Chickens are the ultimate labour force. I use them to clean up and fertilise finished beds by containing them within birdnet pegged to wires.

Life minus a garden is, so far, surprisingly fine. But then again we’ve only been on the road for two months. Will this footloose feeling endure or is this just the beginning or a holiday phase?

Keeping us happy are the organic growers we’re gratefully finding along the way. We are, in fact, organising our life around them. Stopping in towns with organic supply and stocking up for when they aren’t.

Life without herbs and veges on tap was surely my biggest challenge. I counted on them for my wellbeing. Organic veges had saved my eczema-covered self.

From top to toe, I had been red and raw and weeping, sore all over until a naturopath took me by the shoulders and said, “My darling, your eczema is just your insides spewing up on your outsides. But not to worry. We can clean you up if you’re keen.” Was I ever, and clean me up we did.

Herbs are my most frequently used plants, in both the kitchen and the garden. Loads go into every meal, compost pile or homemade mulch, making the most of all those minerals and phytonutrients.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Herbs are my most frequently used plants, in both the kitchen and the garden. Loads go into every meal, compost pile or homemade mulch, making the most of all those minerals and phytonutrients.

Turned out agricultural chemicals didn’t sit well with me, so organic became my new normal alongside a whole-food diet where herbs and leafy greens took centre-stage.

Two years later, voila, new me – unrecognisable at times in my smooth, normal skin. Which I adored and wanted very much to keep. Best I stick to all the things that had gotten me well – sunny people, fresh air, good water, good times and chemical-free food.

But getting hold of organics in the 90s was next to impossible, so learning to grow veges hit the wishlist and away I went. I’d never gardened before. I knew not a thing, but I found my groove and a way to keep me supplied with the food that did my body proud.

Use these basic ideas to make your home garden more productive and sustainable.

Easily said though – growing veges takes time. Or does it? What if I told you the days of double digging, compost turning and painful weeding are over. With deep mulch, no-dig and a healthy dose of letting the garden go, you won’t believe how easy vege gardening can be.

There’s no need to grow it all, either. Team up! I love the idea of neighbours knocking a few fences over to create a little communal plot. Or perhaps grow bulk crops such as corn, potatoes or shellout beans on a friend’s larger section, keeping the smaller footprint, daily pick crops such as beans, tomatoes and leafy greens at home.

You could supplement your veges with bought ones via a community supported agriculture (CSA), a local grower or vege box scheme. Supporting organics is next-best to homegrown.

Toilet rolls make excellent seedling containers for corn, beans and peas – crops that do best without disturbance. Plant them, toilet roll and all, for a strong start.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Toilet rolls make excellent seedling containers for corn, beans and peas – crops that do best without disturbance. Plant them, toilet roll and all, for a strong start.

Leafy greens are the best place to start. They’re the health giants of your garden and, as a beautiful bonus, the easiest of all to grow. Think of them as the base layer, the constant from which the rest of your garden springs and work towards a year-round supply so that you can always grab a bunch for tea or a bouquet for a sick friend.

Long-lived, beneficent leafies such as rainbow chard (so pretty), cavalo nero, perpetual beet, parsley (curly or flat) and mint are a grand beginning. Plant them in containers or in-ground, where you can see them – a practicality that ensures they’ll not wither and die.

Over time, increase your selection. There’s a huge array of greens available, especially if you enjoy growing from seed. Dinners are way more interesting with a variety of textures and flavours – spicy, crunchy, creamy, bitter, sweet. Grow them all! A typical spring salad at Florida Road would have landcress, rocket, little gems, moss curled cress, chickweed, miners lettuce, mizuna, cos, nasturtium, parsley, mint with an exciting dash of bitter from chicory or dandelion to prime the liver. You cannot buy a salad that good, and I sure do miss them.

Pruning and tying tomatoes daily keeps tomatoes in good health.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Pruning and tying tomatoes daily keeps tomatoes in good health.

Apart from the mint, these will all happily self-seed, meaning they do the garden centre’s job of growing you a whole new round of seedlings minus the seed trays and money changing hands.

Once you get into the self-seeding swing, your little garden starts cooking with gas. Not your gas, but nature’s. An easy abundance pervades when new leafy greens arrive of their own accord throughout the year with the ever present long-lived stalwarts generously closing any gaps in harvest.

Isn’t it good to be easy like this? Natural cycles bring us to the best result by far. Learning them and then trusting them, comes with time. Give yourself grace if you are just beginning, or transitioning to a more natural way – it’s a bigger leap than you realise.

Natural is not about swapping a chemical pesticide for an organic one. Nature’s pesticide comes in the shape of a balanced, living soil, a strong beneficial insect brigade and a diversity of plants. Put your attention on the whole picture – not the quick fix – and with every action, cultivate life.

As you go along in this vein, you’ll find yourself doing less and watching more. You’ll start to listen to your garden before rushing in with bad habits. A simple thing like leaving a pest-covered plant as a sacrifice saves the others, sidesteps the need for pesticide and calls in more predatory insects. How’s that for easy! Chopping older ratty leaves off and dropping them on the ground beneath keeps crops productive for longer and brings the kind of fertility that nature knows best – a steady drip feed as opposed to rocking the boat with heavy handed applications. Bust and boom depletes every cog in the system.

Natural systems are not complicated. Truly. The best veges spring out of homemade compost. And all that is, is a mixture of whatever organic matter you have to hand, left to time and biology – mineral-rich prunings from herbs, crop residue, grass clippings and leaves perhaps. Add seaweed if you are beachside, manure if you have animals – though you don’t need either. We put too much faith in more and stronger. Rely instead on the living organisms beneath our feet.

Fresh ground for the chickens and less work for me.

PAUL MCCREDIE/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Fresh ground for the chickens and less work for me.

A vast network that when supported by our no-dig, no-spray, simple feeding regimes, takes care of all the things we bump up against – namely poor health and pest burdens. It is honestly that simple, and yet at the same time deeply complex.

The web of life is far beyond our understanding and the further we step away from it, the more complicated life becomes. One health problem after another, deeply troubled waterways and soil that’s so broken, it turns to dust. Every organic backyard is a step towards reversing the damage we’ve done during our grand experiment with monocultures and pesticides.

Your contribution to restoring the earth – no matter how small your endeavour, is solid gold. Backyard by backyard, that’s how we get well because rest assured, the practises that keep us well, are the very same practises that clean our fragile, beautiful world.

As for Matt and I, we’re keeping our options open. We’ve loads of dreams, more than one lifetime’s worth. I’d love to create a wee village or perhaps a campground – imagine rocking up to herbs and greens and a shade tree for your tent. Or maybe the little cottage by the sea will do nicely. Watch this space!