We first discovered Grant through his gorgeous and delicious cafe in Sydney's beach side suburb of Bronte called Three Blue Ducks. They were supporting the first year's Grow It Local initiative where locals were encouraged to bring their own garden's harvest to the restaurant and then their talented chefs would whip it up into something incredible. Grant developed the empty space behind the cafe into a garden and his next business Urban Growers was born... a real earth to table story, love.
What inspired you to start Urban Growers?
It all started when I did a permiculture design course and began working in the space at the back of Three Blue Ducks. People saw what I had done and wanted something similar. I guess theyjust liked the idea of growing their own food and being self sufficient to some degree. There was enough interest in what I was doing so I bought a van, teamed up with my mate Byron Smith and we started getting our hands dirty.
Tell us how/ when you relationship between being a chef and a gardener blossomed?
Its been quite a recent transformation, I’ve only been at it for three years now and its still ‘blossoming’. The cross over from kitchen and garden was a very natural one. Having fresh herbs, veg, eggs and honey in the garden motivates you to be creative in the kitchen and get the most from the produce that you have worked so hard for. It is self perpetuating, good produce inspires good food and creative dishes which in turn, inspire good produce.
You studied Permaculture and also currently furthering your study in horticulture – what are 5 easy tips for people starting edible gardens at home?
Start with really good soil. Don’t buy a bag of potting mix from your local hardware and think that its good enough, its not. Get online and find a good garden mix recipe and make one yourself. Different plants prefer different soil types so just figure out what you want to grow and make a soil mix that will allow you to grow those particular plants well. Make the investment now and it will save you heart ache in the future.
Reap what you sow. Plant things that you want to grow. Its no use spending time and money
on a herb or vegetable that you have no interest in eating or using in some way. If you have succeeded in growing your lettuce, basil, chillies or what ever else it may be, harvest it and use it. It may look pretty in your garden or may make you feel great that you have Don Burke like ‘skills’ but veggie gardens aren’t for show, they are for eating. If you don’t harvest it, store it and use it appropriately, it will have all been for nothing.
Irrigate. Plants need water, everytime they get ‘water stressed’ they need time to recover. While they are recovering they aren’t growing. If you can automate watering you can be assured they are getting what they require, your plants will never be thirsty and will perform much better.
Mulch! Don’t skimp on mulch it adds valuable organic matter to the soil, helps to keep water retention to a maximum, keeps weeds at bay and may even add a little nitrogen.
Feed your plants. Find a product that you like and that you’re comfortable with and feed your plants. They will grow faster and healthier. There are a bunch of organic fertilisers out there, just read the label.
What are 5 tools/products that they shouldn’t go without when starting a garden?
- Felco pruning sécateurs.
- Planting calendar (its great to know when to get seeds/seedlings in the ground)
- A hand trowel
- A worm farm and/or chickens (great for green waste and adding nutrients to the soil)
- Knowledge - no matter how many fancy bits and bobs you have for the garden a sound understanding of how it all works will be your best tool
What are you favourite edible & medicinal plants to grow and use?
Favourite edible plants
- Lemongrass (structurally impressive in the garden and extremely easy to harvest and use)
- Lemon Verbena (good all year round, great for teas and sweets)
- Finger Limes (a native plant with awesome flavour and many varieties)
- Ginger (beautiful flowers and very rewarding to grow)
- Fennel (tasty and super easy to grow for the beginner)
- Sage (you can cook with it, make tea or dry the leaves and use it to cleanse you rhouse of unwanted energy)
You’ve made this beautiful lemon verbena and honeycomb ice cream sweetened with honey from your garden – what other interesting garden combinations with every day ingredients do you like?
Its pretty common to see the boys jump out into the garden and grab some Mint, Lemon Verbena and Stevia, muddle them up, add some cold tea and ice cubes which makes for a super refreshing, sugar free ice tea. Sometimes we swap out the Stevia for some hive honey for the real deal.
You have set up the garden out the back of your café Three Blue Ducks – tell us what exactly you have out there?
The garden is ever-changing - it is a mix of annuals and perennials. We have 5 lovely chickens that are giving us nearly an egg each everyday and 2 beehives that we are hoping to get approximately 120kg of honey from each season. Plants include Lemon Myrtle, Lemon Verbena, Lemongrass (we like lemon!), Stevia (a great sugar alternative), Rosemary, Thyme, Thai Basil, Bananas, Coffee plants, Mulberries, Raspberries, Midjin Berries, Tarro, Galangal, Mint varieties, Fiejoa, Citrus, Bay, Guava and plenty more depending on the season and the menu! The boys behind the bar are experimenting with different produce in the cocktails too - Lillipillis, Finger Limes and edible flowers are being used to add flavour.
What are the future plans for urban growers?
So far we are just doing what we love to do; For us, being outdoors and in touch with nature is the key to living a healthy lifestyle and remaining aware of the environment we live in.
We want to help everyone living in the urban environment to create their own green space to grow and harvest some tasty goodies. By designing attractive and productive edible gardens
for cafes and restaurants, chefs can have fresh ingredients on hand and their customers can
see the various growing methods used for that space eg. Green walls, green roofs, hydroponics and raised beds, etc. Usually customers see our gardens at cafes and crave something similar at home, which we have a lot of fun creating with them. We feel that growing your own food and developing some basic knowledge about how plants grow, why bees are chief and how to make a tasty relish from your 5kg tomato harvest are pretty sweet skills.
We would love to keep building on the projects we have. Every project we do is different and provides different challenges; it keeps us on our toes and motivated to continue learning. It is important that we teach people to manage their own green spaces. Because of this we are in the process of coming up with a few basic workshops that will cover all the essentials of setting up and maintaining a garden so people can go home feeling confident about achieving their ‘green thumb’ status.
Personally, I’d love to have a place of my own. A great café surrounded by gardens producing heaps veggies, bees making the honey and chickens laying the eggs. People walking around and seeing where food really comes from. Chuck in a few workshops and I think it will keep me busy until a ripe old age.