Words: Elissa Friday Pictures: Lousia Jones
“I love all fruit and vegetables – we love food,” declares Lovely Banks’ Debbie Parsons.
“And because we’re so sustainable we can access pretty much anything here that we need.”
For the past 11 years Debbie and husband Kevin have worked full-time at Magic Meadow, their farm on Geelong’s northern doorstep.
The couple grow a variety of vegetables including corn, pumpkin, zucchini, beans, eggplant and capsicum on the “85 per cent self-sufficient” property, Debbie says.
The farm is an extension of the pair’s long-time interest in fresh produce.
“We grew up growing all of our fruit and veg in the backyard,” Debbie says.
The Parsons have been selling produce direct from Magic Meadow for seven years with the help of some part-timers while also sourcing additional supplies from “other like-minded farmers”, Debbie says.
The couple opens Magic Meadow to the public, except during school holidays, so visitors can stock up on fresh produce or attend workshops on growing their own.
“Growing vegetables doesn’t need to be complex,” Debbie advises.
“If people see it that way then it just becomes all too hard to do.”
Debbie encourages a community aspect to the production of backyard fruit and veg, along with greater support of Australian farmers.
“If you can grow one thing and your neighbour or family member can grow other things then if you have too much produce you can swap it over.
“Why are we buying imported? In Australia we have lots of different varieties available throughout different seasons.
“Transported fruit and veg tastes different. Pineapples and bananas are still grown in Australia but now a lot of citrus is imported.”
Debbie believes that consumers need to think about seasonal variety rather than expect to find available “everything used on a cooking show”.
Now’s the time to cook with vegetables like pumpkin, zucchinis, beans, corn and silver beet, she tips.
And don’t worry too much about cosmetics, either, when shopping at supermarkets, Debbie says.
“When we grow produce in our gardens we’re not looking for it to be perfectly shaped, so why do we want it that way in the supermarkets.
“Supermarkets are dictating to us that we need a cauliflower that’s perfect or is the perfect weight.
“People will put up with it if it’s from their own garden, so why then when we go to supermarkets do we want the perfect zucchini?”
Debbie says the onset of cooler weather is also the right time to capitalise on the annual seasonal abundance of tomatoes.
“That’s the time to make relish and tomato sauce, with the option to preserve it for later in the year.
“Your best time to plant tomatoes is over Melbourne Cup weekend. It’s the best time because the weather is right, you get rain you get sun, and things just start going crazy.”
Debbie has lots of top tips for efficient growing of various plants.
“For example, when your corn reaches 30cm high plant climbing beans around the base.
“It doesn’t stop your corn growing. You just have two fruits growing but are only watering one lot of plants.”
For first-timers, garlic’s a simple option, Debbie says.
“Simply go and get a bulb of garlic, take all the cloves apart, plant them in a pot, water them and watch them grow. It’s that easy.”
But, for Debbie, it all comes back to the basics.
“Look at the climate you’re in and grow things in their right season,” she advises.