Gardening tips from Ballarat's veteran backyard grower John Ditchburn

AUGUST 22 2019Courier masthead mainRochelle Kirkham


Veteran Ballarat backyard gardener John Ditchburn shared his knowledge on growing vegetables in Ballarat to a crowd of keen gardeners on Wednesday as part the monthly Smart Living Ballarat talks. 

GROWING VEGETABLES: Veteran Ballarat backyard gardener John Ditchburn spoke as part of Smart Living Ballarat on vegetable planting success. Picture: Lachlan Bence

More than 50 people heard Mr Ditchburn's gardening tips and tricks on growing seedlings, protecting plants from pests, and when to plant - all knowledge he has gathered and adapted during the past 30 years growing in the same Ballarat backyard.

"Growing good vegetables is about experimenting with your own microclimate," he said.

"Do what works for you."


Mr Ditchburn recommended gardeners try growing their own seedlings, as the plants will be hardier and more prepared for Ballarat's growing conditions compared to commercial seedlings. Seedlings should be grown four to six weeks ahead of the time they need to be planted.

Mr Ditchburn's planting guide will be included in this Friday's edition of TheCourier.

The Courier journalist Caleb Cluff steps in for Ditchy
^ The Courier journalist Caleb Cluff steps in for John Ditchburn, known as Ditchy, who is also The Courier's regular cartoonist.

A monthly planting guide is also available on his website Urban Food Garden to help gardeners prepare for the upcoming growing season.

It shows broad beans, lettuce, onion, pak choi and peas can be planted in late August and early September, with a larger variety of vegetables to be planted as the soil warms up.

Mr Ditchburn's focus is on sharing knowledge about growing vegetables in the typical suburban backyard block.

John Ditchburn at the 2018 Ballarat Community Garden Harvest Festival. Picture: Dylan Burns John Ditchburn at the 2018 Ballarat Community Garden Harvest Festival. Picture: Dylan Burns

 ^ John Ditchburn at the 2018 Ballarat Community Garden Harvest Festival. Picture: Dylan Burns


He started the Urban Food Garden in the 1980s when gardening magazines were focusing on tree-changers growing on five or 10 acres, and urban growing was not in the mainstream gardening conversation.

Mr Ditchburn is helping to mend the gap in information transfer that occurred when almost an entire generation stopped growing their own food.

"When the depression hit, people like my parents had to grow vegetables and had to keep chickens because most of the population was struggling," he said.

"Then when the post-war boom hit that generation who had grown up having to grow vegetables, having to keep chickens and having to scratch a living didn't want any reminder of that. So they put in lawns and roses and got rid of the vegetable patch.

"There is a whole generation that stopped growing vegetables.

"Previous to that people learnt how to grow vegetables from their aunts and uncles, their parents or their neighbours, so an information severing occurred... We have to re-educate."

 You can watch John Ditchburn's full Smart Living Ballarat talk on facebook.

Since he started the Urban Food Garden, Mr Ditchburn said interest in urban gardening had grown rapidly.

"Every school has a vegetable plot now. It is huge and it is only going to get bigger, especially if economic issues start impacting in line with global warming," he said.

"We don't know what is ahead in terms of global warming, but growing your own vegetables is a good, simple thing everyone can do.

"You may not be able to afford to put solar panels on your house, but you can grow your own vegetables."

Mr Ditchburn is running a seedling workshop on August 31.

Visit for more of his gardening tips.