I have always had an interest in gardening, my dad and grandmother both grew fruit and veggies in the garden and I loved picking the fruits of their labours (particularly strawberries when Nan wasnâ€™t looking!) my aunty would take me to the local pick your own farm (PYO) to gather berries for her jam making, so itâ€™s probably in my genes but I didnâ€™t take it up as a hobby as such.
I needed to get variety into my pet Iguana and Uromastyxâ€™s herbivorous diet and as supermarkets donâ€™t stock dandelions and nasturtiums I had to get green fingered, quickly.
Now I was no expert, I have had to do my research and through trial and error had some success with particular fruits and veggies, and some huge disasters with others (sweetcorn is just one I can think of!).
Despite the trials and tribulations of my adventures in fruit and veg growing, I find it hugely satisfying to feed Cheech (11 year old Green Iguana) and Pooky (9 year old Uromastyx) home grown, organic vegetables, fruits and flowers and I know they love it because they eat it, even if they werenâ€™t keen on the supermarket version they will eat my home grown.
Why grow your own reptile food?
There are three main benefits of growing your own,
- Good quality, nutritious, organic food. Â I know exactly where it came from, how it was grown, no food miles were incurred and it tastes better.
- Itâ€™s cost effective and on my doorstep: for the price of packet of seeds I can get weeks of food and I only have to go as far as the garden to get it.
- Variety is so important when it comes to reptile diets, being able to grow food that is not readily available in the shops is hugely beneficial, even if only a for a few weeks per year your pets will thank you for the delicious glut of Â home grown food. Â There is nothing worse than your pet becoming reliant on a handful of food types. Â Iâ€™ve heard of iggies addicted to specific foods which is not only bad for nutrition but also they refuse alternative food, so should their favourite not be available they refuse to eat.
Choosing what to grow
There are few things to consider when choosing what to grow,
- What do your reptiles like to eat?
- What space do you have?
- Which fruits, vegetables and flowers are easy to grow?
- Which ones require a little more attention?
- What spare time do you have?
I donâ€™t have a huge garden, in fact I have rather small back garden which is completely concrete, so I have to use containers, pots and grow bags. Â This dictates some of the things I can grow, strawberries are great for containers, peas (normal garden peas and mangetout varieties) do well in grow bags, as do courgettes. Â Herbs like parsley, coriander (cilantro) and chives are great in small pots and can be grown on your windowsill.
As much as I love being out in the garden I donâ€™t have a huge amount of time to allocate to it, so dandelions grown in shallow containers take care of themselves, as do the hibiscus shrubs of which the leaves and flowers can be fed to the lizards (double the food for little effort).
So where do I spend the time? In the spring getting pots and containers ready with the homemade organic compost and seed buying is the main activity, then once everything is planted out at the right time all I need to do is water as required and perform regular pest control.
Organic pest control
Growing your own fruit and veggies does require some pest control, especially if you go the organic route and want to be careful of contamination.
Nasturtiums always attract masses of aphids, so a daily check and quick removal using water and paper towel usually does the trick, however the last two years I have been encouraging aphid predators into the garden using companion planting techniques, some of the companion plants arenâ€™t for consumption by the lizards but do attract good forms of wildlife to the garden and make my life easier. Â This year ladybirds (ladybugs) are a more frequent sight and they eat aphids.
Slugs and snails are my main annoyance, I am reluctant to use chemicals and poisons so a quick trip around the garden collecting up snails in a spare container doesnâ€™t take very long, then I tip them out into a spot where the garden birds will find them and have a good feast.
For the removal of slugs however I resort to a very time efficient method of eradication, cheap yet strong lager is a treat slugs cannot resist. Â I place some containers of lager around the garden close to the plants I want to discourage the slugs from eating, the containers are shaped so that although the slugs enter easily they will not be able to exit easily, especially once inebriated and they come to a rather boozy end. Â A great time saving, non poisonous method which I think is little more humane too.
If you are considering growing your own reptile food a little planning goes a long way, so now is the ideal time to start thinking about what you could grow.
Does it pay off? Well Cheech & Pooky are happy and healthy which is the main objective and I donâ€™t rely on specific food being available. Â I donâ€™t spend as much money on veggies at the supermarket as I used to, with two lizards to feed this makes good sense to me. Â I canâ€™t grow everything but my food bill is reduced and I know they both enjoy the flowers in summer, so for me itâ€™s definitely paying off.
My Blog: Grow Your Own Lizard Food by Iguanagirl.
My Twitter: @iguanagirl77