May 20, 2012

The Evolving Garden

Its been a while between posts, I thought I'd do a garden update and talk about a few related things. There are now about 9 garden beds in the veggie patch, my feeling is that its about half the size I'm eventually aiming for or maybe a bit under. Its hard to get the whole thing into one photo so the first 3 pictures here are all taken from the front deck slowly panning from left to right.

First up 2 beds where I am experimenting with some plastic covers. We are just starting to get out first frosts (a new thing for me) and I have a lot to learn about coping with them. While the nights are cold, the days still get pretty warm so I have to open them up to let some of the heat out during the day. Its pretty labour intensive, but seems to be working so far.

Some of the plastic covers are made from big plastic bags that the moving company put around our mattresses when we moved, others are made from painting drop sheets. The mattress bags are best so far, the plastic is stronger, in the future I might bug some bedding shops to see if they have any they are throwing away. I'm toying with the idea of turning the hills hoist into a greenhouse :P

Further around to the right is the main section where the original beds were put in. You can also see bits of the the drip irrigation system I've made.  The red bucket are connected to poly pipe with little holes punched in them. I got some poly pipe from my dad when I visited them last Christmas and then I also picked up some more from the local tip shop for a few dollars. I can water about 90 percent of my plants with 3 buckets of water when it used to take me about 6 watering cans, I've been checking and the ground is always moist.

Further around you can see the bed next to the water tanks and my seedling table, also protected from the frost. There is another bed further down the hill, the one the shower system drains into. That's the direction I will be expanding in. There are a few obstacles and strange shaped spaces down there so I might go for circular beds that are easier to fit around things.

Pictures of soil don't show up very well on my phone camera so I don't have images, but the soil in the older beds that are about 5 months old now is looking great. They were just cardboard, horse manure and straw, but now they are light, rich and fluffy carbon packed soil. That's carbon we put in the ground, a constant activity here now in multiple ways. It feels great to know we are completing that cycle, its how all things on this planet are supposed to live. When there is no carbon left in your top soil it is simply not top soil any more because the bacteria and fungus that fertilise growing things feed on the rotting carbon. Its estimated that there is about one third less top soil on the planet than there was 50 years ago, the USA has lost two thirds. Where did it all go? Ploughing and cultivating the soil instead of building on top of it releases the carbon into the atmosphere. Planting mono cultures and a smaller variety of crops will not help either.

I am starting to mulch between the beds too now so I don't have to mow between them. It also means there is more organic material breaking down into the ground.

Using some old vacuum seal bags stolen from the linen cupboard and a bit more poly pipe I've also made a few smaller free standing plant covers. In this one you can see the coriander is very happy in the hot steamy conditions it creates.

I've put in some new strawberries and we have a bumper crop of lemons coming on, I can't take much credit for them though, the tree was already there when we moved in.

Another thing we have been chipping away at in this part of the garden is clearing some of the grass out the front of the property. I don't have anything against the long grass in general (better than mowing), but as it gets very dry here in winter we felt it was probably a bit of a fire hazard. You can see in this images below how much we have cleared. 

That was all cleared by hand, no machines involved. Bloody hard work :P. Now I have to think what to do with it. I don't want more grass to mow, and I don't want to slowly loose it to weeds again either. For now I'm putting in a green manure/animal feed crop of Lucerne which will keep it busy while I think about it. Its actually a great spot for a food forest, close to the house with great soil, but its the councils land and I'm a bit hesitant to put in expensive plants that the council might come along a bulldoze one day to put in a pipe line or something.

Another great thing that happened the other week is I found a local Permaculture group that meets once a month. It has several other members that live right here in Nanango, some even in my street. It feels so good to know I'm not alone out here and I can't wait to see how things develop with them. One of them called Farmer Liz has a great blog if you would like to see more -

Hmm I wonder what tomorrow will bring :)


farmer_liz said...

Hey Ian, thanks for linking to my blog! That was a nice surprise as I read to find at the end of your post :) Your garden is looking really good. Don't you hate how you end up maintaining council land but you can never do anything useful with it, great idea to plant some green manure. Also great low energy irrigation system (and use of the dump shop again, I must visit them again, if there's anything good left!). Cheers, Liz

Ian said...

Hey Liz. Isn't the dump shop great. I was just there yesterday and got a whole bunch of pieces for a portable sheep shelter and some fencing wire for 8 bucks. I think the guy there on the weekends gives the best prices.

Anonymous said...

It's looking great Ian! I like your reusing of the plastic sheeting from the beds and good idea about mulching the inbetweens to stop mowing and increase the organic content of the soil. Interesting about the carbon content as I just watched a doco on SBS about Amazonian Indian tribes that talked about Terra Preta, a deep dark soil that has an almost neutral PH balance that the ancestors of the Kikoru ? Tribes created. They have remnant food gardens there, and they said on the program that before population decimation via viruses, the soil collectively would equal the size of France and therefore support millions of people. I think they said it was six foot deep? I'll have to check that . The soil of the Amazon is normally highly acidic but this man made soil is the very best in the world and actually has a high charcoal content. They haven't yet worked out the full contstitution of the soil, but they see it as an answer to Arid land problems (I thought of the Greening the desert Video) and nice to see that the Brazilian Archaeologist was saying that these soil makers were more sophisticated than us because they had used their resources efficiently....Thought of you guys and thought I'd pass this info on. I think Charcoal making is a trade in Britain and a craft...What a great find to discover more Permaculture folk in your area! Love seeing how much you guys have created in such a short time with your resourcefulness!

Ian said...

Hey Michelle - Yeah I have hear of the famous black Amazon soil and I think soil is one of the most interesting parts of the whole permaculture system, and one of the most neglected by main stream farming.
There is a great interview about it here in two parts.
Part 1 -
Part 2 -

Judi B said...

I'm happy that you enjoyed the permie meeting, I'll drop around some plants for you..... don't worry they are frost hardy.

Ian said...

Hey Judi, That sounds great. I have heaps of semi ripe tomato's I brought in the other day, you are more than welcome to have some :)
I'm still musing about where to plant that white choko I got at the meeting, meanwhile just sitting in the house it grows a couple of centimetres every day, amazing.

Judi B said...

I have a box full of green chokos and they are starting to scare us we worry they will strangle us in the night LOL I'm going to put some chokos in pots then after the frosts will plant them out.

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