Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Patch update

It's been a little over six months since Susan and I started work on the Patch - our Landshare garden at Jill's and Mike's place. Here's a pictorial update on how things are going.

June 2011 December 2011
All in all, we're pretty pleased with the transformation from former horse paddock to productive vegie garden. The main problem was that I was away in Europe for the critical period mid-September to end October. Won't do that again.

Potato bed
Potato bed
The potato bed has produced a good crop of Pontiacs and the Dutch Creams are still going strong. This bed hasn't been watered since September and yet it's full of lovely, moist, worm-filled humus made from seagrass, mushroom compost, pea straw and home-made compost.
A second batch of Pontiacs has just been planted out and covered with compost made on site. The pea straw bales are breaking down quite fast (with the help of some hungry mice) - by the end of the summer I think some will just be shapeless mounds of straw.

Grain bed (not!)
The next bed was intended as a grain and pulse bed: amaranth, chia, quinoa, chickpea and linseed were sown in November. This was an experiment as I thought conditions might already be too warm, at least for the quinoa and chia. Looks like I was right: only the amaranth came up in worthwhile numbers, with a few chickpeas. An additional problem was watering: with only one or two visits a week and only hand watering, it was impossible to keep the seed bed moist. Lesson learned: any sowing of fine seed needs to coincide with decent rain. We got a nice crop of self-sown mallow, though!
I'm trying again with sunflowers, having enriched the soil with our home-made compost. Unenriched parts of the bed will be used for buckwheat and another green manure crop.

Watermelon and solanum bed

Eggplants, capsicums and watermelons
I divided this bed in half for ease of access - all watering at the Patch is by hand with a watering can. After a green manure crop, this bed was further enriched by the addition of 1.5 m3 of mushroom compost: I'm aiming for a rich, moisture-retentive soil. I think I walked 20 km with that wheelbarrow, as it's a couple of hundred metres from the driveway to the Patch.
Two rows of eggplants will hopefully provide shade for watermelon foliage and roots in hot weather.
I've never grown watermelons before but thought I would give them a try in this sunny position. I'm fairly sure we won't be short of eggplants come autumn - 16 plants may have been slight overkill. Not sure what else I'm going to put in here, possibly some autumn brassicas or leeks.

Three Sisters bed

Three Sisters: maize, beans, pumpkin
The Three Sisters system of symbiotic cultivation comes from South America: maize, climbing beans and cucurbits (in this case, Anna Schwartz pumpkin) are grown together. The beans enrich the soil with nitrogen and bind together the maize stalks, preventing wind damage; the large cucurbit leaves shade the soil, helping to keep it moist for the maize; the maize provides a frame for the beans to climb up. I've been sowing the maize in 1-metre blocks every 2-3 weeks and 4-5 beans a metre on the south side of the blocks.

Then there's a row of capsicums which were left over seedlings from our other garden. I guess they'll have to be the fourth sister.

Lucerne and wildflower strip

Lucerne and wildflower strip - decorative and useful

This 20 x 1 metre strip of lucerne interspersed with Queen Anne's Lace and California poppies has turned out really well. So much so that I've decided to make it 2 metres wide in the autumn. The flowers attract beneficial insects and the lucerne will provide mulch for the vegie beds. Looks great, too.
This bed hasn't been watered since early September.

Comfrey strip

Comfrey (Bocking 14)

20 comfrey plants were planted in a 20-metre strip back in July. All are doing well. I try to give them some supplementary water in hot weather, but they largely fend for themselves. I chose the non-weedy Bocking 14 variety from Diggers Club.

People have been puzzled why I'm producing semi-industrial quantities of comfrey. It mines the subsoil for minerals, then makes these available as its leaves break down. It's great as a compost activator, as a soil-enriching mulch and as comfrey tea (now brewing) - a nutritious but extremely smelly liquid fertiliser. The flowers will be good for bees (when we get some, but that's another story), and I see ladybirds and assassin bugs hanging out around them too.

Compost bays

Next batch of green stuff ready for composting

The four-bay compost system (such opulence! such luxury!) was built from old timber from Jill's and Mike's woodshed. It's working really well, but had to be lined with heavy-duty weedmat and old carpet, as the thuggish kikuyu grass from the neighbouring school oval was determined to get in on the act.

Lovely compost - once was weeds, cardboard and chook poo
We've just produced and used our first batch of lovely crumbly compost using the cold-composting method. Now the blanket weed I dug up in July is being hot-composted. Despite dire mutterings from locals about the stuff being indestructible, this is going a treat. If it once lived, you can compost it.

That's about it for now. I'm hoping a Permaculture Design Certificate in February will give me some more inspiration. Also we're doing a bee-keeping course in April as we think our Patch is a bit of a bee-desert, being surrounded mostly by acres of well-mown grass. If we want pollination, we'll have to provide the pollinators and plenty of bee tucker.

Happy New Year and happy gardening in 2012!

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