Beginning this month, a guest blog post from the delightful and amazing Kim Arney. She will share her tips for a productive garden – and let me just say, she has an amazing space……..
The wonderful Ms Dodd has asked me to write a blog post for her occasionally (actually I think she mentioned monthly, but we will see how that pans out) on vegetables, fruit and anything else I find interesting. Be warned though, I am a rambler when it comes to words so it should be with much trepidation that you start reading!
One thing that many people say to me is gardening is confusing, there is so much information on how to start, grow, harvest. So the first thing I say is look around you, plants are everywhere they grow in places that we would never think they could. Grasses force their way up though concrete, apple trees self seed on the side of the road. So if it was so difficult you would think we would be seeing a dearth of plants rather than the abundance that surrounds us. So take heart, gardening is not difficult it just takes a little common sense and a bit of experimenting. Now the information I provide is a guide only, I am not the world’s greatest gardener. I forget to plant bulbs on time, neglect my beans however I manage to supply all the vegetables for a family of 4 adults, and supply about half the food needed to keep our meat supply of ducks, chickens and turkeys happy. Even the dogs profit from the abundance, by having veges added to their daily food. Our garden supplies us with everything from the common like cabbage, corn and salads to the unusual like yacon, chinese chestnuts and yams. The vegetable garden fence is being slowly covered by espaliered apples and grapes. It saves us untold money, the food tastes fantastic and no vitamins or minerals are lost through processing or from cold stored food. We have also got to meet our neighbours by sharing in the abundance of the produce that comes from our garden. So find your own way to garden, what suits our family will not suit yours. Research, experiment and learn by observing. It is fun, and as another positive studies have shown gardeners live longer…we have something to look forward to in each season, we want to know if our tomatoes will produce another bumper crop or if our apple tree will fruit. I suffers from a chronic illness – Crohn’s disease and when I am in the middle of a flare gardening help immensely, it gives me a purpose and although I am unable to work fulltime I certainly contribute to the family by the amount of food that is produced.
So a few things to consider if you are going to garden.
Firstly you are going to need to choose where to place your patch, now by patch I mean anything from a couple of polystyrene boxes that you are going to grow salads in, or where you plan to grow vege for you and your family with enough excess to give Produce To The People. There are a couple of things you need to consider.
Is it close?
To you, the house, to water and is it easy to get too? Humans are basically a lazy lot (well I know I am) so if you have to move the hose every time you want to water or clamber over assorted kids toys, open 3 gates….. it just is not going to happen, and if you suddenly realise you need 3 more carrots to cook dinner you don’t want to be running down the other end of the paddock. So ease of access is important.
Is it suitable for growing plants?
So plants in general need several things
Sunlight – doesn’t have to be all day, but in the spring and summer you want sun for at least 1/2 a day. Autumn and Winter gardens want as much sun as you can give them.
Water- hose, drum, dam, whatever but it needs to be close. When I garden my aim is to make it as simple as possible.
Soil- now you can grow plants without soil, however hydroponics is a whole different topic. Instead of just soil you need living soil. So how can you tell if you have good soil….look at it, feel it, if it has worms in it chances are it is full of good organic matter -which is basically just dead plants breaking down. Is there anything growing in it now, do those plants look healthy? However at this stage I am not too worried about your soil, because you are going to improve it over the next couple of months.
Once you have chosen where the garden is going to go, next comes a few decisions and one of the best ways to make these is to jot down a few notes and answer these questions.
What do I want to grow?
Are you looking to grow all your families vegetables or to supplement the families food bill. Look at what you currently buy, to give you an idea of what sort of vegetables you want to grow. This is especially important if you are first starting out, you want to be enthused and invigorated by your garden and the more success you have the more likely it goes from being a chore to something that you enjoy and need to do.
How much time do I want to devote to the garden?
Gardening to me is one of the most relaxing ways to spend a day, not everyone feels the same way. If it is a chore, how much time do you want to spend doing it. Me I hate housework, loathe the vacuum cleaner and curse the washing machine on a regular basis, however I still do those chores. Gardening can be the same, though I am hoping that I will convert anyone to if not enjoy at least find gardening a rewarding experience.
So my recommendation is to start small, a patch say 5m x 5m but leave space for expansion!
Do I need to fence?
Our vegetable garden is fully fenced, the fence keeps our dogs, turkeys and ducks out. It also keeps rabbits out, as they are our most destructive pest. We don’t have an issue with opossums but if I did I would be adding a topper to the fence to keep them out as well. Fences are great growing mediums, you can grow anything from climbing peas to apples along them. However fencing can be expensive so if large pests are going to be an issue another option maybe a raised garden bed that you can put a cover over.
If you don’t need to fence you may decide to still edge the boundary of the vege garden, I like edging it supplies definition, breaking large areas in to small. Edging can be anything from bricks, tree branches to old tyres, I am currently using old tyres around one of my beds which have been filled full of compost then planted with strawberries.
Although it seems like some form of torture for me to ask anyone to go outside and play in the soil when it is so cold believe me now is the time to start. There are lots of ways to prepare the soil, I use the basically the same technique for any new garden I put in. You do need to gather a few basics, but it easy, relatively cheap and best of all no digging.
Cardboard boxes – they are free, and shops usually love you if you take it away.
Manure – cow, chicken, horse, goat but not human and if you suspect that the animal has been wormed recently leave it in a pile somewhere for a month. An easy way to test it is to sacrifice some worms, place manure and worms into a small container wait 5 days. If the worms are alive it is good to use on your garden, if the worms are dead your manure still contains a wormicide, so wait another 5 days. The stuff you buy bagged is ok to use straight away, local farmers markets usually has a seller or two.
Straw or Hay- (you get less weeds with straw, but hay is usually cheaper!)
These 3 ingredients give you the basics of a no dig garden, that goes by so many different names depending on which ‘guru’ is in vogue. So the way I assemble the bed is like this.
On top of the original garden I put a several layers of cardboard, making sure there are no gaps. If the weeds/grass is very high I will either stomp around or mow it (which ever is easiest!) I water the cardboard well.
Next a layer of manure or compost around 5 cm deep.
Next a layer of straw around 30 cm deep.
Next, well next it is just a matter of waiting until the spring. The worms will start migrating to the bed helping to decompose the cardboard, whatever was originally on the soil will decompose adding to the goodness of the soil. The worms will start moving the manure/compost around and the hay will also start to break down and helps suppress weeds as well.
Digging a vegetable bed
The advantages with this method is you can plant straight away, it is also a great physical workout! You are aiming to remove any weeds, and too break up any large soil clods. Disadvantages, it can be hard work, breaking up the soil can disrupt worm and micro activity.
So if you have a patch veges you can plant now include:
Onions – seedlings or direct sow seeds into rows, harvest from October.
Shallots – plant the bulbs (available from nurseries or friendly neighbours) plant so the top of the shallot is above the ground. Ready to harvest around mid December
Snowpeas – direct sow into the ground, ready from December onwards, There are climbing snowpeas, dwarf snowpeas, snowpeas with purple flowers. All taste beautiful are fantastic in salads, and stirfries. Or my current favourite – take any raw vegetable and dip in Tahini
Silverbeet – plant seedlings or direct sow seeds into the garden. Silverbeet sautéed with garlic, onion, grated carrot and roasted sunflower seeds = love.
Lettuce and mesculan seeds
We eat a lot of salad, all of us not just the humans (though the chickens, ducks and turkeys are more partial to a good lettuce leaf than the dogs and the cats!)
So I sow it any and everywhere, it fills up spaces where otherwise weeds would grow. I sow it thick, and start harvesting when the leaves are tiny by pulling out the whole plants. As the plants get bigger, I either pick the leaves or continue to pull out whole plants. This gives the other plants room to grow and I don’t have to wait for a row of lettuce to be ready to pick. Lettuce seeds are cheap, $3 gets you around 300 seeds. Compare that to the supermarket, $3 gets you a bag that has been washed in a chorine mix, and tastes nothing like fresh crispy lettuce. I mix my lettuce varieties up into a jar, so when I sow I get a mix of leaf and heart lettuces. Heirloom varieties come with fantastic names like amiand I put all sorts of lettuce seeds into my “lettuce tub” into a mesculan tub I put seeds like rocket, silverbeet, beetroot, radish, lettuce, edible chrysanthemum, amaranth etc. I tend to sow the mesculan mainly in the spring.
Next post I will talk about wicking beds… give directions for making a garden out of a polystyrene box, and if I am organised enough there may even be photos!
Remember this is how I garden- it is not the right way, it is just the way I do it. So share your experiences so we can all learn from each other