And so to bed

Only you definitely wouldn’t want to take a nap in this one!

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.56.56 pmIt’s been a cool, pleasant day, and I seized the opportunity to get done a job I’ve been longing to start. Today, I built three raised beds, lined the bottoms with wet cardboard, topped that off with 6″ (15cm) thick flakes of lucerne (alfalfa) hay, and watered the lot down. There’s a trailer load of good quality compost waiting to be shovelled into the three beds tomorrow.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 6.57.16 pmCardboard stops the contents of the bed escaping out the bottom, and helps to suppress grass and weeds that might be tempted to invade and enjoy the tastiness going on in there. Plus it’s an excellent way of recycling and saves space in the recycling bin. But there’s a downside. Cardboard is mostly carbon, and the process of rotting it down draws nitrogen out of the surrounding soil. This is where the lucerne comes in. It’s nitrogen rich as well as providing biomass, and helps to replace the nitrogen robbed out of the soil by the cardboard. It rots down over time and reduces in volume, but meanwhile, helps with drainage.

The compost is made here in Mackay using plant material collected from all over town and from a wide variety of sources. It’s like rich black moist crumbs of chocolate cake, and smells nearly as good! Once I’ve shovelled it all into the beds, I’ll lay down an irrigation hose before I plant to avoid disrupting the future seedlings, and I have a bale of shredded sugarcane mulch to tuck everything up in once I’ve planted.

And finally, there’ll be a top dressing of Garden Tea, but that’s a post for another day.

I’ve learned a few things about what will and won’t work in this climate. My planting will reflect this, but one thing’s for sure. There will be tomatoes, capsicums, beans, spinach and herbs. I’ve got to plant twice what I think I need, so I can retrieve a reasonable amount once the plagues of insects have  taken their share. I’m also going to build up the existing bed which housed beans last year, which will contain potatoes this year.

It feels great to have soil under my fingernails again, and muddy knees, and a stiff back and a peaceful mind.  I’m back where I belong. Out in the garden.

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Chain Gang, day 2


Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.23.12 PM The heavy lifting’s all done. There are three pods out there waiting for seedlings. I’m SO excited I can hardly breathe. Vegetables at last!

First stop was the animal feed store for lucerne (alfalfa) hay, small bales. Seven of those, two for each pod and one spare for stuffing into the gaps. Next was the planting medium: 2/3 garden soil to 1/3 organic compost, 80 litres of mix per pod (approximately 5 gallons), well blended.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.23.26 PMScreen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.23.58 PMScreen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.24.10 PMYesterday, we put 4 barrowloads of rocks into the bottom of each pod to give good drainage, about 20cm deep (8″). On top of that went two bales of lucerne, the gaps round them well stuffed with extra hay. That lot was well watered until water came out of the tap at the bottom of the pod, so I knew it was well soaked. On top of that went the planting medium, well mixed and with the lumps bashed out. It’s been raked smooth, ready for planting. On top of that, I top dressed with liquid feed consisting of Seasol (seaweed, etc) and a big slug of worm tea, topped up with 10 litres of water (approx. 20 pints). That got shared out between the three pods, a little extra nutrition to give the vegies a good start.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.24.56 PMNow we’re ready to go. Tomorrow I shall go and select my seedlings and plant them. The pods don’t yet have their frames and netting completed, but the plants can be getting established until it’s done and the mozzie netting and shade cloth go up. I’m really pleased with how it’s looking out there. The little fruit trees are enjoying the milder weather and putting on lots of growth, instead of hanging on for grim death. The avocado was looking very poorly for a little while, but is coming back strongly, so long as I check it daily for caterpillars, which seem to find the new leaves irresistible.

Screen shot 2014-05-26 at 3.24.34 PMI’m very happy now with how things are coming together. It’s starting to be a pleasant place to work, instead of a slightly grim, weed infested dead zone. There are pleasantly scented wood chips under foot, I don’t have to bend over to tend my plants, I’ve taken measures to prevent everything from drowning in the Wet, and now I have hopes of actually being able to pick something soon, instead of delivering it all up to the grasshoppers, aphids, caterpillars, fruit bats and possums. I’ll keep you informed, and yes, there will be brag photos when I have everything planted, and probably more once I get the netting and frames up properly!

And now it’s time for a big cold drink, a shower and an attempt to dig out the large quantities of soil which have lodged under my fingernails. I could probably grow cabbages under there…

The Gardens of Chiconia 9

A morning of heavy labour and not much to show for it, unless you know what we were doing!

We’ve been hard at work, loading the borrowed trailer with rubbish we can’t recycle, and taking it to the dump. We’ve also dismantled a series of old fence panels, and have taken off the palings to recycle. With the weather forecast looking so uncertain at the moment, we thought it a good plan to clear away some of the potential missiles lying around in the back yard, since 50-60 kmph winds are in the pipeline, apparently. That same back yard which had become a dumping ground for all the leftover bits of our various renovation projects, and the back yard which is destined to become my food producing area. This morning at 8.30am it was a wilderness of old doors, bits of wood, rotting fence panels, a tangled mess of roots and stones and knee high weeds.

The pods. Note the feet and the big tap in the bottom for drainage

The pods. Note the feet and the big tap in the bottom for drainage. Space around three edges
so I can reach the back.

Space for another one at the end, at right angles to the others.

Space for another one at the end, at right angles to the others, and a bit of room in the angle of
the fence for useful bits and pieces.

And this is how it is now. The three white pods you see are former bulk liquids carriers, which were going begging at the Husband’s work, where they hold a urea additive to help the trucks run more cleanly. I want one more, so that I have three in a row, one at 90 degrees and a space in the corner for pots, stakes and other weatherproof paraphernalia. These pods are raised off the ground by the feet on the metal cages around them, they are rigid, have a tap in the bottom, and they are going to be my raised beds. Not as pretty as wooden ones, I agree, but free, practical for this climate and easily made a comfortable height to work in. We’re going to cut off the top section of the cage and the plastic at the same level. In will go first rocks, then slabs of lucerne (alfalfa) hay, then dried cow poo, then compost. Over time, the lucerne will rot down, and the soil level will drop, at which point, we top it up with another layer of alfafa, poo and compost. Everything will be well dosed with worm castings and worm tea. Because I’ll have 4 of them, I can rotate things and if I get something in the soil, it won’t be such a big deal to clear it out and start again.

These beds are going to be as climate proof as I can make them. They’re raised out of any potential waterlogging, I’m going to run a raised wooden walkway around them (made from old pallets and the recycled fence palings), and the surrounding horrible, sour, compacted ground is going to be weed matted and gravelled to keep down the onion grass, knotweed and rampaging invasive creeper from next door. I’m going to make arches over them from ag pipe draped with bird netting and shade cloth, to keep out excess sun and marauding wildlife. Can’t do much about the marauding insects, sadly. In very heavy rain, I may reinstate the plastic tops which were cut off, raised on stakes at each corner to give each bed an ‘umbrella’ of sorts. Plenty of water will get in at the sides, believe me, and it’ll stop the downpour flattening the plants and flooding the beds. If I start to find the appearance of them objectionable, I can wrap them in shade cloth, which will have the dual function of keeping the contents cooler and disguising how they look!

It won’t take a rocket scientist to realise that I’m not sewing today, so there’s no Tree of Life post. However, I am still hand sewing on the Car Quilt, and shock! horror! I have dug out a crochet hook and have started to make myself something. Time will tell whether it’s a disgusting mess or useful. And I will only display it if and when I think it looks OK. Since I can only do the plainest crochet and my tension is still very dodgy, don’t look for anything too flash!

Right, that’s it, need a cup of tea and a sit down (OK, a nanna nap). More tomorrow.