Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Watching My Veggie Patch Grow

written by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

It has been about 2½ years since I first seriously started gardening.  It was about the same time that I had been watching a UK BBC2 show called, 'It's not easy being green', which is a story about the Strawbridge family who give up their semi-detached house in the city and move to Cornwall.  They buy a dilapidated old farm on about 3 acres and start attempting to live sustainably.  The first thing they built was their veggie patch, and I was so impressed that I decided to give it a go myself.  This was mainly to reduce food miles and I had become extremely disheartened with the taste of vegetables available from our supermarkets.  Tomatoes just didn't taste like I remembered as a child. 

So, this was my blank canvas at the time back in early 2008.

A mostly dead lawn that I couldn't water, and everything was over grown.  There was an old peach tree stump that had to be removed, and a half dead nectarine tree that I was standing next to when I took the photo.  This was taken about 3 months before I built the veggie patch.

I decided to build raised beds as the soil was hard clay in the summer and slippery clay in the winter.  Not a lot grew well.  So, after lots of hard work I cleared the yard, got rid of the bushes on the left hand side and made my garden beds.  After two weekends of clearing this part of the yard of bushes and old rotten sleepers and the stumps of two old trees, we were able to begin building.

A fair difference.  We could actually see the brick wall to the left, and used redressed, recycled redgum sleepers to make the frame for the beds and constructed them 2100 x 1200 x 100 cm and spaced the beds 70 cm apart. This was enough space to lay some pavers for a little path between each bed. The beds were fastened together with 100 mm galvanised nails with a butt joint, and the wood was so hard that I had to pre-drill each nail hole. During the construction I managed to hit my left shin with the full force of a hammer blow! It swelled up like a melon. Nice and sore for the rest of the day, but some ice helped the swelling go down.  It pays to wear jeans when building, and not shorts like I was!

The next day, we filled the beds in this order.  The first layer was a cover of cardboard and newspaper about 5 sheets thick. This ground cover was to kill the weeks, grass and provide food for the earth worms. Next was a 10 cm layer of either lucerne hay or pea straw. I chose pea straw and Amy and Megan laid it for me. The third layer was a 2 cm layer of Dynamic Lifter (you can use well rotted manure). For the four beds I finished off an entire 25 Kg bag of very smelly Dynamic Lifter. I then covered it with another 5 cm layer of pea straw and then a layer 20 cm thick of mushroom compost garden mix. I think it was a 50-50 mix of mushroom compost and a loam type soil. It was filled with organic matter and was very suitable for the purpose of growing vegetables. I ordered 2 cubic metres and used it all! Adam lugged most of it from the roadside with the wheelbarrow, and Kim and I raked it level in each bed. Lastly, I topped it off with a 5 cm layer of sugar cane mulch, to help conserve water by stopping evaporation. You can read about what I planted in that first autumn here.

About 3 months later, we had saved up enough money to revamp the old courtyard area.  We put in a new veranda and decking.  The veranda was steel (not very eco friendly, I know but I didn't have much choice.  The decking however was FSC certified wood as were all the border latice work.  We put down metres of weed matting to stop grass growing through all between the beds and the path, then laid down paving stones and about 3 cubic metres of tuscan pebble mix to dress the ground.  This is the nearly finished yard.

You will notice that the large black pots against the wall are empty.  Into those I planted four citrus trees as the wall retained a lot of heat in the afternoon, so I knew they would do well, which they have.  A bumper crop in the 2nd year.

We continued to add to the garden, by adding some herb pots against the front of the decking and just went crazy with pots and a little plastic greenhouse and lots of ornamental plants on the deck.  This is what it looked like last summer just before the three day heat wave we had of 47ÂșC temperature, two days before Black Saturday.  Most of it survived except for a crop of sweet corn I had planted in the front yard.  I remember that it was about the same time I drained the rainwater tank because I simply had to keep it all alive.

As you can see it was an edible jungle!  I am very proud of what I have achieved in these past few years.  Also during that time I planted 10 fruit trees in the front yard, which is now my fruit orchard and all trees are doing well.  I also established a large pumpkin and bean patch on the east side of the house after pulling down some runaway jasmine bushes.  Also, the chickens provide the fertiliser and I make all the compost myself in 3 large bins.  You can read about all my gardening adventures on my site here.  It has been so much fun, and I highly recommend building even a small veggie patch to anyone who is even thinking about it.  Once established, it takes a few hours a week to maintain and it is a pleasure to have soil in you hands!