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Samphire groweth in scepter'd isles

I just planted some Samphire....

You say what?

But in King Lear we learn its ecology:
"Come on, sir. Here’s the place. Stand still. How fearful
And dizzy ’tis to cast one’s eyes so low!
The crows and choughs that wing the midway air
Show scarce so gross as beetles. Halfway down
Hangs one that gathers samphire—dreadful trade!"

In the US, Samphire has been born again as 'Sea Bean' pitched as a delicious, seemingly new age, salad, stir fry and frittata vegetable.Here, it's grown commercially in salt marshes along the Snowy River...watered by the tides.

And since I truly love Warrigal Greens (aka New Zealand Spinach), Samphire is my new must-have bush tucker. Point being that both Warrigal Greens and Samphire are coastal plants prone to mangrove wetland habitations...which is my neighbourhood.

And while 'gathering Samphire' was a Elizabethan trade we have our own local species in our own scepter'd isle....

[Ah! my first great Shakespeare speech --'Richard II']: What jingoism!
"This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands.."
Obviously hardly the stuff of Scottish independence and long before the onset of current neo-liberal preferences...but I'm sure Tony Abbott would have felt right at home excepting the bad time of it the catholics were having.

Henry XIII (Queen Liz's father) delivered a campaign against Popery in similar spin mode as our own Islamophobes in Canberra. ..and for similar reasons.

Irony is that under Henry XIII the 'nationalisations' and sacking of the monasteries was privatisation in reverse and the wealth garnered greatly imbued the English state and ruling class. En route Henry invented capitalist banking by allowing the charging of interest on lent money...thus changing the religious codes against usury.

Big changes-- restructuring and 'reform' akin to current habits -- but then, a few years later (in 1642) the English peeps forgot all about scepter'd isles and royal thrones, rose up in revolt,executed their king and set up a republic.

And all that time, hanging off the cliffs, or nestled under mangrove in the far off Antipodes,just within reach, were bunches of Samphire...

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Garden Mappery

Since I was out and about and outback, I decided to give into impulse and map the garden beds.It frustrates me that a photo doesn't take in the overall.Now with a simple template I can sketch out a plantation planting plan whenever I want.

Looking at the layout I think I can fit in  another citrus next to the lemon and I'd like to squeeze in another fig somewhere in the mix. The Pawpaws aren't shown, nor are my lazy banana, 6 Dragon fruits, and 2 passionfruit vines.Theres' a couple of grape vines among all this but they're hardly worth the effort.I'll let them scramble over the mulberries.

You can't see the mounds for the potato and cucurbit stems covering these hillocks. There's taro somewhere in there too. These contours have been much more productive than I expected. Sand, manure and soil thrown on top of brush cuttings with open trenches mulching in between.

The parallel East-West beds aren't so much raised as the paths on their borders dug down.
The BathTub Bed  has been a bit of a disappointment so far. OK for raising seedlings but my sand mix hasn't registered very well. Once I solve the fertility issues I'll add another two bathtubs parallel to the one I've got. Further north there sun quotient falls as you approach the house. But i reckon I could have a few potted options.

Kangkong may be growing in too much shade but the plants sit in gutted tires with muddiness atop plastic sheet underlay, surrounded by garden mint in the long bed that's primarily sweet potato.

The beds to the right (west) on the diagram are all watered with terracotta pot irrigation and the mounds to the left (east) by a 90 litre tank and Leaky Hose.

I don't  usually compost above ground, but I'm planning to locate a manure compost heap inside the chook pen.The chooks love the fauna that comes with the dollops. That means my mine -- the chook pen 'dirt' -- will be richer any time I need more soil to go. As it is there's a couple of deep holes in the run already.Sand mining on my part. Chicken cubbies.

Since my frangipanis won't be high enough for all the shade I'll need, come Summer, I'm experimenting with sunflowers and tomatoes as I find the pawpaws I planted to be very invasive: shallow roots all over. Them frangipanis are so easy to work with. Just the sort of plant to invite home to meet mother.

The Silky Oak, on the other hand, is real big. Over 15 metres high. Nonetheless the killer heat comes from the south west during Summer, and I'm trying to assuage that with selective tree plantings. At a pinch I'll add more Katuk (Sweet Leaf) bushes 'cuase you can never have too much Katuk over Summer.
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The Spring garden takes off

The Spring garden takes off!
A polycultural jungle.
Very little weed infestation. No bug problems at the moment (touch wood).
As well as greens I'm harvesting root vegetables, beans, and a ready herb supply.
Pending among all that cascading greenery is a mix of flowers ,tomatoes, sunflowers, keen potatoes, sweet peppers, eggplant and Cucurbits.

Despite the dry weather and lack of mulch supply, I seem to have solved many of my water issues. A couple 'understory' over shading problems due to impulse plantings of tomatoes -- but the close planting of different species is generally working to very good effect.
I was working in the Deagon community market garden last Friday and there the weeds are vigorously active. Mine are for now contained despite my ready use of grass clippings and manures. 
Selective watery sure helps. I rely on the terracotta pots and supplement with hand watering to plants that seem to need it, seeds and seedlings especially.I also try to keep the conduction channels open between my buried pots by moisturising the soils.All thats' required is a shallow sprinkle...at least on my sands.
Hereon in my set tasks are:
  • to skill up on the layering of plantings relative to growth height and root depth and spread.
  • to nail some essential companion planting protocols.
  • to engineer best practice for my garden between planting seeds direct and planting in flats. Each seed I sow is now sown with  tweezers. So what may seem like a mess is actually consciously planted in place -- for good or ill.
  • to master the gentle art of successive planting for scheduled harvesting.
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Using Animal Manures in the Vegetable Garden

I use manures in my garden. Unfortunately, especially in  the United States, there's been a lot of debate about using manures in the organic garden. Organic certification there requires:
Certified organic farmers, however, must have a farm plan detailing the methods used to build soil fertility including the application of manure or composted manure. Certified organic farmers are prohibited from using raw manure for at least 90 days before harvest of crops grown for human consumption....The U.S. regulations for organic production require that raw animal manure must be composted unless it is applied to land used for a crop not intended for human consumption; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 120 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion has direct contact with soil; or is incorporated into the soil not less than 90 days prior to the harvest of a product whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles. 
One reason for this was an engineered backlash  that argued that organic produce was food grown in manure...and that it was a health risk to eat. So organic farmers worked hard to cover themselves.
 The UK body has a different  approach:
Livestock manure can be used with the agreement of your organic CB as a supplement where the fertility building phase of the rotation is not sufficient to produce the required soil nutrient level. Where possible manures, which should normally be composted before use, should be recycled on the farm on which they were produced. If they are taken off the farm they must be used on another organic holding. Organic standards strictly control the use of brought-in animal manures from non-organic holdings - they can only be used with the permission of your organic CB and must come from extensive production systems.
In effect, what organic farmers are being forced to do is source their compost from commercial suppliers, who have a strict scientific approach to composting, rather than invest in the business, and presumed risks, of creating their own. This adds to in farm costs and the price of organic foods.
Jeff Gillman addresses this topic in  The Truth About Organic Gardening:
"'The practice of adding compost, including composted manure, to soil is a good one as long as you compost appropriately." Gillman, however, does cite a study that found that E. coli O157:H7 can live in uncomposted manure for 21 months.
Cornell University similarly argues:
Fresh manure must be used with caution in the garden because it may contain pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. Although the chance of contamination is slim, severe sickness and even death may occur if contaminated produce is eaten. To be safe, either compost your manure or apply it in the fall after harvest. Wash your hands after handling manure and try to leave at least 120 days between application of fresh manure and harvest of a crop.
The complication is really salad veg in contact with any manured soil, as well as unwashed and uncooked root vegetables, which may act as fomites for E.Coli and Salmonella.
I've always presumed  anything coming from the dirt to be 'dirty' and should be treated accordingly. 
This of course raises the prospect of to Manure Or Not To Manure (discussion thread is excellent). However, further polemics exist that argue that you should not even add animal manures to your domestic compost heap because the quality of your composting process may not be up to the sterilisation standards needed: right temperature/required time span.
However I did find this research snippet:Fate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in Manure-Amended Soil which reports:
Escherichia coli O157:H7 cells survived for up to 77, >226, and 231 days in manure-amended autoclaved soil held at 5, 15, and 21°C, respectively. Pathogen populations declined more rapidly in manure-amended unautoclaved soil under the same conditions, likely due to antagonistic interactions with indigenous soil microorganisms. E. coli O157:H7 cells were inactivated more rapidly in both autoclaved and unautoclaved soils amended with manure at a ratio of 1 part manure to 10 parts soil at 15 and 21°C than in soil samples containing dilute amounts of manure. The manure-to-soil ratio, soil temperature, and indigenous microorganisms of the soil appear to be contributory factors to the pathogen's survival in manure-amended soil.
Confused? Well the research may not be  conclusive and you'll find many variations of recommendations online about how to handle animal manures in the vegetable garden. As you know  animal manures are an efficient way to heat up a compost heap ...and do it quickly. 
But there may be a way around all this if you think your habits need adjusting.  This  approach composts animal manures alone rather than mixing them up with other stuff. And you compost very hot and very quickly. This is a variation of the Berkeley method, developed by the University of California, Berkley...but it's less labour intense. I suggest it may also be a good idea to keep a cake or meat thermometer on hand and make sure your pile registers 60 degrees Celsius. I suspect that a variation of  this technique was used by the 19th Century  French Intensive Market gardeners, although they buried their manures to compost anaerobically.

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French Intensive: La culture maraîchère downunder

I is here. Yesiree.


After a very intense period of exploration and research I'm thinking that I have discovered my preferred gardening 'model'.

What I mean by that is that I have narrowed in on the 'system' that suits my environmental context and my habits...my journey.

It has a name and history and it's  called French Intensive Market Gardening.
La culture maraîchère referred to the intensive methods of gardening developed in the urban areas of Paris from about 1850 to 1900, and often referred to in English as "French intensive gardening." It was a series of techniques developed over the years by experimentation for gardeners to produce large quantities of fresh vegetables for city dwellers. It also dealt with a major urban problem at the time - what to do with all the manure from the horses used for transportation. French intensive gardening was designed to grow the maximum amount of vegetables on the minimum area possible, since urban plots were invariably small and noncontinuous...The average Parisian market garden was between one and two acres in size, with plants grown on eighteen-inch beds of combined straw and horse manure from the stables. Although the plots were relatively small, the techniques used to attend to them were highly detail-oriented and labor intensive. In the words of one grower, "always tend the smallest amount of land possible, but tend it exceptionally well." In order to get the maximum amount of produce from a small area, many techniques were used in concert. Crops were planted so close together that when the plants were mature, their leaves would barely touch. The close spacing provided a mini-climate and a living mulch that reduced weed growth and helped hold moisture in the soil. Companion planting was used - growing certain plants together that enhance each other. [Source]
French Intensive Gardening is often referred to as 'Double Dig' but I don't do that. There's no point because I've only got sand to dig up under my shallow loamy layer. I'm finding instead that with my trusty Ho-Mi  Hoe and my  handy sieve, I can fashion a version Francais that suits Terra Australis.

French Intensive Gardening is also linked with  'Biodynamic'  gardening because it was adapted, tweaked and repackaged by people like Rudolf Steiner,  Allan Chadwick et al.  I don't respond to these later quirks much at all, so I'm very much a French classicist and my interest is anchored in 19th Century Paris.

I'm also still caught between approaches so I'm no purist. I'm eclectic. While I may be trying to talk  French, my dialect is local and 21st Century. 

For the sake of context, I'll try to list why I prefer  La culture maraîchère to other systems:
  1. It relies on friable soils...and mine are sandy ++++.
  2. Its primary input is horse manure ...and mine is cow and horse dung. So there's no intense investment in making (aerobic) compost as an arduous supplementary activity.
  3. It is focused on making the best use of a small gardening space...and I'm gardening with marketing ambition in a suburban backyard.
  4. It merges my long time interest in English Cottage and French Potager  gardens with some core, and very dedicated, polycultural  -- mixed vegetable gardening -- preferences . I'm no formalist, so mix and match suits me just fine. 
  5. It is ruled by market gardening precepts so it isn't distracted by  countervailing 'food forest' and strict Permaculture shibboleths.
  6. It is driven by, and committed to, the growing of annuals rather than perennials.Any perennials are espaliered or coppiced.
  7. It is primarily a gardening system ruled by what's to hand and available -- horse manure -- rather than idealising inputs and paying big bucks for them. Très pas cher.
Nonetheless, I'm proceeding with a few adaptions in mind and the primary one is that the 'digging ' over of my soil is left to the critters -- like worms -- that inhabit it. I merely seek to 'scrape the surface'.

'Double Dig' be dammed. 

I also use, and rely on, sheet mulching when the French did not. But my mulch is grass clippings which begin life very desiccated anyway and break down quickly.

So I'm thinking it's coming together, so to speak, underfoot.

Before me I have this sharp learning curve as I get to know my plants in this novel Gallic environment. 

The principles in play do, however, lend themselves to adaptations. For instance their raised beds built atop manure cores remind of my own mounds built on mulch mixes...and I imported that edge, not from Paris, but  from the South Pacific.

I'm also reliant on terracotta pots for irrigation when they relied on watering cans.

They long-trench mulched vigorously with manures, when I prefer  single holes -- as I don't want to 'disturb' the ecological integrity of the beds. They used pure manure(+straw) fills when I use grass clippings, paper and manure. My French forbears and I do, however, agree that manures can be buried when still  young.

And while I'm polyculural, I'm more polycultural, in a mayhem sort of way, than they were.I can so indulge myself  because the scale of my project is smaller.

Unlike them, I keenly engineer shade as a hot weather element in the design mix.

That said there are a few attributes of  La culture maraîchère  that I still need to understand and work through.

If it supposedly uses less water than other methods of gardening, how is that water 'held' in the garden bed? What's the sponge? While the method makes weeding easy, the business of churning up the soil surely activates weed seeding. Because the soil is loose and friable, weeds may indeed be  at a disadvantage, and are easily pulled up by their roots, but there's sure to be more of them, right? Especially since I mulch with cut grass and use manures.... But then I know my own weeds and the only problematical one in this context I can envisage is the low growing chickweed. Runner grasses, the ones I abhor, won't stand a chance.

So this is  'intense' also in the sense of labour intense. If the mulch regime fails I'll be weeding more.

C'est vie

There's also these considerations to deal with, given my conditions:
The hotter the climate, the more you should consider whether or not raised beds are truly beneficial, especially with sandy soils. Sandy soils are likely to be low in nitrogen and organic matter; too much intensive digging may only exaggerate these problems. The hotter the summer climate, the faster organic matter is consumed. The more frequently you dig soils in hot summer weather, the more material you will need to add to compensate for oxidation. However, once the living mulch covers the bed, it will help to moderate high soil temperatures. In a hot, dry summer climate, the soil in a raised bed may not only heat up too much but also be vulnerable to drying out--thus negating one of the benefits of BFI. [Source]
Some useful online resources about French Intensive Gardening:

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Waffles, Sponges, Cornmeal and other delicacies.

A friend was talking about the Three Sisters (corns/beans/squash) and indigenous agricultural practices in arid regions of North America. Some of these approaches are covered in Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond by Brad Lancaster. Inspired I was trying to replicate the Zuni waffle garden practice. It really suits our aridness.

However, my sandy soil is so friable that I couldn't build the walls so that the grid stayed put. So I've used galvanised edging which I had and  cut it roughly into 2 metre lengths(see image bottom right and centre left) and direct seeded within that.
The metal gives me any shape I want, not just squares.When the seedlings come up, the plan is to remove the wall and reuse it elsewhere. Hypothetically the metal reflects sunlight onto the bed and protects young plants from wind.

I thought, great! So I got myself another roll of some of this stuff so that now it's a gardening essential. I either enclose the seed bed or just wall it on three sides. 

My 'soil' is so sandy that even digging holes in new land  the sand simply falls in on itself.While I previously built my beds on top of these grains, I'm now experimenting with sifting and mixing manures through the sand to give it texture.The manures hold water in place and counteract erosion.

I'm also experimenting further with Vertical Sponges and I'm impressed with the results.I'm making the paper/manure mixes really pithy and soggy so that when I ram them into the freshly dug hole they really take a basin shape as I extend the lip wider than the hole to engineer a broader billabong. Rather than mulch over & mark, the exposed paper mix on the surface flags the sponge's presence. I've also used the same approach for elongated trenches, when building new beds. They act like an underground  skeleton.
Any new planting of perennials I make sure a sponge hole is located nearby.Once you master the mix  the technique it really is like sculpting with papier mache.  
Soaked and torn up paper + water + sifted manures + anything else you may have on hand and you'd like to add...with gloves on: mix and churn it up. Let marinate  then use. Yum.
This comes back to keeping garden worms happy and feeling at home.Worm requirements (moisture + pH + food, etc) are specific it seems and it took me a few years to attract them to my garden in any census numbers.Now I'm trying to get the in-house population to move about and settle new lands.So my next trick is to sprinkle cornmeal about. It's a form of baiting. 
Thinks: maybe I could add cornmeal to the sponge mix as well?
This issue came up because a neighbour, recently moved here, could not get over the fact that her new plot had not one garden worm. I said,"sure -- it's a fact, a brutal fact, that worms aren't in residence."She has some clay but still...So I went looking for the DIY of worm accommodation. But in sand -- which is constantly drying out --there isn't enough moisture to enable the worms to breath.Pretty basic lifestyle stuff, right? So that's task #1 -- water.Then you look at the menu. The worms moved in soon after I solved my irrigation challenges...and now I'm seriously worm farming and Butcher Birds alight nearby every time I turn a bit of soil.I have chooks but I can never bring myself to share my worms with them...they're my hard working peasants, my angels, and I dedicate myself to keeping them healthy and happy.
While I'm experimented with a few earth moving approaches to harvest rainwater, when I widened the beds recently and built my mounds I dug down, so that now you step down into the garden when you walk through it. Given that my land is flat, this geography is novel. This is not something to try at home if you have clay underfoot but these narrow walkways between the beds and mounds are impacting such that, if we ever get any rain, they'll slow its run off and seepage. I've experimented with mulching materials before -- especially old rags and plastic -- to cover these footpaths, but managing these materials was painful.  In some areas I've simply covered these walkways with scrub cuts , like with banana circle fill, but I suspect that maybe a variation of the sponge mix may suit if I can get enough paper.  Sheets of paper not only look unsightly but they blow away.  But a layer of papier mache -- paper mash + sand mix? -- could work? Any mulches I get go directly onto the beds.

Nonetheless, may be foot traffic will suffice to compact the paths' surface enough so that seepage is delayed after any downpour. To hold up the sides of the garden beds so that they don't erode into the paths, I'm planting directly on the bed verge --and since I eat a lot of the stuff -- the best thing I've found for this so far, are spring onions! They're deep rooted -- and rather than deploy my seedling supply, I also plant the root ends of bunches I buy at the fruit & veg shop to supplement my consumption. That and chives take root in the friable edges.It is a bit of a potager effect. Since I try to harvest spring onions via a cut-and-come-again approach without uprooting them, I'm hopeful the spring onion borders will work.
I've used lemongrass in similar mode before but lemon grass can be too big to garden around.
Another traditional American practice I follow is ollas -- terracotta pots -- for irrigation.The pot lids are the parked flying saucers in the photoes. That's magnificent and has been a game changer because with sand you need to water often. 

But then-- another Indian trick also followed in north west China -- is using sand as mulch.This time of year I can't get green mulches until the grasses start growing again.While I use junk mail bits on the soil surface, sand I have a plenty. And I'm experimenting with that as a mulch cover. Hypothetically sterile sand should make an excellent mulching material. All I have to do is dig for it and scatter it between the plants.

I'm finding after using trellises and other apparati that any old long piece of wood can be supported upright or on a lean to carry climbers like beans.  I don't grow corn, because I don't eat it -- so no '3 Sisters'. That doesn't solve the choko issue -- its climbing requirements -- and I grow a lot of chokoes -- but any old branch can be put to use. so long as I keep up a supply of metal rods (old tent poles and such) I get from the tip to anchor any upright. Thats' how the poles stay aloft in the gallery.Many are feral bamboo harvests left over from old builds.You can never have too much bamboo.

Tomatoes I just lean brushes around the plants but I'm running out of branches.

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Market Cart

It wasn't a great day at the markets yesterday (they're monthly) but I'm proud of my snazzy market cart which is being renovated.
Looking gooood.

It used to be a bike cart and I'd carry my community artz workshop wares around from school to school with me peddling up front.

Since it has been used to ferry my canoe to the seashore.

Now it's a perfect produce market artefact.
What style, eh?
And, of course, there's no show without Punch!

For those who pursue the market route I tell you the challenge of picking and presevering the stuff is a big one, even by day-before standards. I made a mistake yesterday and wrapped the greens in wet paper as an experiment. Thinking: I'd get horizontal display.
Did not work and wilting was a big problem, esp with the young greens
Best practice so far (from my limited experience) is to:
  1. Pick early in the day of harvest.
  2. Immediately place the cut stems in water -- just like flowers in a vase. &/or refrigerate/cool storage overnight.
  3. Always shade your produce. 
  4. Use an atomiser spray to water the plants when on display.
Rather than weigh out and such I sell in $2 lots -- so I have freedom to decide on what goes in the batch or bundle.
Since harvest is such a fickle schedule -- I'm trying to promote drop-by market days from home. Market one Saturday-open garden day a fortnight later....'pick while you wait'.
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Sponge Hole Irrigation

I've been experimenting with the mulching technique I've previously called a Honey Hole or  Fertility Trench.

It is a very simple method that is a useful for  irrigating and introducing  fertility into the soil. I refer to these holes as 'worm takeaways' because they concentrate a lot of organic matter in the one spot, and once settled, garden worms will move in and feast up.

But these holes' primary function -- while their contents breaks down -- is as a water sponge.

So they serve two functions:
  • a vertical fertility mulch
  • a water reserve/irrigating sponge
The trick is in the mix that you fill the holes with.

The Sponge Mix

After some experimentation I'm currently working from this recipe:
  1. Throw old newspapers, junk mail, old phone books, cardboard, etc into a large container -- I use a wheelbarrow -- and steep  them in water.
  2. When thoroughly wet, shred the papers and cardboard by  tearing the pieces apart with your hands. You should end up with lots of shredded paper and cardboard strips, something like papier mache
  3. Put on some rubber gloves and with a sieve or just your hands break up a quantity of manure and sprinkle it into the paper mix, tossing, stirring  and blending the manure in as if you were making a muffin mix. The paper strips should all be  well coated with the manure. Delicious-- but don't lick the spoon.
  4. Depending on your soil, the nature of your manures and so forth a good rule of thumb is a mix of 30-40% manure to 60-70% wet paper.
  5. If the mix is too dry -- add more water -- and let the manure/paper mix marinate for 5  to  7 days, stirring occasionally so that you brew a dense manure tea.
Once you have prepared your sponge mix, you can dig your holes.

The Hole
  1. With a hand spade dig a hole roughly half the depth of your forearm. I dump the soil I dig up into a 3 litre plastic pot so that I can keep each hole I dig the same depth and volume. Using a pot also keeps the soil off the garden bed, and any plants,  nearby.
  2. Fill the hole with a generous amount of sponge mix and ram the mix down into the hole with your (gloved) fist or/& a mallet. You want to really stuff the mix into the hole so that you end up with a convex depression on top with the mix rising up on the sides of the hole. That's your mini-billabong.
  3. Now place a stick or rod in the centre of your hole  and tip your bucket of dug up soil on the top of the hole. Pat the soil down and wiggle the stick to create  a crater --something like a hole on a putting green.
  4. Mark your crater with a stick or label rod so that its location is flagged in your garden bed.
When watering the garden, direct a spray at the flagged crater you have marked so that the the mix below engorges with water and pools on top, like a miniature pond. If you dug each hole approximately the same depth and diameter, you should be aware how large is your sponge bowl.

Location. Location.

I use these sponge holes as a supplement to my terracotta pot irrigation system.

I position them in sections of the garden bed where I think the water from the pots isn't reaching. Since water is its own conductor, these sponge holes can act as channeling stations for water across the distances between the pots.

The large paper content serves as a sponge that absorbs water when  wetted and, as the sponge mix breaks down, the elevated carbon in the soil increases its water holding capacity, protecting the soil from  future arid conditions.

Sponge holes are also very effective when dug next to newly planted trees and perennials. They are also much less disturbing to soil structure than the excavation required to  dig elongated mulch trenches. While the manured  'goodness' is concentrated in one spot, soil biota and worms will do all the work of distributing the sponge mix more widely in the bed neighbourhood.

As the sponge holes sweat moisture into the surrounding soil the water merges with the fluid content emanating from the terracotta pots, thus promoting greater holding capacity and broader spread per litre of irrigation. In my sandy soils both methods ensure I keep moisture in my top soil longer rather than have it quickly drain away.

You need to be aware that the hole's contents are initially manure 'hot' so you need to consider what you plant nearby. Heavy feeders should do alright.

I treat these holes as a shadow version of my terracotta pots. They are roughly the same volume and depth  while serving a similar function. So when I come to fill the pots every 3-4 days, all I need do is direct my hose spay at the marked sponge holes as well...at least for the following few months. Rather than hose the garden beds -- wasting water and encouraging weed growth -- I concentrate my water usage in spots that store it underground.

In my imagination I envisage these sponge holes as a key element in my worm neighbourhood. In hot weather I discovered that garden worms will gravitate around the terracotta pots because of the coolness and moisture in the soil. These properties are replicated by the sponge holes with the added feature that they are also serve as a restaurant and takeaway. 

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To market, to market....

Major renovations...

I've been digging...and planting because I've been driven by a new commitment: market gardening. As I plan to do the local monthly community markets selling some of what I grow, the garden now has a entrepreneurial purpose. So it has to deliver a quotient of vegetables. 
Be productive. Be predictable and reliable. Be niche oriented.
I'm thinking through my 'business plan' options and as well as selling at these monthly events I may run market days from  home on the other fortnight. People can drop by and shop.

Yesiree...I've been doing my homework. Reading up. Studying experiences of urban agriculture and micro farming,etc.

I'm convinced that it's do-able as various scenarios are possible...and work elsewhere.
Not that I plan to commit to  a new profession at my age, but my retail savvy flags the options.
I'm also thinking of offering to grow-to-order and ring+drop-by-+-harvest without taking on the responsibilities of something like Community Supported Agriculture.

In the genre of contemporary market gardening there are many retailing models.

But it's still early days and I am a hobbyist.I look to the marketing aspect as a means to network in my community and supplement my income while promoting environmental vibes.

But the focus is a delight and draws me to the garden more assiduously as though I have a part time occupation. A routine. 

This means that I have become more demanding of my patch.I'm asking more of it...and I expect more.  So I got busy and remade some of the layout.
  • I narrowed the paths and widened the beds in order to get more growing space. The soil shifting has indeed expanded my planting area. The much narrower paths are now trenches because they are dug deeper than before so that they act like valleys. Foot traffic compacts the earth and water is slower to dissipate. That's a plus for me.
  • I expanded my mounds and planted them out with a mix of vegetables as well as the tubers. This is still an experiment  but now I have 3 gardens: (1) garden beds (my original garden--number:5); (2)garden mounds (my recent experiment);and the new ground (3) mounds and ridges constructed from dirt thrown atop  twigs and branches half way to  Hugelkultur mode..
  • I incorporated waffle  grids in my planting habits. Waffle gardens were developed by the Zuni of New Mexico (picture right) as a means to farm in very dry conditions. Since we are officially 'in dought' and I forever have water issues,  I adapted the method to my own garden beds. I now sow direct into the ground by first scraping out a waffle depression. then border  it with soil and mulch. There's no over all design grid -- not yet anyway -- but I expect I'll customise as I explore this approach further. The compartmentalisation suits me. It's also risk free as I have, afterall, such sandy soils....
  • I mine my chook pen. Since I've been creating new beds --requiring 'mounds' of dirt --I had to get my soil from somewhere. Fortunately my chook pen is large and I've always wondered how to better harvest all the inputs I feed the chickens. So I take soil from the pen and put it on the garden. My chook pen is a  mine site. What better way to harness all that chook poo? It's sandy ++++ so it's an easy pick up and deliver. The chickens don't mind the crevices that are opening up at their feet. I'm even thinking of digging a well there. 
  • I sift sand and cow manure together before throwing it on the beds and mounds. It is not a fun task breaking up and sifting cow  poo through a sieve, but since my 'dirt' is sterile sand I try to merge manure and sand together on a 5o:50 recipe. Besides my keeness for   honey holing  I suspect I've found a way to quicken the transition from sand to loam in situ. This approach seem more efficient than waiting on layers upon layers of mulched grass clippings to break down.I still mulch, but I now have a Plan B.

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Gardening with mounds

I was wondering about gardening with mounds. 
I have discussed this before relative to the growing of sweet potatoes on conical mounds as practice norm throughout Melanesia and Polynesia. (See picture at right: that's' a serious mound!)

Since then I built a series of mounds and planted them out with potatoes with the perspective that I had begun to solve my  potato conundrum. 
I fiddled with the setup  and embedded a terracotta irrigator pot in the middle of each mound -- such that the mounds look like volcanoes with craters.
If you are into terracotta pot watering as I am the pot in the middle of a built up conical earth mound is a wondering engineering solution for water spread.It's like a chicken and egg thing . Wonderfully syncronicity. The shape allows not only broader water seepage but enables  more plants to access the irrigating core.

So I not only planted potatoes in the mounds but have since added Zucchini and am considering other options. Between the mounds, in the gullies, I just planted Taro.
However, I am reminded of an earlier gardening inspiration developed by Tiny Eglington.
It blew me away.Check out another example of the design method here ( sample picture at left).
When I laid out my own garden I didn't do this because all I had was sand to work with and going up -- such as for drainage -- didn't seem to make sense.
But that's only part of the story. Much as I tried to make Edlington's watering system work --watering the gullies rather than the beds (deploying a sort of wiking logic) -- I couldn't facilitate it.Not on sand, despite laying plastic and paper and mulch underneath the gullies.
But now that I can water with my pots -- Voila! I have a solution.
Of course gardening in mounds or ridges isn't new. 
HugelKulture is a quintessential mound method (pictured right below). But I've not been able to make HugelKulture work given my conditions. I suspect that here our climate is too dry.
But looking at the 'mound' and reviewing the literature on HK there is a lot of advantages in mounding to that size.
I've thrown a lot of twigs and paper into my mounds --to give them texture and some structural core.I sifted in manures and coated the lot in a blanket of lawn clippings mulch.
Some are a bit like ridges, but double camel hump ridges. I call them '2 pot mounds' as distinct form the conically shaped  'one terracotta pot' mounds.
I'm not certain how far down I should take the gullies. Water pooling doesn't happen here so excavating the gullies is primarily about getting dirt.
Mine are higgledy piggledy things and when I built them it was clear that not only could I water with my fav method -- da pots --  but I could harness the gullies for different purposes such that I could use some, rather than for pathways, as dumps for mulch and cut scrub, newspaper and such like the banana circle option.Even if I walk over this 'rubbish' its' not a problem. As soon as it breaks down I can put it on a garden bed or use it to make another mound.
Indeed these  beds of mine have tended to look like the shape and size of large upturned bathtubs, mini volcanoes or an Alien egg nursery...
But the logic of mounds of this size -- and irrigated as I do -- impresses me.
  • You extend the surface area of your 'bed' by using a curved surface. 
  • Despite the increased size your access to all plants is enhanced because the required reach is less.
  • You harness gravity to encourage plants -- esp ramblers like cucumber, tomatoes and such -- to fall away and down onto a surface that will tend t be drier than a flat bed.
  • You get to also plant in the gullies, esp more water dependent plants. (Thats' the estimate, anyway).
  • Because the mounds are elevated beds -- just like any contour you can plant according to sun requirements -- as you'll have some 'sides' more exposed to the sun than others. So you plant, say, lettuces on the south of the mound and capsicums on the north and west. If planting extensively in the gullies is an option you can use the mounds as shade and or weather protection.
  • Like the Melanesian examples mounds are demountable. That may seem an anathema but it is easy to shift a pile of dirt than dig a hole -- or disassemble a mound and build a new one in its place. Indeed when I began this project I had in mind that the mounds would be my 'portable' garden
How big can these mounds be  given my watering methods? Does the design actually work -- at least on my sandy soils? I'm sure that mounds like this would not suit all soils, as you have to consider erosion issues. But then if you plant out you'd have a underground web on your side. So there's soil run off perhaps? All you do is spade it back up the hill.
Normally, mounding like this would require a lot of precipitation. Conical mounds normally aren't friendly to irrigation systems. But then there's the terracotta pots, you see...and that's a game changer.
Of use:
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