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Mulch me! We grow and kill stuff only to learn.

Keen as I was to aggressively advance my gardening options I had to go interstate for a week and while away...
while away... [boo hoo]...my garden was devastated!
October 2014: 7th highest temperature and 9th lowest rainfall on record in conditions of already declared drought.

My labour intense garden suffered big time.

While we are STILL in drought  -- the dry conditions had destroyed my usual supply of mulch.No grass clippings have been dumped on my nature strip for months.If it wasn't for my large Silky Oak dropping its leaves on the garden beds during September, my soil would have been  naked and even more exposed.

In a twice it happened. I went from great garden to daggy garden in just one  week as all the nasty factors kicked in to sabotage my green thumb arrogance.

Fortunately, I had  asked that my seed trays be watered while I was away...so I had another generation to plant after the beds dried out and crisped up.

So with hindsight -- and 2 weeks on is hindsight enough -- let's explore the problem of my dead plants.

My major mistake was not to have mulched up.I knew I was running dangerously low on mulch  but I failed to seek other resources to carpet the beds. I do rely on a lot of cut grass -- if only to build up soil from sand -- but from June to November  the supply dries up -- coinciding with the driest period of each year. Reason: the grass does not grow.

My solution: I'll need to grow and harvest my own mulch supply  while sourcing other materials to supplement. In the two weeks since my return I've been  trimming bushes and trees, and mixing the cuttings with torn up soak newspapers/junk mail/cardboard to make my mulch go further. I had used lemongrass as mulch in the past but these have also suffered during the dought.

My shade failure: The early onset of hot weather also exposed my plants to a lot of unrelenting  sunshine. I do have a shade program based on the growing of Frangipanis...and tall sunflowers. But the Frangipanis aren't tall enough yet and have not as yet fully sprouted leaves. So they're useless this early in the heat. While I'm loving the 2.5 metre high sunflowers -- I didn't  grow enough of thse to really shade the area I needed to shade.

My solution: I need an ongoing  Sunflower program with plants ready to plant out as seedlings through most of the year. That  cut Sunflowers are so easy to grow and make great mulch is another plus. That they also serve as bean poles -- makes them even more useful...Then there are the flowers of course. (And yes I have planted Jerusalem artichokes as well --so I guess I need to think : sunflower and artichoke family.)

My seed and seedling mistakes: this year I had experimented more with direct sowing of seeds and my results have not been so good.My soil is still too sandy.I've also tended to plant my seedlings regardless of conditions pending.

My solution: I now prefer to sow seeds in flats and transplant. But even  there  I find I have a better chance of success if I pot up most of my seedlings and plant them out when they are more vigorous and the weather conditions are more opportune. This puts me in greater control. I just wait until  the situation is preferable, then I plant the  seedling in the garden bed. I can do this because I'm now using paper pots I roll myself and planting out is a simple business of burying the pot -- plant and all. Potting up like this also gives me greater control over my polycultural options. I can plant a thriving plant next to  another thriving plant I target with companionship in mind.Potting up also means I have an extended planting window. Given that I'm now resource chunkier mulches , my little buried paper pots seem to survive quite well in all the detritus.

My foolish watering habits:I survived the dry Winter by hand watering the garden. This works fine when its cool but when the temperatures rise it's an indulgence. 

My solution:  I think I wasted a lot water.Yes, despite my low use of it. Instead of far too frequently  hand watering the garden I should have filled up my terracotta irrigation pots more  often so that their water level staid high. As it was I was filling them up only when they emptied -- and in doing that I was undermining the gravity dynamic that irrigated  the garden beds. These pots really do work  but in our conditions they need a good mulch covering of surrounding soil and a better top-up regime.

So there: Mea culpa. We grow and kill stuff only to learn.

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Poly Plus Plus Polyculture


The garden is awesome!

Being Spring and warming up fast, the take-off is accelerating as more plants start doing their stuff. 

A botanical explosion from the ground up. 

It's the flowers that really register this the most. After months of shades of green, the flowers I planted are now blooming and their heads  a dazzling splashes of colour in the garden beds like  a cottager panorama straight out of  Alice in Wonderland.

They're ready to talk back...

Sprinkled in the garden beds among salad greens, tomatoes, herbs and kale the flowers have changed the address to a bee supermarket.

Plants tumble over each other competing for light and space in a jungle that intensifies daily. 

Dominating this understory are the tallest sunflowers I've ever seen -- let alone grown!
They are Jack-and-the-Beanstalk sunflowers -- with stems as sturdy as bamboo canes -- forming heads that in a week's time will open and challenge the glory of the sun. The 'look' is sure to be amazing. 

John Perceval:Potato Field (my fav Australian painting)
In the past all I've grown are sunflowers thieved from poultry mash. But the real McCoy  types are sure to be something else and I am now committed to always having a variety of sunflowers in my garden. Aside from the look they are great shade plants and already  serve as rent-a-bean pole...just pop in a sunflower seed and step back.

Instant high rise.

And everyone of them faces, as sunflowers do, the house and the back verandah where we eat our meals.

Seriously, where else can you get an securely anchored 'trellis' that climbs to three metres in a month of Sundays before channeling the glory of sunlight?

My mound garden -- my hillocks seeded with potatoes -- are now looking bare as the potato plants have raced ahead and are now dying back after just 2 months in the ground. Spud die off looks bad. As though the exercise had failed to thrive. But the harvest from underneath is something else [(sample:  Dutch Creams (pictured left)].

I had seldom grown potatoes before but  the taste of a freshly harvested spud is the ultimate in earthiness. 

In places among all this contour I have zuchini sprawling about, and some attempts to kick start my cucumber career. Cukes are a culinary passion of mine -- a cuisine essential --and accessing, via cultivation, some of the many varieties is going to be my  Summer hobby.


So long as I can keep them away from the possums....and get them to have sex with one another.
The grape size tomatoes seem to be everywhere. Those I don't sell or use 'fresh' I prefer to dry in my dehydrator. This time around my quest is to determine which small fruit tomatoes grow best in my soil --although I'm pushing the envelope. Grape toms go OK, like weeds do -- but the larger toms tend to suffer easily from disease. 

The Sweetleaf/Katuk is coming along and leafing up; the black mulberry has produced some huge fruits this year and most of the cuttings I planted as a hedgerow around the chook pen have struck; all the chokoes have taken root(I'm choko obsessed -- do you think 8 is enough?); the kankong have finally  settled into their new abode (a succession of car tires with plastic underlay) and are now fleshing up;the Moringa is away, now climbing skywards as is their keen want; the Warrigal Greens seem to be sprawling everywhere at my feet and are now beginning to set seed (will share); the taro is at home (in the valleys between the hills) as is the climbing yam; 'sweet potato alley' is doing alright (leastways I have had no complaints from that address); the Dragon Fruits cuttings have taken(they seem to appreciate my sandy soil, esp when I pair them with Pigface carpeting) and the frangipanis (I have over 20 located for the primary purpose of shade) are all extending the tips of their branches with the announcement that they are still  very much alive, despite their Graveyard and Zombie reputations, and signing on for the season to come...Can you imagine the outlook when they all bloom through the months ahead? Looking out back it's  a bit gob smacking to ponder.

What failed more than succeeded thus far are the root veg -- Watermelon radishes, carrots, and some of the beetroot. Reason? My soils are definitely too acid and I should have realised this before I planted my root crops. 

Wallum soils are registered acidic soils ..,. and I guess I'm gonna have to start monitoring my pH especially for those plants that like their dirt on the sweet side. Ah science!  like ants it gets into everything.

As I've mentioned elsewhere I'm producing most of my own seedlings rather than direct sow. While I plan to add seedlings sales to my market stall I'm much taken with the DIY newspaper pots. And selling seedlings in quaint paper cups is a niche thing.The really extend my flexibility: have garden/will travel/settle anywhere I decide.

Green nomads.Biodegradable wallpaper.

That's important as every part of my garden is under cultivation.Poly plus plus polyculture. It's like parking cars -- being opportunistic waiting  for, then grabbing,  a vacant space.

But the more I turn over the soil in order to sow direct, the more I encourage weed growth. And since we are at a time when there has been no mulch -- grass clippings -- for months, weed infestation among struggling young plants is a close as a tool scrape away.

As the garden takes off  --really takes off  -- like I never imagined -- I've celebrated the fact by turning my last patch of grass (it would be an obscene exaggeration to ever refer to it as lawn) into a sand pit. 3 metre square -- I mined golden sand inside the chook pen to create an oasis  within all the verdant happenings. Sterile yellow  granules in their trillions aint that far down. We live on a sand spit at the mouth of a river after all. That's our geology. We've got sand mines in the neighbourhood.Now I have  my own  sand garden to remind me of all that past accumulated underneath.
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My space at my place

I'm keen to celebrate 'my space'. Not the online Myspace that got done over by facebook but my space.


Where I spend a good part of my time.
Boasting a spacious, open plan living and reclining area with access via sliding screen door to the 'veranda' and vegetable garden, offering a stunning and elevated view of the sky. Open both ends to the cooling breezes. Surrounded by birdlife, with on hand laundry and walk-in kitchen but a doorstep away. Within a stone's throw of poultry, clothes line and a wind sock. The location speaks for itself. Can be used as a car storage facility at resident's discretion.No body corporate fees. Current tenants two dogs. (Hair drop manageable. Straw broom supplied).
Over time I've tweaked the setup a bit. I've changed my preferred  seating option to a light director's chair, for instance...and I've added a torn rag rug for the floor to keep my tootsies warm over Winter...

The mix works, despite being a garage. 

Through the back curtains I can pass thru another screen or curtains to the garden where I spend a lot of my outdoor time doing stuff.It's like living outdoors -- in a tent, caravan, hut or shed -- as I can moderate my atmospherics by closing or opening curtains, windows, roller or screen doors and such.

 A true Balinese indoor/outdoor room.I even open out to a forest of frangipanis...

Over Winter the design worked extremely well and I needed to have the heater on only  a few times at night.

It was cosy. Surprisingly so. No drafts. No chills.

Curtaining  did that. Not only do curtains insulate, but  I can simply pull curtains back and forth to alter temperature and light.

With concentrated spaces like this you gotta keep up with the housework.  You need to sweep and keep your stuff in order.It also helps a lot not to have too much gear. Keep it simple. Live light...and customise. 

I know where everything is in my 'den' because there isn't really that much of it.  All of me that 'fits'. ..no more/no less.

Each time I enter the space from the outside I'm impressed by how cosy it feels. No 'interior decoration' in play. Just function and ambience.

My space. One room. In use: furniture I appreciate and am attached to -- that have served me loyally for years.
  • Aunt Mary's Laminex kitchen table (circa 1950s)
  • Aunt Mary's wardrobe...old.
  • Cheap Ikea metal shelving .
  • A German-style night and day.
  • My mother-in-law's Director's Chair
  • ..and a chest of drawers I don't know where from.
  • A poof.
  • Aunt Mary's old blanket storage box.
  • My daughter's hand-me down Apple Mac
  • ...and a gorgeous retro side table my wife mosaiced.
What more do I need?


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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.

Finally.

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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