Sunday, August 10, 2008
Eat your garden
At first glance a downturn in the economy looks like it would prove a problem for the nursery industry. People with less disposable income are going to cut down on spending in the gardens, and the sale of Italian ceramics and expensive palm trees will plummet.
But it does not seem to work like that.
When things get tough we cancel our overseas holidays and we postpone the upgrade to our cars and our houses, but we also stay at home more. When we stay at home we look at our sections, and there is usually an upsurge of interest in gardening during economic hard times.
You would think there would also be an increase in spending on home vegetable production too, but there is interesting information about that. Friends in the trade tell me they have had difficulty keeping up with the demand for asparagus and strawberries this year. I guess this means we are looking to grow the higher status vegetables, rather than pay high prices for them.
This downturn has coincided with increased communal concern about the eating habits of our children - and ourselves! Some schools are taking a very proactive role in encouraging healthier eating. They are promoting Kid’s Edible Gardens by helping schools make organic, no-dig mulch gardens within their grounds, as well as setting up worm farms and encouraging the kids to compost. The kids can grow their own vegetables, herbs and flowers, and hopefully persuade their parents of the benefits of home gardening
No-dig, mulch-based gardens are the ideal way for tyro gardeners to get their gardening career off to a flying start. It is, basically, gardening in a giant sandbox, and if done properly should entail little weeding and lots of harvesting
The first step is site location. For vegetables a raised bed is best located where it gets full sun. It should also be away from the roots of large trees or hedges that create shade and compete for moisture.
When planning beds remember you want to be able to easily access the beds from all sides so don’t make them too wide. I think about 1.3 metres is about right. It is definitely better to have two small beds than one large one. Leave about 50 cm between each of the beds – wide enough to get a wheelbarrow through.
I think the beds should be about 40 cm high. Much lower and you miss the benefits of easier cultivation – too much higher and they are going to be difficult to work in. I prefer to use treated timber for the walls of my beds, but I know others have used concrete block or bricks. If you are extra green, you might even use woven willow or something similar.
I made my frames away from where the beds are, and then moved them over and drove the corner pegs into place. You can, of course, drive the stakes in at the corner first, and then attach the boards. If the gardens are more than a couple of meters long you will probably need a central stake as well.
Now comes the fun part.
First of all place a deep layer of newspaper all over the bottom of the bed. I know you will not want to use the garden section of the paper, but make sure this layer is about twenty pages thick. This will ensure there will be no weeds germinating from underneath your freshly planted garden. It will also keep all but the most determined perennial weeds at bay.
Next place a deep layer of straw on top of the paper. I like to use pea straw but cereal straw, like barley straw, will work equally well. Again, make sure this is a thick layer – perhaps a third of the height of the bed.
The next step is the soil creation. You can make your own, by mixing compost and good garden loam. It is important that this loam is weed free. You could buy in a mix of soil from one of the composting company. Our local recycling centre makes a good mix I have used in the past.
I like to add another layer of pure compost on top of the mix – about 10 cm deep. You can happily plant directly into that mulch, perhaps adding a little handful of fertilizer with each plant.
The beds will last for about three years before they start to run out of fertility. I think it best to replenish the top layers but some recommend taking all the soil and straw out and replacing it.