Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thinking of a Master Plan

It's early autumn and my year ahead calendar has a lot of blank space on it. In fact, if it wasn't for the three little notes: “Peas ready”; “Potatoes ready” and “Rye ready”, it'd be completely empty (and looking at early growth I think my “Rye ready” is a little optimistic). While last year I just put some random items in the ground based purely on what was available from a lovely catalogue, this year I want to develop the garden into something productive. Productive and balanced. I want a range of fresh, delicious, home grown produce. “My year with garlic” might sound like a neat idea for a book, but it's not really a basis for a great diet (or for maintaining friendships for that matter). This year I need a plan – even if it is just a rough map to start with.

So what am I looking for in a garden? Ideally, I'd a garden that supports our vegetable needs entirely, and our fruit needs to some extent (I'm yet to learn what's possible fruit-wise here). I want diversity and am happy to try all sorts of plants as I've already found some surprise treats. Who'd have guessed nasturtiums tasted so good (I've so much to learn) and I tried kale as an “alternative” to cabbage – in my opinion, cabbage is a poor alternative to kale.

I'm pretty sure I have the space to create such a garden. I don't need to accommodate the needs of pets (indoor cat) nor children (indoor fur child). I do have that Australian icon, the “Hills hoist” (it's a washing line) in pride of place in the back lawn, but the sloping ground means I can encroach upon its radius for valuable vegetable space. I removed the red cedar from the back yard when I first moved in (why such a tree was planted in such a small space I do not know) as well as a very, very old flowering plan which really was on its last legs (roots?). I'm starting with a clean slate. I should have more than enough space in the backyard alone to feed a family of four, and as we're only a family of two it should work out quite nicely.

So why aren't I out there now planting row upon row of seeds/seedlings/trees/shrubs etc? Well, two challenges I need to deal with – probably the major tasks for this year.

Firstly, my aforementioned clean slate is more a green slate – kikuyu is the grass of choice here and I can only say it thrives in the area (it had run so wild on the national park island off the coast that it was choking off the penguin breeding grounds). It's super grass - able to leap tall fences in a single season, grow under concrete drive ways, invade vegetable beds faster than a speeding bullet. Judging from the actions of a neighbour, who I will call “Chemical Kathy”, the usual manner for dealing with such an invasion is a scorched earth approach utilising all the aids modern chemistry has to offer. I personally would rather leave the chemicals where they seem to belong, in the supermarket vegetable aisle, so am exploring what appears to be the only other available, low labour options of solarisation and/or sheet mulching. I'll make these the subject of a future post as the jury is still out on the results.

My second challenge is one I'm happy to have to deal with – I have a clay soil. Now while I'm not yet sure what sort of clay mix the soil it is, I can say I need a mattock and crow bar to make a dent in it. Needless to say I've some work to do before those common vegetables stand a chance. But, using a combination of gypsum, green manures and my secret ingredient, Bokashi (did I mention I love it – and did I mention it'll take meat and dairy scraps), I've been making some inroads into a more vegetable friendly soil (I received a wonderful compliment from a long term resident and neighbour on the soil in my first bed). But, there's only so many food scraps a two person household can reasonably produce, so I'm having to do it in stages – whilst trying to find solutions to challenge number one.

So, for those of you who are still with me and wish I'd just get to the point, this year's plan is to:

  • continue with the lawn to garden conversion, focusing primarily on the 9m x 7m space I have available in the backyard (me vs. Kikuyu + soil preparation).
  • Prepare for and plant some stonefruit trees in the thin strip I have near the neighbours fence. Peaches are a must.
  • Convert the two newly converted raised beds into productive vegetable contributors – fix the clay.
  • Create a centre for herb excellence somewhere convenient for harvesting as I cook.
  • Explore water harvesting options – water restrictions and vegetable gardens aren't a happy marriage.
  • Learn about the birds and bees.  Judging from last year's results, I need more guardians of the harvest.
  • Learn to be succinct.

For those of you who persisted all the way to the end – I promise my next post will have photos.


  1. Last year was my first year at actually planning what I wanted for my garden ... even though I've been gardening for many, many years. It's a great idea to record what works, what doesn't, what you would like to try and any surprises along the way ... I do this with a photo diary.

    Laying a weighted tarp on the ground for several weeks during the 'dry' is one sure fire way of killing off grass ... then you can dig it over and remove the runners. Do this one patch at a time and it works ... have done this myself. Never liked the idea of chemicals either.

    Sounds like you've got the solution for soil improvement ... I'd just start again with small steps ... the two new beds.

    Do you use your grey water? We have to do that up here in our dry tropics ... we use the bathroom/laundry/kitchen water ... we bury our pipes so they're not that obvious.

    As for attracting birds and bees there's a fantastic Australian site you should check out:

    Wow I sure have rabbited on! Hope it's been helpful. Nice to find yet another Aussie here on Blotanical.

  2. Hello Flo, yes I read until the end and found it a very interesting read!
    Good luck with the Kikuyu, couch grass is our local monster grass, but I also seem to have some kikuyu (or something similar) about. You have my empathy with the soil situation, ours is heavy grey clay with little life.
    As for the bees, I'm gradually going to introduce more bee attracting native plants, but they come for miles for the buddleia if that helps as a fast growing beacon for the bees!