Garden design widths

kale-bed3

When designing your garden it’s handy to know what are good measurements for the vegetable bed width and path width. Both will depend on your available space and the design shape you wish to use.

The ideal width of your bed will be if you can reach to the centre of the the bed from all sides. A good rule of thumb for a ground level bed is 1.2 metres.

The best width for a path will need to be able to accommodate a wheelbarrow. If you are designing for a school or aged care facility you may want to make sure a wheelchair can be used on the path. 90cm to a metre is a good width.

Edible plants for shady areas

The majority of vegetables love the sun, so you’ll need to position your main vegetable beds where there’ll get over 6 hours of sun a day. The following plants may like the shade or part-shade. Don’t forget to check to see if they are suitable for your climate and space before planting.

Fruit Trees

  • Acerola Cherry
  • Babaco
  • Beach Cherry
  • Bilberry
  • Blackberry
  • Blueberry
  • Capulin Cherry
  • Cherimoya – Custard Apple
  • Cherries
  • Chilean Guava
  • Cranberry
  • Dragonfruit
  • Goji Berry
  • Golden Fruit of the Andes
  • Gooseberries
  • Logan berry
  • Marionberry
  • Miracle fruit
  • Monstera
  • Morella cherry
  • Naranjilla
  • Pawpaws
  • Pepino
  • Pineapple Guava
  • Raspberry
  • Raisin Tree
  • Red currant
  • Rhubarb
  • Rose apple
  • Sea grape
  • Strawberry
  • Strawberry Guava
  • Tamarillo
  • Teaberry (Wintergreen)
  • White Sapote
  • Yellow Guava

Nuts

  • Macadamia
  • Walnut
Vegetables

  • Asparagus
  • Beetroot
  • Calabrese
  • Chard
  • Cress
  • Dandelion
  • Globe Artichoke
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Lettuce
  • Mitzuba
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions: welsh and tree
  • Radish
  • Rocket
  • Silverbeet
  • Spinach
  • Spring Onion
  • Three cornered leek
  • Yacon
  • Water Chestnut
  • Wild garlic

Herbs etc

  • Bay
  • Chives
  • Coffee
  • Golden Pineapple Sage
  • Horseradish
  • Japanese Pepper
  • Juniper
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemon Verbana
  • Lemongrass
  • Mints
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Stevia
  • Tarragon
  • Tea
  • Watercress
  • Wormwood

Topping up the vegetable beds

We topped up the vegetable beds this weekend. We wanted to use a mixture of different organic matter to add texture, substance and a range of nutrients to the soil. We ended up using coir, cow manure, and chicken manure. For the top layer of the vegetable bed, we added sugar cane mulch. It isn’t particularly high in nutrients but it helps to reduce weeds and moisture loss and protect the soil from the sun’s heat.

Here’s a quick round down of your options to top up a vegetable bed:

Compost

  • Home made is the best if you can get the pile hot enough.

Animal Manure

  • Rabbit – very good
  • Poultry / Chicken – good, very high nitrogen
  • Goat – good
  • Horse – fair, slow release
  • Sheep – fair, high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
  • Pig – poor, high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium
  • Cow – poor, slow release

Plant Manure

  • Lucerne
  • Coir – fibres from coconut plants. Good for bedding in worm farms.
  • Mushroom compost – very good, made from straw and chicken manure (make sure it’s genuine)
  • Green manure (grow your own)

Extras
Add a handful per square metre:

  • Blood and bone – high in nitrogen, phosphorus and calcium
  • Mineral rock fertiliser – ground rock
  • Kelp meal or fish meal or Seasol or Charlie Carp – trace elements and high in potassium
  • Cat litter – recycled from phone books – helps to retain water.
  • Charcoal and ash – high potassium (aged first)
  • and spoonfuls of trace elements.

It’s important to make sure any manure or compost added is well aged, so that when it is added to the bed it doesn’t heat up the soil too much and kill any seeds you are trying grow. I tend not to use sawdust as it may be treated and when it decomposes it uses up the nutrients you need for your vegetables. I’m not a big fan of newspaper and paper as some of them have dyes and bleaches that are also not organic. Hay can also contain grass seeds so be careful where you purchase it from.

Please do not use peat as it is not renewable and comes from wetlands and bogs which support an enormous array of wildlife and migratory birds, and should be protected areas, if they aren’t already.

No dig gardening

When we first started gardening my heart sank after I discovered the soil was full of weeds, and all sorts of different odds and ends. We decided the best solution would be to have a raised bed, filled with no dig ingredients and organic soil.

After researching all the options, we were pleased to discover Birdies Ezy Veggie Beds . We ruled out wood because we have had termites. Treated wood can leach and is not considered organic. Birdies Veggie Beds are made from colourbond corrugated steel and have a rubber edge. We ordered 4 of the 400mm x 3m x 1.5m. (I’d recommend something a little less wider as it’s a little hard to reach the centre of the bed.)

In Australia, we like to claim that Esther Dean came up with the no-dig method (aka lasagna method) in the 1970s. It’s kind of like the way we have claimed inventing Pavlovas (actually it was the New Zealanders). Mind you, she liked to experiment with different gardening techniques and then monitor the effects (like a true scientist). Low and behold, she’s still alive and turned 97 in October last year!

I would shake my head at any one who claims that no dig is minimum effort. Setting it up was such a big job that it took us over a month to get all four vegetable beds prepared. The hardest bit was digging up the pawpaw tree, and then moving the organic soil from the grass where it was delivered to the beds. It was humid hot and sweaty physical hard work.

Actually our beds are less lasagna method and more spaghetti bolognese. Let me explain:

The bottom half of each vegetable bed was made up of the following layers spread evenly:

  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 bags of cow manure
  • ½ bag Lucerne
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • 1 bag of sugar cane
  • 2 handfuls per square metre of blood and bone, and rock minerals
  • ½ bag Lucerne
  • 2 bags of cow manure
  • 1 bag of sugar cane

The top half of the beds were then covered in organic soil that we purchased from a landscaping centre. We also added organic soil between some of the layers above.

The spag bolg method has all the advantages of the no dig method, but using organic soil to bulk it up helped reduce costs.

A few other tips:

  • When planning where to place the beds don’t forget to add enough space around them for approximately one metre wide footpath. Consider mulching this area to discourage grass and weeds.
  • If placing the beds on lawn, place ten pages plus of wet newspaper down first to suppress the grass and weeds. Sprinkle on a few handfuls of blood and bone.
  • Most vegetables have small root system, so you only need 40cm deep of decent soil. If you are using higher beds you can fill the remaining bottom layer with clean sand, hay bales or general garden waste (minus grass seeds).
  • Alternate layers between wet (manure) and dry (sugar cane, hay, straw).
  • Blood and bone helps to activate the composting process.
  • Water each layer thoroughly.
  • You can wait several weeks for the material to start composting before planting. Alternatively, plant seeds in handfuls of compost to start planting straight away.
  • You’ll need to top up the beds each growing season with lucerne, compost and/or manure.

Now the beds have been set up, we haven’t done any digging and fingers crossed that’s most of the hard work done.

Last bed planted

We planted seeds in the last and fourth bed today. This bed took longer then the rest because we had to remove a papaw tree that was in the space. Papaws have shallow roots so it would have stolen water and nutrients from the vegetable bed. We also don’t care for the fruit and, as a result, it was an easy decision to remove it. Matt’s dad volunteered to chainsaw it down – a relatively easy job. Digging up the roots, however, was hot and painfully hard work. Each root burrowed a long way along from the base, making excavation a tedious process. We prepared the bed the same way we did the others – using the no-dig method and left it for a month to decompose.

Anyhow, back to the seeds. Today we planted:

Bed four:

  • Capsicum: Zorzi Quadrato d’asti x3; The Diggers Club mini sweet x 3
  • Tomato: Lost Seed Broad ripple yellow currant x2; Brandywine x 2; Green zebra x2
  • Pumpkin: The Diggers Club mini sweet delicata x1; Franchi Marina di chioggia x1
  • Cucumber: Eden’s Green gem x 1; Lost Seed’s Armenian x1
  • Zucchini: Lost Seed Black beauty x1; The Diggers Club black beauty x1

The rest of the vegetables beds are doing well….

Bed one:

  • The pink eye and kipfler potatoes are all up. About a third of the nicolas are also up. The king edwards are struggling with only about an eighth up.
  • There are 4 watermelons and 4 rockmelons up. I replanted the mixed rockmelon – I suspect one of the seed got washed over next to another plant, so I removed it because it was too close.
  • No strawberries yet.

Bed two:

  • We have not had much luck with lettuce in the past, so it came as no surprise to see only two little plants under a centimetre.
  • The golden bantam corn is going great guns (10 up), but on the flip side the bali corn is showing a dismal display with only one plant growing. I replanted the missing ones.
  • The beans are doing really well with 25 plants growing. Although three are looking a little worse for the wear – probably storm damage. They haven’t been staked yet.
  • I snuck in two seeds for The Diggers Club black russian tomatoes at the end of the bed.

Bed three:

  • The squash are our healthiest looking plants at the moment.
  • The beans here are also doing well with the majority of them up. A few stragglers.
  • The eggplants are disappointing with no shows of one type and the others have a few under a centimetre.
  • No sign of the rosellas yet.

Matt’s mum commented that is was probably the wrong time of year to be growing potatoes. Sweet potato might have been a better choice, although Matt’s not so keen on it. Matt thinks the rosellas aren’t growing because it might be the wrong type of soil for them.

Overall, we’re pretty happy with how things are progressing.