Moving to a new garden – The vegetable plot

Guest post by Dee Young

After 24 years of struggling to grow a variety of plants in an area of impoverished sandy soil, thinly covering bedrock of sandstone, I looked forward to enjoying a better relationship with my new garden. This is situated on an ancient flood plain that has a rich, thick layer of dark, alluvial soil over a heavier clay base.

But, should you think this an easy task, I must disappoint you as, even though the soil is potentially rich, it has been neglected for years and allowed to fall into disrepair structurally and nutritionally and in places the clay sub-soil is evident.

Unlike the sandy soil, however, this can be remedied with good, deep digging to break up and aerate the soil, whilst removing unwanted plants and their root systems.
I began with the abandoned vegetable plot behind the shed.

dee-abandoned-plot

After digging and weeding and before re-planting, I forked in plenty of well decayed cow manure, which helps break up any clay deposits and makes the soil friable.

The presence of many, large, healthy earthworms as I dug indicated an ideal growing pH of 6 – 7.5, therefore, after planting I was sparing with the gypsum (calcium and sulphur). A light application on the surface of the soil adds minerals for the plants and penetrates the clay particles to loosen the soil structure in compacted soils.

Finally, I added a good handful of pelletised complete fertilizer all over the planted area, which will break down over time to release nutrients into the soil.

dee-newly-planted

The lettuce, capsicum, tomato and yellow button squash plants have now been in the ground for 3 weeks and I am delighted with their progress. I picked lettuce leaves for a salad today.

dee-growing-well

So far, so good, I have rediscovered the joy of gardening, which is, essentially, seeing one’s plants thrive.

Written by Dee Young

Gardening charts for Australia

To get motivated and organised in the vegetable patch it helps to have gardening charts. Start your new year off with good intentions and hopefully you will be blessed with an abundance of yummy fresh organic produce.

 

The Diggers Club Sow What When poster – This full colour poster displays over 60 commonly grown vegetables and herbs, including instructions for whether to sow into trays or direct in the ground, which months to sow, spacing between plants and in the row, growing days to harvest. Cool, warm and hot climate zones are covered with additional heat and cold zone maps helping you determine your exact growing area. In addition perhaps the most useful and unique cross reference information relates to the distinction of soil temperature. 59cm x 43cm. $15 for the public, $12 for members from The Diggers Club. Also available as $20 rolled or $9.50 folded from Green Harvest.

 

Sow When poster – This chart will help you with sowing times, sowing method and seed depth for flowers, vegetables and herbs for cold, temperate, subtropical and tropical categories. 450 x 610 mm; $15 rolled in poster tube from Green Harvest.

 

Companion Planting poster – Cross reference chart to 75 of the most common herbs, vegetables and flowers, showing beneficial and antagonistic companions and also a list of insect-repellent herbs. 450 x 610 mm; $15 rolled in poster tube from Green Harvest. Also available from The Diggers Club.

Companion Planting chart (IDEP) is based on permaculture principles and produced by IDEP Foundation, a non-profit non-government organisation in Indonesia. It includes some natural insect repellant tips. Free A3 poster on companion planting [PDF 350KB]
Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion Planting Chart – provides month-by-month suggestions for growing an extensive range of seasonal vegetables across hot, temperate and cooler climates. This A1 poster is beautifully illustrated in the style of the Kitchen Garden Companion book. $20
Moon Planting Cycle Calender – A perpetual guide to vegetable gardening by the Moon cycles. At the start of each month, align the new moon symbol on the moving disc with the date of the new moon for that month (just find this date in the newspaper or a website or diary). Then simply check the recommended activities for each day of the month – soil preparation times, ideal sowing or transplanting times, and fertilising times. Also includes companion planting tips. A4-size laminated cardboard. $12.50 direct from Moon Calendar. Also available from The Diggers Club.

Have I missed any garden charts for Australia?

Dr Greg Emerson’s daily juice recipe

dr-emerson-juice

This super deep purple juice is alkalizing, anti-fungal and anti-cancer.

It’s a great combination of healthy raw vegetables and fruits.

Beetroot not only detoxifies the liver and helps with methylation but also reduces blood pressure by helping the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is one of the chemicals the body produces to soften it’s arteries. Remember we want sort arteries and hard bones.
Dr Greg Emerson

  • Carrots provide beta-carotene and antioxidants. Recent studies have identified polyacetylenes as phytonutrients in carrots that can help inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells.
  • Celery is is a very good source of vitamin C and potassium and a good source of calcium and magnesium, which may help to reduce blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
  • Apples contain phytonutrients which help you regulate your blood sugar. They help to reduce your risk of lung cancer risk and asthma.
  • Pomegranates are an excellent source of vitamin C. Research has shown that they help prevent an impressive array of diseases, such as prostate cancer, diabetes, lymphoma, common cold, atherosclerosis, and coronary artery disease.
  • Limes are an excellent source of vitamin C and their flavonoid compounds that have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
  • Ginger is an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). It has very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which help to reduce pain levels of arthritis. Research has shown ginger induces cell death in ovarian cancer cells. Ginger has been proven effective for motion sickness, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

Dr Greg Emerson’s daily juice recipe

1 small beetroot
1 carrot
2 celery
1 green apple
1/2 a pomegranate (or 50mls organic pomegranate juice)
a slice of lime (with skin if organic)
1cm piece of ginger

  1. Place all the ingredients in a juicer and mix. Add water to fill up the glass, if desired.
  2. Drink straight away to gain the most benefit from the nutrients.

 

Zuppa di verdura della evi – Eve’s Vegetable Soup (Switzerland)

swiss_plate

Cooked for the Swiss entry in The World Cup and Plate challenge. The recipe has been adapted from the Swiss Winter in the Alps: Food by the Fireside cookbook by Manuela Darling-Gansser. A filling warm meal perfect for winter.

15g butter, unsalted
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
2 lamb or veal shanks
1 onion, sliced
1 turnip, diced
4 carrots, sliced
bunch of silverbeet, sliced
2 litres of water
parsley, chopped

  1. Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan, and brown the meat on all sides. Remove them to a plate, and brown the onion.
  2. Add the turnips and carrots and cook until they start  to change colour.
  3. Add the silverbeet and water and let the soup simmer for about an hour.
  4. Remove the bones. Scrap out any marrow and return it to the pot. Break up any large pieces of meat with a wooden spoon.
  5. Stir the parsley through the soup and season to taste.

Serves 2.

Review: Farm Fresh Organics delivery

I’ve been keen to trial organic box delivery, but when I did my research awhile ago our suburb wasn’t included in the drop-off zone. I’ve since found Farm Fresh Organics and we’ve had two deliveries so far.

The first week we ordered a mixed medium box of organic fruit and vegetables on the Tuesday. A Styrofoam box with ice packs was delivered a few days later containing: 1 leek, 1 cos lettuce, 3 zucchini, 1kg carrots, 4 onions, 8 mushrooms, 1/4 kent pumpkin, 1/2 cauliflower, 1 1/2 broccoli, 1/4 cabbage, 1 corn cob, 4 apples, 4 bananas, 3 sweet mandarins and 8 oranges. Phew.

Matt was concerned that he liked to feel, smell and select what he wanted to buy, but we were more then happy with the quality of the produce. One night Mattt steamed some grocery carrots mixed with organic carrots. He then asked me which where the organic ones! I selected the wrong ones based on colour. The grocery ones were bright orange and quite hard. The organic ones were duller but softer and tasted nicer.

Another concern was the cost. Organics can quickly add up, but we found that we could keep the price down by selecting produce in season and sticking to a spending limit. We also found that some things had a similar price to non-organic produce in the supermarkets. We ate everything, except the lettuce and some onions. I like to think of it as an investment in our health, and the mixed box is a good deal.

This week we decided to select individual items for our order. This time we got a bigger box, so it wan’t as packed. Matt got the scales out, but everything ended up being a little over what we were charged. A rare occurrence these days.

We also ordered some organic lamb chops, which were more gamey, with visible marbled fat. Matt said he’d order a different cut next time. I ordered my usual gluten-free loaf of bread and was impressed by how fresh it was!

The only draw back is now that we are eating more fruit and vegetables, we are probably making it harder on ourselves to become self sufficient!

Highly recommended.

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.

Measuring self-sufficiency

When we first began our challenge, we wanted a fool-proof way to measure self-sufficiency. The government tells us we should be eating 2 fruits and 5 vegetables every day, but measuring ‘a serve’ can vary considerably.

I’ve found three reasonably sensible ways to measure self-sufficiency in degrees of difficulty:

Level 1 – Output from Vegetable beds

The Diggers Club claims that “in just 40 square metres you can grow 472kg of vegetables which is enough for four people”. So as there is only two of us, that would be a total of 236kg of vegetables. We would be aiming for approximately 20kg per month.

Level 2 – Average Australian consumption

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2002) claims the average Australian consumes 92kg of fruit, 96kg of vegetables, 54kg of starch with a total of 242kg per person. We would be aiming for approximately 40kg per month.

This was our original challenge, but we have since realised that as our fruit trees are less then a year old they aren’t going to yield any where near the amounts we need, so we’ve dropped back down to level 1.

In comparison, the Chinese may eat less fruit (45kg), but eat a whopping 239kg of vegetables – for those who want to amp up the challenge. Read “The China Study” for the reasons why this could be the healthiest diet in the world.

Level 3 – Growing what you eat

You could work backwards. Jackie French recommends recording everything you eat in a year, and trying to match growing that. Another way would be to measure the (decreasing) quantity of produce that we are buying from the shops, (or the amount we can’t grow ourselves). This would take a few years of practice because you really need to perfect the art of successive sowing and preserving produce. This level is for the advanced gardeners out there.

The only problem with focusing on quantity is that quality is also a really important factor in the equation. Growing our own produce is much more affordable for us then purchasing organic.

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 colour bond 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 wide 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 anyone who claims that no dig is a 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 an approximately one metre wide footpath. Consider mulching this area to discourage grass and weeds.
  • If placing the beds on the 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 a 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 of wet (manure) and dry (sugar cane, hay, straw).
  • Blood and bone help 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.