Friday, 29 May 2009


Making use of what you have... and everyone has weeds!



I wish I had better photos of the evolution of the soil in my garden over the last 20 years. It started off as hard, lumpy, red clay with a pH of about 8.5 to 9.... very alkaline. And barely a living thing growing anywhere. We tried to dig into it with a spade.... and then we tried a pick.... and then I read about improving soil from the top down, without digging it over at all. And that was where my attachment to the soil began.

sulo bin

If you live in Adelaide you will no doubt have what we call a green bin, a large wheelie bin where you can put all your garden clippings, weeds, dead plants etc and they will be picked up by the council from time to time, depending on which suburb you live in. I have one too but I have only ever used it a couple of times to get rid of prickly things like roses and blackberry canes..... and the little bulbils on the ends of the soursob roots but that was before we had chooks.

If you go for a walk through the bush or a forest or any natural area at all, the ground is littered with dead grass, leaves, sticks and even branches and fallen trees and all the plants live there quite happily, making their own compost and soil and mulch, without any human help. What the plants took from the soil to grow, is returned to the soil when they die and it rots away, ready for other plants to use. The mulch that forms over the soil is a nice light cover for germinating seeds or emerging bulbs and protects them from the sharp eyes of animals, birds and insects and stops them drying out in the heat.

imageThis is what I started doing.... copying nature and what has happened is that the soil in my garden has become rich and full of humus and worms and all good things. Today, I dug down into the soil in a parts of my garden that receive little attention except that I throw everything down on the soil there that I can find and never leave the soil exposed.... and look....





Veggie Gnome's rhubarb survived my absence during that extreme heat of summer and I have not added anything to this soil, ever. Many thousands of generations of worms have lived and died here, transforming debris into soil and billions of micro-organisms have done what they do too. The garden group weeded this area recently and now most of what can be seen on the surface is long grass and weeds, pulled out of the soil and laid on top.

If the prunings are rather too thick and ugly, they go through the mulcher first but usually, because I am a very lazy gardener, I just chop it up with my spade, where it lands or walk over it a bit to break it up and flatten it out. Usually I don't walk on the garden but this area is big and can't be reached from the edges and once I have covered the ground like this, it softens the foot-fall and reduces the impact on the soil.

Making use of weeds in the vegetable garden

Basically I am a lazy gardener.... or I could say I am an efficient gardener.... I believe in doing as little unnecessary work as possible. That way I have more time to do the things that I want to do in the garden and the kitchen. If I was very artistic and clever like Cecilia at Balcony Garden Dreaming, I could draw up a lovely sketch of my garden to illustrate what I want to say but sadly I am neither..... so you will have to just have my words instead.

My main vegetable garden is a series of concentric, half-circle beds, each separated by a narrow sawdust path. Each bed is therefore a long curve, about 1 metre wide. I don't have rigid edges but rather I try to maintain fairly steep slopes between the beds and the paths. Sometimes the beds are higher than the paths and sometimes they are lower and here is why....

At the end of summer, the paths are lower than the beds.... you will see why if you read on.

In autumn, I start removing the summer crops as they finish and some of this goes to the chooks and the coarse stuff goes to a pile to be mulched up, but some is thrown onto the paths.... things that the chooks don't like..... Then, as the weather cools down and we get some rain, the weeds begin to grow rapidly and I pull them out and throw them on the paths too.

Eventually it is time to pull out the cucumber vines, bean creepers, capsicums tomatoes etc and although these are often too coarse for the paths, they were surrounded by straw and now all that straw goes onto the paths too because I like to open the soil in the beds to the elements, over winter.

By winter the paths are pretty well piled up to the top of the garden bed height but I keep treading them down as I walk and because the straw is on top, it looks pretty tidy. During winter there is a fair bit of rain and also sun and lots of worms and insects are busy decomposing all the paths. As I weed during winter I sometimes just tuck the weeds under the straw on the paths, because the chooks have plenty of grass in their run by now.

By mid-spring or so I am wanting some compost to dig into the top of the beds to plant the summer vegetables and guess what?? I don't need to bring it in with a wheelbarrow because it is there, on the paths..... beautiful, rich and conveniently placed under a little straw. So I scrape away the remains of the straw and dig out the paths, putting the compost onto the beds. At this stage I remake the sloping edges of the beds to keep them nice too.

So, by early to mid-summer the paths are low again as all the compost has been used up. Then, I get more bales of straw and lay them onto the beds..... and next autumn they will be removed to the paths and so the process goes on.

Also, any bark from gum trees and heaps of coarse, dry things are put through the mulcher any time of the year and this is also put on the paths to make them nice to walk on and this all rots down too and is shovelled up onto the beds eventually.

Sometimes.... just sometimes, it pays to be lazy.....

farmers Union.... in Wales


This photo has nothing at all to do with gardening but it incorporates some other loves of mine..... son Alex at the Farmers Union office in Wales..... sadly they do not make iced coffee there..... (a South Australian joke..... sorry....)

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