From the Good Old Aussie Big Back Yard to the New Suburbia Living Lifestyle it is time to connect with Mother Earth. It is time to start a garden. Gardening is a great passion of mine and so rewarding when you plant your seeds and see them germinate and grow into beautiful flowers, herbs and vegetables or even trees.
You don’t need a lot of space to grow successfully. A few years ago I decided to prove just that with the New Suburbia Living Lifestyle in mind. I hope I can encourage people with small space to grow a garden so please keep reading.
I wanted the garden to easily fit into the new and modern suburbia where there is not much room for playing cricket or airing the family dog so I decided that 34m2 of kitchen garden would help feed a family quite nicely. A small garden can easily produce plenty of healthy food.
I started this new kitchen garden in mid-January. I named it Peder’s Plot. Living in a very dry part of the tropics in Far North Queensland there are plenty of factors to consider. Some people would say that this is not the time of the year at all to start a garden. I needed a challenge and I got one. Mid-summer with extremely hot days was a major challenge. We had 38 degrees in the shade from 2pm and into late afternoon for 4 weeks. I had to create shade for the plants to survive. The kitchen garden was laid out right at the outdoor kitchen and facing west. I had a large shade cloth hanging from the roof of the outdoor kitchen extending into the garden creating a fair bit of welcoming shade. I had a tap located roughly in the middle of Peder’s Plot so I only needed a 13 metre long garden hose. Try and beat that!
That year the wet season was extremely dry. We only got 212ml of rain in January, 241.5ml in February, 94ml in March and finally in April we had 12ml. All up we had 559.5ml of rain. I decided to use a few raised beds instead of having to dig into the soil and disturb bacteria and fungus. However I did plant lemongrass directly in the ground. I used a pickaxe (that is how hard the ground was) to make the holes big enough for four pieces of lemongrass. That was amazing and also lemongrass is a great soil improver. Some plants were planted in pots to be transplanted into another and bigger pot or to be transplanted into an already existing raised bed in the established veggie garden on the property when time was right.
I had come across an article about “Hugelkultur” which is a peramculture principle the idea originating from Germany and I found the idea quite interesting. You use rotting timber to create a mound of organic matter. The mound has air pockets and lots of soil life. Water easily drains and you avoid water logging. This method of gardening really attracted my curiosity and I got going.
In the bottom of each raised beds I put small branches and twigs then a layer of bark and a bit of half decomposed leaf litter. Then some old dried out cow droppings. Then I added a layer of mixed soil and some compost. I gave all the raised beds a good drink of water before I planted. I mulched heavily to keep the soil moist. I didn’t use any green materials in the garden beds as this would very likely turn into a compost heap and if the garden beds would heat up as the compost is fermenting I would very likely have killed all my plants. I highly recommend you to read up on this technique.
I made different containers out of fence material lined with shade cloth. I made a four m long narrow bed utilising an old natural carpet held together with some iron pieces. Don’t use just any carpet as it could contain some poisonous material. Old baskets, buckets and drums came in handy. An old cloths-dryer/clothes-horse makes a great trellis. Be experimental! Go to your local tip shop and see what is available. I even used an old wheelbarrow for flowers and bricks for flowers. Get your imagination going and take some photos of your creations. Start a Garden Journal in which you write about what you do so you can keep track of your garden development. My selected patch had some grassed area which I covered with cardboard then mulched to create a natural look.
If you like you can make some vertical garden beds as well. Get a pallet and hang against the fence or make a stand for it. Line the inside with shade cloth. Fill the shade cloth with soil. Poke holes into the shade cloth where you want to plant. And away you go. While holidaying in Denmark I went to a community garden on the harbour in Aarhus and all the gardens were grown in large wooden boxes. I think they were old potato boxes. This community also used pallets for vertical gardens. I sowed the first seeds on the 15th January.
The following list is what I planted (and what germinated) at Peder’s Plot: Spaghetti squash, Italian parsley, African Marigold, 2 x different tomatoes, Yellow cosmos, Dill, Japanese parsley, Bell chilli, Purple basil, Wild rocket, Basil, Leaf Amaranth, , Kang Kong, Italian spinach, Sunflower, Broad leaf plantain, Pigeon pea, Yerba Porosa (also called Papalo), Garlic chives, Three in One, Cranberry, Winter tarragon, Chives, mint, Ginger, Lettuce, Chocolate mint, Camphor basil, Turmeric, Acid free German cucumber, Tree lettuce superior, Arrow root, Egyptian spinach, Thyme lemon scent, 2 x Aibika, Winged bean, Purple basil, Comfrey, Brazil spinach, Warringal spinach, Madagascar bean, Chinese spinach, Rosemary, Thai basil, White cucumber, Pineapple sage, Lebanese water cress, Sweet leaf, Mushroom plant, Luffa and Dandelion.
There were already Aloe Vera, Passion fruit, Lemongrass, and Cassava growing at the outdoor kitchen together with self – seeded Pawpaw. So I planned and planted around them keeping in mind the principle of companion planting. I have compiled a list of my companion planting suggestion based on my own observations and experience – see the pages listed below:
I designed the kitchen garden following a few of the Peramculture principle. Your kitchen garden is to be in zone 1 which is the area right outside your door. You grow food at different layers: a ground layer, a mid layer and a top layer. My ground layer consisted of: Mustard green, comfrey, lettuce, herbs, edible flowers and different spinaches. My mid layer consisted of: Lemongrass, arrowroot, tomatoes, cucumber. The top layer was there already consisting of passion fruit and cassava. I added cucumber, spaghetti squash, and Luffa growing up trellis together. A couple of Pawpaw added to the top canopy. As I pruned my garden I chop and drop. I do not remove the pruned stuff but leave on the ground as mulch. If you like to read about peramculture have a look at www.holmgren.com.au
It is a great idea to test the pH value of the soil. You can get a “Manutec Soil pH Test Kit” at your local hardware/ garden centre. This kit comes with easy to follow directions. If you are curious about the mineral content in our soil you can get a test kit for this as well at same place. The procedure is a bit more complicated but manageable.
I didn’t have time to make compost. I asked my friends for compost from their gardens and I mixed it all with some bought potting mix. A friend gave me guano (desiccated droppings of seabirds), which I mixed in with lime and half decomposed cow manure and some old Mill mud. It turned out to be an absolutely great soil mixture that held the moist for days even in hot conditions like we experienced. In the beginning I had to water the raised beds every second day and the pots would dry out every day. Later I could cut back on watering. When I had the time I checked my soil for pH value and my soil was pH 7 so I was very pleased with myself and my garden as most plants like to grow in a neutral soil from pH 6 to pH 7.
For fertiliser I used a special fish brew concoction, made by my friend Adam, three times during the growth period. It had such strong smell that we had to leave the garden after each application and remember this garden was right in front of the kitchen so it was a matter of going to town and stay with friends for a few hours. The brew itself was magnificent and I could see a difference in the plants vibrations and colours each time we got back home. If you can’t get hold of homemade fish liquid concentrate you can buy it at your local hardware/garden centre.
You can easily make a garden brew and use it as fertilizer tea. Ingredients: 140 l rain water, cow manure. Contact a cattle farmer and ask if you can collect cow manure. Easy to collect when the droppings are a day old or so on a sunny day. Watch out for the bull once you are in the paddock. He can be very protective of his girls. Molasses, yoghurt or milk kefir, sea weed and Comfrey. Stir everyday and the brew is ready to use when it finish bubbling. I do let my brews sit for 6 weeks before I use them. Strain through a cheese cloth to avoid any seeds from the cow droppings to infest your garden. Dilute 1 part brew juice to 5 parts water.
If you haven’t got a 140 l drum use something smaller. If you haven’t got comfrey have a look around. Your neighbour might have some growing or a friend might have other plants suitable for a garden brew such as Stinging Nettle, Lemongrass, Bamboo leaves or even Blue Top. Your neighbour might even have some seeds to share and a bit of knowledge to go with it.
I am not going to list all information in regards to sowing dates, germination time and harvesting facts as this would be a long and boring story. I will only bring a few facts to attention. I use organically grown open pollinated seeds only. Open pollinated seeds meaning that the pollination process that created the seeds was open to nature like bees and wind and not controlled by humans.
I started sowing on the 15.01.2015 and harvested my two first White Cucumbers on the 27.03.2015. They weighed 688g and 625g respectively. All in all I harvested 22,757kg of White cucumber, 12,136kg of acid free German cucumber, 8,388kg of Spaghetti squash and 380g of Luffa. In total 43,661kg. That I think is pretty good for a small garden and all the produce were yummy and we still had lots of greens and tomatoes growing in this garden for months.
I did have to transplant some White and German cucumbers to a spot outside Peder’s Plot but the main harvest was from Peder’s Plot. The transplanted plants could have fitted in on the 34m2 had I been more organised. My intention was to transplant into the main veggie garden as time progressed and so we did. Some germinated plants did not like to grow. Some of the transplanted seedlings did not like their new conditions which were very harsh so they stopped growing. Also some plants don’t like to be transplanted at all.
At the moment I have another small garden that I call the” Ridge Garden”. It is app. 0.9m wide and 13 m long which equals app. 12m2. I started planting in December 2019 and at the time of writing (April 2020) the garden is still growing and going strong. I planted: Arrow Root, Brazil Spinach, Camphor Basil, Comfrey, Coriander, Cranberry, Dandelion, Dill, Ginger, Hot Chilli, Hot Mustard Green, Lemongrass, Loofah, Marigold, Mint, Mouse Melon, Old Woman Gossip Cabbage/Kale, Pawpaw, Pumpkin, Rocket, Snake Bean, Spring Onions, Sunflower, Thyme, Tomato, Turmeric and Zinnia.
I apply biodynamic principles. I am not going into any details about Biodynamics but you can look up Biodynamic Agriculture Australia for some very interesting information at www.biodynamics.net.au
I use the Astro Antipodean Calendar for guidance on planting and harvesting published by Brian Keats. I am not going into any details about this excellent calendar but you can have a look at www.astro-calendar.com
Don’t forget if you live in a high-rise you can grow a lot of plants on a small balcony in large pots. Happy gardening and I would love to hear from you.