In the last post I wrote that we built vegie beds at the end of summer in our proposed kitchen garden space. It was a last minute rush, as I’d pretty much ruled out having the energy to get it done and maintain it over winter. Then all of a sudden we had a burst of enthusiasm, and decided to get something in so we could learn what works. So one day in early Autumn, we decided to throw it together. There was no time (or budget) to build raised beds and we didn’t have much in the way of materials, so we bought in a little bit and scraped together what we could.
This was the spot. It was a lush green ‘lawn’ in spring, but had become dry and sad looking by the end of summer. The aggi pipe was here when we moved in so a few half-hearted efforts were made to direct laundry water onto it over summer, before giving it up as a waste of effort.
This area is really sheltered on all sides. It’s on the south side of the house (house is to the right of the above photo, opposite the pergola) but set far enough back from the house that it still gets heaps of sun (or so we thought…) To the West we have that big pergola, the carport and lots of tall trees behind. On the South side is the neighbour’s fence and more trees, and on the East side are some low shrubs looking out to a big open area that is also pretty sheltered on all sides by trees. It’s the perfect spot for a kitchen garden. Close to the house, warm and sunny, sheltered from North and South winds and, with the addition of one fence, will be completely enclosed from troublesome pests (though not possums, as we’ll be inviting them in via the trees and fences.. hmm)
The whole process of building and planting these beds took a few hours over two weekends. To begin with we cut what was left of the grass down as low as possible with a lawn mower and gave the ground a deep soaking:
You can see the bushy Limelight Acacias along the back in the above photo. We’ll replace those with Feijoa bushes one day, hedged behind a low fence, with a gate at the end of the path – hopefully a job for early Spring.
Next we covered the whole area with flattened moving boxes, to provide a weed barrier, and threw grass clippings and weeds on top so they wouldn’t blow away while we sourced straw, compost and manure.
The following weekend we got a small load of a mushroom compost/soil mix delivered from the local nursery and laid it out in four raised beds. We later realised the beds weren’t high enough, so we sacrificed the furthest bed and added the extra soil to the other three. Just around the corner was a place with an aptly named ‘Poo and Plants’ stall out the front of their house, so we picked up a few $5 bags of well rotted manure, which you can see Scott spreading here over the beds:
A couple of hay bales were thrown in the boot at a local roadside stall and we spread it over the cardboard for paths and then again over the beds as mulch once the seedlings were planted. Next time we’ll be more careful about our hay bale choice, as these bales were full of grass seeds and gave us a nightmare of weeding all through winter.
A few fallen logs were dragged up from the woodland, and cut to make edges, seedlings planted and mulched with the extra straw – et voila – three winter garden beds:
It was 27th March before we got these beds planted. In Bed 1 we put broccoli, Bed 2 was beets and red cabbage, and Bed 3 was cauliflower. A few weeks later on April 13th we planted garlic. As we’d sacrificed Bed 4, I squeezed the garlic in on the ends of Beds 1 and 3, with the rest popped in pots and around the edges of herbs.
So what did we learn? Well, I’m really glad we went to the effort, cos the first lesson we learned was that the front third of each bed was in shadow for most of winter. You can see a bit of shadow from trees in the top left of the above photo. This should have alerted us to where the sun would be by the time it dropped low in the sky by mid-winter, but we chose to simply leave the first 1/2 a metre of each bed unplanted and hope for the best. Next year we’ll move the beds up another metre again, and plant something shade tolerant along the front. Maybe greens or mint.
I also spent a lot of early Autumn picking green caterpillars off the Broccoli & Caulis. I’m not sure if they did much harm, but I might try Dipel next time – we’ll see! (It’s apparently ‘natural’ but I’m still reluctant to use it). Apart from that we basically did nothing to these beds over winter. Whenever I walked past I pulled out a handful of grass that arrived courtesy of our hay bale mulch, but that’s it.
Here we are nearly 6 months later:
We’ve just finished a rush of broccoli that we had to eat fast as they were all going to seed at once. I’ve pulled one beetroot just to see if anything was happening (it was delicious, but tiny!) and there’s no sign of any cauliflower. The garlic in Beds 1 and 3 looks a bit yellow, probably from the wet (or frost?), and the red cabbage looks like it might be on track, but we’ll see. My fairly amateurish guess is that we probably got the cauliflower and broccoli in too late, and with the unseasonably warm spring, things haven’t had enough time to mature before bolting. The garlic won’t be ready for another month or two, so I’m not sure how the damp will have effected it, and it remains to be seen if we maybe planted baby beets or if they’re going to grow some more!
So many lessons!