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Tag Archives: No-dig Approach to Gardening
Things are looking up. The daylight hours are longer, the sun has been seen to shine, and wonders of wonders, the slush and the mud is drying out. I actually got into the garden and sowed evergreen Broad Beans directly into the soil. The soil felt warm on my hand. So that’s a good sign. This season, I’m trying out a Dwarf Broad Bean variety. Back indoors, I sowed cherry tomato seeds into a seed raising mix: Baxters Early Bush Cherry Tomato and Black Cherry Tomato. My plan is to pot up and grow these tomato plants in the warmth of the polyhouse. I also sowed cauliflower seeds. I chose a mini variety because it will take less space in the garden and will mature in about 80 days from sowing before the hotter months happen in our part of the world at the end of the year. Pumpkin ‘Triamble’ is my favourite and seeds are being started in the warmth of the polyhouse. Still lots more to do – but it’s a start.
Even better, I was able to weed the raised strawberry beds. Their dormancy is definitely over. Fresh green leaves and a few white blossoms are happy signs. I gave the plants a good feed of organic sheep pellet fertiliser and a layer of mulch. A great few hours in the garden is an antidote to soggy seasonal affective disorder.
After work, it’s good to pull the gumboots on and get out in the fresh air. The bird song is uplifting at this time of the day. Three-year old and his little toddler brother love visiting our neighbour and feeding food scraps to the farmyard menagerie. It’s a good opportunity to tire out little legs before the dinner, bath and bed routine. The walk was not without its heart-stopping moments particularly when Turbo-toddler tore towards the stream-bank to throw a stick or stone into the water. Older brother inspected every stick for its potential to be wielded as a light sabre sword. But we did get to our destination as the photos show.
In June, I boasted about the warmer than usual night-time temperatures. I was intent on getting as much planted and established as quickly as possible – including an early potato crop. Squelchy soils in the paddocks caused by stormy squalls later grabbed my attention. There was no need to cover plants with frost cloth. The early potatoes were planted in a sunny sheltered situation. The raised bed, made of lots of compost and well rotted organic material, drains well. Early this week, all of the early potato plants’ shoots had just emerged above their warm blanket of mulch.
On Tuesday this week, Himself and I had our attention diverted with a stint of caring for grandkids overnight and all day Wednesday. Busy as, we missed the weather forecast and of course we never gave it a thought to put a frost-cover over the plants. The first frost (albeit a light one) of winter happened on Tuesday night. It dissipated quite quickly next day before mid-morning. At first glance, the larger potato leaves are affected – but I looked more closely and noticed the very small leaves at mulch level seem to be OK. They may have been somewhat sheltered and the soil was not frozen. Tonight, there’s an extra layer – of straw – over the plants. So, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping the damage isn’t too bad.
Another thing I noticed was that a few heritage potatoes that had self-seeded in a weed-like manner seem to have resisted the frost. I re-read my gardening books about recovering frost affected potatoes. Each mentions mulching and mounding. On reflection, I’m not sure what I learned or my options were. (1) Leave Himself in solo charge of the grandkids? (2) Turn TV on and watch the weather while we give the kids their bottles? Work in the garden later – by torchlight if necessary. (3) Every night, think, ‘frost’. (4) Let self-seeded potatoes have their way in the garden. (5) Gardening moral – an ounce of prevention is better than a cure.
The basic tenet of my gardening actions is to care for the soil. I so appreciate the value of the living organisms that function sight unseen beneath the ground. I suppose it’s a biological partnership that we enter into when we garden. Worms recycle humus and produce vermicast as they dig and delve beneath our feet. That’s why I try to tread lightly – and when, like we do here, keep a few animals for grazing purposes, it gets difficult at times to walk with a light footprint. I seek to grow healthy soil and to establish gardens with minimal input.
Care of the earth means care of all living and nonliving things: soils, species and their varieties, atmosphere, forests, micro-habitats, animals, and waters. it implies harmless and rehabilitative activities, active conservation, ethical and frugal use of resources, and “right livelihood” (working for useful and beneficial systems.
I am concerned about the long-term consequences of hoof pugging by our animals. We don’t have a large herd in the commercial sense (that’s another and broader-issue). I have to think of sustainable solutions for our place. Do we use the tractor to plough the soil? The machinery would further compact the soil and cut up the micro-animal life beneath the ground. I prefer (idealistically some might say) to do my best to grow soil with the biomass we have naturally to hand. We rotate our animals away from wet paddocks and fence off stream-banks to minimise erosion. On the up side, our cattle provide manure that attracts the worms that transform it into vermicast. Trees or branches that are felled during stormy weather are a recyclable source of bio-degradable matter. But then chainsaws and chipper machinery uses fuel energy. And so it it goes weighing up the pros and cons.
I guess at this point, I use my energy where it produces fresh food. I’ll let my photos do the rest of the talking.
Now that they have young children themselves, it’s intriguing to note how both my sons are designing their gardens, seeking ways to become self-reliant and are in Bill Mollison‘s words “working with, rather than against nature” in Introduction to Permaculture (pg. 1. Reprinted 1995).
After reading my copy of this book, my younger son has just created his first and instant garden vegie garden ~ without digging. The raised beds were constructed using paper as a mulch, sprinkled dolomite lime, and then layered using composted chipped and leaf matter and cow manure. He’s now an ‘expert’!
These Maori potatoes are easy to grow and can be be cultivated from the ground for most of the year. I just put the seed potatoes on wilted comfrey leaves over rotted hay on top of clay loam soil and then cover with hay. I also like to plant the potatoes in a windy and dry area. In the six years I’ve grown these potates I’ve never had to spray. I pull the hay mulch away when harvesting the potatoes - I favour the no-dig approach. Clods of soil don’t adhere to the potatoes. The soil is enriched by worms and humus matter and is workable, ready to be prepared for planting a different vegetable crop.
I prefer to simply steam the young smaller potatoes which look great on the table. The bigger elongated ones tend to be floury. People always comment about the rich purply-blue colour and like the flavour.
My gardening work is easier now. I was looking back over my garden diary in 2000-01. I can’t believe how much has been done since we settled on this block of land. We cleared a lot of inorganic rubbish: old car and car parts; rusted barbed wire in the paddocks; house demolition rubble; cattle carcasses; old fencing materials; disused horticultural chemicals/containers; plastic and glass; disused pipes; wiring and telegraph cable and the list goes on. The stream has been cleared of fallen trees and flood debris. Swamp Cyresses and Nyssa Sylvatica have been planted in a swampy area that fed into a small sludgy dam that has since been filled in. Next we set about getting rid of weeds like pampass grass, honeysuckle, blackberry, ragwort, jasmine. Rampant growth of Kikuyu and Wandering Jew is another and an ongoing story.
The saw-tooth 500m2 polyhouse was not in commercial use when we came to this place – apparently the previous owners grew Sandersonias a few years before we came along. We’re not commercial growers – just lifestylers with home gardening opportunities to be developed over time. Anyway the place was full of weeds (we have since put weedmat down), the watering system needed to be revamped. We reclad the roof with heavy storm-grade plastic. There is a scoria base hence the drainage is good. I don’t know how to work a polyhouse in terms of horticulture. We have tended to use this building in part as a very big ‘plastic’ shed in which to store bales of hay made on our place.
Himself constructed wooden pens to rear calves during winter-spring months. It’s warm and dry for them as we have sawdust layer on top of the weedmat in their pens. These young animals go from the shed out into the paddocks and onto the grass as they grow bigger.
In another section, I’ve managed to grow aubergines, beans and tomoatoes reasonably well using a dripper system for irrigation. It gets too hot for growing anything over the summer months- there’s little ventilation other than rolling up the wall sides and roof vent. Lots of learning about growing things happening here.