Archive for ‘October, 2016’

Our Maturing Edible Forest Garden

Around three and half years ago, we excavated our hillside – shaping the very steep slope into a series of terraces.  We knew we couldn’t afford to build retaining walls to stabilise each terrace, so our solution was one that many people have used before us – use plants to stabilise the earth berms. The berms are angled at around 45 degrees (the legal steepness is 60 degrees where we live), are a hell-of-a-lot cheaper and turns out more productive and beautiful than retaining walls.

The earth berm below (circled in yellow) was our largest, most problematic slope to stabilise – our solution? Plant it out as a small edible forest garden (EFG). You can see the full process we went through to establish this patch here.

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558615_639447366089512_23328198_nDirectly after the earth works, we quickly covered the steep earth berms with jute mesh to help stablise the soil and hold the clover seeds we broadcast (in hindsight, jute mat would have been better). We then put in some basic timber shelves, back filled them with good soil and planted them out densely.

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While we still think of this little patch as our young EFG – it’s starting to produce food, provide habitat and food to small insects and critters, plus it’s beautiful. We now sit in our seat (below), have a beer or a cuppa while fresh mint and nasturtiums drape over our shoulders. It’s transformed and we love it.

IMG_6002Photo from April 2016

Contrary to most design approaches for EFGs, we’ve arranged our key plants in rows in order to help stabilise the steep bank and to create easier access in a relatively small space. Below you can see these lines reasonably well with currants at the bottom left, feijoa trees in the middle, a strip of comfrey and then myrtus ugni berries at the very top. There’s also rambling clover, mint, nasturtiums and many herbs in between all this as well.

IMG_6006 Photo from April 2016

As an ever-evolving space it’s always changing from season to season. We’ve made some changes here and there, like replacing the tamarillo tree with a fig, but only because we like figs more and due to limited space had to make a choice.

While I was out there this morning cutting and slashing the comfrey, using it as mulch around the fig and feijoa trees, I had a happy moment – realising that we never have to bring in mulch for this patch any more. It produces *so much* bio mass, plenty to cycle back into its own system, plus feed the chooks.

20161025_103400The baby fig tree *flanked* by a serious wall of flowering comfrey and a cape gooseberry.

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Being a perennial system, the maintenance is *significantly* lower than our annual garden beds. While we’re currently busy weeding our spring veggie beds and keeping them under control – our EFG only needs only occasional attention. Our main jobs are pruning and harvesting to keep this tight space productive. For example, two or three times a year I’ll go through and “clear-fell” patches mint to dry for tea, plus give the neighbouring plants a break from being swamped by it. Below you can see a freshly harvest patch which will bounce back with fresh mint in no time.

20161025_103806A clear patch where the mint has just been harvested for tea. Image form October 2016

We’re approaching a very big summer/autumn of change for our property – expanding our gardens into the neighbouring block we’ve just purchased (with the bank). While there’s still a whole stack of details to finalise, we’re 100% clear on one thing – and that’s having more perennial, instead of annual gardens. The high productivity, improved soil health and lower inputs required make it a no-brainer!

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Holistic Decision Making Workshop

We’ve just wrapped up hosting our first Holistic Decision Making workshop with Dan Palmer from Very Edible Gardens – it was a good one.

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Developed by Alan Savory  holistic management is “a framework for making deeply sound decisions. Deeply sound in the tangible sense of honouring the whole situation, minimising unintended negative consequences, and taking you where you want to go”.

Decisions are the steering wheel for our lives, whether you go left, right, straight ahead or turn abruptly around, their impact is profound. Best to get them right. That’s where holistic decision making steps in to make sure your decisions are in line with your inner truth, your calling, your dreams – whatever you want to call “it”.

The late Bruce Ward explains holistic decision making beautifully…

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It’s actually very simple. Form a goal for yourself that describes everything that’s important to your life. Test every one of your actions towards that set of words and assume you could be wrong. Monitor (whether it’s financial, ecological or social) for early evidence that it could be wrong and if it’s wrong, make another decision towards how you want things to be – not to solve the problem, but to get towards how you want life to be.

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Life is busy – we know this feeling well. Our brains and bodies are often frazzled moving sometimes erratically with the speed of our modern world, compared with the steady, level pace of ‘earth time’.

Holistic decision making is a tangible tool that can be applied to you, your family, your business, workplace – anything – to help reign it in, keep it focused and on track to reaching the goal/s you/it needs to. There’s nothing wishy-washy, magical or fluffy about – it’s just a solid, well thought through method that will help you live the life you need to. That’s all. You can see how we’ve started to apply it to our own little family here. 

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Every time we hang out with Dan our brains stretch a little bit more and we walk away with new thoughts, tools and some good laughs. Thanks Dan…

You can read more about this approach here.

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Living Mulches

In our cool temperate climate, we make a point of not mulching our annual garden beds over winter as the soil’s so cold we want the sun to be able to hit it directly – warming it up as much as possible. Plus, mulching in winter creates the perfect habitat for slugs that’ll ravish your plants. However, come summer time we’ll happily mulch our annual crops to prevent evaporation, slow down any weeds and provide organic matter for our soil food web.

But in our perennial gardens (herbs, orchard and perennial veggies) it’s generally a different story. Having the soil covered permanently (or close to it) prevents evaporation, fosters a stable soil food web and will generally improve the health of all plants. So in our garden, rather than only relying on buying mulch we also grow living mulches that have multiple benefits… They reduce evaporation, can provide nutrients to the soil, attract bees, fix nitrogen and help stabilise steep slopes.  Here are four examples of living mulches we use in our own cool temperate garden…

Vetch

Vetch (Vicia sativa) is a nitrogen-fixing ground cover that (to our delight) actually volunteered in our garden. We foster it in our herb garden where it fills in any gaps between plants and adds to the colour of the area with its purple flowers (not flowering at the moment).

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img_6743Vetch filling in the gaps between our purple sage and curry bush

Comfrey

We’re big fans of comfrey (Symphytum) and plant it amongst our orchards and globe artichoke patch where it also helps stabilise the slope.   It’s deep tap root can “mine” minerals into its leaves which we then chop and drop beneath our fruit trees where they release these minerals into the top layers of the soil. We’ve written extensively about comfrey and its uses – see our past blogs and photos here.

img_6740Comfrey helping to stabilise our slope and acting as a living mulch for our globe artichokes and fruit trees.

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Clover

We use white clover (Trifolium repens) throughout our small edible forest garden. This quick growing, nitrogen-fixing ground cover is super hardy and popular amongst the honey bees. They’ll flock to the flowers, which of course ensure the fruit trees nearby benefit from pollination.

FYI – never plant this in your annual veggie patch as it’ll become invasive and you’ll never get rid of it!

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img_6749Clover (plus yarrow and plantain) flanking one our feijoa trees

Mixed floral

Easy on the eye and a hot spot for the bees, a mixed floral living mulch system is a great way to go for both the soil and often your tummy. A lot of these flowers are edible, including the nasturtium and calendula flowers – add these to your salads (and more) and you’ll end up eating rainbow dishes!

img_6738Nasturtiums, calendula and sweet alyssum all acting as a living mulch and looking fine in the process.* 

We use nasturtium (Tropaeolum), sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and calendula (Calendula officinalis) as our main living mulch options as they self seed *prolifically*, are tough and the bees love them. We’re big fans of plants that can handle the ‘tough love’ approach to gardening. You wont fine anything that needs constant pampering on our property – we’re all about minimal input and maximum output.

* Please excuse the rain tank’s overflow pipe not being connected to anything (yet). We’re in the process of connecting it into an overflow system that will pipe it through our orchard (to its benefit) with all excess water then going into the storm water drain. 

img_6734A nasturtium creeper beneath our young medlar tree

What about native plants as living mulches?

Good question. We currently have two native plants we use in our garden as living mulches – the creeping boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium) beneath our young grevilleas and tea trees and creeping saltbush (Rhagodia spinescens) which we’ve planted beneath our young olives – this last one is recognised as a local bush tucker plant as well.

img_6728Creeping boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium) smothers out grass beneath a young grevillea.

The boobialla grows incredibly close to the ground, while this particular variety of salt bush will grow to around 30cm before spreading out – they’re both beautiful and vigorous plants.

img_6732Creeping saltbush (Rhagodia spinescens)

Obviously there are many more plant options available to you depending on your climate and context. The key thing to aim for is to choose plants that benefit, rather than compete with one another.  As a general rule, most ground cover plants will have shallow root systems, meaning they’ll be suitable as a living mulch around fruit trees or larger plants that generally have a deeper root system.

At the end of the day, maintaining bare soil in your perennial crops is a lot of work (think weeding and watering). Why bother when you can grow a living mulch – the benefits are many and while it still requires input from you, it’s significantly less and the rewards and more!

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Hobart City Farm’s 2nd Growing Season Is Go!

The Hobart City Farm is coming into its second growing season – and jeeze, it’s looking fine. Over winter, this little farm has had a rest, allowing some of the team to continue building infrastructure, tweak and refine systems – all to make sure this coming growing season *cranks*. And crank it will.

Their online shop is due to open in mid October, if you want to be one of the very lucky ducks to eat this organically grown produce then you can register your interest HERE. It operates on a first in basis, so don’t be slow!

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Spring onions and radishes – integrating a range of crops into the same bed strategically is an efficient (and beautiful) use of space and time, ensuring you get the highest yield possible out of the available area.

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One of the exciting new additions to the farm is the very fantastic washing station. This is where all produce is cleaned efficiently and thoroughly. Made from mostly recycled materials, this is a must have for the market gardener – having the right set up can literally save hours of time.
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The hot house is a space for propagation (you can see tomatoes above) and for in-ground grow beds. Soon those tarps you can see in the background will come off to make way for around 150 tomato plants to grow high!

You can get your hands on some of these heirloom tomato seedlings at the upcoming Community Garage Sale, this October 22nd at the Hobart Tip Shop from 10am – 2pm.

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While a market garden is based on annual crops, this space has also integrated a loooong perennial bed around one edge of the Farm. This allows the team to grow a large range of beneficial and edible flowers to attract pollinators to the garden as well as grow additional crops like herbs, comfrey, mashua, rhubarb and more. I believe every market garden should include something like this as the benefits are many.

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Every now and then the Farm has a working bee where people come and get their hands dirty, hearts happy and connect over food production. Something we all need more of.

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It’s also where you get to lounge in wheelbarrows, drink tea and eat cake. All part of a successful working bee experience!

14449760_1263322570368652_610734374247997211_nAnton and Frida Maria working hard at the recent working bee

If you’re in Hobart and would like to source your veggies from this super local (and rather awesome) farm each week, register your interest HERE. 

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