On the weekend just gone, we had a mini working bee with some good mates, i.e 3 hours of power followed by lunch and beers. The mission for the morning was to convert our very bedraggled looking front, steep bank into the startings of a bee paradise garden. This is our second attempt at this bank – the first one was going really well, until we accidentally set it on fire from a spark from the angle grinder – woops. That was a few months ago and as you can see below it was more than ready for some loving.
The vision for this bank is to be a perennial bee fodder and beneficial insect garden. The idea is that we never have to try and access this bank as it’s actually capping off a significant pile of rubbish which the previous owners buried there when they gutted the house. Parts of the bank are full of old couches, bed springs, lino and lots of random wire and sharp things. Basically we don’t want to touch it as it’s a world of pain and ugly surprises. So we’re converting it into a bee paradise instead.
As a weed mat we’ve used old bike boxes from the local bike shop which will eventually break down – but not before they’ve helped suppress the grass while more desirable plants establish themselves. We pinned them down with landscaping pins we bought from the local hardware – but if you’re patient, you could also make your own out of high tensile wire.
Next up we used heat treated pallets (chemical free) to create rows of shelves roughly on contour to ‘lock in’ the cardboard even more and to provide a “pocket” to place some compost which we’ll plant directly into. Again, the pallets are free – salvaged from the side of the road around town. We’re a big fan of free, cheap and DIY, especially when you’re capturing a ‘waste product’ and converting it into a highly functional resource. True, it doesn’t look super flash, but it’s semi-temporary in that it’ll be visible for 2-3 years and then will be swamped by beautiful and productive plants. The plants will effectively replace the pallet shelves and hold the bank together with their roots.
We then made sure the cardboard received a solid soaking. This helps ‘bed’ it down and prevents it from repelling water, we want it to integrate with the existing soil as quickly as possible to ensure the seeds and plants we pop in thrive. You can also see we’ve started filling the shelves with compost in the photo below. This is where we’ll plant directly into, ensuring that we can get plants established all over the bank, and not just at the very bottom.
So, what do we plant the bank out with straight away? Tough stuff, that’s what – enter white clover! For the record, clover will get weedy, hence we NEVER put it near our annual beds or in areas where we don’t want to have to be constantly controlling it. The only places we’ve put it on our place is the steep banks which need quick growing, soil improving (it’s a nitrogen fixer) and flowering plants – clover does it all. We also put in stacks of sunflower and calendula seeds. In coming weeks we’ll also plant out the bank with perennial herbs and hardy native shrubs and ground covers.
We didn’t bother mulching the bottom section of the bank due to it being so steep, instead have simply covered it with a combination of cardboard and jute mate to suppress the vigorous grass from taking over. At the bottom of the bank you can see our young orchard which we planted this past Winter which is settling in nicely.
The finished product (above), planted out with white clover, calendula and sunflower seeds. We’ll be planting strategically into the shelves in coming weeks with hardy flowering natives and perennial herbs to create a low shrub and ground creeper layer. It’s going to be beautiful.
And of course, all good working bees end on a high and tasty note – a hearty and colourful lunch topped off with cake and beer to express our enormous gratitude to some of our mates for making it happen. Thank you, thank you, thank you – we look forward to returning the favour!