Posts from the ‘Gardening’ category

Chopping And Dropping Comfrey Leaves

I’ve written a fair bit about comfrey and its many uses, including how to propagate it and making comfrey fritters. At one point, I wrote an extensive blog called “everything I know about comfrey so far” just to get it all out there and clear up a few myths. As an extension of that blog here’s a more detailed look at using comfrey leaves as mulch, aka “chopping and dropping”.

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We’ve got a big bank of comfrey downhill of our young espalier orchard which is on a small terrace carved out of a steep slope – you can see the design below and some of its  development story here.  The design matches reality around 99%, it’s now all there and thriving – we just decided to not run our chooks there for the time being.

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This particular type of comfrey grows *big*, well over one metre – providing a whole lots of biomass that can be cycled back in our garden. At least twice a season I’ll go through and chop the leaves off at the base and drop it straight back on the ground or move it to an area that needs mulch. This time round, I mulched the bank it grows on and the neighbouring currants and globe artichokes. Coming into summer, this is such a valuable resource – it means we don’t have to buy in mulch at all, our soil is protected and nourished for free.

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Comfrey has a reputation amongst keen gardeners as a “dynamic accumulator”. While there isn’t solid scientific data on this, you just can’t ignore the countless gardeners who swear that by adding comfrey to your garden, you end up with healthier soils and crops -we’ve observed this ourselves.  You can read up on this here and here. 

And after a solid hour of chopping and dropping – our bank now looks like this….

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While it looks like I’ve completely devastated the plant – rest assured I haven’t, new growth will start to pop back up within 1 – 2 weeks and the whole process will repeat again. You can’t kill this plant – or at least it would be really, really hard to.

img_7231Our currant bushes with a comfrey mulch

Our bank of comfrey is approximately 20m long with somewhere between 40-60 plants and counting. We subdivide and plant more each season to crowd out the grass, stabilise the bank and grow mulch for our orchard. If you can, grow your own multi-functional living mulches – you and your garden will never regret it!

img_7239One of our espaliered apple trees with a comfrey mulch on one side and calendula on the other – lucky apple tree. 

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Growing Your Own Apple Tree Rootstock

Last winter our neighbour gave us two apple rootstock saplings and some advice for our developing orchard plans. She said:

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Save yourself money and grow your own rootstock. Just dig a long trench the same height of the tree and bury them (each in their own one) – they’ll sprout multiple times from their trunks and grow more trees.

Our neighbour is one of the best growers around, so we do whatever she tells us. We dug two shallow trenches, popped them in and forgot about them. The sketch below outlines the key steps to do this whole process – super easy.

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We now have ten young apple trees that we’ve since grafted onto with our desired apple varieties.

What varieties did we choose? The sturmer for its good storing abilities and the red galaxy – an older variety with pink flesh. We couldn’t find any reference to this variety, but how could we go past it with a name like that! Thanks to Fat Pig Farm for letting us lovingly raid their old orchard.

img_7049The young graft line, healing beautifully. 

img_7044Our ten apple saplings

We’re storing all the trees in one trench on the edge of our young olive grove until next winter, when we’ll transplant them into their permanent home in some new ground we’re prepping this summer. Until then, they’ll put on good growth so they’re ready for fruiting the following season.

If we were to buy all the plants we wanted to grow in our property, it’d add up to many, many thousands of dollars. Learning these life skills isn’t only empowering and deeply satisfying they look after the piggy bank too. But mostly, they’re just deeply satisfying – that’s what drives us – developing *useful* skills that all add up to having a good life.

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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.

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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.

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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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Stabilising Slopes With Pallets

We’ve used a large range of techniques to stablise our steep slope, you can read about some of them here, here and here. Yet another way we’ve used recycled materials to keep our slope from sliding down the hill is using timber pallets.

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We salvage these for free from the side of the road, building sites and warehouses. They’re treated with heat, so are chemical free – this means they’ll break down sooner rather than later, but before they do, you can use them in *countless* ways. If you’re searching for some yourself, look out for the “HT” stamp on the pallet as seen below.

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We had never tried this technique before and seeing as it’s a super hot and dry slope,  were unsure which plants would really thrive in such a compromising position (without heaps of pampering). Because of this, we initially planted a range of herbaceous, edible and native plants to ‘test’ which one/s would work. The winner (by far) was creeping boobialla (Myoporum parvifolium). We’re big fans of this vigorous native ground cover and have planted it in some of the hardest spots in our garden where not much else survives (except invasive grasses). One of these plants will happily cover up to two-three square metres densely which is absolute gold when you live on steep slopes. Check it out!

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You can see some of the pallet structure peeking out in the top left hand corner. Creeping boobialla puts down roots along the length of its “branches”, so while we planted each plant at the top of the bank it’s now put down roots from top to bottom.

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At the top of the bank is where the creeping boobialla meets a solid planting of garden thyme, an edible herb that is also a ground cover – we love the way they merge into one another seamlessly.

So in solidarity with all of you slope dwellers out there (it’s hard work, hey) we offer up yet another approach to working with steep, steep slopes to foster landscapes which are accessible, productive and beautiful. All power to you!

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Growing Pepinos

Do you know about the perennial fruiting bush, pepino (Solanum muricatum) yet? It’s a beauty. It’s a shrubby climber or ground creeper originally from South America. We grow it throughout our orchard and are loving it’s fresh melon flavour and the fact it’s heaps easier to grow than melons (we live in a cool temperate climate).

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Pepinos (also known as pepino dulce) thrive in a temperate climate and are apparently quite frost sensitive. Saying that, we actually know someone south of Hobart who grows pepinos with strong frosts and occasional snow and it’s still doing really well. If you have strong frosts and still want to give it a go, I’d recommend planting it in the sunniest, most protected place in your garden ideally with some overhead coverage (vegetative or otherwise) to soften the impacts of frost.

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Being in the solanaceae family, they’re related to other fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. The fruits vary in size, ranging from something like a large passionfruit to 15/20cm long (like the one below). Unsurprisingly, if you have good soil health and consistent moisture you’ll end up with nice fat pepinos. FYI, like lots of food plants they prefer a neutral’ish pH.

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You know they’re ready to harvest when they turn yellow and develop some purple stripes/markings. It’s not recommended to pick them before this as they wont be as sweet. However when I have accidently knocked some off the bush, I’ve just left them on my kitchen bench to ripen over a few days and they still taste delicious – phew.

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Growing your own

Pepinos are wonderfully easy to grow and while you can grow them from seed they’re more commonly grown from cuttings.  Just take a cutting of around 10cm, leaving a small amount of leaf at the end, and place them in some soil mix with really good drainage. You can also layer them in the ground, which just means you lay one of the branches on top of the soil and bury a portion of it – this will inspire it to form roots. You can then cut it free from the original plant and move it to your desired area.

There are around nine different varieties available to people to grow (although I’ve only seen this one in Australia), so be sure to research what one grows best in your region.

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We eat them fresh and apparently you can eat their skin – but we don’t. You can include them in a fruit salad, on top of your morning porridge – basically treat them like a melon.

If you’re looking to create a low maintenance, productive garden, plants like pepinos are absolute gold. We’re slowly but surely growing more and more *perennial* edibles over annuals as they generally result in better soil health, high yields, less inputs and less time required from us. What’s not to love?!

Want to know more?

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A Courtyard Transformation

Transforming rundown spaces into beautiful, productive gardens is possibly my most favourite thing to do in the whole world. On our recent Permaculture Design Course we did just that for the Reseed Centre where we held the course, creating a kitchen garden for their kitchen and a space for their outdoor dining “room”.

Before we started it looked like this…

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While it had been a garden in the past, it was well overdue for a good overhaul and some careful design thinking to make sure it was resilient, hardy, edible and beautiful. Our design sketch below is what we came up with for this space. Simple, yet full of culinary and edible herbs, existing fruit trees/vines, nutrient cycling and an outdoor space for dining.

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Before our PDC started, this Reseed community cleared the area, making space for us to come in and do our thing.

Our first task was to make the paths to define the area we should/shouldn’t be walking. We dug a shallow ditch for this and back-filled it with a layer of cardboard and a thick layer of woodchips to prevent unwanted plants to grow and to help build soil. The woodchips attract fungi and over time will break down, forming beautiful humus which can then be shoveled onto the garden beds and replaced with fresh woodchips – it’s a great nutrient cycling process.

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We use cardboard without sticky tape and or heavy inks, you could also use newspaper – whatever is available to you. Before we lay it down, we soak it in water to make it a lot more attractive to members of the soil food web to break down. You can see Jo (below) doing a great job of this and keeping cool on a hot day – clever woman.

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We made our garden as a no-dig garden, however put a bit of a twist on it and followed Morag Gamble’s recommendation to put the newspaper/cardboard layer on top of the bed rather than directly on the original soil (the bottom). This has many benefits, as she outlines below…

  • The compost layer integrates more rapidly with the existing soil.
  • Soil flora and fauna quickly get to work without the barrier in between.
  • The compost layer stays a more moist and stable temperature under the paper layer.
  • The newspaper layer prevents weeds from growing in your garden, including the unwanted seeds from your compost. (Unless you are a master composter, there will be seeds in your compost).
  • Less nutrients from the compost are evaporated and lost.
  • Roots of plants can penetrate directly into the soil so stay hydrated longer, can access minerals and have increased resilience and stability.

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We had a ready supply of horse poo from a local (thanks Caroline), so used this despite it having a high grass see content. Putting the soaked cardboard on top (directly under the final mulch layer) will stop the majority of this seed popping up.

IMG_5434The poo crew (Brad, Shu, Graham & James) smashing it.

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To top the whole garden off, we put a thick layer of straw on to keep moisture in and inject even more organic matter into the soil. We planted the garden pretty much straight away. To do this, we punched holes through the cardboard exactly where we wanted the plants, added a small handful of mature compost, mixed this in with the horse poo and original soil and watered it all in.

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We put some simple edging of recycled bricks around the whole space to contain it and planted the gardens out with a range of herbs and beneficial plants.

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Beneath the existing lemon tree we planted a border of garlic chives, a ring of clumping comfrey directly around the base of the lemon and the rest to nasturtiums, calendula and borage. A nice little guild of multi-functional plants, all useful, all beautiful.

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The keyhole path creates the shape of the main herb garden, allowing easy access to all points of the garden.

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We also made a worm farm seat to cycle nutrients from the kitchen and provide a bit of social infrastructure for the outdoor dining room. You can read about how we did this here.

IMG_5722Blake demonstrating the radness of the worm farm seat.

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While our Permaculture Design Courses are very much focused on design and not building garden beds, this was a valuable process to take our students through. We got to explain the design we did for this space, talk through our reasoning, implement it and then enjoy the space we created. A fantastic learning process and a beautiful legacy for this group of spunks to leave behind!

Interested in doing one of our Permaculture Design Courses? Check out our next one here.

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The Worm Farm Seat

Inspired by a photo (seen below) we saw from our mates who used to run Urban Bush Carpenters, I organised a worm farm seat to be made at our recent Permaculture Design Course by our *wonderful* Course Coordinator, Blake Harder. -1

The key functions of this particular worm farm are to process food scraps from the kitchen – providing worm castings and worm wee for the kitchen garden nearby. It’s also central to the social area that’s integrated into the same area, providing a big comfy seat for a few people to hang out on.

In case you don’t know about compost worms yet, they’re highly beneficial for the soil and food crops – you can read about them here. In short, they’re awesome and you want them.

Blake built it out of an old bathtub and timber, only the screws and hinges were bought from the local hardware. We didn’t quite manage to take step-by-step photos of the process as we were all a bit busy (sorry), however here are some of Blake’s sketches and photos of the students filling it up and getting it operational…

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IMG_5803The lid detail

After watching Blake build the worm farm between classes, the students finally got to come out and help finish it off. Blake thought it best to surprise them all by hiding in the empty worm farm and jumping out at just the right moment. It was a very, very good surprise.

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Crucial to a good worm farm is drainage. Blake made a false floor out of lattice and shade cloth which is cut to the right size that it can wedge into the bathtub nicely, leaving a gap that’s approximately 10cm deep, plenty of room for the worm wee to travel through the plug hole and letting in good air to the system.

IMG_5667James and Blake showcasing the false floor which is cut to just the right size so it wedges into the bath tub, approximately 10cm from the bottom.

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The next step is to fill the worm farm with a range of organic matter. I’ve seen worm farms with only cow poo/horse poo, so it’s not essential to have diverse ingredients, but I prefer diversity at every opportunity. With this in mind, we filled the worm farm with leaf litter, some half composted organic matter, mixed greens from the kitchen and water.

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We emptied the compost worms into the top of the bath and quickly covered them as they hate sunlight. So quickly, I didn’t get a chance to get their photo. Bummer.

To help moderate the moisture and temperature levels, we put a simple layer of damp cardboard on top. You could also use newspaper, hessian or thick pads of straw. I generally recommend against using carpet as most modern carpet has heavy glues in it which will harm the worms.

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Directly below the bathtub’s plug hole sits a bucket to collect the “worm wee” which can then be diluted and placed on the garden. You could build your worm farm slightly higher so you can have a large bucket beneath it, or find a bucket with a bigger capacity (and is still short) – whatever works for you.

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IMG_5727Some nifty handles made from old rope. Easy!

IMG_5623Alice and Ashlee, just acting casual

The finished product. We’re in love with this design and are looking at making our own version suited to our home. We’re also a big fan of Blake, he’s an absolute legend, a highly organised, passionate, “can-do” permaculturalist – our kind of guy. If you need help with almost anything, we can’t recommend him high enough.

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Homegrown Bug Mix

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We consider having a good bug mix on hand really useful (essential even) in creating a healthy, pest free garden. It’s key function is to attract certain insects (often referred to as beneficials) that help pollinate crops and control unwanted insects.

As we’re in Tasmania we’re unable to buy in certain seeds and bug mixes due to quarantine, so we grown our own – and while the mix will vary depending on seasons and availability, here are some of our stalwart and rather beautiful ingredients. Image from Green Harvest

 

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Sweet Alice (Lobularia maritima) has masses of tiny white and/or purple flowers that attract hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. This little bush grows prolifically, so much so that we often ‘weed’ it out and use it as mulch to protect naked soils. In doing so it drops its seeds and grows where we’ve thrown it down. When the bush is dry, we also put some of it in a paper bag and shake it around vigorously – this separates the seeds from their pods so we can easily harvest them.

IMG_5384Sweet Alice being used as mulch

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IMG_5386Sweet Alice seed pods and actual seed separated

The second plant we use *a lot* is calendula (Calendula Officinalis). We use it as a quick growing cover crop to help stabilise and beautify some of our many slopes and attract the good guys into our landscape. Ladybirds (and bees) love hanging out on these little beauties.

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Finally, we use nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) in our bug mix which everything seem to love. They’re a fantastic ground cover, perfect in orchards and for rambling down slopes. We use their young seed pods to make ‘poor man capers‘, and the rest fall on the ground and are harvested for our bug mix.

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All three of these plants will grow prolifically and while they will self seed and become very abundant in your garden, they wont become invasive. This means you can happily grow them in both your annual and perennial crops without a problem.

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Above and below you can see some of these flowers in action in our orchard, below you’ll also see flowers like borage, native pelagonium and sunflowers,  who add to creating an attractive, food filled space for beneficial bugs.

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Want to know more?

 

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Sheet Mulching

Before I start, a bit of clarifying on the term ‘sheet mulching’ as it seems to vary depending on where you are in the world. In Australia, sheet mulching is different to no-dig gardening, although they’re very similar – one is an extension of the other.

  • Sheet mulching is used to smother the ground with organic matter (generally cardboard, newspaper and woodchips plus some nitrogen materials including animal manures or blood and bone), usually to suppress grass in order to establish more desired plants. The desired plants are planted directly into the original soil through the sheet mulching with some compost if needed.
  • No-dig gardening also smothers the ground, however has many more layers of organic matter to create an instant raised garden bed which you can plant into the same day you make it. If you have really challenging soils and can’t plant into them, a no-dig garden can work great for you. Read about how to create them with the Australian City Farms and Community Garden Network.

Righteo, lets start.

We’ve been tweaking our young orchard lately to stop the grass from creeping in and taking over, something the fruit trees will hate, as will we. Grass sucks a lot of water and nutrient away from trees (and all other plants), so even if you choose to have grass throughout your orchard, your trees will be happier and healthier if there’s a good buffer from their trunk to where the grass starts.

At our place we’ve got a range of invasive grasses which we’re slowing planting out to make way for a more productive landscape. After transplanting the asparagus understory from the orchard (there just wasn’t enough room), we’re now establishing perennial and self seeding floral understory to attract the pollinators, suppress unwanted plants and look good. To help all these plants thrive we’ve sheet mulched the whole area to suppress the grass and add a stack of organic matter. Here’s how we did it….

IMG_5163Some grass moving in on our fruit trees… Grrrrr.

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Step 1

Traditionally you don’t have to do any weeding before you start sheet mulching, however we wanted to really bang our invasive grasses on the head, so the first step for us involved going through our orchard and getting out as much grass as we could with our hands.

If you’re starting with a blank canvas, i.e. a big flat lawn – mow the grass down really short and leave it on the ground (spread evenly). Pierce the soil with a garden fork to help water, nutrients and air find their way into the soil quickly.

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Step 2

Next up we added some minerals and nutrients tailored to what our heavy clay soils need. This included gypsum to help bind the clay into aggregates, chook poo from our feathered friends, some old grass clippings and a bit of blood and bone. It is not essential to add inputs, but like I said, our soil needs it.

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Step 3

Place your ‘weed mat’ on the ground. We’ve used thick sheets of newspapers which *heavily* overlap, ensuring there’s absolutely no gaps at all – that’s a really important detail. You can also use cardboard boxes just remember to remove the sticky tape and avoid the waxed boxes as they’re harder to work with. We never use any glossy brochures/magazines as their chemical ink isn’t desirable for our soils. Before we lay the newspaper down, we soak it in a bucket/wheelbarrow of water, this helps it mold to the surface, prevents it from blowing it away and actually attracts soil critters to hang out around it – worms love it.

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When it comes to the edges of your garden bed, be mindful that this is where weeds usually creep in, you can see below we’ve extended our ‘weed mat’ to go under the timber lengths to help slow the grass down. FYI, this edging of cypress macrocarpa branches is temporary, in the near future we have to dig up this pathway to install a water pipe, so we haven’t been overly ‘special’ with how we’ve built this edge. In time, we’ll be putting in some more solid hardwood timber sleepers.

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IMG_5192Note the overlapping of the newspaper – there should be absolutely no gaps for any weeds to sneak through. 

Step 4

The next step is to cover the newspaper with heavy mulch – we prefer to use woodchips (ideally ramial woodchips) for their high nutrient content and ability to create the right environment for fungi to thrive – other people prefer pea straw (or different types of straw). Below, you can see our espaliered orchard with the middle section half complete and the end closer to us finished off with woodchips.

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Step 5

Plant a useful understory. Where there’s space, why not plant something? We broadcast nasturitum, calendula, nigella, red clover, sweet alice and borage seeds. Within a few months this will be covered in colour and life – above and below the ground.

  IMG_5176Calendula seed above and nasturtium below.

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Now, please be aware that sheet mulching is not the silver bullet to vigorous weeds. Generally they will still find a way to come back – just a lot more slowly. You still need to manually stay on top of things in the early days by the occasional weeding session. Eventually they will be overwhelmed and dominated by more desired plants, but in these early days when there’s heaps of sun and space they’ll keep trying to return.

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While young, our orchard is already one of our favourite places on our property and has started to produce fruit and berries – which is why we hang out here a lot. Working with the soil (which sheet mulching is part of) will help the plant’s overall health and vitality, ensuring that this space will be nothing but beautiful, abundant and cranking.

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How To Install Dripline Irrigation

For almost three years (the whole time we’ve been here), we’ve been using passive water harvesting, hand watering and using sprinklers strategically to irrigate our growing garden. However, the plan has always been to install dripline irrigation, as it’s the most water efficient and time saving approach available.

IMG_4636Hand watering…. And over it!

But before we could do that we had to replace some significant water pipes, build a series of retaining walls (which pipes had to be integrated into), build some steps (which some other pipes had to be integrated into) and upgrade another mains water line. This took a while. So it was only a couple of months ago we finally got to install our driplines, suffice to say we love them. Here’s an overview of how to do it so you too can be liberated from hand watering.

Before you start *anything*, the first process to go through is the design stage. Map out your garden and measure the areas you need to irrigate. From here, you can create an accurate shopping list and be super efficient with resources and time – a big theme for us.

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But before you can start shopping, some basic information…

What is dripline? – well, it’s a line of plastic tubing that drips. There are a range of variations, with soaker hoze, leaky pipe and 13mm poly pipe with drippers that you punch into them at desired intervals.  However we have been eyeing off dripline with the drippers pre-installed in the line.  With products such as Toro and Netafim being popular brands – in terms of budget and quality, these seem to be some of the best. The Toro pipe we’ve used has drippers every 300mm (one foot in the old scale) – each dripper releases 2 litres of water per hour.

How does it work?  The drippers drip onto the soil, from the place the water hits the soil it spreads in a cone shape.  With sandy soil the drip is a very narrow cone, pretty much just wetting the soil immediately below the dripper.  With clay soils the cone has a very wide angle, effectively watering a larger area.  As a result, the spacing using drippers will change depending on your soil type.

Pressure compensating Vs Non Pressure compensating drippers?  If you are buying dripline you will come up against this terminology.  Basically pressure compensating drippers can work over a range of water pressures.  Why does this matter?  Hilly and steep sites create different levels of water pressure.  Thus using non-pressure compensating drippers could result in the bottom of the hill getting more water than the top.  I have heard it recommended to use the pressure compensating drippers if the irrigation slope is over 2 meters or if the runs of dripline are very long.  There is a whole science to this and this site has a great overview of the topic.  Given our steep slope, we used pressure compensating drippers.

Calculating the dripline length: First we measured the bed length and width.  Then calculated the number of driplines per bed.  We have spaced our drippers around 300mm apart, from this you can calculate the length of dripline you need.

Draw a map of how it will work on the ground.  From this you can calculate all  the T connectors, elbows, 13mm plain line, clips, ends and valves you will need.  Once you have worked out how many you will need, add another 20% to these.  Plans change and having them on hand lets you adapt and change the design as your garden evolves.

Buy the bits.  Word of caution, avoid the mainstream, heavily over priced hardware stores.  Go to an irrigation specialist in the “industrial” part of town.  In Hobart we use Hollander Imports or Irrigation Tasmania. If you are buying online these people have very good prices and products.

Each section of our garden is watered by a manual tap which is in turn directed to 3 or 4 sub sections of the garden. In this way we can water fruit trees differently to our vegetables as their water needs are drastically different.  To do this, we create a “manifold” using a variety of connectors – the image below shows the items required.

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Prepare the connectors in plain 13mm poly pipe.  You can use pliers or the tool below – a razer blade with leverage, affectionately known as the finger cutter.

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An incredibly helpful tip is have some hot (almost boiling) water on hand to place the pipe in, this helps the pipe stretch to attach each piece together easily. We fill a thermos of hot water and pour it into a cup as needed – this little trick will save you a lot of time and frustration.

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Attach the bits together to test it will fit the area it is made for (always test first).

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Clip the fittings together and attach in place.

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So we could still use each tap we installed a tap splitter, make sure you use plenty of plumbers tape so the tap fittings don’t leak.

IMG_4641Plumbers tape will make sure you don’t have any leaks

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The dripline is attached to the tap using a standard hose tap fitting, simply put the poly pipe in hot water then attach the tap fitting – too easy.

Next we need to lay out the driplines for the beds, you can see in the bed below we have set four driplines in total.

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At the manifold/tap end of the driplines, we have created another set of T’s and elbows that distributes the water into each dripline.  This is measured out so that the driplines are in the correct position on each bed.

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Once all of the above is clipped together we run water through the system.  This is to flush any dirt or plastic scrap that may be in the pipe.  Once this is done, we put the ‘end caps’ in place to block the end of the pipe – alternatively you can put valves at the end so you can flush the system in the future.

IMG_4660Flushing out the pipes to clean out any ‘bits’

Because we’re often working vegetable beds where we do seasonal mulching/planting/digging we had to make sure the irrigation is easy to move. To do this, we attached one end to a timber strip at the end of the bed so we can just pick the whole thing up together. You don’t have to do this, indeed,for some contexts it might be easier to have them loose and just pick them up one by one.

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Oh, and if you run out of connectors or don’t like chopping the pipe up, you can always put it down in a spiral. Just know that if you have seeds or young seedlings you’ll need to do a bit of hand watering to make sure they get enough water in the early days.

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So that’s the basics of our dripline system.  We have spent around $500 and have around 1/2 of our 1/4 acre block under dripline now.  We think it’s more than worth it as It’s a great time saver.

And if we where to do this again? We would think a bit harder about the original main water pipe layout (a 20mm blue line poly pipe).  We would duplicate the system so there was a “dripper” dedicated pipe and a “tap” dedicated pipe.  That would mean we could then just turn one valve and water the whole garden. This would be specifically for when we go away and we get our awesome neighbours to water the garden…. And of course you can put an automatic timer on some/all of your irrigation system – we haven’t gone there yet but it is a consideration in the future. We see what we’ve done now as an awesome stage one that fits within our context and capacity.

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