Saturday, 26 March 2011

Getting Down & Dirty!

Day 6 Friday 25th March

 Today I started building the beds!
Can you remember the supplies I had bought so far?
10 bales of straw (actually 11 because I already had one), 5 bales of lucerne, 8 x 25l bags of mixed manure, 5 x 25l bags of mushroom compost.  In addition to these I have been saving our newpapers for ages.

I am using the diagram on page 81 of Josh Byrne's (from Gardening Australia) book, "The Green Gardener - sustainable gardening in your own backyard" as my model.  Great book, really easy to read, keeps things simple, understandable & doable.  I won it as a door prize at one of those free seminars I have mentioned before.  Thank-you BCC!

But before I started actually building the beds I needed to mark out the path at the front so I have a way to get between them.  I used some garden edging / weed barrier that you are meant to half submerge into the soil (to act as a barrier to the grass).  I just put it a tiny way in to help stabilise it's position & then used the special pegs to hold it in place.

While I was doing this Mr Skivvy & Mum arrived.  I wasn't expecting them, but they were escaping from the painters, and gaining access to an operational kitchen (rather fond of their cups of tea, my parents).  Regardless of the reason, they were most welcome.
Mr Skivvy pitched in by moving all the bales of straw & lucerne from the lower hay shed (ie under the front deck) to the upper (ie under the shed verandah).  He discovered in the process that a bale of lucerne is considerably heavier than one of straw.  A fact that I later was able to confirm.

Mum joined me in the first job of vege bed construction - the newspaper layer.  The diagram (mentioned above) shows carpet as the first layer, but many people no longer recommend this due to the chemicals and non-biodegradable materials that may be used in its production.  Even a wool carpet may have a synthetic backing, sizing and stain resistant chemicals in it.  I wouldn't really want to have these leaching into the soil in which I grow my food.  The same goes for growing potatoes in tyres.

In truth, this layer was not entirely necessary in my situation.  Its purpose is primarily to smother the weeds so that they don't infest the beds.  My beds are being built on ground without much vegetation in evidence thanks to a layer of forest mulch and months of digging over by chickens.  But the soil is not particularly rich, and I had the papers available, so I saw it as an easy way of adding a bit more compostable matter.
Mum helping with laying the newspaper

I started by half filling a large tub with water & then placing newspapers in to soak.  I raked back the mulch from the bed & then we laid two sets of damp newspaper.

Once the newspaper was down I raked the mulch back over it.  Again a little different to the diagram which suggests a layer of dry leaves - didn't have too many of them, so used the forest mulch instead as a 'brown layer'.
Over time the wind, rain & chickens have caused a fair proportion of the forest mulch to find its way off the garden bed & into the playground area - so to properly cover the beds I had to collect some from here & replace it onto the vege garden.

The third layer in the diagram is grass clippings, weeds & soft prunings.  Didn't have any grass clippings as I forgot to tell Himself that I needed them prior to him mowing last weekend - and they all made their way into the compost bin, and around the sweet potato plants on the verge (which seemed to grow dramatically overnight afterward).  So here too I improvised - clipping back the tree branches I could reach over the garden, and trimming some of the sacred bamboo which forms a screen between our house and our northern neighbours (who very sadly are about to move).  I clipped the softer parts onto the beds.  Mum & Mr Skivvy headed off at this stage.

A mulched bed, and three with their 'green' layer
A closer look at the prunings I added.
Next came straw.  This I did do according to the diagram.
I carried one bale of straw to each bed, then, starting on the furthest one, cut the twine off & started to spread it over the prunings.
Slight over estimate - I only needed two bales to cover the four beds and the path as well. So lets do some math. I had 11 bales, 7 are for another job down the track, so I had four to use on the vege beds.  But I only used two, so I will have another two spare (at this stage).  Not a big problem, they will get used on the beds over time, and as nesting material for the chooks - but it will be a slow process.

I should  mention here that I watered in each layer before adding the next one.

The straw layer.
So manure next.  The diagram suggested sheep manure, but this wasn't easy to come by living in the city.  My sister in law, who lives in the Snowy Mountains, is constructing a wonderful native garden that she hopes to have in the Open Garden Scheme in about 5 years time.  And I really think she could, in fact I said so before I new that was her intention.  Anyway, back to the point, she & her husband have been able to source heaps of wonderful sheep manure for their garden by offering their labour to clean out local shearing sheds in return for the manure they remove.  Not so many shearing sheds round here though.
I could easily get horse manure - there are a couple of places along Albany Creek Road including the pony club - but I understand it isn't as good as cow and sheep manure, more likelihood of weeds.

So I am using the Mixed cow & chicken manure instead.  Another misjudgement re quantities here.  I bought 8 bags, thinking one per bed per layer.  But one bag barely covered the straw.  So instead I used two per bed - meaning I had none left for the second manure layer.  Here my parents have helped out again - I asked to borrow their truck today (Saturday) but they needed it, so instead they went & bought me 12 bags of manure & another 5 of mushroom compost (in anticipation of the first 5 not being enough) and delivered them to my house.  Yes I will pay them back!
Manure layer added.

Water in the manure & then add the first lucerne layer.
Anticipating that I would only need two bales after my experience with the straw I lifted this many up onto the garden.  And then only needed one!
Mr Skivvy wasn't wrong when he said the lucerne was heavier than the straw - the bales are at least twice as dense!
How many did I buy again? 5?  At most I am going to need two for this job (there is another layer to come) plus one for another job (the same as needs the 7 straw bales), leaving 2 bales spare, again.

By this stage I was rather tired, and it was getting towards time to collect J4 from childcare.  So I watered in the lucerne, cut open 4 Hessian potato bags (obtained free from my local greengrocer) and placed them over the top of the beds, along with some largish branches that are too big to go through my mulcher.  Reason? To help keep the beds a bit damp and to prevent my hard work being blown away - the wind was picking up.  Then I tidied up my tools & went for a cold drink & a well earned (do you think?) shower.

Lucerne layer
Lucerne layer from the front, showing the height of the bed, and the edging & straw on the path
L6 & J4 enjoy climbing on the haystack this morning.
 Yet another very long post - does anybody actually read the whole way through?  Please let me know if you do make it this far!
TTFN, Ravs

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